There is an excellent blog post titled, “Why Do Outspoken Atheists Care So Much About What They Don’t Believe In?”
I agree with much of it. I’ve often run into theists and atheists who wonder why some people even bother to debate, challenge or question religion. In my opinion, the question itself devalues theists and atheists – it basically treats both like children who have to be sheltered from the truth and any criticism for their peace of mind.
Granted, sometimes reality bites, but I don’t hear anyone seriously advocating for protecting adults from the reality that Santa doesn’t exist, even though believing in Santa might bring comfort to some individuals. Belief in Santa can certainly bring happiness, especially on Christmas day.
Religion permeates all of our lives, whether we’re atheists or theists. Whole countries are governed according to religious laws. Even secular countries are socially inundated by religion and religious belief. Policies are made and debated using religious thought. We have politicians who try to make laws based on their religious beliefs. Signs declaring the power of Jesus are everywhere; funerals and the grieving process are even socially affected by religion.
Yet, some people try to stifle religious conversation by saying it’s not worth discussing because it brings some people comfort.
From the blog post mentioned above:
Outspoken atheists seem as radically and comfortably outside the bounds of theistic influence as anyone I know. We tend to be far freer of theistic prejudices than merely nominal believers and likely even apatheists (atheists who simply don’t care to think or argue about questions of God) because the apatheist may not be troubled enough to examine just how many of her beliefs and values and assumptions and habits are influenced by the massive religious influences on the culture. Self-conscious atheists paying so much attention to theism are much more proactive about uprooting its patterns of judging and prioritizing from our minds as thoroughly as possible and really doing something beyond its errors.
It did take me time to fully extricate myself from my former faith since it had socialized me for so long before I left. In some ways my habits of mind will always bear some legacy influence. But over time I worked out a root to branch philosophy that neither requires nor references any religious authority qua religious authority. Having done that, I am a far more liberated thinker than the merely passive recipient of a Western culture with pervasively lingering unexamined theistic prejudices.
Even if atheists don’t go to church, many are still surrounded by religious people who influence our culture and color our social interactions. Their prejudices can be passed on. This is precisely why we need to discuss religion. We have to figure out whether it contains any truth. To deny that religion doesn’t play a role in our culture and way of thinking as a species is absurd, in my opinion. Religion doesn’t need more protection – it needs more discussion. It needs to be rigorously challenged.
The original blog post continues:
Just as doctors don’t live unhealthy lives because they hang around sickness all the time and detectives are not defined by criminality because they investigate crimes, argumentative atheists are not in some covert way defined by theism and supernaturalistic religiosity just because we debunk theism and supernatural religious beliefs. When we’re talking about what we don’t think, naturally we focus on these things we reject. When we are trying to oppose something we think is misleading people and sometimes harming them, naturally we research it!
Absolutely. Just like theists who research and often discuss their religious beliefs, it doesn’t necessarily dominate their lives. In some ways, I respect the outspoken fundamentalist more than I do the person who tries to stifle and destroy meaningful conversation. When I discuss religion with an outspoken religious person, at least they’re willing to have a conversation. They are usually honest about their religious beliefs and have no problem telling me why.
The writer of the original blog posts puts forth an idea of why people try to shut down conversation:
I can understand why manipulative religions, which will do anything to keep people from being free of them, engage in these rhetorical tactics against us. When they tell us we shouldn’t worry about their beliefs if we don’t believe in them, they’re simply trying to shut us up. They’re not happy with what we’re saying and they’re trying to find a clever way to embarrass us and make us feel dumb for caring.
I’ve also noticed (mostly on Twitter) that if you call them on this silencing technique, people will usually back away.
For example, I was part of an exchange where a theist told me I tweeted about religion too much. I asked him why it bothered him. Was I too visible for him?
He immediately said I wasn’t and backed away from that line of questioning.
You don’t see that sort of faulty reasoning and questioning when it comes to other topics. You don’t see very many people tell someone they’re tweeting and questioning politics too much. We don’t tell people they shouldn’t talk about the ethics of animal cruelty too much or whether or not the death penalty works and is an ethical punishment. In most cases, we encourage different points of view so that we can parse out the truth.
Religion should be no different. Religious people should be free to talk about their religion and atheists should be free to challenge those beliefs, especially if they’re being expressed in a public forum.
Of course there are going to be atheists who don’t care about religion enough to write or talk about it, just like there are theists who don’t talk about their religious beliefs in public.
But if people are talking about religion or their lack of belief in public, then there is no reason why we should be attempting to shut down the conversation by implying the discussion isn’t even worth having.