I have noticed in the last few months an increase in upset emails from self identified atheists/nonbelievers and I’ve been thinking about what this means for the Church of FSM. Seems like I’ve annoyed some people. Maybe I can clear things up, and/or possibly further anger people.
First of course, I am talking for myself, not the church as a whole – let me make that clear.
I have a lot of respect for atheists and freethinkers and related organizations, and for rational causes in general. But there are times when I see atheist individuals and groups as combative and petty, leaving outsiders with a negative perception, hurting worthy causes in the process. I said the atheist movement needed a PR team some time ago. And then in an interview in WordyMofo I said atheists sometimes come off as "a bunch of assholes" to outsiders. Last week I said they’re not making any friends with the Nativity showdown.
I’ve said a lot of things but mainly I am talking about the *way* things are done; that is, the context of things; not ideas or goals or substantive parts of any of these organizations. I’m in favor of atheist/freethinker/rational causes. I just think when those guys get together they very occasionally act like dicks, leaving outsiders with the perception that nonreligious people are bitter and angry. And that is shame, because I don’t think it’s true.
What I worry most about, though, are the emails from young people who see in the Church of FSM an opportunity to bash religion in general and more specifically to bash people for being religious. Tolerance is more of a nuanced view and I believe they will come to it eventually if they stick around but it’s really very concerning that so many kids think this way when they first come to a place of free thinking.
I am not a huge fan of organized religion, and it’s impossible to ignore the abuses and corruption that have grown onto so many religions over the years, but at the same time, it’s impossible to deny that so many people get something meaningful out of their beliefs and that they have every right to continue to believe whatever they like *even if it’s irrational*, as long as it does no one else any harm. Just as we have the right to believe in the FSM. Just as nonbelievers have the right to be free from it. And we are all richer and more complete people for interacting with people who challenge and disagree with us.
The question is, can you confront the abuses and injustices that come along with religion in a way that doesn’t betray that tolerance for the beliefs of others? I don’t know, but shouldn’t that be the ideal?
What do you think?
Wow, good responses. I will note that what I receive in email varies quite a bit from the comments here. I like that most people took the message in the spirit it was intended.
I think there is an idea that I’m defending religion, but it’s not really that … it was meant more as a defense of people and their *personal* religious beliefs. FSM knows there are awful religious people, of course there are – there are awful people anywhere you look, but there are also good people anywhere you look and that includes inside of religion.
There are several occurrences where a curious Christian ventured here and engaged us for a while only to be stomped on en masse for their thoughts. I hate that. There is this idea, I think, that being correct is enough, that if we rip apart all their arguments thoroughly enough they will see the error of their ways and then … I don’t know, renounce their foolish beliefs and join up? Except I don’t think it works that way. There is that quote … "You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into." I think there is a bigger picture and if we truly want to help someone along a path of Reason, it starts with an uncommon level of respect.
Thank you, everyone, for your responses. Keep them coming. I feel like we’re onto something.
I just found this and thought it deserved some attention:
"Do we want Christians to join us? Since when is this not about keeping religion out of science?"
That’s a valid point. I think its worth talking about larger goals of the Church of the FSM but for now I think it’s safe to say there is a wish amongst non-religious that the religious acted more rational – particularly in areas where their actions intersect with the rest of the world.
I’ve seen plenty of disagreements between religious and non-religious played out publicly and I’ve yet to see a person of faith swayed by articulate impassioned reasoning.
And I doubt very much that people of strong faith are concerned whether their beliefs are strictly True or not. Whether that’s a conscious realization or not I don’t know, but we have all known people with entrenched beliefs that are too irrational to believe (earth is 5000 years old, anyone?) except they do believe these things – they believe these things with a force to be reckoned with.
Well what is at the root of that force? Clearly it has little to do with objective reasoning. I suggest it’s due mainly to the attachment to the very real, very meaningful community that churches provide for so many people. Cognitive dissonance — they can’t be reasoned with because betraying those beliefs puts in danger their relationship to the community they value so highly, therefore the thing is True. That’s the force, the block that can’t be argued against.
Atheists, nonbelievers, freethinkers — we can say we build communities as well, and there are some examples but we’re not great at it. Say what you will about Christians, they kick our asses at building communities. There is something about Drinking The Kool-Aid that lets people do with genuine (sometimes very creepy) intention what seems very hard to do for a group with broader more objective views. I’m not just talking about religion. Squabbling academic groups, anyone? There is something about getting together in groups that is very hard to do positively. How do you do it without being cynical? We need to figure it out.
Will Christians walk from one community to another? Surely some will. I have heard the same story from countless ex-Christians who have become Atheists and it’s always a lonely road, because it’s never just a matter of questioning ones beliefs, is it? It’s also a matter of losing that support system and community that came along with those beliefs.
And maybe just having that option, knowing that questioning beliefs doesn’t have to mean such a loss, will make it easier.