Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?
Continued from previous page
And that's an argument for my side -- not his.
I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It's a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don't have very good evidence supporting them.
Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue... so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don't feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays -- and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things -- we don't have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, "My parents tell me," My religious leader tells me," "My holy book tells me," or "I feel it in my heart." And if we care about our belief -- if it's not some random trivial opinion, if it's central to our personal and social identity -- we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can't have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.
But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc.... doesn't that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there's no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them... doesn't that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn't that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?
So yeah. This wasn't such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn't a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I've asked, "Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?" I've been met with what was essentially silence.
I've gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I've been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I've been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has been compared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I've even been called "evil in one of its purest forms" -- as have many other atheist writers; I'm hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate -- the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated -- is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.