Thursday, 20 September 2012

Why do I do this?

I had lunch today with a customer (yes, I have a job, just one aspect of the actual life I have beyond arguing about religion and geeking it up on science!) who added me on facebook a while back.  I'd forgotten he could see what I talk about on there - or talked about, anyway, I don't really bother with FB any more - and he asked me why I take time I could be using profitably to talk about religion, why I have such a problem with it.

It's a question I get asked all the time; even my family don't understand in the slightest why I do this, so I thought I'd have a crack at answering it.  I can only give my reasons, of course (and the list will not be exhaustive, by the way, I'd have to write a textbook for that); nobody speaks for all atheists or all antitheists and in fact I know many of both who would probably disagree with much of what I'm about to say.

There's a lot contained within the following which I'll go into in a moment, but for me the issue with religion can be summarised in one sentence:

Religion wants to tell us all - even those of us who don't believe it - how to live; it demands a say in decisions and policies that affect all our lives, and it does so without offering so much as a single shred of evidence that any of what it tries to dictate is based in reality.

One of many things I wish I could make believers understand is just how much you start to notice the influence religion has on all our lives once you stop believing in it yourself.  In fact, there's an idea; if you're reading this and you're a religious person, I have a challenge for you.  Watch the news on TV this evening, and just try to reflect honestly on how much of what you see can be directly linked with religious belief. I think you'll be surprised, and it might help you to understand how it can feel to be an outsider to the whole thing.

I'm lucky enough to live in the UK, which is relatively progressive (although we still lag behind other parts of Europe in some respects).  Yet even here, I am part of a society in which being gay or bisexual is still considered worthy of note, and where doing nothing more objectionable than satisfying sexual desire can still make a woman the subject of mockery, suspicion, contempt, even outright hatred. Sex - when it occurs outside the traditional one-man-one-woman, pair-bonded-and-monogamous-forever paradigm - is still regarded by many as a dirty, shameful thing to do. Do we really think this is unconnected with the concept of "sin" as promulgated by the Church of England for centuries and by the Catholic church before that?

We still live in a society, too, in which religion is accorded respect it simply does not deserve.  I disagree with many religious values on moral grounds, but because I am an atheist - as opposed to a member of another religion or of the same religion but a differing opinion - I am often expected to keep my mouth shut out of "respect". I recently had an argument online with a believer about the right-to-die laws in the UK when they were shown up for the antiquated, wantonly cruel laws they are by the Tony Nicklinson appeal case (outlined here); I think the laws need to be changed, he maintained that they're OK as they are - and his reasoning for this came from his religion.  It is not possible to have a discussion about an ethical issue with someone whose ethics are based on religion if you cannot criticise or question that religion. And that means its very fundamentals, too, not just whatever verse the person happens to have pulled out of their arse this time. After all, what Jahweh says about assisted suicide doesn't matter two shits if Jahweh cannot be proven to be any more real than Severus Snape (although personally, I'd prefer to live in a universe run by the latter than by the former).  It is utter nonsense - madness - lunacy - to accept "I believe deity X exists, therefore everybody else must take into account what I say s/he thinks about Y" as if it were a reasonable premise, yet we all do it all the time.

But I'm very lucky to live in the UK; there are infinitely worse places to live, and it's no coincidence that - with the still baffling exception of the USA, where people with no idea how lucky they are seem determined to think the laws and mores of places like Somalia something to aspire to - an increase in religiosity is strongly correlated with a decline in human rights, freedoms and quality of life (see this map for a simple outline). Many of the poorest, most deprived, most oppressive and most dangerous places to live on our planet are also the most religious, and when one considers what follows when religion is allowed to become powerful this is not surprising.  So I could bitch about being called a slapper for wearing a tight top or about being hit on at a conference or about being met with hostility when I speak my mind on certain subjects - but the fact is that I'm exceptionally lucky.  There are places in the world where I could be killed for some of the things I say and do and think - and the laws that would allow that are almost all religiously based.

My right to free expression is protected under law in the UK, but that's not the case everywhere by a long shot - and again, it's often religion that prevents this. People have died this week because of something someone said about a deranged paedophile who lived 1,400 years ago.  This is not OK, and to try to argue that we should tolerate or even respect it because it's part of "a different culture" is sickening and utterly cowardly.  All that does is label the people who do the killing irretrievable savages and their victims not worth so much as an admonition.

This is not the time to get into the reasons all religions are factually ludicrous; if you're not clear on that, consider how logical you find a religion other than your own and then just try to accept the fact that yours is no different from the outside.  Even deism is no better than a grandly illogical god-of-the-gaps argument, and to then take that fallacious premise and progress with it to try and tell us all what the deity thinks of our sex lives or our diets is just insane. Suffice it to say, if belief in the doctrine of any one religion were as reasonable and based on evidence as proponents like to pretend, we would not have thousands of conflicting religions and an ever-growing number of people with no religion at all.

Religion affects me and the people I love by throwing up barriers to birth control, to abortion, to dignity in death, to medical research, to equality, to gay marriage, to free expression, to open politics, to reasoned debate, to scientific advancement and to education. People all over the globe are murdered, tortured, abused, enslaved, mutilated, oppressed, threatened, violated, debased, even starved and allowed to contract  lethal but preventable diseases... all in the name of religious beliefs.  And to really hammer the point home - religion does all this, and yet never, in the entire course of human history, have we seen one shred of credible, verifiable evidence that what any religion has to tell us is correct.  In fact, we've had endless proofs that it's crap... and yet we are still ordered to respect it while it commits such atrocities.

That is why I get so angry about religion.

44 comments:

  1. Just caught your twitter post by chance and ended up reading this. I loved it and I couldn't agree with you more! BTW I'm in the States, it's tough out here to be "free" from religion.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks to a retweet by Richard Dawkins I came across this blog. Agree every thing you say.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, you beautifully summed up the way I feel, thanks :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. The penultimate paragraph is all one needs to say. Well said.

    ReplyDelete
  5. But there IS evidence that a transcendent Creator exists. The existence of our universe makes no sense on a naturalistic worldview. We know that the something caused the universe to exist, but that of necessity means the cause must be beyond space, time, matter, and energy because all of those things came into being when the universe did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the contrary, there is NO such evidence. Just because you and I don't totally understand how the universe came to be as it is doesn't mean it's necessary to invent a "transcendent creator". Instead of making up ludicrous fairy tales about how the universe and everything in it was somehow magic'ed into being by an all-powerful deity, why not use your imagination and intelligence to help figure out the real origins of the universe rationally and scientifically?

      Delete
    2. The existence of our universe makes no sense on a naturalistic worldview.

      Wrong.

      We know that the something caused the universe to exist,

      Wrong. Uncaused events have been demonstrated. "Everything has a cause" has been conclusively proved false.

      Delete
    3. harry stottle summed it up well i think :)

      Delete
  6. I'm inclined to write something, because your animosity toward religion as a whole is fascinating, only because i've managed to eliminate mine. I don't see dictators who usurp religion and ply it to their own ends to be a problem with the religion per se, but a problem with unchecked greed.

    I find it very difficult to apply objective criteria to religion since it is impossible. One must compare it to something, and when that happens, what it is being compared to is then open to scrutiny. This having been said, hopefully we can focus on what's important, suffering.

    As one who is sciency, i wonder if you have animosity towards nature itself, seeing as how much suffering has occurred and does occur within it, irrespective of religion? And if this is the case, then what is it that we should turn to, since we ourselves appear to be of nature?

    Regarding Mohammed's alleged pedophilia, i'd point out that back then i'm pretty sure it wasn't considered pedophilia, and that sex with "underage" girls was rather common for older men. It's probably about as pointless as resenting Brits for Henry VIII's lack of ethical vision.

    I'm obviously not saying that the horror that was perpetuated by alleged Muslims against the U.S. is good, i'm against killing, but i think it's dangerous to perpetuate a stereotype that people who believe in Islam are all evil because a few of them decide to lash out (of course, it can't even be proven that they were in fact Muslim, how could one even check?).

    So, I guess maybe i'm just confused. Are you against killing? Or are you against Islam? If you're against killing, then that makes sense. But if it's Islam, then i don't understand how you can let a minority of individuals within a rather large religious group dictate your feelings towards it.

    I mean, if there are Muslims as pious and peaceful as the Jains, would you still hate them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you take a reasoned, well explained article on why someone dislikes religion and you turn it into some 'islamophobe' nonsense. how intelligent of you. I don't think I have ever read anyone extrapolating so far from the point of origin. well done you.

      Delete
    2. I would have to disagree Kevin. Strongly so on several points in fact. I don't get the impression that SoggyMog "hates" anyone. Hate is a word too easily and too often aplied to unfitting situations. If anything, I'd say she fears those that would impose their beliefs on everyone else rather than live with the thought that others would do things they themselves do not think they would do. And rightly so. Such thinking is little more than mental slavery.

      And I find your defense of paedophilia utterly deplorable. The fact that it may have been common practice at the time in no way reduces the trauma the victims of such sick practices would have had to endure. And that fact ties in with your comparisons to nature. "Nature", unlike people, lacks the capacity for emotion. "Nature" does not make "decisions". It does not conciously "pick" its "victims", and it most certainly does not willfully torture them. People on the other hand can, and often do. And it is generally a concious choice to do so. It's a distinction that cannot simply be ignored.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. "I don't see dictators who usurp religion and ply it to their own ends to be a problem with the religion per se"
      That IS religion. Power with which to exploit others. We only have "moderate" religions (and members) today because religions have been civilised, along with everything else. But make no mistake, religion is man made.

      Delete
    5. Religion is like giving loaded guns to 5 year olds. You can say "the problem isn't giving out loaded guns, the problem is that 5 year olds are stupid". Yes, that is *part of* the problem - which is exactly why you shouldn't give them loaded guns.

      Religion is a system which says that it's okay to have faith in the words of men who claim to speak on behalf of gods, and that what these men claim is beyond reason because it has the authority of a god. The problem isn't any specific tenet of any specific religion, whether interpreted "correctly" or not - the problem is this *fundamental aspect* of religion itself, in which the words of men are given authority, and often protected from criticism. It promotes the word of men over the *reason* of men, all the while stating "Who are you going to believe, the word of men or the word of god?"

      Of course by "the word of men" they mean the reason of men, and by "the word of god" they mean the word of men.

      Delete
  7. This is absolutely fantastic. Well said! Thank you very much.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wonderfully said.
    May I ask you something? I feel the same about these issues and it sometimes makes me SO ANGRY. How do you keep your sanity and motivation to fight all this BS? I often find the situation hopeless...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pfff... I dunno if I'm the right person to ask that of; it's not like I'm out there getting arrested every free minute I have. Hitch, I ain't. I do this blog, I tweet, I'm a member of the BHA and go to some of their events, I sign petitions when I'm aware of them...

      I was a lot more active with the whole thing a while ago, but it reached the point where it was seriously interfering with the rest of my life and I had to make myself back off completely for a while. I only got back into blogging a few weeks ago after a long break.

      I guess it's a matter of choosing your battles. You can't fight everything bad that's happening - there's no way on earth you could possibly even *know about* all the bad stuff that's happening - but if everyone who cares about it chips away just a little bit as just some of the stuff that pisses them off, it all helps.

      Delete
  9. I cringe sometimes when I remember how strongly I once believed in god. Now I don't believe anymore but I do understand how powerful brainwashing can be. Something many true believers (There is no god) really don't understand. It isn't religion you have to fight but the mindset of the religious believer. Don't forget, religions have been at it for centuries, atheists have really only just begun the fight.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  11. We need to remember that the religious think that we disbelieve as strongly as they believe; they don't understand that we simply don't give a crap, that it is nonsense, and that we don't see where their privileges come from other than the age-old threat of violence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not that I don't believe because I don't give a crap; I can't believe because I'm yet to be convinced that any religion is true or teaches humanitarian morals. The difference between the strength of my conviction and that of a religious apologist is that when I encounter evidence which proves my beliefs to be false I'm willing to change my beliefs accordingly.

      Delete
    2. Huh, interesting discussion point. I interpreted Matthew to be saying that we "don't give a crap" in the sense of not being reverent because we see nothing to revere - from the perspective of a believer, I can well imagine that our lack of respect looks more like active anger than simply a lack of the reverence they hold themselves.

      Delete
  12. Very well written . . .
    The majority of those that read this article, are most probably only those that would agree with her and those that disagree are probably disagreeable anyway . . .

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent article and I completely agree with everything you said. It baffles and scares me that something so obviously false can be seen as true by so many people.

    ReplyDelete
  14. glad to read such a well reasoned article dealing with the moral side of the issue. religion is not just an affront to reason, but to ethics as well.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you so very much for sharing... I also caught this from Richard Dawkings' re-tweet.

    One can never understand what such things are all about until there's a little space from the oppression you grew up with. I'm blessed in many ways today as I now live in the American mid-west after growing up in England with a father who vitriolically hated many things, church-goers included...

    Extreme religious beliefs are, IMHO, quite terrible and unfortunately almost impossible to change. That's what war is mostly about -- in the past and continuing today... if you don't change to my "stuff", you get to die.

    Thanks again...

    ReplyDelete
  16. While I agree that getting religion out of the law is a desirable goal (if an uphill battle), and I believe in calling a spade a spade and pointing out the foolishness of religion when it's called for, speaking out against religion only goes so far. Getting believers to think rationally, particularly about their belief, is largely a futile effort. See my blog here:

    HBD and Atheism | JayMan's Blog

    ReplyDelete
  17. I love your blog.
    It would be really great if you could please add a 'Follow by email' option, so that we could get emailed each time you post.
    Cheers, shmuli91

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would love to, but am an utter luddite. Anyone have any idea how to do that?!

      Delete
    2. If your blog works the same as mine :) then:

      Sign in to blogger, and click layout on the left.
      Find where it says 'add a gadget', and click.
      A dialogue box will open with a list of gadgets.
      Click on 'Follow by email' and presto.

      Cheers,
      Shmuli91


      Delete
    3. Thanks lovely - done that, so we'll see if it's worked. xx

      Delete
    4. It worked, but...
      I don't know if you deliberately put it at the top of the page.
      If you want it to be on the side, then, go back into layout, and just click drag the 'follow by email' box onto the side.
      Cheers, shmuli91

      Delete
  18. I write about religion and stuff at times too on my blog ...

    http://www.explainingindia.blogspot.in/

    Twitter: @sachi_bbsr

    ReplyDelete
  19. What I find very sad is how otherwise supposedly intelligent people, particularly those striving for high political office, continue to follow updated medieval belief systems which were/are used to manipulate the populace with fairy stories. Aspiring leaders who wear a religion on their sleeve deserve no respect whatsoever, particularly made up nonsense such as mormonism or scientology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah - this is an argument I've been having with a few people (atheists) recently! I'm torn, myself; on the one hand, anything that makes Romney look an idiot (not that he needs a lot of help there) and could help keep him out of the White House *has* to be a good thing... but I'm constitutionally uncomfortable with the idea of letting mainstream christians forget how utterly laughable their own beliefs are, too!

      Delete
  20. These athiests need to come up with better stuff than this. Quoted:
    "Religion wants to tell us all - even those of us who don't believe it - how to live; it demands a say in decisions and policies that affect all our lives, and it does so without offering so much as a single shred of evidence that any of what it tries to dictate is based in reality."

    It is people, some people, that want to tell us how to live. They do this for various reasons none of which matter. The police tell me how to live; my mum tells me (well she used to) how to live; society and my friends tell me how to live, people I dont even know have an opinion about how I should like. Frankly none of these people have any 'evidence' - what evidence can there be for what is mere subjective opinion? Religion seems to be often used as the 'sufficing reason' by a person telling another person what to do - but so what? science, the law, just personal whim are as bad. Suggesting that religion is special panders to the beliefs that the author so wishes to find fault with.

    When the authors of articles like these can explain what they even m,ean by evidence or reality, then they can continue to complain about religion - which in this particular case is a very thin straw man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Last time I checked, science and the law didn't invent supernatural justifications for what they do. Religion does.

      "Evidence" and "reality" are easily defined by referring to science, our only reliable method for acquiring knowledge.

      Delete
    2. What do we mean by evidence and reality?

      If your arguments in favour of your superstitions are so flimsy you need to redefine what constitutes reality, I think you've said more than I ever could about their validity.

      Good grief.

      Delete
  21. Mrchay. First, you are very condescending and rude. Second, your argument is complete rubbish. Quote: "When the authors of articles like these can explain what they even m,ean by evidence or reality, then they can continue to complain about religion". What they MEAN? If you don't understand the terms, look them up in a dictionary. The strawman is yours sir, and I for one am not impressed with your piffle.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Don't get angry about religion, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side ;-). It also unfortunately leads from the opening of this post, a though provoking honest assessment to the insults in the final few paragraphs which in my opinion unfortunately weaken the post.

    As an atheist (although occasionally bordering on agnostic), I can see and sometimes feel the frustrations that fellow atheists have with religion, religious dogma and faith as they effect our lives and where we make our moral standpoints. Dismissal is not an effective agent of change, religion is not black and white and there is good along with the disturbing and unfortunately downright evil in all faiths and their histories as there is with all people and ideologies.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This is written with a wry smile not a scowl... I'd be interested to know which parts of my last few paragraphs read to you as "insults".

    ReplyDelete
  24. Terms such as crap, insane etc. are hardly likely to cause endearment, then again neither is deranged paedophile (not standing up for the action by the way, but moreover since most independent historical analysis puts this as being written a couple of hundred years after his death it probably never happened anyway).

    I know it's tricky to take the personality out of personal argument, and they are hardly ranting terms.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Lucy - @Kieran_Madden here. I love your blogs, and love how you write in such a clear, no-nonsense way.

    One thing worries me however - not just about your blogs, but about "new atheism" in general. This is, I guess, the aspect that theists have given the nonsense label "militant atheism" - although my reasons for concern are not theirs.

    I am worried that - by going on the attack using incredibly strong language such as paedophile, no matter how much we feel such language is rationally justifiable - we are failing to be pragmatic and in doing so are doing much more harm than good.

    Obviously, whether such pragmatism is necessary depends on what we're trying to achieve. If we're just indulging ourselves in some cathartic venting then that's all well and good. But it's ultimately pointless and, thus, a pretty irrational use of time & energy.

    If our goal is fighting superstition and irrationality, then surely we're trying to persuade people.

    But, have you ever met anyone who was persuaded to ditch their beliefs because those beliefs were the subject of a blistering attack?

    I haven't. I have ONLY EVER seen people be persuaded by gentle, calm reasoning.

    Maybe the point in this article isn't persuasion, and that's fine - but by putting the backs up of any believers who might stumble across your post we're likely to lose them forever.

    Many fall into a similar trap - I include myself in that, as well as Richard Dawkins. As rational people, though, I think we need to ask ourselves: what are we trying to achieve by using such stark language?

    ReplyDelete