A sad realization.

I had to make a run to Wal-Mart today.  I know, I felt my soul draining away from me, but they were the only store in Bumblefuck, Arkansas that had what I needed.  This was after staying up all night and throwing up, so I was already in a sour mood.

Anyway, as I was exiting I took a look back at the inhabitants of the hamlet in which I grew up.  I saw crosses dangling from most necks, which didn’t surprise me.  This is a hugely religious area.  It was a safe bet that almost the entirety of the store was Christian.

I just stood there, thinking about how most of these people got to that point.  It’s all-but-certain that few people (more likely none of them) ever thought “The thought of someone rising from the dead is crazy” before hearing arguments from the “big name apologists” (or even a preacher) and being honestly convinced. Those arguments convince few people, but are instead used to rationalize belief after the fact and to convince people who already believe for other reasons that they are wise to do so.  No, most of these people grew up in an area homogenous with Christianity and, just like Mormons in Utah and Muslims in the Middle East, were shaped by their culture (most of them just like their parents before them).

I always say in my talks that there is a difference between respecting ideas and respecting people, and it’s true.  However, on this occasion, I stared at a store full of hundreds of people and I realized that I did not respect as much as I had previously thought.  I just didn’t.  Most of them are very nice people, I’m sure, but they should do better with regards to their checks against credulity.  It was like looking at someone who bought a lemon from a used car dealer who told them it would outrace a Ferrari.  I couldn’t respect such a person’s gullibility, though I would certainly pity them being out so much money.

How many of the people in Wal-Mart today are out 10% of their income every year on account of not being able to figure out that people don’t rise from the dead?  The poverty income line is $15,300 per year, so it’s probably safe to assume that many of them are making at least that.  That’s at least $1,530 a year, likely more, that could be used to take a loved one on dates, to feed the poor, to take a family vacation, to make car repairs, etc., that vanishes into the collection plate.  How many of these people lost out on intimacy in their one life because they failed to deduce the obvious?  How many of them passed on the opportunity to dance?

I realize I’m angry about unreason and its most eager vehicle, religion.  But it’s only because I care about people.  I want to respect them more than I do.  I respect people enough to think that they can do better, otherwise I wouldn’t dedicate my life to altering the pool of ideas.  Unlike some atheist activists, I respect religious people enough to tell them precisely how I feel, and to expect them to be able to withstand some mild criticism about their beliefs like adults.  In short, I respect them enough to not placate them with condescending silence for fear of offending them with contrary ideas.  However, today I couldn’t deny that I didn’t hold much respect for hundreds of people (and millions like them across this country).

Instead, I pitied them.  That made me sad, because I’d rather respect them.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Bev

    “Instead, I pitied them. That made me sad, because I’d rather respect them.”

    Pretty much This ^^.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    I often feel very much the same way; and it’s really sad.

    It also makes me feel a little guilty, not for disrepecting, say, Bill O’Reilly, but for disrepecting ordinary folks who probably just haven’t had access to other ideas. Thanks for relieving me of some of my guilt.

  • Mark

    In other words, ” everyone is wrong but me.”

    • Randomfactor

      On some issues. Like the existence of gods.

    • Rieux

      Yeah—Galileo was such an arrogant jerk, wasn’t he?

    • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

      Bzzzzzt! (That’s my projection warning going off.)

    • baal

      Actually,”everyone is wrong but me.” is part of the social problems that face atheists. It’s less of an issue with the net but the idea gets expressed now and then that atheists don’t (didn’t) come out because they never see anyone else who is openly atheist. It does create a strange mental state where everyone else looks like some kind of zombie mutant drone of hypnotoad. You get a similar feeling when you travel to other countries.
      Also, it’s possible to subject your beliefs to testing to know if you’ve stepped over into loony land or if everyone else has lost it (never had it). Focus on evidence and check to see if your theories work over time and that there is a causal basis (mechanism) for what you believe. Stick to real things (no goddidit) and you’ll be fine.

  • http://www.cleverbadger.net Jay

    Well said, JT.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com TerranRich

    I’ve always wondered this… which sects of Christianity are the ones that tithe income? I had never heard of this practice until a few years ago.

  • baal

    Presumably, all christian sects demand the tithe. Some remind their flocks more often than others or do sermons on pre-tax or post-tax 10%. The fundies usually want their 10% on gross income.

    • Kodie

      10% of an average income is a lot of money. It’s 5 whole paychecks, gross, did you say? The way I think of it, it’s just difficult for me to believe average everyday Americans of the Christian religion fork over that much money to their church every year, and that they aren’t put off by reminders and expectations from their church. I can, however, imagine, that paying tax to the government on top of it, or any other sort of charity, they might feel tapped out. Never blame the church for expecting your money, but distrust the government, distrust the poor people that money serves, distrust grants and programs the government provides, public schools they opt out of, birth control and abortion they disapprove of.

      In the libertarian sense (that I don’t espouse), they are choosing to give their money where it can do something they use. If the churches were also taxed on that money, people would complain that the government is double-taxing. It just creeps me out that the rest of us suffer because people would rather pay their church to do whatever good they think it does, and that’s just a lot of money that might feed some poor people. They pay it without really auditing the church.

      What makes me sad about this article is the automatic respect they give their churches. They are angry about something and “religion is good, churches are nice people”. The people who are taking all their money are diverting their anger and projecting it onto the rest of the country, the government and other people they don’t like – the liberals, the homosexuals, the feminists, the president himself, etc.

      If I have already taken a good wad of your money, you are counting what you have left when the next guy comes and asks for some more and you punch him in the face because I told you to.

      • Kodie

        whatever good they think it does, and that’s just a lot of money that might feed some poor people.

        I didn’t mean to imply that was a bad thing! I meant to imply that’s not a complete thing or many times a selective thing that they do. “See? We’re helping!” Such that it gets them out of doing other things or nobody notices how much more of the money is funneled into other less “goodness’ sake” projects.

  • Jacob

    This hit a personal chord…

  • Beth

    If there were hundreds of people in the store, even in Arkansas, there was likely more than a few non-believers there besides yourself. Further, the idea that everyone who considers themselves christian is contributing 10% of their income to their church is devoid of evidence. Many who consider themselves Christian don’t necessarily even belong to a church, much less contribute anything to it.

    Walmart shoppers tend to be people on the lower end of the scale for income. Would you stop and pity all the people shopping at an expensive upscale retail store because they are just as likely to hold what you consider foolish beliefs and contribute a portion of their income to supporting a church? Or would you be more likely to respect those who are at the upper end of the scale for income?

    • baal

      The rich aren’t starving themselves for christ? I read it as an empathy issue, you care more for folks who are shorter on resources since their choices can be that much more heartbreaking.

  • Beth

    The poor aren’t starving themselves for christ either. At least, no more than they are starving themselves for cigarettes, junk food or lottery tickets. Is it reasonable or appropriate to look at Walmart shoppers, make the assumption that they all waste their money on such things and pity them for making such ‘heartbreaking’ choices with their limited resources?

  • RuQu

    Keep in mind that there is a fair amount of projecting going on here, coupled with a significant sampling bias.

    You most often run into religious apologists and the extremely devout, because these are the people most likely to respond to you, seek out and fight atheists on the internet, and speak out in general.

    The majority of Christians I meet are Christian just because that’s what people are where they grew up. They might go to church on Easter and Christmas, unless something comes up that sounds better and it often does. If asked, they will say they believe in God and Jesus, but you wouldn’t know it unless you were taking a poll.

    For those people, these questions don’t matter. It’s like asking someone thousands of years ago if the Earth was flat or round. The educated would say round, the uneducated might say flat, and outside of a few activists for each side the answer didn’t affect anyone’s daily life so they just don’t care.

    Among other things, I drive a ship for a living. I could pity people for being ignorant of which side is “starboard” or an inability to read even a simple chart, but for most people those are not relevant in any way. For many people who wear a cross because “that’s what you do,” I think the existence or lack thereof of gods falls in the same category. And for these people, who simply aren’t interested in a rigorous and consistent theology, Pascal’s Wager and a little peer pressure is good enough reason for them.

  • Stevarious

    How many of the people in Wal-Mart today are out 10% of their income every year on account of not being able to figure out that people don’t rise from the dead?

    This discovery, when I was 14, that my parents were giving 10% of their income to the church, didn’t make me sad. It flew me into a white hot rage that I can still remember with what seems like crystal clarity. My parents didn’t have enough money to keep the damned house warm in winter, but they still gave 10% of their money to the fucking church?! So that the church could buy new choir robes and get a new grand piano (the old one just wasn’t big enough, you see) and buy thirty billion poinsettias every christmas?! (From, I might add, the florist who also happened to be the assistant pastor…)
    Fuck that noise, I thought. And that was back when I still believed in a magical Jesus.