Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Height of Arrogance

Image by Niusereset
I firmly believe that debate is the greatest source of learning. You have to challenge your ideas and the ideas of others to discover what holds true for you, but at some point, you might do well to pump the brakes, lest you become a pompous douche bag.

Case in point: religion.
I do not care if you are a strong believer or a nonbeliever, and the idea that religion is a topic of discussion that should be left off the table is completely ridiculous. Please argue. Please debate. But for the love of God (or Science H. Logic if you are an atheist) don't preach to me. If you promote these ideas, fine; but if you evangelize on their behalf, go ruin someone else's day.

The Religious

Here is the text of a mass forwarded e-mail I recently read:

In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews and observances of their holy days...

The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant." The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.

You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture!

Actually, no I don't. Just because someone doesn't hold the same viewpoint as you doesn't make them a fool. If they hold that viewpoint without any reasonable explanation, you could probably make that claim (note that I said reasonable, and by this I do not mean traditionally logical, but rather something that has an explainable cause).

I am not an atheist, and I probably never will be, but I can't argue that individuals that are atheist have reason enough to believe there is no God, just as the theist has a faith-based reason to believe there is. And who the fuck are you to pretend like you know who God thinks is a fool? Just because you memorized an obscure piece of scripture - written by MAN, mind you - does not make you an ultimate authority. Piss off.

The Non-religious

As a Catholic, and lapse one at that, I suppose I am fundamentally opposed to the premise of atheism, but you are entitle to that view if you believe it true, and there is good evidence to that end. However, understand that insulting the religious and calling them ignorant isn't converting anyone to your cause.

The religious people of this country seek explanation for things beyond their level of understanding, which varies for each person. For them, faith is the answer, and sometimes it is a good one.

Christopher Hitchens disagrees vehemently. Hitchens is more than an atheist; he is an anti-theist, actively campaigning against religion. His newest book is entitle "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." Thanks Chris. Hyperbole needed a new friend.

Look, I get it. Religion makes no sense to some people, and many see it as a destructive force. I cannot argue that religion has not been a force for destruction. From the Crusades to witch hunts to Islamic terrorism and everything in between, religion has been a breading ground for horrible things.

However, the same is true for secularism. I doubt Stalin went to church very often. And though I haven't read Hitchens' book, the idea that "religion poisons everything" is ridiculous. Again, as a Catholic, I recognize the atrocities of the past and present and condemn them as much as anyone else, but there is good in religion too. Religion offers people a community which they may not otherwise experience, and religious institutions across the globe provide charitable services to the poor and needy. Could this be done without religion? You bet. But religion is undeniably a part of it, so to claim all religion is poisonous is ignorant.

Moreover, the devotion many atheists and anti-theists have toward science is potentially as dangerous. On a recent episode of "Real Time," Mos Def made the argument that everyone has a religion of some kind, a point which Hitchens and Bill Maher immediately refuted based on the misuse of the term religion.

At some level, it probably isn't fair to lump all belief systems under the term "religion." Traditionally, religion is based on faith, while many beliefs have greater logical foundations. Still, the faith many atheists have in science is often as unquestioned as the faith others have in religion.

Everyone looks for a constant in their lives. Religion provides unchanging certainty, so it brings comfort to some. Science - or at least its method - provides something viable to cling to for uncovering truth. I don't question the scientific method, but I do recognize that science changes its mind a bit. What is true today may be false tomorrow. Discovery drives science.

To that end, is it not dangerous to advocate ceaselessly for a cause of science that may be just as false as any religious cause? For example, the inventors of the frontal lobotomy hailed the procedure as a cure for several mental illnesses. They were awarded a Nobel Prize and the procedure gained wide global popularity. Turns out, lobotomies simply destroy part of your brain, making you more docile. And where did all the original scientific support for this procedure come from? One experiment on one gorilla. Imagine if we had individuals advocating as passionately for lobotomies as they do for global warming? We'd all be praying for the Chief to smother us with pillows.

I know what I presented is an unfair comparison; global warming has substantially more supportive evidence for its truth than did the lobotomy procedure. My point, however, remains the same: many people who praise science for its method begin to praise the discoveries of science as ultimate truth. They are not. Science is a game of disproving and questioning, of uncertainty and untruth. So yes, hail science, but do so cautiously.

And atheists, before you criticize others for unquestioned belief, ask yourself how much you question your own, and remember that a religious people may have questioned their beliefs just as fervently and come to a different conclusion. To those on either side of this issues: If you want to debate me, I welcome it, but if you want to condescend to me, you can shove it up your ass.


  1. I agree with you. It seems that, religion is often used to persecute, rather than except; and what would atheist be without theist? anti-nothings? Despite the bitterness between the two, it seems they owe a lot to each other.

    "Just because someone doesn't hold the same viewpoint as you doesn't make them a fool."

    You are very correct in this case, but I don't believe that you are arguing for the sake of "fools". The definition of a fool is primarily dependent on your own viewpoint, is it not? For instance I often find myself thinking this: "Because you think you are smart, I think you are foolish." which is clearly just a matter of arrogance and annoyance on my own part.

    You paint yourself as one torn between two worlds. It seems you are part of the catholic community, yet you aren't blinded by its proximity. I like your views. Your points seem to support the notion that ignorance is somehow linked to the want "to be something" (eg: I'm a this, or that/ I believe this or that). I very much have the same point of view, though I think you would benefit personally from exploiting your own arrogance (not that you are arrogant, but everyone is on some level).

    "if you want to condescend me, you can shove it up your ass"- Haha. The problem with this, is just a matter of those condescending people fitting it all in. haha

  2. Standard operating procedure when loosing a religious debate. Note, it also involves anal breaching.

    Jesus: Let me tell you something, pendejo. You pull any of your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I'll take it away from you, stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger 'til it goes "click."
    Dude: Jesus.
    Jesus: You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.
    Walter Sobchak: Eight-year-olds, Dude.

    The point I am not making very well is that when people like Christopher Hitchens or his holy counterparts argue, the goal is to reaffirm themselves by intimidating others through condescension. Perverted? Kind of. Eight-year-olds, dude.

  3. To understand is to transform what is. --Krishnamurti said that.

  4. Overall I agree, but isn't this more a fundamental/moderate debate than religious/non-religious?

  5. I would agree that it is a fundamental/moderate debate.

  6. Well said.

    Although I'm not particularly religious, blaming religion for all the world's ills requires some fairly overt historical and rhetorical sleight of hand. Frankly, I've grown weary of the pseudo-intellectuals who point proudly to their hatred of all things religious. All I can think is:
    "Yes, yes, well done. That's some hard-hitting criticism. I await eagerly your next sweeping generalization..."

    Sure people have done nasty things in the name of religion, but I don't think you can draw a straight line of correlation between religion and nastiness. People do stupid things for lots of reasons: money, land, love, hate, and even good old fashioned homicidal mania.

    There is no doubt that religion is a useful and powerful tool for those who want to inspire hatred. But I don't think that people chop each other to pieces on a battlefield because of conflicting religious beliefs.