Home > Religion > Why Care If People Don’t Apply Reason?

Why Care If People Don’t Apply Reason?

December 11th, 2010

Here’s a Canadian columnist’s reaction to the skeptic Centre for Inquiry’s campaign to promote reason:

A group of atheists is planning a national publicity campaign comparing belief in God to belief in Bigfoot, or fairies. … Here’s the question: Why do atheists care what other people believe? … Atheists are defined by their disbelief. i.e. the biggest thing in their life is that they don’t believe in something. But rather than just go around quietly, not believing, Trottier and his pals feel compelled to make other people not believe either. Their only faith is in the rightness of not having faith.

Isn’t that just a bit strange? I don’t happen to believe basketball is that interesting. Sorry, just don’t. I tried, but it bores me. Mainly I just keep it to myself. But if I was Justin Trottier, I’d be out there raising money to run ads in subways and streetcars, trying to convince other people that basketball is boring. The ads would say: “If you think basketball isn’t boring, you have to prove it. Just like Bigfoot.”

Wow. A lot stuff in there which seems to say a lot more about the attitudes held by people like the author than anything else.

First, the idea that for an atheist, “the biggest thing in their life is that they don’t believe in something.” I didn’t know that this had to be the biggest thing in one’s life. What if it’s not? Are you then not an atheist?

But more so, you “don’t believe in something”? Well, everybody does that. Religious people do that almost as much as atheists do–they usually disbelieve in all faiths except one, for example–but they would not characterize it that way. Neither would an atheist, who would say that they believe in reason, fact, science, humanity, etc.

But the most disturbing thing in this article is the idea that it is somehow unreasonable for atheists to spread their beliefs. Now, if this person also equally felt it was unreasonable for religions to do so also, then I could see that–but their whole point is that it is somehow nonsensical to popularize disbelief, meaning that spreading belief is OK.

Part of this stems, it seems, to the mistaken perception that atheism is a negative rather than a positive. But it also comes across as sounding like atheists don’t have the same legitimacy as other belief groups.

The answer to the writer’s question, of course, is the same reason we teach Critical Thinking in college: so people can apply reason to information that comes their way and see life more clearly.

Perhaps it is not surprising that this author sees such a thing as being a bit strange.

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  1. Troy
    December 11th, 2010 at 10:58 | #1

    you nailed it but I had to dig a bit to get to the main reason why I care.

    Religions poison people’s minds, turning them into easily bamboozled simpletons.

    Not all, but religion is the rejection of reason for an agglomerated mass of logical fallacies and feel-good stories that have been evolving for tens (Scientology, Aum-Shinriko), hundreds (Mormonism — almost, Islam), or thousands (Christianity, Hinduism) of years to maximize their popular appeal and “virulence” for lack of a better word.

    This is very handy for the people running things to leverage, to keep the a faction of the masses’ minds focused on the trivial (eg. who gets to legally put which sexual organ into which orifice) and the hereafter, which is a nice place for people’s heads to be if you wish to preserve the status quo.

    The conservatives are now joined at the hip with the religious right. Bachman, Ron Paul, Palin, Huckabee, even Romney — are pushing a very dogmatic and truculent American Exceptionalism BS story.

    This was the same BS that led this nation into Baghdad — that Bush was talking to God and, being a nation in communion with God we were literally on a crusade against the Satanic enemies in the mideast.

    It’s like we’re living a bad SF novel. That the AIPAC/neocon/Straussian crew could tap this and leverage it into the biggest policy mistake since Hitler decided he needed yet another enemy 69 years ago.

    This belief in magic can extend to other non-geopolitical contexts too. We don’t need to worry about debt or forests since Jesus is coming soon. God’s promise to Noah means global warming is impossible.


    yeah, with that latest it should be pretty f—-ing clear why the non-religious like me are pretty freaking tired of the intersection of Christianists and government.

  2. Luis
    December 11th, 2010 at 11:45 | #2

    That’s the thing which has always struck me about many organized religions, from the small cults up to the worldwide faiths: they seem to focus, above all else, upon control. Look at the first five commandments; they are supposed to be the foundation of morality, but have little or nothing to do with morality.

    They not only are about establishing the church as the one and only authority, but beat that idea into the parishioner repeatedly. #1 is that God is God, accept no substitutes; #2 is don’t worship anyone else (beginning to sound like the rules for Fight Club, isn’t it?); #3 is don’t say anything bad about God; #4 is spend at least one day a week worshipping God; and #5 is honor thy mother and father–and remember, the priest is your father and the head nun is your mother. None of these are about morality, it’s all about following the church, doing whatever it says. Half of the supposed laws of morality, the first half no less, basically boil down to “do what we say.” Don’t think for yourself, let us do that. Believe what we tell you to believe.

    And to ensure it comes across clear, use the strongest means of control available: fear. Nor do they try to hide this–it is considered good to be “God fearing” (how twisted is that?). They use both the carrot end and the stick end–the promise of eternal existence, and the fear of eternal pain worse than death. Make people believe that if they don’t do what you say–and remember, God can see into your very thoughts, there’s no fooling him–then you will suffer the worst pain imaginable. That your entire existence for all time hinges on doing what the church says.

    It’s a great scam: God is the absolute almighty, anything he says or does is moral no matter how hideous or stupid it may otherwise seem, and your ultimate despair or ecstasy depends on how obedient you are to him. And we have the direct line to him, we stand for him in proxy–in essence, as far as you are concerned, we are him, and wield his authority. So give us 10% of everything you make and do everything we tell you to do.

    What con artist wouldn’t love to head that up?

    The problem is, when people start thinking and applying reason, religion loses its grip. Many, if not most atheists are people who used to be religious until they studied the Bible enough, and applied reason enough to conclude that it didn’t make sense when taken as a whole. Many people, upon realizing this, will simply tone things down–i.e., choose what they want to believe and reject what they don’t, which is almost as bad for the churches, because that undermines their authority.

    Ergo we get churches saying stuff like this:

    Now, think about what that sign says: not just that reason is bad, but that reason is the worst enemy of the only thing that will save you.

    Don’t think. Don’t reason. Just obey.

    I mean, wow. Looked at objectively, it’s a pretty astonishing thing.

    Which is why I am not against personal religion or spirituality or whatever you want to call it, but I am very much against organized religion. Even those with benevolent intent bend toward maintaining their control over the good of their flock, which is why we get a church threatening abuse victims and protecting the abusers. Any organized religion, no matter how well-intentioned, will, eventually, fall into the pattern of control and abuse. And that’s assuming the very best–where I in fact believe that for all too many in the game, they know the real score and use religion as a tool to control people. Not hard to believe, as those who want to control others will naturally take as their own the best tools to do so–and religion is the best tool for the job.

  3. Tim Kane
    December 11th, 2010 at 13:42 | #3

    I had a Law School professor who told us he was an atheist. He was also a member of a Presbyterian (I think) church. In a class on intellectual property of indigenous cultures his views came up and someone asked him about the dichotomy.

    He said, “I am an atheist. But at the same time, I always wanted to be member of a religious community of faith. So I joined a church group so that I could be a member of a community of faith (paraphrased, of course).

    The late (and imho the great) M. Scott Peck, M.D. talked about the human need for community and its healing affects and the spirit of healthy community, and when you get in that if can be quite powerfully joyful for many of us when it is truly healthy. The best chance of being a healthy person is if you are associated with a variety of healthy, tolerant but committed communities. We see this manifested sometimes on T.V. shows: the community of misfits surrounding the bar “Cheers”, or the new show “Community” which is based upon a real life experience of backing into a sense of community with a study group at a Community College (America’s greatest institution). I once read where some mental health professionals had written about how we all need some relationships where we need “refrigerator rights” with other people: they were talking about Kramer’s right to come into Jerry’s apartment and go into his refrigerator at will without asking. This too is a form of communitarian relationship that Peck seemed to be advocating.

    Some religious people are getting community out of religion – not God. Some conflate the two. I conflate the two sometimes: “where ever two or three are gathered, etc…)

    The problem with religion is that it has a swiss army knife utility: spirituality, community, discipline, at times in history, education, material security etc…

    At one end there is the issue of personal spirituality. At the other end, there is the issue of organized religion. You obviously don’t need the latter to pursue the former.

    But most of us need healthy community of some sort. Indeed one of the worst forms of punishment is considered to be solitary confinement.

    Also the Aztecs envisioned a God (or Gods) that were indifferent, if not slightl hostile to humanity. They sought to buy off God bringing ruin to society through earth quakes and natural disaster, by preemptively creating human made disaster – in the form of huge numbers of sacrifice of victims (the inspiration for Mel Gibson’s film Apocolyto, which I though was very good as a fictional encapsulation of extremes of pre-columbian meso-America in steep decline) – some 40,000.

    The need for community and religion might, and likely is, the result of the chemistry and organization of ones own mind. Christopher Hitchens, noted athiest, whom I enjoy reading, writes only nonfiction. When asked why he doesn’t write fiction, he says he doesn’t have the capacity to do this… and he thought it might have something to do with his lack of a musical ability or to think musically and lyrically, which all his friend fictional authors seem to have. I think what he’s talking about in part is the imaginative capacity of humans. This spawned our ability to invention, that’s the up side. However, the Aztecs remind us that imagination can have negative effects as well.

    Likewise, different human’s have different needs for community.

    A person with a very logical mind, with limited imagination, and little need for community, is not likely to be very religious. On the other hand, people with other qualities are likely to have a need or desire for religion, and society in general needs to ensure that it is a socially constructive belief a opposed to something negative or destructive, such as that of the Aztecs.

    Christianity’s spread is the result, might be in part, the fact that it has ‘good news’ (God doesn’t hate us, he loves us) and good community (in the first century, it was the social security of the Roman Empire). This is much better than the Aztec interpretation. And that’s the interesting thing about the ending of Gibson’s film. A better message is arriving. Not as much better as we’d like it, as it turns out. European born disease would kill millions of native Americans, and European economics and politics would enslave and kill millions more. But European religion was eventually fully embraced by most of what remained of native Americans, culminating in “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. The news wasn’t great – as they were down trowden, but it was better and more hopeful than the Aztec religions.

    The Spanish brought back syphilis to Europe. According to Henry Hobhouse, syphlis had the potential to destroy society in Western Europe. The only then known way to contain it was to restrict the practice of sex. Hobhouse sites anecdotal evidence to suggest that pre-Columbian Europe was much more sexually liberal. But for society to survive in the age of syphilis, this had to end. The need to contain syphilis occurs at the time of the second Religious reformation (Calvin an Zwingli, Martin Luther was the first) and so sexual chastity is written into the DNA of the Calvinist religions. And so we see another role of religion: controlling normative behavior to keep society alive. Ironically, the European homelands, that once enjoyed much freer sexuality (according to Hobhouse) never became as sexually puritanical as America did, because our society was founded by Calvinist puritans and so the DNA of Calvinism is in our cultural make up too.

    So that’s why Religion is able to take such a strong hold. It exercises too many functions, like a swiss army knife.

    I think America would be a better place if it was less reliant on religion for communitarianism. We need other alternative forms of community building. In England and Ireland, often its the pub, or a cricket club (which basically functions like a pub). Check out the scene in Mrs. Minerva where they meet at the pub: everybody’s equal, everybody’s friendly, everybody’s in community with each other. In Australia it’s the beach/swim/boat clubs.

    Fact is, we don’t have enough of that thing in this country. The only purely communitarian institution we seem to have is religious congregations… this is historical, in my view. And that’s why I think we are far more religious than other Western countries.

    In my life, the problem of the mix of religion in politics emerged only after 1970, in fact after 1990… this was by design, circa Neocon philosophy of Leo Strauss, heavily embraced by Movement Conservatives beginning in 1965. The Neocons have well funded organizations designed to infiltrate the various established religions and turn them to the far right. They’ve been very successful in this.

    For most of my life religion and politics seemed perfectly separated in this country and we were balanced. In grade school, I a catholic, went to a heavily Jewish public school, with lots of everything else mixed in. The Priest seemed perfectly normal, the parish fairly liberal, everyone did their own thing. But beyond my own Parish, I would later learn, things were very very funky… actually they were F.U.

    I don’t know where I come down on the religion debate. I certainly enjoy the writings of atheist. And I am aware of some people who have been prayed upon by Religious priests and the church treated them like rag dolls. Finally the Catholic church practically put Bush in office in 2004… at least in Missouri. So these days, I’m pretty much down on organized religion. It needs to be taken down several pegs in its role and its importance to our society. As far as Catholicism is concerned, its been taken down quite a few, but more remain.

  4. Troy
    December 11th, 2010 at 13:48 | #4


    pretty unbelievable what’s happened to this country. When I came back in 2000 I really had no idea how bizarre things had become. I actually voted for Tom Campbell vs. Feinstein in 2000. Never make that mistake again.

    Like I say every chance I get, one of Bush’s strongest demes in 2004 was the evangelical vote — they broke 78% for him, putting the fundies up there with orthodox jews, walmart shoppers and billionaires for his support.

  5. Troy
    December 11th, 2010 at 13:59 | #5

    So these days, I’m pretty much down on organized religion.

    2012 is going to be . . . interesting. The evangelicals are going to be the kingmakers again. There were rather disappointed that Huckabee couldn’t make it in 2008, and Palin was a make-up attempt (first pushed by the chief neocon William Kristol).

    The Tea Party is also tapping into this, with Palin and DeMint’s bloc.

    Oh to be back in Japan next year. Mebbe I’ll even block my router to only access StackOverflow and developer.apple.com.

  6. Tim Kane
    December 12th, 2010 at 01:28 | #6


    The Repugs have alwaysbeen of two camps: The few very rich, formerly country club republicans – now BigMoney, and the masses of cultural conservatives, mostly Fundies.

    The problem is, the rich are always first in line and always get what they want. The fundies never get what they want.

    Things like values and morality, the calling card of Fundies and the like, are a middle class phenomena – the rich don’t need them and the poor can’t afford them.

    So at some point these two camps will be pulled apart. The Tea Party phenomena is an example of this. However, the Tea Party is still controlled by the same guys that control the Republican party: Big Money. (after all, it takes Big Money to organize anything).

    If a split did occur on the right between Big Money and Fundies (and the like) then you can expect a similar split on the left between BigMoney Dems and Progressive Dems.

    As the middle class shrinks, it becomes harder for BigMoney to hold these two parties together because the demand for change increases and that means something other than what the parties have provided.

    2012 is perhaps too close for this to happen, but very near, a four party election could occur, as it did in 1860. As you’ll recall, that’s when real change occurred.

  7. Ken sensei
    December 12th, 2010 at 05:47 | #7

    Luis, just FYI


    This particular group of trailer-trash, Bible-thumping maniacs (aka Westboro Baptist Church) has established quite a name for themselves by protesting outside at funerals of people who do not meet their standards of perfection.

    The article claims no mechanic would repair their tire damage, so I guess they drove back to Kansas on three good tires. Alas, following the path of God is never smooth…(especially for hypocrites and morons).

  8. Ken sensei
    December 12th, 2010 at 05:54 | #8

    Mebbe I’ll even block my router to only access StackOverflow and developer.apple.com

    Troy, what is this exactly?

  9. Troy
    December 12th, 2010 at 09:10 | #9

    Ken, WBC is some sort of sicko operation and not a true part of any religious movement. If anything they are doing this for the litigation money.

    StackOverflow is the best site to find programming questions. Generally a programmer doing something new has to hit it every 5-10 minutes.

  10. December 12th, 2010 at 23:31 | #10

    Reading this text was a reminiscence of the mirror theory. Basically when someone accuses you of something, what he says is more than anything else revealing about himself.

    Basically what he revealed is that:

    – believers deeply care what others believe in
    – believers are defined by their belief i.e. the biggest thing in their life is that they believe in something
    – rather than just go around quietly, believing, believers feel compelled to make other people believe too
    – believers only faith is in the rightness of having faith
    – things not religious are boring for a believer.

  11. Ken sensei
    December 13th, 2010 at 04:39 | #11

    Ok, here is one more relevant article about the heroic backlash against the WBC:


    Troy aptly points out:

    If anything they are doing this for the litigation money.

    This view is supported by one of the comments on the above link:

    As far as I have heard they have 17 lawyers in the cult, they live off the lawsuits that liberal activist judges award them.

    I believe the solution is to invite counter-protesters to high-profile funerals to outnumber the WBC zealots as this is clearly making an impact. And it’s far cheaper than trying to litigate, which apparently only serves to make the WBC richer.

    One more solution is for the media to simply stop covering WBC protests. Any story that promotes their agenda should just be put in a round file and ignored. I noticed that in the above article’s photo, one cannot see any WBC protesters, indicating the media is shifting its focus to a new kind of protester.

    This is a positive first step as the WBC has nothing new (or constructive) to say anyway.

  12. December 13th, 2010 at 09:07 | #12

    Atheism is when you believe there is no god.
    Agnosticism is when you are not sure.

    So what is is when you just don’t care?

    It took me a long time growing up to finally accept that people who spouted this religious stuff actually believed at least some of it.

    That said, I find pushy atheists just as annoying as pushy religious people. Less dangerous generally, but only because there are less of them.

  13. Luis
    December 13th, 2010 at 11:17 | #13

    That said, I find pushy atheists just as annoying as pushy religious people. Less dangerous generally, but only because there are less of them.
    Dangerous? “Less dangerous” still implies that they are dangerous in some manner. How are pushy atheists dangerous?

    Organized religions can be dangerous in many ways, from personal (harming the individual psychologically by imposing unhealthy dogma upon them, economically by getting them to cough up money, and even physically with faith healing or a variety of other physically harmful regimes from flagellation to fasting) to societal (trying to deprive people of rights and freedoms, again forcing harmful dogma regarding sexuality, speech, scientific research, education, and political policies) to downright destructive worldwide trends (terrorism, persecution, generational conflicts, war).

    But “pushy atheists”? I don’t think they even come close. They don’t try to force people to believe or cram their ways down the throats of others–convince, argue, debate, yes, but they don’t force and are not even fractionally as proselytizing as religious folk (they will react to statements of religion, but they never come to your door to try to convert you–except maybe as a prank). They don’t constantly ask fellow atheists or anyone else for money. They don’t try to force people to live their lives in certain ways. They don’t even try to deprive religious people of their freedom to believe, they just ask it be a personal practice they are not forced to participate in. They don’t try to regulate how you act or reproduce, they don’t blow up churches, they don’t start wars. The only public mandates they try to push are ones which prevent everyone from being forced to participate in religious ritual and belief, which is counteractive, not proactive. I know of no generational conflicts based upon atheism. And please, no Hitler, Stalin, or any similar non-relevant crap–even if they were atheists, atheism did not drive their destructive impulses or motivate them in any way. Atheism is rarely if ever a driving force, nor does it deprive one of morality.

    Annoying, yes, that’s subjective and can be claimed of anyone. Hitchens often grates on me, for instance, and I sometimes cringe when I hear hateful rather than reasoned criticism. But “dangerous”? Not even “less dangerous,” just not dangerous at all.

  14. Troy
    December 13th, 2010 at 14:30 | #14

    I find Dawkins to be a smarmy git

    December 13th, 2010 at 16:07 | #15

    One of the “proofs” of the existence of God given by believers is that all societies since the beginning of time believed in some kind of supernatural. Quite true, but it can be explained in evolutionary terms. Such beliefs gave cohesion to the tribe and therefore were a survival strategy. Beyond that, it is nonsense appealing to the reason of believers on this issue. It is a matter of faith, not of reason. Religions are sanctioned superstitions. They would be endearing, as old mythologies are, except for the fact that they pretend to hold the Truth. Mankind, however, has shown that it needs such beliefs: just let it have them. By the way, I think Dawkins tries too hard. One has to ask what is in it for him.

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