Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence (Tip 5 of 10 For Reaching Out To Religious People)

Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence (Tip 5 of 10 For Reaching Out To Religious People) October 6, 2011

1. Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.

2. Make Believers Stay on Topic During Debates.

3. Don’t Tell Religious Believers What They “Really Believe”.

4. Clarify What Kinds of Evidence Warrant What Kinds of Beliefs.

5. Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence.

Religious people are often on a hair-trigger to be offended. And they will often want you to “respectfully” refrain from irreverently treating the objects of their reverence. But you shouldn’t treat what they treat as above reproach or ridicule because when you do that, you implicitly affirm, and behave as though, these things are out of bounds for criticism. In effect, you treat these things as holy. In this way you inadvertently share the religious values about what may or may not be criticized and how it may be tackled if at all. In this way, you submit to their religion’s rules. In this way you let a religious culture co-opt your own conscience and give religious rules control over your own feelings about what is holy, i.e. “set apart” and “sacred” and “worthy of respect”.

As Nietzsche puts it, you must “break your revering will” and you should help the religious snap the spell their holy subjects have on them by treating them irreverently when appropriate. Recasting what they only want to see in an ideal light in harsher or sillier lights makes them have to think about other perspectives on what they treat as sacred. This is a stepping stone for them to understand and experience alternative (and truer) ways to seeing and treating what they reflexively revere. It’s okay to make them uncomfortable and cause conflict within them in these ways. It is a potential step towards breaking their undue reverence. This is why outright mockery (of ideas and of practices, but not of people–unless it is a friendly form of teasing which is not excessively cruel, bullying, or dehumanizing) and “blasphemy” are morally justifiable.

And since religious people’s reverences are usually blown way out of proportion–reaching to the unjustified levels of worship, it should not be unqualifiedly respected but vigorously challenged in a range of ways. Part of the very thing you are criticizing is the wrongness of worshiping itself and of overly submitting to wholly unjustified intellectual and moral authorities themselves and traditional objects of veneration itself. Part of that challenge is to lead by example and refuse to revere and to refuse to defer in the ways they do. Part of it is to desensitize them to the idea that these things can be dragged through the mud of no-holds-barred critique and mockery just like all other ideas are, so that it is conveyed that they (the ideas, not the people) are nothing special.

I would not go out of my way to be especially, gratuitously obscene. I wouldn’t mock in a fit of malice or anger or personal disrespect or total callous indifference to others’ feelings or any other nastiness. I would not go out of my way to insult the person who reveres this religious figure or practice or icon, etc., even if I am willing to risk their being offended at my lack of shared deference to what they irrationally over-esteem.

On some level I would treat with respect what is simply a matter of different culture and practice. I would always keep an eye on respecting the believers themselves and insofar as a practice is just a ritual and a cultural form for them, I would not go out of my way at all to disrespect it. But when it becomes a matter of truth or unhealthy reverence, the deference must end. When it becomes a matter of exercising and modeling my right to be irreverent then principle says I should be irreverent. I cannot force the religious to be irreverent with me of course. That’s the deal though. Both of us are entitled to explicitly revere or express independence of the same thing at the same time. That’s fairness and it is how you subtly and crucially assert and defend the rights of conscience and the ethos of criticizing and testing all ideas equally.

Your Thoughts?

More thoughts on these issues were in the following posts: My Thoughts On Blasphemy Day, In Defense of Mocking and Embarrassing Religion, and How Atheists Treat Religious Dictates as Holy.

6. Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms.

7. Take Philosophy Seriously.

8. Both Refute The Best Counter-Arguments You Can Think Of And Create Gestalt Shifts.

9. Be Unapologetic, Rigorous, Patient, And Gracious With Religious Believers.

10. Love Religious People.

"Demonization, in the name of a purity of ideals, is just another way of rationalizing ..."

I Stand With Liberalism Against The ..."
"Agreed 100%, these types are so far left of liberalism yet still have the temerity ..."

I Stand With Liberalism Against The ..."
"Nods--I know my daughter is using it that way. I think women are doing men ..."

I Stand With Liberalism Against The ..."
"You are most probably right.An interesting discussion on late nigh Woman's Hour BBC R4 last ..."

I Stand With Liberalism Against The ..."

Browse Our Archives