No reason to respect religion

15 Apr

Hold on. Before you flip out and write a million nasty comments, hear me out. This is a complicated issue so don’t just jump to conclusions.

So what do I mean by there is “no reason to respect religion”? Well, what is religion? Religion is a a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. A set of beliefs. People may hold these beliefs so strongly they would die and kill because of them, (unfortunately, some often do), but at the end of the day it is still just a belief.

So why respect a belief? Because they hold it so dearly? What if we applied this to something other than religion. Say someone had the belief that invisible mermaids held up ships to keep them from sinking. Can we disprove them? No. Do they have any evidence? No. Are there natural, alternative explanations that do not require the supernatural? Yes. Say this person believed as passionately about invisible mermaids as you might about your religion. Seriously, I know it sounds strange, but what if this person fervently, passionately, and emotionally believed in the existence of these invisible mermaids. Unshakable faith.

Would you respect their beliefs the same way you want others to respect yours? What if they attempted to pass laws that affected your daily life based off of their unshakable faith? What if they wanted to teach their beliefs in public schools that all children have to go to? What if they wanted to use your tax dollars to support their religious programs? What if they wanted to put up their religious monuments to the mermaids in public law buildings?

Would you respect their beliefs then? Would you show deference? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Now replace the mermaid analogy with your religion.

“But it’s extremely important to me and I’m offended that you don’t show respect! You’re being rude!”

Look, here is the important thing most people overlook. There is a difference between respecting a person’s unfounded beliefs, and respecting the person’s right to have them. You should respect a person for the human being they are, and respect their right to believe whatever they want, but just because they hold a belief very dearly does not mean you have to respect that belief.

Religion does not get a free pass. The ideas that comprise a religion are subject to the same scrutiny as any other idea. You have the right to hold those ideas, but you do not have the right to be free from criticism.

11 Responses to “No reason to respect religion”

  1. J April 15, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    You shouldn’t respect religion because they don’t respect the logic of your arguments. Life is too short to waste on deference to anyone. It is coy, cheap and demeaning.

  2. pastorjeffcma April 15, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    “Religion does not get a free pass. The ideas that comprise a religion are subject to the same scrutiny as any other idea. You have the right to hold those ideas, but you do not have the right to be free from criticism.”

    I completely agree. As in–because someone does like the idea of where the anthropic constants argument leads, let’s come up with an unverifiable idea like an infinite number of universes. Or even though biology is the study of things that look like they have been designed, let’s keep reminding ourselves that they haven’t been. Or, as irrational as some of this system seems at times we must keep on believing it because we cannot allow a divine foot in the door. I completely agree–no system has the right to be free of criticism.

  3. godlesspaladin April 15, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Hey Pastor Jeff, thanks for the comment. If you’re expecting me to get upset about your sarcastic criticism of science you don’t understand, I’m not. See, science thrives off of criticism. Scientists will be the first ones to admit they don’t know. Matter of fact, scientists are always trying to prove themselves wrong. That’s what makes science so strong. An idea is put through the shredder over and over again, and if it can still stand up, then we are all the smarter for it.

    Religion on the other hand does not take well to criticism. They claim absolute truth and knowledge for things they can’t possibly be sure on, and then systematically intimidate or persecute anyone who disagrees.

  4. pastorjeffcma April 15, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    Actually, I think you misunderstood me on a couple of levels. The first one was my fault. One of the things I really enjoy is interacting with people whose viewpoint(s) differ from mine. It is very unusual for me to make an initial response to someone I have not commented to before and to do so in such a curt manner. I should have posted as a follow up to at least speak to your post which I thought was well written or I probably would not have commented at all. So, no, an angry response is not what I was wanting–and I am glad I did not receive one–that is to your credit.

    The second area of misunderstanding has to do with the tone of my post. I was not being sarcastic (at least was not attempting to be)–maybe a bit “tongue-in-cheek”–but the content of my comment was meant to be taken seriously.

    Even there is much more in your original post I would like to comment on I will stick to your response to me. It seems to me that you are being overly generous to science and overly harsh on religion. When it comes to science (which I am assuming by that you mean naturalistic evolution) you speak of an intellectual humility which I normally only see when it is attacked for being so absolute in its knowledge.

    Whereas religion (and to be fair I am not sure how generally you are using that term) does not accept criticism, it claims absolute truth and knowledge, then intimidates and/or persecutes it’s detractors. Are their religions or religious adherents that would fit that description? Probably so–would that be an accurate description of religion in general? Not by a long shot.

    Sorry for being so long.

  5. godlesspaladin April 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Ah, one of the age old problems of the internet, you can’t sense tone through text. :-p Yeah, sorry I took you as being sarcastic. Most of the comments I get are really angry and so I’m usually automatically on the defensive.

    “…you speak of an intellectual humility which I normally only see when it is attacked for being so absolute in its knowledge.”

    Interesting, could you elaborate? I might very well be misunderstanding you, but do you mean that normally science is very iron fisted about things until someone attacks them for being absolute where upon they act with intellectual humility?

    “Are their religions or religious adherents that would fit that description? Probably so–would that be an accurate description of religion in general? Not by a long shot.”

    Hmmm… I would beg to differ, but like you point out, it depends on how broadly we’re defining religion. Would the vast majority of religious people in the Western world intimidate and persecute those who criticize religion? No. But that’s just modern times, and in the West. I would point out that still in the Middle east, Africa, and parts of South America, criticism of religion can be very hazardous to the detractor’s health. We’re even seeing this now in parts of Europe where muslims are threatening and assassinating anyone critical of their religion.

    (I can see here some people might go “oh, but those are only the fringe minorities”, but I’d point out that there sure were a hell of a lot of them protesting and screaming for blood when the Danish cartoons were published, and if they’re the minority then the majority sure was silent.)

    I would also point out that until recently (the past 2-3 centuries) in Europe, critics of religion were routinely tortured, imprisoned, and executed. This violence against any critics only started to wane as the church’s power in society waned. (Thanks to separation of church and state, the scientific revolution, public education ect…)

    Thanks again for your comments and I look forward to your replies. 🙂
    –GP

  6. godlesspaladin April 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Pastor Jeff, a friend of mine also pointed out that my mermaid analogy isn’t exactly a good fit. The problem, she said, was that unlike other ideas, people base their entire lives around the ideas that encompass religion; hence the very visceral responses to criticism. Yourself for example, being a pastor have a lot invested into religion.

    My criticism of faith inadvertently turns into a criticism of a central pillar of your life. Though I may not mean it as a personal attack, it is very understandable that it is taken that way. My friend pointed out that the beliefs in religion, unlike most other beliefs, are often a big part of a person’s identity.

    That puts me in an odd spot. :-p As I stated earlier, no ideas or beliefs should be shielded from criticism, but at the same time, I’m not trying to attack people and come across as a jerk. :-\ It kind of reminds me of the “too big to fail” idea we’ve been hearing from Washington the past few months. Religion is so important to so many people, that it can’t be allowed to be discredited. For some, the implications of all religions being wrong are just to horrible to comprehend.

  7. pastorjeffcma April 16, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    “Most of the comments I get are really angry and so I’m usually automatically on the defensive.”

    I find this so amazing. I make this comment regarding atheist blogs. The reason I stopped at your blog was because your post sounded reasonable. It seems that none of us has the market on being rude and obnoxious.

    “I might very well be misunderstanding you, but do you mean that normally science is very iron fisted about things until someone attacks them for being absolute where upon they act with intellectual humility?”

    Exactly. For instance–Darwinian evolution is a fact as much as gravity is a fact. There is no reason to teach the strengths and weaknesses because there are none. But when one brings up things like the 122 Anthropic constants or the Cambrian explosion, or the relative poverty of transitional forms in the fossil record then suddenly the strength of science is it’s willingness to change, etc. and humility of knowledge begins to emerge. But yes, you understood me correctly.

    I do believe the religion question does hinge on definition–actually I am finding a key to a great deal of the discussions between religious and non-religious people hinge on definition. I think when you use the term religion you mean it in very generalized terms. When I say religion, as an insider, I am possibly using it very specifically (maybe even individualized). Which of course changes the discussion dramatically.

  8. pastorjeffcma April 16, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    I would now like to respond to your mermaid comment. I think your friend is correct but doesn’t go far enough. Yes my faith in Christ is core and integral to my life. And when someone attacks that they are attacking something very important to me. For me, however, it is a response to evidence that is very clear and convincing. You may not believe that which is perfectly ok. However, what I expect is that if a non-religious respects me enough (and/or is interested enough) they will want to engage in the conversation in meaningful respectful ways.

    What happens when terms such as mermaid, flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, tooth fairy, etc. are used. The individual has not communicated their idea of God as a mythical figure, but have indicated this is not even a idea worth considering and not is my belief foolish, but I am foolish for believing it.

    I hope I have communicated that properly.

    • godlesspaladin April 18, 2010 at 12:26 am #

      “For instance–Darwinian evolution is a fact as much as gravity is a fact. There is no reason to teach the strengths and weaknesses because there are none. But when one brings up things like the 122 Anthropic constants or the Cambrian explosion, or the relative poverty of transitional forms in the fossil record then suddenly the strength of science is it’s willingness to change, etc. and humility of knowledge begins to emerge.”

      Darwinian evolution is a fact as much as gravity(and it’s the subject for another post as to why the rest of the modern world accepted that and moved on a century ago, yet un-industrialized parts of the world, and curiously large chunks of the American conservative population hasn’t)

      The scientific answers to the questions you cited are out there. I think the main problem for science stems from 2 things: scientists are notoriously bad at PR, and the answers are complex.

      It’s my feeling that the majority of people prefer quick, trite answers rather than long drawn out ones. This is a problem for science since everything builds upon the knowledge gained before. To understand evolution completely you need to understand biology, chemistry, geology, etc.. To learn all about each one of these subjects would take a great deal of time, time most people don’t have.

      Thus it is up to the scientist to condense this knowledge into layman’s terms in a way that it will be short and make sense, while at the same time remaining truthful to the facts. This is very hard to do, and requires that some things be cut out for the sake of brevity. It get’s worse when you factor in that scientists use a different vocabulary than the general public. “Theory” is a perfect example. To you and me, theory is just an idea, something not necessarily true, that needs some further evidence to prove. To the scientist it has a much stronger meaning. Cell theory, atomic theory, the theory of gravity, the theory of evolution, etc…

      This cut down science doesn’t explain everything, and leads some to misunderstand or believe there are gaps that aren’t there. (Sometimes there are gaps that truly are there, and science should be open to them). This cut down science is then often poorly communicated by either nerdy, highly educated scientists with poor social skills, or under-educated teachers with good social skills. Most of us learn from the second in that category, and so when we ask a teacher to explain the gaps in the cut down science, they often can’t. This then leads to the illusion that there really is a gap.

      Side note: (Speaking of gaps, as for “the relative poverty of transitional forms in the fossil record”, this is a case of moving the goal posts. For example: Say scientists have evidence A,B,C. Someone might say “Well, where is evidence “A .5” or “B .5″ to fill the gap between A to B and B to C?” If scientists find it, they will then say “Well where is evidence “A .25” & “A .75” to fill in the gaps between A and “A .5″ and B?” This will go on forever for smaller and smaller numbers.)

      The fact is, the answers are there, it just takes some time to find them. In the case where scientists don’t know for sure, they’ll say that. Then it becomes a case of weighing the explanations.

      Sure there are some things we don’t fully understand, but those holes do not justify scrapping everything we do understand for the untestable, unverifiable claims of religion.

      As for your response to my mermaid comment, yes, I think I see your point. Yet I think there is a little more to it than that. While yes, analogies like the mermaid and the pink unicorn tend to dismiss the idea that there even is a question worth asking (which I agree, is the wrong thing to do), the point of the flying spaghetti monster and such is to highlight exactly what is supporting religious belief, namely majority agreement and nothing else. If a bunch of people get together and fervently believe in the existence of the FSM, and even have holy books on the subject, there is nothing different between their faith and other religions. (Yeah, the other religions are have more followers, rituals, special buildings, and clergy that often dress in special clothing, but in the end they both have the same evidence for their claims) The idea that it’s all foolish and a waste of time is an unfortunate by-product of trying to prove a point.

  9. thiscalamity420 October 30, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    How naive. We all know invisible mermaids don’t hold up ships due to science. And science only goes to show how very improbable life existing in the universe is. In fact its near I’m possible, anf when I say nearly I mean 10 raised to the twenty third power. But that’s only one of the anthropic constants which, btw are scientific facts. How about this I take on grain of sand and hide it anywhere on the world and blindfold you. If you find my one grain of sand on the first try ill believe that life on earth was just a random event. Oh by the way I’m not a christian.

    • godlesspaladin October 30, 2010 at 8:38 am #

      If you have me 14 billion years to do it, easy. ~_^

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