Why I’m Becoming More Antagonistic Toward Religion

boxerMy posture toward religion is slowly becoming more antagonistic, and I’d like to explain why. If you knew enough details about my life, you might assume it was because religious beliefs have inspired some pretty unloving (and unprofessional) actions toward me. I won’t be detailing those here because most of those issues are matters between me and those individuals (or institutions) and are not appropriate for discussion on a public blog. I will say here as I often do that I never felt mistreated as long as I was a faithful adherent to the Christian faith; it was only after I left that I saw the darker side of that religion: the exclusivism, the subtle (or not so subtle) condescension, and the hurtful behavior masquerading as “tough love.” I mainly point that out because people looking for a quick and easy way to dismiss my thoughts will undoubtedly try to blame my departure from the faith on “bad experiences” (which many have had, and should not be disregarded since they are relevant). But all of my bad experiences came only after I left. Still, these are not why my posture is changing.

I should also add that I continue to see great value in seeking constructive dialogue with those who are open to it within the Christian faith. There isn’t just one monolithic Christianity, there are multiple christianities (just as there isn’t one monolithic Islam, as Marwa Berro recently pointed out). Truthfully, I think that was always true, even from the beginning, but today it’s even more obvious. There is a great deal of variety within Christendom, and where I live the watershed issue is a belief in the unimpeachability of the Bible. Those differing on that single issue will end up with dramatically different stances on so many things that they scarcely can be called the same religion. In fact, the inerrantists typically regard the non-inerrantists as illegitimate outsiders to their faith. I have found that with a tradition this exclusionary, true dialogue cannot happen—only dueling monologues. When speaking with such people, the best I can hope for is to appeal to their commitment (at least in theory) to compassion and to remind them of Jesus’ exhortation to “judge not lest ye be judged.” The other group—the non-inerrantists—shows considerably more promise for constructive dialogue. I consider them my allies, and I usually feel little need to pick a fight with such people.

Having said that, I’ve found lately that my general stance about religion has shifted and I’m starting to sound a bit more anti-theistic than I used to sound. Technically, I still don’t identify with that label since I don’t feel that all forms of theism equally deserve to be opposed. But lately I’ve found myself taking a longer view—a more long-term perspective—and it’s affecting how I decide what needs to be kept to myself and what needs to be said out loud. The best way I know to illustrate my reasoning is with a thought experiment.

Taking the Long View

Did you ever wonder how differently an immortal would see the world? Imagine how differently a 10,000 year-old man would view the passing of time and world events. Things which seem to us as world-changing would likely seem to him as yet another iteration of something he’s seen hundreds of times before. I imagine the latest escapades of Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian wouldn’t even register, and cries of desperation over national politics or the global economy would seem like a tiny hiccup, not worth much hand-wringing. It’s a storyline that’s all happened before, and will eventually happen again, only with different props and actors each time. It would be difficult for us mere mortals to predict how such a man would respond to most things, but I think I can extrapolate about one tendency based on what’s happened to me as I’ve advanced further into being “a grown-up”: You begin to take more responsibility for your own actions because you see the inextricable connections between actions and their consequences over the long haul.

Small children don’t think like this. They don’t see how their choices and actions build up over time and cause things to happen in their own lives, whether good or bad, so they will make the same unhelpful decisions again and again. As they mature, they will begin to grasp how their choices affect their own lives, and eventually they will learn to take responsibility for the things they do (some require a bit more help learning this than others!). In many ways, this parallels the maturing of human civilization. While we began as more brutish, warring, inequitable tribes, we’ve now become, well…brutish, warring, inequitable advanced civilizations :) But we have picked up a few lessons along the way, smoothing out the rough edges at least a little. Hopefully we will learn a few more before we exhaust our planet’s natural resources and kill off our own species in the process.

How would our 10,000 year-old man view our attachment to religion? It’s hard to say, of course, but I know that his responses would reflect a bigger-picture view than you or I would normally adopt. I may fear the rejection of my friends and family, and normally I avoid saying or doing anything around them which would upset them (I’m a feeler and this is a pattern for me). But is this really taking sufficient responsibility for the presence and effects of religious belief on my surroundings? Am I doing what’s in the world’s best interests by remaining silent when I see irrational beliefs causing harm around me? On many occasions they have spoken up about my unbelief for the same reasons—they believe my unbelief will cause me harm. Why should I not reciprocate with my own concerns about what they believe? Wouldn’t a more grown-up response be to speak up and elucidate how those beliefs are causing harm and holding us back?

I suppose I must first establish that much of religion is in fact harmful. I’ve already enumerated nine ways in which religion can be harmful, and Hemant Mehta turned the list into a short video. If your particular religion escapes all nine of those deleterious outcomes then more power to you. On my better days I will concede that some beliefs bring a measure of comfort and happiness to people in need. When you are lonely or scared, it can make you feel much better to believe that an all-powerful yet invisible person is with you wherever you go, caring about your personal welfare. When you or a loved one encounters death, it can make the passage more bearable if you believe that a second life awaits in which all your loved ones will be happily reunited. Surely it would be mean of me to do or say anything which would minimize the comfort or peace which these beliefs bring, right?

I’m not so sure that’s how our multi-millennial man would see it. If we take the largest view, we see the overall effects of religious belief on humankind and we must take the net effect of it on the whole of society. I am beginning to suspect that the net effect is negative. Colton Burpo’s fanciful telling (via Sarah Palin’s ghost writer) of his trip to heaven (even though he never actually flatlined) brings hope and comfort to millions; but is this really doing us more good than harm? Is it of no consequence that these tales sprang from the interactive imaginations of the boy and his fundamentalist parents over several years?

An argument can be made that belief in Santa Claus doesn’t really harm kids but rather brings joy and magic to the Christmas season. But at some point they should grow out of that belief. In fact, I think most would agree that it’s not optional for them to do so. Most would agree that if you’re forty years old and still looking for St. Nick to come down your chimney on Christmas Eve, you’re going to have much bigger problems than an empty stocking. The bigger problem is that you’ve fostered a blurring of fantasy and reality which will most definitely impact everything you do in life. Your problems are bigger than Christmas, and the benefits of your belief are far outweighed by the problems which your delusional thinking will create. It was cute and fun when you were four, but when you’re forty? Not so much.

The Net Effect is Negative

Even after you filter out the more egregious atrocities perpetrated by religion (e.g. genital mutilation, sexual abuse in the priesthood, flying planes into buildings, and preventing women from voting, driving, or being educated), you’re still left with a number of ways religion either actively harms people or else holds us back. Old bigotries like misogyny and homophobia survive in developed democracies today primarily because sources of religious authority have preserved these cultural relics as if they are meant for all time. Millions of Americans leave their homes to vote against their neighbor’s right to marry the person he or she loves because their preachers and their holy books have taught them to do so. School boards and legislators aggressively combat scientific education and development because it sometimes contradicts their own religious dogma, and this holds us back and keeps us from becoming what we could become as a species. Many disparage the preservation of our ecosystem because they’ve been taught that God will destroy it all anyway, so why worry? Lately I’ve also begun to see how so many unhealthy religious approaches to sexuality cause harm to people by teaching them to feel guilty about their own natural sexuality, even discouraging them from acquiring access to effective birth control and sex education. Current Christian approaches to dating and sex make my skin crawl because they teach some of the most unhelpful thought patterns about sex ever conceived (yuk yuk).

But perhaps none of these harm us more than the subtle ways in which religion dulls our ability to think critically, the very capability which would enable us to see through the irrationality of everything else mentioned thus far. I call this a “silent killer” because it’s difficult to detect the ways this harms us, which makes it all the more insidious. When people run up against the logical inconsistencies of their own religion, they are told that “God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” I find this unforgivably hypocritical, since whenever I suggest that faith and science operate on opposite principles, I am told “Oh no! God created us rational beings and he is glorified when we use the minds he has given us to figure things out. They’re not contradictory at all!” But then when I suggest that two of the claims of their religion contradict each other and cannot both be true, they tell me it’s wrong to try and make “spiritual things” make sense because they somehow operate on another level. That may satisfy some, but it does so by encouraging you to give up trying to make sense of things, teaching you to accept irrationalities as “normal” and acceptable. In fact, some will assert that the more irrational a belief is, the more reliable it is. I’ve heard theologians argue that since the notion of the trinity is so illogical, we should be all the readier to accept it since we’d never intentionally invent something so irrational. Do not think this habit does not spill over into every other area of life, because it certainly does. Like the forty-year-old who still believes in Santa, these irrationalities infect the rest of our minds like a virus, dulling our critical thinking skills and making us susceptible to scams and spurious claims of a thousand varieties. It helps no one to shrug these off simply because the delusions make people temporarily happier.

What Should We Do?

In light of the harm caused by all but the most liberal religions of the world, I’m beginning to feel it is our responsibility to speak up and call a spade a spade. If a belief is irrational, unsupported by the facts or by reason, we should call it out and show it for what it is. I think my reluctance to do so thus far has been because I accepted the mantra that says it’s unkind to openly question people’s religious beliefs. But as Greta Christina pointed out, we don’t overlook other kinds of faulty ideas just because people might be offended, so why should religious ideas get a free pass? As I’m arguing in this post, I believe there are bigger issues at stake than avoiding uncomfortability or personal offense. Bad ideas lead to bad decisions and people get hurt. Failing to speak up about the flaws in our thinking makes all of us complicit by our own silence. We become a part of the problem when we do nothing to ameliorate what ails us. It’s time we grew up and started taking responsibility for what’s going on around us. I believe that is the most mature view of how we should respond to the many excesses and irrationalities of harmful religious beliefs.

It’s a bit of a tightrope walk because not all religions are equally harmful, and humanists and rationalists alike will find allies among the more liberal strains of each major religion. I want to continue fostering constructive conversation among these folks because they are open to it and because sometimes they can get a hearing from the more conservative representatives of their own religion. This can be tricky though, because even a liberal Christian will often find himself defending the Bible (or a character in the Bible), in effect standing with his more fundamentalist brethren—so they are not always consistent. Instead of seeing their book as a product of the minds of men, they sometimes slip into the magical mindset, ascribing special powers to this book and shying away from questioning it at key moments. When that happens, they should not expect support from skeptics about those matters, although they should expect us to refrain from personal insults or ad hominem attacks. The level of dialogue seriously needs raising. We should be able to talk like grown-ups, since that’s what we are trying to become. We need not resort to name-calling and mockery of people’s intelligence in order to get our point across.

We should mind our manners, but speak our minds, too. Can’t we do both? Let that be our collective goal. Deal?

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36 Responses to Why I’m Becoming More Antagonistic Toward Religion

  1. Linda R says:

    A dear friend of mine just recently lost her husband. She lives several states away, and in her email, sent to all her friends, she asked us to please attend the funeral. She is a dyed in the wool catholic and, after I came “out” regarding my atheism, our relationship cooled slightly. I would consider traveling to her home for the funeral but I know it would be an extremely difficult situation for both of us. All of that praying and the ridiculous comments from family members and other friends would be too much for me to swallow. And, of course, a funeral would not be the right time or place.

    Sometimes I think my atheism tends to put a wall between myself and the rest of the world, but, like you, the older I get, the more disgusted and vocal I become. I see and hear so much superstitious nonsense, even worse during this time of the year, and I ask myself, “will we ever grow up”?

    • If you’re her friend, be there to comfort her. Just take it a minute at a time.

    • My condolences to your friend. That has to be one of the biggest losses a person can experience. I hope you find a way to console her that will keep the spotlight on her grief and solace. There are so many things I want to say, but I don’t know your situation, so will trust you to handle your friendship the way you think best.

    • Branden says:


      I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s loss. You know the situation better than anyone, but, if you can manage it, I encourage you to attend. I haven’t yet experienced the death of a friend’s spouse (I’m only 25) but my friend’s mother passed away about a year ago. My friend is somewhat religious and as we got older we talked to each other less and less. After high school, conversations between us would pretty much always devolve into some heated debate. Nonetheless, when his mother passed away I still went to the funeral knowing I would at a church surrounded by a lot of religious people who I probably couldn’t stand on any other day.

      I think it’s important for you to go support your friend. The religious often have this idea of atheists as being unsympathetic. It’s these little acts of showing support to friends when times are tough that dispel these notions to your friend and those in attendance. If anyone there makes ridiculous comments just remind them that someone has passed and you’re there to support, not to criticize. “Kill them with kindness” as they say.


  2. Preston Jackson Jr. says:

    Science has already dealt Christianity a death blow. It’s in the process of dying now even as Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian methologies have passed away. True, the final death throes of Christianity won’t occur in our lifetimes, but it’s as good as dead. As the old adage says: “Today’s religion is tomorrow’s mythology.” In the not too distant future, reason will prevail.

  3. Alice says:

    … encouraging you to give up trying to make sense of things, teaching you to accept irrationalities as “normal” and acceptable.

    That is part of what did it in for me and looking back makes it all seem so strange. Why would we need to accept things that make absolutely no sense? The ability (or willingness) to do so is even touted as a virtue. Strange.

  4. David Austin says:

    Hi Neil,
    Very well said.
    I have been an atheist as long as I can remember. I never grew up religious, and never really gave it another thought. I must admit, as I get older, and I see all the “nonsense” that one sees on the News etc. I also am tending towards anti-theism.

    I am lucky that I have lived in the UK & Australia, and the amount of christian “propoganda” we are exposed to in those two countries pales to insignificance compared with what I observe in the US. I honestlt don’t think I could stand it, and my head would “explode” from all the bigotry & hatred I see there towards non-believers.

    In all seriousness, I think you are better off leaving the US, and living in a more tolerant culture. You should check out the possiblity of migrating to Australia. With your experience as a teacher, you would stand a good chance of being accepted.

    If you get the opportunity to come to Perth, Western Australia to check out conditions here, it would be my pleasure to provide hospitality for you.

    I wish you and your family all the best.
    David Austin
    Perth, Western Australia

  5. makagutu says:

    No name calling is necessary but it’s time to call a spade by its name.I think we have a deal

  6. Arkenaten says:

    Excellent post. Time that sacred cow was milked so it stops bellowing.

  7. Gra*ma Banana says:

    Lately I have begun to grit my teeth every time I hear “Have a blessed day”. I have gotten annoyed with religious people assuming that I believe in THEIR God. If I wanted a ‘blessing’ I would have joined a church and consulted its pastor. I am less tolerant of theism today than I was when I came to MS in 2006 from CA, or maybe just more aware of the ‘rabid’ form of Christianity here. There are lots of lovely people in MS but they all proselytize in their inimitable way and that keeps me from getting close enough to be friends. Probably my loss. Oh well…

  8. David W says:

    I agree that the net effect of religion is negative, however, there is no good evidence to back this up. We can point to examples of problems that we think religion has caused, but the religious will respond in one of two ways; either they point to the good that religion has done, and point out that there is more good than harm, OR, they say the the harm wasn’t really caused by religion, it was caused by bad people, and those people would be bad no matter what, and they aren’t *really* religious anyhow.

    The problem that we run into here is one opinion against another opinion. There is no good evidence to point to no matter which side you are on.

    This leaves us in a tight spot. “If a belief is irrational, unsupported by the facts or by reason…” and we call it out for what it is, they can respond by saying that religion results in net good in the world; at which point all we have to offer is our “nuh-uh” response, without any good evidence to back it up.

    I am struggling with a way to address this problem with my fundamental family and friends, and I have yet to come across an effective strategy; by effective, I mean any strategy that serves to decrease fundamentalism. So far, my efforts seem to have resulted in the boomerang effect.

    • bonnie says:

      I think the US vs them mentality is proof enough. Believer vs.non believer has caused all sorts of atrocities and it does on a smaller scale every day. I’ve never heard an atheist use his non belief to justify any actions. Non believers tend to take responsibility for their choices. Of course the issue here is that they don’t see the non acceptance because they’re in the club.

      • David W says:

        I am afraid that you are wrong bonnie, and I am going to put this as gently as I can, your reply highlights how atheism(which I am defining as the belief that there are no gods), is not necessarily correlated with critical thinking. (However, I am sure that you are very smart and a careful thinker, and probably just replied too quickly…seriously not trying to be rude here)

        So you claim “the US vs them mentality is proof enough”, basically, because there is conflict it must be the believers fault. There is no evidence for this and you offer no explanation.

        You claim “’I’ve never heard an atheist use his non belief to justify any actions,” basically, you offer your anecdotal experience as evidence that atheists are more rational and tend to take responsibility for their actions?

        Simply not believing that gods exist, (identifying as atheist), in no way means that you are smarter, or a better critical thinker than your theist neighbor.

        My point is simple, there is no good evidence that religion causes significant harm, or more harm than good. There are just too many confounding factors, perhaps those who would do bad things are attracted to religion; maybe the harm we see is correlation rather than causation, in respect to religions influence.
        I am taking about evidence here, large studies which have been replicated and have yet to be shown false would be an example of good evidence. Anecdotal experience or conjecture or gut-feeling are not evidence.

        Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that religion causes harm, and I agree with Neil’s post, but there just isn’t any good evidence with which to support this idea; I really wish there was!!!

        • Piobaireachd says:

          Your definition of atheism is incorrect, David. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods due to an absence of evidence for their existence. It’s a failure to meet the burden of proof by theists (or their gods). I believe that there is no god, I just don’t think such belief is warranted based on what we know about history, neuroscience, geology, archeology, biology, cosmology, physics, chemistry, etc etc.

          I think it’s pretty easy to see the harm religion does. Though, admittedly, that harm varies wildly depending upon where you look. Simply look at the level of domestic violence in conservative states vs more liberal ones. Compare Sweden to Pakistan. Compare sectarian violence with other forms of ideological violence (all of which is quantifiable) and you’ll find that more religious countries suffer far more than more secular ones.

          • David W says:

            Hi Piobaireachd,

            There are multiple definitions of atheism, as well as multiple types of atheism.
            I understand that when atheism is defined as “the lack of belief in gods…” it becomes more difficult to attack.

            Dr. McCormick provides a good explanation of the two definitions/types of atheism which we are talking about here.
            “Negative atheism: The term atheism can be understood the way “atypical” or “asymmetrical” are. It can mean “simply lacking a belief in God.” People who have not reflected on the question, or who are not sure can be described as lacking an affirmative belief in God, so they can be characterized as negative atheists along with those who affirm that no God exists. This sense of the term is not typically distinguished; usually what people mean when they describe someone as “atheist” is that they are positive atheists—they believe that no God exists. For the most part, when I use the terms “atheist” or “atheism” in my blog, I mean, “positive atheism.”” (http://www.provingthenegative.com/2010/01/know-your-godless-heathen-positions.html)

            In regard to your second point: “I think it’s pretty easy to see the harm religion does.”
            I agree, but I am not asking if it is “easy to see the harm,” caused by religion, I am pointing out that there is no good evidence that it causes harm.
            When speaking with a believer, if you state that religion causes harm, but offer no evidence, what possible reason does the believer have to even consider your claim.

            In your post you only point to correlations between religion and violence without addressing any of the confounding factors, this is very far from good evidence that shows that religion CAUSES harm.

            If you know of good evidence showing that religion causes harm, please share it! I will definitely use it in my conversations with my fundamental Christian family and friends.

            I look forward to your reply.

          • Piobaireachd says:

            I can’t seem to directly reply to David’s post so I’m replying here instead, but this is meant for him.

            Aids in Africa is massively exacerbated by the Catholic churches medieval view on sex. They have the means to positively impact the situation and yet they do the exact opposite. That seems very clear cut to me.

            Sectarian violence around the world is very measurable and is entirely the result of religious differences.

            The institutionalized subjugation of women is perpetuated by religious belief and it’s quite common and obvious in many parts of the world. Saudi Arabia and a host of other Islamic countries are glaring examples of this. Women are explicitly subject to a variety of laws which degrade them. The recent high profile rape cases in Dubai are great examples of how this all works.

            The common religious stance on homosexuality is a very obvious source of harm. Not only with hate crimes, which are pretty obvious, but also the affect (that’s increasingly well document) that various “deprogramming regimens” have had on participants. Suicides and depression are typical outcomes of being ostracized and pressured by the very people who are generally expected to love you unconditionally.

            Circumcision is another, particularly female circumcision. These are religious practices that harm people, particularly females.

            So there are a few examples that are pretty concrete if you want more, google is your friend.

            We have to be careful when it comes to god, because it’s a loaded word and usually applied in a very relative way… meaning that when people talk about gods exiting or not they talk about in the context of a single religion (Pascal’s famous wager makes this logical fallacy a central part of his argument). I don’t believe any of the human defined gods exist because not only is there no evidence for them, many of the claims they make are falsifiable… and you only really need to falsify a single claim to debunk a religion that claims a supreme, infallible god (or pantheon of them). That said, it’s still possible that some sort of deistic god is out there. Though with each passing decade the data coming in keeps rolling back the curtain and we haven’t yet found anything that requires a god. The gaps are getting smaller, but I remain open to the possibility that we may finally find something that can’t be explained any other way. But I take the default position in the mean time because it’s the only position that holds any water ATM.

            Good craic though.


          • David W says:

            Hi again Piobaireachd,

            I do not need convincing that religion causes harm as I really do believe that it does cause harm.
            Let me try to restate my point. In speaking with a fundamental Christian, if I state that religion causes harm, I *might* get them to agree that every religion other than Christianity causes harm; this is likely due to the fact that all other religions are false in their view, and false religions cause harm by definition in their view. If, however, I try to argue that Christianity causes harm, I have no good evidence to show that their religion CAUSES harm.

            What you offered me were correlations, not causation, and you did not address confounding factors. Good evidence would need to be something like a series of studies and or surveys which were replicated multiple times, and about which there was consensus among experts from a variety of fields; nothing like this exists to my knowledge.

            It is very easy to convince the unbeliever that religion causes harm, and the examples you mentioned are great for this purpose. However, when attempting to convince a believer, who sincerely believes that God actually wrote their book, it will take more than correlation to even get the believer to consider the idea that their religion may be harmful.

            I am trying really hard to be clear, I hope I have succeed!

            In regard to the second part of your post, I do not understand what you are getting at, unless you were just pointing out that gods do not exist, which I agree with of course.

        • bonnie says:

          I am actually more an agnostic than an atheist since I believe in a creative force. I never said I thought atheists are more rational than believers. I consider a lot of my Christian friends to be more intellectual than I am. And although, I think religion is harmful I think most of its followers are good intelligent people. You’ve made a lot of assumptions about me and put a tone to my words that wasn’t there in my post.

          “Basically, you offer your anecdotal experience as evidence that atheists are more rational and tend to take responsibility for their actions?”

          No. I was saying the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality on a large scale, (burning witches, the crusades, genocide) is proof, the fact that we also see it every day in our lives is just a perk. I said I could not think of any atheist in history that has used his lack of belief to justify any action against another human being. You still have not cited one although I am clearly wrong in my reasoning? I have only seen/heard/read of religious persons using their beliefs to justify harm to others. That was what I meant by taking personal responsibility and NO I don’t have to cite my personal life to find proof of that.

          If you can think of a case that this has happened, an atheist using his lack of belief to justify harm, then that would prove me wrong I suppose. And I would clearly bow to your superior reasoning skills.

          “So you claim “the US vs them mentality is proof enough”, basically, because there is conflict it must be the believers fault.”

          Yes, because I believe history shows so, society shows so and generally their doctrine shows so. Besides most conflicts occur between two differing faiths so atheists are not even in the equation.

          The tone in your reply, although I’m sure meant to be very nice was actually quite condescending. I hope this clarifies things for you. You’ve been arguing religion a little too much if you’re seeking a fight where there is none.

          • David W says:

            Hi bonnie,

            Well, it looks like I offended you, and was also condescending in your view. It is always difficult to judge intent and emotional content of the written word. I apologize and I did not mean to be condescending nor to offend you.
            Also, I hope that we can vigorously disagree about a matter, without it being construed as me seeking a fight! :)

            I think that we disagree on what constitutes good evidence of religion CAUSING harm.

            My argument is that correlation is not causation.
            Pointing out that people who were religious caused harm does not prove that religion causes harm.
            Even pointing out that the faithful explicitly state that the motivation behind their harmful action is religiously based does not prove that religion causes harm.
            But, it does suggest that religion MAY cause harm in some cases.

            Additionally, pointing out that an atheist has not used his “lack of belief to justify harm” does not show that religion causes harm; but I would rather stay away from this claim as I don’t know how to go about arguing for either side as it seems impossible to know the truth of this claim; and even if we did know the truth of this claim, I don’t see how it would prove anything.

            What I am looking for is good evidence. I said earlier that “…there is no good evidence that religion causes significant harm, or more harm than good. There are just too many confounding factors, perhaps those who would do bad things are attracted to religion; maybe the harm we see is correlation rather than causation, in respect to religions influence.”

            Sam Harris is fond of saying that unjustified certainty is problematic. We are not certain that religion causes harm; although it does seem to be very likely.

            Why am I so concerned with what seems to be a technicality? When we non-believers pretend to be certain about things without adequate evidence we lose credibility.
            We ought to be careful in our speech and thinking; we should tell the believer that it is likely that religion causes harm, not that that it DOES cause harm.

            Anyone else want to weigh in here? Am I placing unreasonable demands on the non-believer?

            My goal in all conversations with fundamental believers is to decrease their fundamentalism, but I do not know if this is possible..
            When I argue that there is no good evidence that religion causes harm, I do so in the hope that it will inspire us non-believers to be cautious in our speech with believers, which, I hope, will give us some credibility and allow us the opportunity to decrease fundamentalism.

          • Bonnie says:

            Okay, I was under the impression you were comparing the harm caused by religious vs. the harm caused by non-religious. That, I believe is a pretty clear cut point. The overall good caused by religion vs. bad is, in my opinion, impossible to argue effectively with apologists. Likely, because they will say that any one doing ‘bad’ is not following their ‘true’ religion as the person sees it.

            I still think the divide created by religion is an interesting point though. Non-belief creates no divide simply because there is no religion, no ‘club’ or grouping of people. Once, you create a religion you have those who believe and those who don’t. It’s not a far step for the religion to then justify actions towards non-believers and we’ve seen it happen repeatedly in history and in our daily lives.

            BTW, I do not seek out debates / arguments. I don’t like overly complicating things. I like clear cut truths (part of the problem I have with religion) and was just trying to clarify myself, not argue with you. It seemed you were under the impression I was some pompous, over intellectual / underthinking atheist.

            Sorry for the misunderstanding. There are a few debates Hitchins participated in that explored the overall good of religion vs. harm. You’ve probably already seen them but if not should look them up.

            Happy Thanksgiving.

          • David W says:

            Hi Bonnie,

            This is in response to your November 27, 2013 at 11:18 am post.

            When you say “The overall good caused by religion vs. bad is, in my opinion, impossible to argue effectively with apologists. ” I am afraid that you are right!!
            I really hope you are not though!

            I am still looking for a way to speak with fundamental believers which will decrease their fundamentalism in the long run. Sam Harris suggests that we adopt ‘conversational intolerance’ for unjustified belief claims, this seems like a good idea, but I worry that it may have the boomerang effect.

            Ya I really enjoy Hitches talks :)

            Happy thanksgiving to you to.

          • bonnie says:

            Debating fundamentalists brings to mind the saying, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” No matter how effectively we make our point they will never be ‘convinced’ and it will never be enough proof.

  9. Chad Bunch says:

    Another excellent post. We will all be so lucky to someday possess the ability to express ourselves in such wonderful prose. I cannot wait for the collected edition of “Godless in Dixie” to hit bookshelves. Yes, I am predicting the future, just as those authors of the bible did so long ago.

  10. Atheism is still in its infancy, and one of our greatest strengths is that we can (and should) be egalitarian about religious discussion. Now, I see this all the time in the Atheist/non-religious community where various negative behaviors are attributed to religion and the following of religion.

    I will admit that it’s a bit odd to be an Atheist that defends religion, but I do it because I’m all for calling out religion as a silly make believe system, but I’m not in support of the idea that religion causes any of the societal ills mentioned. I firmly believe that religion is more often used as a mask or scapegoat for a wide range of complex psychological and emotional drivers.

    Lack of Self Awareness, Avoidance of Responsibility, Fear of the other or the unknown, Misplaced anger are all found in every human. The greatest difficulties we face as we progress through our lives is managing those feelings, interpreting them, and most difficult of all accepting them as real. Religion is a convenient method by which people can keep scary thoughts at bay. It is much easier to fall into a cultural pattern of female genital mutilation than it is to admit to yourself that you are afraid of women and sexuality.

    What I’m trying to say is that religion is not the catalyst for the actions. It is the follow up excuse. And yes, I’m right there with you as you cringe when you hear someone say that they’re doing something because of religion, but their words are just another lie they tell themselves to avoid dealing with their own insecurities.

    Religion doesn’t cause one group to hate the other group, it’s the fear of the “other”, it’s instinctual and people will never admit, “Look, we want to kill the people on the other side of the border because they’re not like us!” That would take the most honest and bravest person on the planet to just come out and say that they have no reason to commit an action such as that save for their intrinsic fear of some group of people being different than themselves. And so they lie to themselves and to the world and say, “Well, our god doesn’t like them.” Convenient excuse.

    Next time you hear a religious person state that their religion is the motivating reason for a certain behavior they have, take a step back and analyze that person. I’ll bet you that you’ll be able to find multiple reasons for their behavior and none of them will be religion.

    I love telling people this because it frustrates them to no end. Even religious people don’t believe what they claim to believe, but they can’t bring themselves to admit it for fear that their life is without ultimate meaning (which it is) and that they are responsible for themselves in this world. It is a very real fear and one that scares people so greatly, that they would rather believe just about anything than come to terms with it.

  11. mikespeir says:

    “We should mind our manners, but speak our minds, too. Can’t we do both?”

    No, I’m afraid not. Not as long as there are people who believe there are more important things than our collective, temporal welfare.

  12. I have to agree with you on just about every point. I would add that it is important not to throw away the baby with the bath water and boy is there a lot of dirty bath water and a very tiny baby. Nonetheless there is a baby. What I mean is that we have differentiate between writings from say Ekhart Tolle which might be a little woo woo at worst (a Theology into the Myst I suppose), but has a net benefit psychologically speaking and fundamentalism which most of the time does psychological harm (not to mention other types of harm). It doesn’t excuse us from thinking critically about anything, but I have found the more anti-theistic I became, the less of a dialogue could be had. It’s only when each of us state what we value (i.e. freedom to believe as one wishes, using positive examples of Jesus to shame bad behavior, etc…) and are able to reason things out that I was able to at least convince people that militant religion is unproductive. I sometimes think that is the best we can hope for without doing the same the religious have done to us; which is bludgeon us with their ideas/beliefs.

  13. Kenn says:

    Another spot on blog. Thanks for sharing. It reminds me of the quote “There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.” – Martin Luther King…..betrayal to ourselves, betrayal to our community, and betrayal to truths.

  14. bonnie says:

    I too have become more anti theist with time. I think religion only does ‘good’ for people by replacing one bad addiction/habit with another. I also have simply gotten sick of being condescended to and preached at.

  15. I’m trying very hard to remember that the religion is not monolithic. It is in fact splintering faster and faster every day and I think as more Christians split away from the “party line,” we’ll have an easier time keeping its variations in mind. I keep up with the blogs of several Christians who I think have the right idea, which helps ground me a little (and keep me up with the latest trends in the religion, which can be helpful).

  16. Patrick says:

    Stumbled on your site through Reddit. You write well. Kudos to you.

    I watched your Q&A video on YouTube with the Christian group (nice pastor, btw, seemed very thoughtful and open-minded). You declared yourself an anti anti-Theist. You went there to bury Caesar, not praise him. Is this post documenting a change in your strategy? Have you moved into the new Atheist camp?

    Let’s be crystal clear: Christianity makes little sense. As you note, the belief in Santa Claus is fine, but eventually we should grow out of it. If not, something is psychologically wrong. And this is why organised religion fascinates me. It’s like mass dementia. But how to combat that?

    One way is to be a “good” Atheist. Keep your mouth mostly shut and lead by example. Let’s just all get along! It’s about building bridges, I suppose. “Look, mommy, he doesn’t have horns and eat babies? Maybe atheists aren’t the devil, after all…” But this requires the patience of Job, doesn’t it? Especially in the US deep south… Bite your tongue, smile, walk away slowly, no sudden movements…. This was you in your Q&A, which you handled quite well.

    Option 2 is to go full frontal on them… Live in truth. Call a spade a spade. “For Gawd’s sake, people, how can you believe this silliness!” ;-) Especially when it’s that same silliness that justifies discrimination against others. Ideas have consequences. Taking the long view isn’t so appetising when it’s you that suffers in the short term…

    I tend to fall in camp 2, although I try to be a bit kinder and gentler with my full frontal assaults. :-) Christianity is the naked emperor. More people must speak up. Christians are very good at shutting down any debate when it questions their beliefs. It’s a reflection of their deep rooted insecurities about their religion. When you have no evidence to substantiate your beliefs, you really are dependent on mass hysteria. Hence heretics must be dealt with severely, as you have no doubt experienced first hand. They must kill the virus of reason before it spreads.

    Looking forward to more posts. Good luck to you, and all the best to your family.

  17. Johnny Modest says:

    Great post!

    Fun game for anti-theists: If someone says “bless you” or “God bless you” (often after a sneeze) –respond with a quick “no thanks”.

  18. Piobaireachd says:

    It’s really hard not to get increasingly annoyed when religion is obviously the driving factor behind all kinds of stupidity, and in the last 10-15 years it’s gotten more and more strident here in the states. From hampering education to dictating women’s health… and that’s just here in the states. You only have to look to south Asia and the middle east to see stuff that is almost soul crushing. The staggering amount of human misery generated by their religious/cultural world view is very saddening.

  19. Pingback: Link Love (2013-12-21) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  20. JinxCain says:

    WOW! I’ve been through all of these same exact things and much, much worse. My parents used extremist religious beliefs to validate physically and mentally abusing us. Now I’m connecting with all these people who have had the same experience. It’s funny because some of the exact things you say are in a song I wrote on the subject. It’s called “Speak of the Devil”. I’ll post a link here because you are a special group of people who might understand it on a deeper level than most. Thanks for sharing!

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