Religion is important to many people. It is central to how they define themselves as human beings and to how they view themselves in the world. It is crucial to their understanding of reality. It is important to their cultural identities as well as their personal identities and provides the philosophical ground upon which they can lay out of a framework for understanding the world around them. Not surprisingly, people’s relationship with their religion of choice is often one of great emotional depth.
As a result, honest and open discussions about religion are often met with scorn and hostility for a variety of reasons. When the hostility comes from religious adherents, they are reacting directly to an attack on the fundamental concepts upon which they understand their world. That’s an existentially heavy thing to face, and it’s completely understandable why the religious would lash out when confronted. More peculiar is when critiques of religion are challenged by people who don’t have a horse in the race, so to speak. These critiques seem to be focused on the idea that a critique of religion is not an attack on the religion as philosophy, but on the religion as culture. For a number of reasons I will list here, this is misguided.
1. While religion and culture are intertwined, cultures are not dependent on their religious philosophy. Ask any atheist who ‘celebrates Christmas.’ The Parthenon did not fall when people stopped worrying about Zeus raping their daughter.
2. Religion is an imposition of thought and there’s no reason to give it room to further impose. At some point, religious people were exposed to a noxious but intoxicating philosophy, and the combination of circumstance and careful psychological manipulation resulted in their becoming believers. That’s how religion functions. Compared to this, I fail to see how raising some concerns about the inherent problems contained within that philosophy is some kind of unfair attack on people. If anything, it’s a public service.
3. The natural posture of a religion is extremism. The relaxation of that posture, moderation, is essentially an admission by the adherent that maybe, just maybe the religion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A philosophy that promises a system of rewards and punishments not only during this life, but for all of eternity, is pretty fucking extreme as far as I’m concerned. It’s weird, bizarre thinking that flies in the face of experience, and often there are compulsions to violence and the oppression of others sprinkled throughout the canonical texts of these philosophies. This makes religion inherently dangerous. Magical thinking that promises magical results, and which sometimes encourages real world deeds that negatively impact others in a variety of ways – is that really something we want around?
4. The Medieval Christian Dark Ages didn’t end and give way to great scientific and intellectual advances because Christians suddenly got bored killing and oppressing people. They ended because humanist ideas started becoming more prevalent when people in Europe were reacquainted with ancient philosophical texts that were destroyed by the church but thankfully saved by Arab scholars in the Middle East; less religion, and a better way of doing philosophy to take its place.
5. The fact that some people are not able to disinvest themselves emotionally when faced with an attack on their philosophical views is not really my problem. I am an atheist. If someone levels a critique of atheism, and I for some reason take offense, the problem is mine, not theirs. If I want to challenge their critique, I may do so, but the offense I’ve taken is not a requisite for their silence. This is the way exchange of ideas in a free society works.