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« Well, There's Your Problem: Atheists on Religion, Believers on Religion, Part 2 | Main | When Art Porn Works: "Ecstasy in Berlin 1926" »


Chris S

"But if someone says they never ride the bus on Tuesday because their religion forbids it... we're not supposed to question it. It's the conversation-stopper. It's the trump card."

I would disagree to some extent. It's a conversation stopper only if you are a different religion from that someone and either it would take days of studies in that religion to understand, or it is simply a tradition within that faith. It's my religion is similar to saying "It's a black thing".
Which doesn't mean it shouldn't be questioned, but rather that, on the flip side, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, simply because, it's not something you participate in.

While religious belief is presented as a solid front in the media, there are controversies and differences in every major religion. Religious scholars fight it out and no one gets the "my religion" excuse. US Episcopalian ordain gay ministers, Episcopalians outside are vehemently against this. Some Muslims do not believe in women needing to be veiled. Others do,
Protestant religions were created as a result of someone protesting practices in and beliefs in the Catholic church, including the right for ordinary people to interpet the bible for themselves. (and in an ironic circle, some faiths with protestant roots are now ones that say, 'if you don't believe X like we do, you're a sinner')

"It's my religion" is only a stopper for the comment, "I don't care about your arbitrary beliefs, you should drop them because they aren't mine".

While some cases are made for religious tolerance. Such as allowing Jews to not have to take tests on the Sabbath,There are plenty of legal cases in which 'religion' was judged as insufficient a reason for breaking a law or doing something opposed to the public good. (Polygamy, forced marriage, ritual drug use to name a few).

Greta Christina

"'It's my religion' is only a stopper for the comment, 'I don't care about your arbitrary beliefs, you should drop them because they aren't mine'."

The thing is, Chris, that really hasn't been my experience, and it hasn't been what I've seen in the world. I have seen and experienced, many many times, the idea that questioning or disagreeing with a religious belief is the same thing as being intolerant, insulting, or out-of-hand dismissive of it. I'm not saying all religious people do this -- but an awful lot of them do.

The example that's leaping to mind right off the top of my head is the so-called "war on Christmas." The religious right has been having cows over the fact that, in the month of December, many store clerks say "happy holidays" to their customers instead of "merry Christmas." The Christian Right -- and their pals at Fox News -- go on at great length about how this is an unacceptable, insulting "attack" (their words) on Christmas and the Christian faith.

It's important to note that these store clerks are not saying "Fuck Christmas," or "I spit on your Christian faith," or even "I don't agree with Christianity." They're saying, in essence, "We recognize that there are many different religious faiths, that not everyone who comes into this store is a Christian, and that people other than Christians celebrate holidays in December -- and we accept this as an okay state of affairs." This, apparently, is sufficiently insulting to the Christian Right for them to wage a well-organized campaign against it. The mere acknowledgment and acceptance of other faiths is seen as an insulting attack.

And please don't say that this is just a vocal minority or a few bad apples. Fundamentalists are, if I'm not mistaken, the single largest religious group in this country, and the Christian Right is a hugely powerful political force. (Remember: 47% of all Americans believe that people were created by God in about their current form about 10,000 years ago.)

Greta Christina

Oh, another example of the "anything that could possibly be interpreted as disagreement or questioning is insulting to our faith" concept has just crossed my path, and it's such a classic example that I can't help but mention it heree. A high school teacher is in trouble for discussing comparative religion in an elective literature class, and asking students to compare and contrast the Iroquois creation story with Genesis. (The teacher also asked the students to consider the problem of evil -- and acknowledged that he was an atheist.)

A Christian student complained, saying that the lesson was offensive to her Christian beliefs. "You can learn about religion," she said, "but not in that way, by putting it down." Her parents support her, saying that they don't expect public schools to teach or cater to one religion over another.

I'm not making this up, people. Pointing out to high school students that there are other creation stories other than the Christian one -- and asking them to consider one of the most important and central questions in philosophical and theological history -- is offensive to some people's Christian beliefs, and is catering to one religion over another.

The full story is at Pharyngula, at:


Chris S

Haven't been able to repond to your comment, but I found this tangentially related article in the NYTimes that might be interesting.

Raging Bee

Treating unsupported faith as a positive virtue makes people susceptible to other unsupported ideas -- many of which are nonsense, and some of which are dangerous nonsense.

I think this statement is extremely over-generalized, and, together with your subsequent examples, strongly implies that you think persons of faith are incapable of thinking rationally or taking care of themselves. (I don't believe this IS what you think, but you make it wound like it is.) Intentionally or not, it really sounds like what the believers say: "If you don't understand and follow The One True Path, there's no telling what sort of mischief your errors will get you into!"

I also think that the statement is simply not supported by the evidence I've seen so far: yes, there's plenty of dumb Christians who will buy the Brooklyn Bridge if their minister told them to, but there's plenty of other Christians who won't, and who are -- at the very least -- no less capable of separating good sense from nonsense than most atheists.

One irrational thought or belief does not make a person "irrational." Nor does having one "unsupported" belief lead, inevitably and like clockwork, to a propensity to unfounded faith in other things.

Raging Bee

Crap, HTML doesn't work here. The first paragraph of my post should have been italicized.

Greta Christina

"One irrational thought or belief does not make a person "irrational." Nor does having one "unsupported" belief lead, inevitably and like clockwork, to a propensity to unfounded faith in other things."

Didn't say it did, R.B.

To reiterate:

I didn't say that having unsupported faith makes people more susceptible to other unsupported ideas.

I said that *treating unsupported faith as if it were a virtue* -- as if by itself faith made one a good and admirable person, regardless of the belief being held -- makes people more susceptible to other unsupported ideas.

Forgive me if I have a slightly cranky tone. But apart from having had an unbelievably shitty day yesterday and just generally being cranky right now, that was the entire point of this post -- to distinguish between (a) having faith, and (b) believing faith to be in and of itself a virtue. I think if you'll go back and read the post again, you'll find that I spent several paragraphs carefully drawing exactly that distinction. Thanks.

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