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.
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.