How to Write about the Religulous, a Guide
This is a satirical response to " How to Write about the Gnu Atheists, a Guide" which is itself a satirical rebuttal to the way the new atheists have been characterized by critics. For the most part I agree with the points raised in the piece and hope religious critics of the new atheists will reflect on it. I am writing this piece to simply point out that the new atheists have over generalized and distorted religion in many of the same ways that critics of the new atheists have critiqued them. Thus, this is my satirical "guide" for new atheists who are critiquing religion and seeking the best methods for their approach.
How to Write about the Religulous
The first and most important thing to do when writing about the religulous is to conflate all religion with the belief in a supernatural god. By identifying all religion with an abusive and cruel "celestial dictator" it will ensure the maximum ability to attack and ridicule your target. It also provides the advantage of avoiding the complexity of various religious people who use the words God, sacred or divine but do not mean an omnipotent personal being or anything outside or above the laws of the universe.
To help make your case you can borrow this line from popular anti-religious atheist blogger Greta Christina, "The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it's not religion." Or this one from Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), "To be religious is to be a theist." Following this definition it's crucial that you primarily focus on the Abrahamic faiths and ignore things like the Buddhist Churches of America (the oldest Buddhist group in the U.S.) Sure they meet on Sunday mornings, sing hymns, sit in pews, use sacred texts, send their children to Sunday school and listen to a reverend or minister. But they don't believe in a supernatural god so they don't really count and you can safely ignore them. It's better to take the Buddhists off the "religion can be harmful radar" because a lot of liberal Westerners see Buddhists as pure, esoteric, spiritual and enlightened, so it's best not to confuse these good people by including Buddhists among the religulous.
Perhaps like Sam Harris you do believe that Buddhism is a religion. If you agree you have two options. One is to ignore all the good things Buddhists have done and focus on the bad things: list all the wars Buddhists have fought or discuss abusive eastern gurus, for example. We explain how to do this below, but the key point is that the bad things are the result of the religion, the good things are not. This tactic works well with Christianity. If you can't make it work with Buddhism your second option is to argue for the elimination of Buddhism as a religion as Harris does in the essay "Killing the Buddha." But to do that you must make sure not to discuss the contents of any World Religion text as it might be confusing to introduce more atheist religions such as Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism and other strands of Buddhism. And at all costs avoid mention of Unitarian Universalism, a religion with 19% atheists and 30% agnostics.
Whatever you do, don't admit that you can be an atheist without being anti-religious.
One tried and true technique for writing about the religulous is the "waffle and shake" method so ingeniously used by Hitchens. The first step is to avoid any scholarly or sociological definitions of the term "religion" so you can make it mean whatever you want. This will allow you to waffle back and forth and gain the strategic advantage. For example, Hitchens claims that to be religious is to believe in a supernatural god and then at the last moment he slyly inserts sections on eastern traditions in his book about religion. Be warned: not everyone can pull off the "waffle and shake" with such precision, Hitchens is a trained professional.
When writing about the religulous it is crucial that you blame liberal and moderate forms of religion for justifying extremism, religious terrorism and bigotry. Sam Harris states that moderates are "in large part responsible for the religious conflict in our world" and "Religious tolerance-born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God-is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss." Richard Dawkins claims, "The teachings of "moderate" religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism." Don't worry about explaining the logic behind these statements, simply accept them on faith. When the religulous person asks you why the same reasoning doesn't apply to anything else in our social reality simply appeal to the high authority of Dawkins and Harris. The religulous person might say that the liberal democrat Dennis Kucinich does not provide justification for the torture and invasions of George Bush. She may point out that if the same logic is applied to Kucinich then he should absolve himself from all government, as his participation in it - as liberal (or moderate depending on who you ask) as it may be - justifies the conditions for others to use government for torture. She may challenge the idea that the casual drinker isn't responsible for alcoholism, liver disease and ruined marriages. Or that the pot smoker sanctions the heroin addict. When she claims that your reasoning leads to the conclusion that the liberal and moderate and non-harmful uses of science, alcohol, drugs, government and religion are all responsible for their most extreme abuses merely deflect the question and tell her that the real problem is the role liberal religious people play in supporting the taboo against criticizing religion. When she clearly illustrates that liberal religious people are some of the biggest critics of religious bigotry, homophobia and fundamentalism (just as liberal politicians are some of the government's biggest critics) again deflect the question and begin telling her how brilliant Richard Dawkins is.
Of course never discuss the good that religion inspires (community, healing, ritual, resisting injustice, intimacy, meaning, purpose) as it is logically impossible for people influenced by religion to do any good (it's their human nature, not religion). Portray religion only in its most violent, bigoted and destructive forms. You can borrow these quotes from Hitchens to make your case, "Religion kills," "Religion poisons everything," and "as well as a menace to civilization, it has become a threat to human survival." Never mention that religion can be used to both heal and kill. When good things are done by religious people explain that it is their basic human nature, when bad things are done in the name of religion dismiss their human nature and blame it all on "religion." Remind your readers that religion is not needed to know right from wrong anyway and for this reason it is entirely useless. As Hitchens states about Dr. King, religion was not needed to know segregation was wrong. This proves that religion was useless in the civil rights movement and can be discarded.
Next, the contributions and sacrifices of liberal religious leaders should be minimized or ignored. This is easily done. Thanks to the poor teaching about religion in American schools - a triumph of the alliance between religious and secular fundamentalists to keep us all ignorant on the topic - few people actually know anything about it. You can safely ignore the fact that Unitarian Christians such as Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Parker were among the first of many liberal religious U.S. citizens to deny the divinity of Jesus, reject miracles, adopt a scientific and critical approach to the Bible and challenge the patriarchal, racist and bigoted dimensions of Christianity. Only a few people know that, so you will probably not be criticized if you pretend it never happened. It may take a Hitchens level of chutzpah, but practice in front of a mirror and you will soon be able to carry it off. Hitch says that he understands the differences between religions, but when asked about his thoughts on Unitarianism he compared it to rats and vermin. Robust language like that is always good, like Ophelia Benson's "Religion is the whited sepulchre, the warthog in a party dress, the dictator in a pink uniform plastered with medals." Take a tip from the over-the-top way fundamentalist religious people put each other down: you can do it back to them, like Hitch and Ophelia.
A related tip is to flatten any measurable differences by calling the radically progressive religious leaders and traditions the same colorful names you call the fundamentalists. Throw the Thomas Jeffersons in with the Borgia Popes and the bin Ladens so they all look the same. Suppress the dangerous notion that liberal religious reformers like Jefferson and Parker have done more than any atheist has or ever will do to challenge and reform religion. No respect should be shown for their contributions because they represent the problem. And forget about all of those feminist, mujerista and liberation theologians who dedicated their lives to challenging the patriarchy, racism and bigotry within Christianity. Don't mention any evidence that might lead the confused woman in the street to doubt the plain truth: which is that the use of religion to resist injustice, cruelty or systems of domination has been negligible. And lastly, never make exceptions for the religions of Native Americans or other Indigenous people, however superficially attractive their ideas might be. Like other forms of religion theirs are, as Dawkins states, "an open invitation to extremism." They deserve to be subjected to the same scrutiny and attack as any other religion.
Make sure to repeat slogans like "religion is the enemy of science and reason" and then point to Biblical passages that describe the earth as flat. Next, discuss the persecution of scientists by the Catholic Church. It doesn't matter if the religulous person is pro-science and doesn't actually believe his or her sacred text literally, the only thing that matters is they are affiliated with a religion and thus deserve to be equated with being irrational, unreasonable and unscientific.
It's not important to distinguish between particular effects of some religious traditions or their leaders as any actions of anyone associated with religion can be used to discount all religion.
And finally if in some public meeting in the process of attacking religion you demonize Muslims and suggest they deserve to be indiscriminately bombed as Christopher Hitchens did, and an audience member objects, don't worry. Popular anger can be roused. More great advice about demonizing Muslims can be found in the work of Sam Harris. You can always borrow this classic line from Harris (Hitchens agrees) when wanting to stir up fear, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them." Work on your delivery of robust epithets linking Muslims to Hitler, Stalin, the Salem witch trials, or whatever, and enough audience members will rise to their feet in your support to drown out the objector. If this is too much for your taste you can simply continue supporting the culture that demands the right to express anti-Muslim bigotry by promoting stereotypes and ill-informed understandings of Islam.
Remember: this is about the religulous. They are the most dangerous force in the world today. The focus should be on that danger, not on confusing mentions of nonreligious ways that humans oppress and cause harm, or of the so-called "religious" ways humans attempt to heal and repair this world.
Readers Note: I have criticized and supported both religion and the new atheists. These articles reflect my critique Christianity and religion and defense of atheism: " We're All Born Atheists: A Religious Person Defends Non-Belief," " Why God Doesn't Listen To Your Prayers," " Christian Hegemony: The Power of Language," and " The Disturbing but Common Christian Morality of Pat Robertson." I have also written the most comprehensive and nuanced critique of Christopher Hitchens to date and presented a serious challenge to many of the main tenets of new atheism: " What Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheists Can Learn from Malcolm X," " Should I Quit My Religion? Some Questions for the New Atheists," " Does Religion Cause Bad Behavior? Hitchens Can't Decide," " Christopher Hitchens: the Orthodox Protestant Atheist (Why the New Atheists are SO 19th Cenutry)." As of yet Hitchens has refused my requests to engage via phone interview, blog exchange or any other non-monetary format. He has agreed to debate me but as of yet I have been unable to raise his $15,000-20,000 speaking fee.
Be Scofield is the founder of God Bless the Whole World, a free online resource with hundreds of videos of leading visionaries related to social justice and spirituality. He writes and blogs for Tikkun magazine and his work has appeared on Alternet.org, IntegralWorld and FactNet. Be is pursuing a Master's of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry. His blog is www.commonsensereligion.com