Religious Discourse

I have been remiss in my blogging duties as of late but there is nothing like anger to fuel the inspirational juices and what better platform by which to be exposed to the disgusting religious ideologies that tend to bring it out in me, than Twitter. Twitter provides a forum for discussion with all extremes of religious viewpoints, from the demonstrably evil and ill informed to the moderate and self congratulatory whining of those willing to accept the ‘difference of opinion’ with regard to faith, while they simultaneously lend credibility to the views of the extremists. In fairness, once you give a pass to just one of the ridiculously childish, narcissistic or downright evil views held by all of the major faiths, you will be forced to give credence to the more extreme views, purely because they possess just as much truth value as the rest, and by that I mean NONE.

Two arguments are generally had when you engage the faithful on Twitter. The first is the argument surrounding the plausibility of the god hypothesis and it is the initial catalyst to conversations in most cases, at least for me, and yet it is rarely the common theme throughout. Inevitably you are faced with some abhorrent and self-righteous viewpoint that burrows its way into the dialogue. An initial courteous exchange of proofs and their dismissals is taken upon by both parties where a veneer of respect for the opposing position is held up to afford enough time for you to point out the legitimacy of your position and the lack of legitimacy behind theirs. Simple right! Fuck no! The acceptance, by your opponent, of the points you make such as the fallacy of the prime mover argument and the circular logic of inferring the truth claims of the bible because the bible itself says that is always right (It is called ‘gospel’ for a reason you know), are progress you tell yourself. “I am getting through to at least ‘some’ degree”, you mutter to yourself as your enthusiasm for the debate increases. Then after a while you have a point in the conversation where they need to make the concession that faith is the only position they can legitimately hold. This has to happen by the way. From an evidence based position, they don’t have a leg to stand on and you know it, but do they? Of course not, and now is where you can see the conversation and work you put in, unravel in front of your eyes. They will suddenly start bringing back up points that you spent a lot of time deconstructing and that they have previously conceded to. They will highlight perfectly that any and all concession were made to provide them time to find a point you can’t deconstruct and in that gap they can assert god and move one. This, in most cases, leads to a certain level of frustration on the part of the Atheistic debater and may lead to obscenities, which then also leads to the inevitable accusations of irrationality and zeal from the right honourable gentleman that you have been debating.

The second type of conversation is the more initially offensive debate, usually in response to an outrageous fundamentalist’s tweet about the sin of homosexuality or contraception. You know, the kind of small minded vitriol spouted by members of the Phelps family or some similarly deluded piece of shit. In these cases your initial disgust is usually mirrored by the majority of people on twitter and I include the religious in that group. Most moderate theists are as disgusted by that crap as anybody else and they join in with the condemnation. The initial outrage then usually subsides and turns to ridicule and humour usually because you know debate isn’t on the agenda and most people just revert to dismissing their vile crap out of hand and get back to making bad jokes and tweeting about their lunch. Even though these views are way more disgusting than anything put forward by the majority of moderate believers, it ultimately annoys me less because at least its glaringly obvious what position is being taken by the human stain that’s putting it forward. With the believers in scenario one there is a false impression of intellectual inquiry and integrity that is consistently not met. The fact that it cannot reach this goal is not necessarily the fault of the believer but of the belief itself. Religion is not a matter of fact or science. It can attempt to answer questions in these fields if its proponents want to but it deserves no special treatment when it does. Its sciences’ house so you play by sciences’ rules.

The difference in outcomes of these two approaches on the part of believers is very important in my opinion because it gets to the root of what I disrespect most about the religious discourse in countries all over the world.  The type of person that engages in conversations of ‘type one’ kind are those who believe that religion has a position outside of personal belief. They are the foundation from which campaign are built that have effects in real world circumstances and social policies of governments. Religious claims are, as I said, not scientific and they are not based in any way on the real world around us. Because of this they have a position that should be exclusive to the individual and should be restricted in influence to the churches, mosques and synagogues of their respective faiths. Religion should stop butting its nose into the lives of others and demanding special privileges as it does it. People who stop asking questions about the most important issues, the religious, should have the right to preach their views and expose their ignorance for all to see and then be relegated to the white noise that can be blocked out while the grown-ups talk. Censorship is not what I’m calling for. In fact I am insisting that, as individuals, they have the right to very explicitly express their views on abortion, marriage, homosexuality and whatever theme of the day arises. When they put forward a salient point that’s not driven by the insistence that the creator of the universe told them, then we should listen to it. When they spout scripture after getting that nagging uncomfortable/intolerant feeling when they see two boys holding hands etc, we should tell them where to go (I’m trying to temper my language a bit here). As an organisation they, however, deserve no platform for opinion. Just because in most civilised discourse, your views are met with tolerance and only, as Sam Harris puts it, ill-concealed laughter on the part of those with rational views, doesn’t mean that those views should be granted rights outside of that conversation. Enjoy your tax exempt status and your reassuring sense of communion with a higher power who passes judgement on your thoughts and actions constantly. Just leave us out of it.

I realise there are those who will read this who will object to my opinions on the place of religion in modern culture and claim that I am intolerant and that my atheism is just as fundamentalist as the extreme religious. The truth is that for every argument you put forward for tolerance because of your ‘broader cultural viewpoint’, I think to myself BOLLOX. Stop lending legitimacy to the extremist, albeit fringe, contingent of these faiths. I’m tired of being labelled strident and ‘fundamentalist’ when arguing against religion when the only fundamentals I hold as an Atheist are regarding morality and fairness and the rights of the individual to be informed and treated correctly outside the authoritarian demands of the deluded faithful. The other charge against me may be that I am taking the example of Twitter too far and that it doesn’t reflect the way the religion interacts in the majority of cases. Well, living in a country that opposes gay marriage, the rights for women to fully control their bodies and which only recently came about to the idea of divorce, I can comfortably again, cry bollox. Religion affects and infects all of society with its assumed moral high ground and its archaic and inflexible world view. A great example of this was the debate on Frontline, an Irish television current affairs program where the topic of secular education and freedom from religious persecution was discussed recently. The religious argument was unashamedly an argument that special treatment should be afforded to the majority of Irish citizens who believe in a Christian god at the expense of the minority who either believe one of the other major religion or have the good sense to see through the childish reasoning of the past. I know the debate will go on and unfortunately it will most likely be a ‘type one’ conversation, with the secular approach being labelled intolerant and inherently designed to persecute the faithful while the religious side will push their faith based view into every aspect of life that they can warp it to fit. Religion will hide behind its all too commonly unquestioned public image and continue to influence and distort the issues it has no right to affect. Whether it’s the strident approach taken by the dress wearing, child abuse concealing, aids denying bastards in places like the Vatican or whether it’s the cap in hand, eyes to the floor while twisting your foot around on its toes, unassuming priest on the school board, they will make a case for special privilege and people will give it to them. The stage is set for a long debate and a serious change in public mindset that can’t be driven by circumstances like the child abuse scandals or actions of individuals in the religious organisation. To do that would lead only to discussions about those individuals and not the institutions that harbour or possibly create them. We need instead to change the mindset of the legitimacy of where religion should sit and where it should be hushed into a humble and appropriate silence. As much as ‘type one’ conversations annoy me and as rarely as they have an effect, they must be had and had and had until the message becomes clear to all or until it’s at least heard by the undecided and unaffected by indoctrination of childhood religion. I expect to be a bald and probably very frustrated man in the future. Hopefully the frustration will be with the minority and not the majority that exists today.


Note: I am aware that my use of the comma is quite liberal and not always correct. I will be buying an issue of Eats, Shoots and Leaves (weird, I nearly wrote ‘Of Pandas and People’ instead) in an attempt to fix this. Also, please excuse if the above rant was a little disjointed. I wanted to get it out quickly as its been a while and anger sometimes effects the clarity of my message too.