Atheists, Christians and Reindeer.

Twice this week on Facebook a friend of mine posted the below picture. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this, but it’s the first time I’ve thought about it in depth. And you know what? It’s wrong.

Atheists, Christians and Reindeer.

Atheists, Christians and Reindeer.

This first problem I have with this is that it equates people with ideas. It equates saying that someone’s beliefs are silly or not real with hating or treating someone differently because they’re gay, or female, or a different race to you, or they have some kind of physical deformity or birth defect (red reindeer nose). This is not an equivalent. Belief in a god is a choice – even which god you choose to believe in – and being female, or gay etc is not a choice. People deserve respect, beliefs and ideas do not. 

To look at this more closely, lets think about what happens if an atheist shames religion and spirituality as silly and not real. People might feel bad, or sad, or embarrassed. I may be being shortsighted, but I honestly cannot think of another outcome! And if you are religious and an atheist makes you feel bad – you can not talk to them again and walk away, or change the channel – problem over.

Now lets think about situations which happen in the world today when religion is used as an excuse for homophobia, misogynism, racism or other hateful behaviours. There are people who are unable to be married to the ones they love because of religion – in first world nations. There are people who are not allowed to attend school because of religion. For goodness sake, in some countries in the world they still kill people for being witches – in the name of religion. This is not equivalent to someones feelings being hurt! This is not a conversation you can walk away from!

Religion doesn’t just hurt people this way. When people follow blindly, without ever saying “hey, this is silly!” terrible things can happen to the people following the religions. If you think your religion is absolutely real and your think your preacher is absolutely speaking the words of your god and he says “drink the koolaid” you say YES! If you understand that he might not really be the voice of god, you say “why?”.

Now if you are reading this and you are religious, you might not agree with me. But everyone thinks that the religions which are not theirs are silly and not real. For those who are not Hindu – do you think that Ganesha is really a god with the body of a man and the head of an elephant or do you think this isn’t real? Why then should your religion be treated in a special way and exempt from others thinking it isn’t real?

Personally, I think that people should think about what and why they believe. I think that understanding ourselves, our behaviours and thoughts is important. If your belief is indefensible when someone questions it – surely that is a problem with your belief rather than the question? If people want to believe something and feel they have good reasons, I have no problem with this. But I will not stop questioning belief, and I will say things are silly if I feel they are silly and if something appears to have no basis in reality I will say it appears to not be real. And no one can tell me that me saying those things is equivalent to using any belief to justify being a homophobe, or a misogynist, or a racist or a hateful human being in general.

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7 thoughts on “Atheists, Christians and Reindeer.

  1. I have been thinking a lot about this and your response. I agree with some of it; other bits not so much. A few thoughts:

    -I think one of the key words in the second sentence is “shaming”. It is a strong word, and when used in the sentence (perhaps inaccurately, since I don’t think one can shame a religion, but let’s assume it means shaming people who believe in religions and spirituality), it connotes something quite different than other words that could be used, like “questioning” or “criticising”. So while I believe that questioning/criticising religions and spirituality is fine (as you suggest), I don’t think shaming people should come into it.

    -Regarding your statement: “People deserve respect, beliefs and ideas do not. ”
    I am wondering what you mean by respect? Do you mean “adhere to” or “acknowledge/tolerate”? If the former, then I would agree with you – people have a right to their beliefs/ideas, but others do not have to “adhere to” them. If the latter, I disagree, because people have the right to their belief/ideas, and even if we don’t agree with them, we should tolerate them. However – and this is a big however – I think we are both saying that people do not have the right to act in any way they want based on these beliefs. In addition, people have to expect that their beliefs are going to come under scrutiny and possibly be criticised.

    -I agree that people need to think about what and why they believe. Given that religious/spiritual experience is pretty much universal and the history of it is as long as that of humanity, it suggests there may be some sort of cognitive evolutionary benefit derived from being religious. Academic work has been done on this: see Rappaport (1999), or Bulbulia (2004) who also has a thoughtful article on this topic.

  2. Good question on the statement “People deserve respect, beliefs and ideas do not.”. I had to really think about it. I agree with you about tolerating people’s beliefs even if we don’t agree with them – but I would see that as part of respecting the person, not the idea. I can respect the person’s right to have a belief, even if I think that belief is completely horrible and hold no respect for the belief itself.

    • I like this post. Ideas do not deserve respect, ever. If they are correct ideas they are facts, if they are incorrect they are simply wrong or worse, dangerous. You can have respect for another human without holding them in high regard. Likewise you can respect the rights of another while completely shaming their religion and religious beliefs as dangerous and stupid.

      Those that claim to deserve respect in view of their ideas or beliefs are merely trying to shift the blame for their ignorance to someone else, namely those calling them on their bs beliefs.

      — to the theist —
      I do not have to respect your beliefs.
      I do not have to respect you, only the rights granted to you by society.
      That you have a belief does not entitle you to anything remotely like special priviledge, no matter what that belief is.
      You have the right to feel offended by my stance but you do not have the right to not be offended.

      What it comes down to is this: if you want to wear your belief on your sleeve and insist that your faith be part of the public sphere then I’m going to ridicule it for being stupid and dangerous if it is. If you don’t want comment on your beliefs you should keep them to yourself. The instant you express them in the public sphere is the instant I’m within my rights to ridicule them.

      Replace religious faith with ‘self induced drug related delusion’ and see where respect should be given or expected.

    • After reading the responses here, I had a good, long think about climate change denial, and whether or not I respect (in the “tolerate” sense of the word) that idea. Unfortunately, my analysis led to more hair-splitting about definitions.

      When I asked myself, “Can I tolerate the idea of climate change denial?”, the answer was a reluctant yes. What do I mean by this? I mean that I can ‘tolerate’ the existence of this idea, despite thinking it is indefensible, and indeed dangerous or harmful (especially if acted upon).

      To be honest, I am struggling with the line between: (1) respecting or tolerating indefensible beliefs/ideas; and (2) respecting or tolerating the existence of such beliefs/ideas. I’d be keen to hear others’ view on this to help reduce the murkiness in my mind.

      • Thinking back to your original comment on “shaming” – to a certain extent I think that shame is justifiable and reasonable in some situations. Such as when someone is a climate change denial and trying to affect public policy – or uses their religion to try and prevent marriage equality. The people in these examples should be ashamed! They should be ashamed of their lack of empathy or willful delusional thinking at the very least.

        I also do not still that shaming someone for believing in their religion – even if they are someone reasonable with empathy and compassion who does not use their religion to try and control others lives – is not equivalent to homophobia etc as listed above.

        This is a difficult issue I agree!

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