Declaring Religion Isn't Taboo But Responding Sure Is

My dad told me once that it's generally known that it's impolite to talk about politics or religion with people you don't know very well. When I asked why, he told me that people have strong opinions about those subjects, so it's better to not talk about them at all to avoid an argument.

The internet has changed a lot of social rules, and politics has become a pretty open topic of conversation. People root for politicians the way people root for sports teams and you'll see the full range of opinions, emotions, and passions attached to those declarations of support. I hardly ever hear anyone complaining, online or off, about someone being 'too political' or bringing up politics as if it's a taboo subject.

Religion, however...

Well, it's gotten a bit better but it's still considered an inappropriate topic to talk about.

Let me clarify - it's inappropriate for ME to talk about. Because I'm an atheist.

Religious people feel comfortable plastering their worship/praise/general ass-kissery of god all over the place - on facebook status messages, in chain emails, in forums, wherever. The religious are becoming more and more free with their expression, but it seems when an atheist friend or associate responds to such a declaration, they're still seen as being invasive and rude.

So it's OK to post "God is so awesome! I feel bad for anyone who closes their heart to feeling how loved I feel!" - that is no longer taboo.

However, if you were to respond and say, for instance "That's crazy, because I think living without god is awesome and I wish you could feel how it feels to be free of religion!" - YOU ARE A TOTAL ASSHOLE.

...Ok, maybe that's a tad dramatic, but my point remains.

Making ANY subject taboo to talk about creates problems for people and communication between different groups. A chunk of religious people have a ton of misconceptions, sometimes bazaar and sometimes pretty insulting, about non religious folks and to a degree non religious folks tend to guess the possible 'believer category' that the person their dealing with falls into, at times incorrectly assuming things about the person that aren't exactly true when discussing religious topics. This leads to a hell of a lot of bullshit fights that would be reduced by quite a bit if we could all just drop the whole 'not supposed to talk about it' attitude.

So this is my new vow - if I run across someone who is saying anything about religion and I feel like commenting, I am going to. Not to be rude, not to be obnoxious, but because if they're going to talk about it, I'm going to talk about it too. I figure if someone feels compelled to email me a story about Noah's Ark, they're showing that they are rejecting the taboo of not talking about religion and are open for a conversation.

Best case scenario - we both learn something more about what the other person believes. Worst case - they quit bothering me and I no longer have to delete annoying mass emails filled with Family Circus and Love Is... comics and clip art from Windows 95. So really, it's a win/win.

Views: 52

Comment by Lindsey on March 8, 2010 at 1:10pm
I like your Buddha quotes, Doone. I think maybe I'll do that from now on, maybe I'll get less Jesus crap flooding my inbox that way. You should have seen the flood of 'concerned' comments I got just from joinging an atheist facebook group. I'm afraid if I actually post an atheistic status update my computer will explode.
Comment by Graham E. Lau on March 8, 2010 at 1:40pm
I post anti-theistic stuff fairly often. If my friends don't like it then they don't have to be my friends. I don't go out of my way to insult the religious on their own ground, but I'm always willing to give the friendly rational argument.

I think one primary reason why western society has made discussing religion taboo is that there is now more evidence than ever that the traditional religions are not based in truth. It's so easy to argue against religion that it's easier for the religious to not have to hear it. Most of the people I've met in my life would probably call themselves religious because that's what they're used to, but they would be embarrassed to say they believe in talking snakes and such. A lot of those people really don't know where they stand and would be agnostics if they hadn't been indoctrinated into religion as children.
Comment by Jason Wagner on March 8, 2010 at 1:47pm
For lent I gave up being nice to theists on facebook. The responses I've received have been pretty hilarious. It's opened up a few theological discussions between my friends and I however what I've found mostly is an overwhelming support from friends who were closet atheists. Apparently I pick some really good friends!
Comment by Shine on March 8, 2010 at 2:24pm
However, if you were to respond and say, for instance "That's crazy, because I think living without god is awesome and I wish you could feel how it feels to be free of religion!" - YOU ARE A TOTAL ASSHOLE.

To be fair, I am a total asshole. But that is beside the point; it really is ridiculous how religious people can rattle on about how wonderful faith is, while anyone who suggests that faith isn't wonderful is immediately condemned. There is a ridiculous social decorum that it is "rude" to respond to or comment on a person's declaration of religious beliefs. Personally, I think that it is because most people are intellectually lazy; they do not want to be challenged and forced to think. If people are that adamant about not thinking, then they should probably just stop talking. Like you said, it's a win/win situation: either you get a stimulating debate and opportunity to learn something, or you get blissful silence on their end.

A lot of those people really don't know where they stand and would be agnostics if they hadn't been indoctrinated into religion as children.

Great point, and I would even go one further and say that most agnostics would be atheists if they really examine their position.
Comment by Shasta McNasty on March 8, 2010 at 3:36pm
Ive noticed the double standard Pinko described several times in my life. However being from the south, ive seen it get alot more severe than just upsetting people. For example, a group of people are talking and one of them brings up faith. Sure the southern atheist may want to say something, but he wont. As soon as he does, every person of that faith will descend upon him with either A. ridicule or B. Prostelyzing (which is a lose/lose). This is a scenario i saw many times in high school. The subject of religion isn't taboo, but not believing it certainly is.
Now this is all real world but if i had to make an educated guess, i would say that its either the same or worse online. As soon as a free thinker mocks or questions a southern christians faith, its war.
However, even after seeing all this i still have to disagree with some of the assertions in the comments. I dont think the topic is taboo because religion is easy to disprove or because people are intellectually lazy. I think its because its personal to the theist. And theists take it personally when free thinking people question thier beliefs, online or offline.
Lets say their is a 16 year old boy. The boys dad isvery nice and loving to the boy. However when the boy is asleep the dad kills lots of young kittens. Now if you came up and started telling the boy his dad is a kitten killer, the boy would get very defensive. You could show the boy photo proof that his dad slaughtered hundreds of kittens without remorse, but the boy would still take the attack against his father personally. I see the religious behavior much the same.
Comment by Shasta McNasty on March 8, 2010 at 3:52pm
Politics and religion seem to be taboo, not because people don't want think or don't want to be proven wrong, its because its seen as a personal attack. Saying "your ideas are wrong" is the same as saying "you're wrong" to alot of people. Especially when it seems an atheist went out of their way to say it. To insult or question religion is to insult or question the religious, and religious people are just like everyone else, they hate to be told they're wrong. However, all of that being said, its completely unfair for the religious to get pissed about it when they seem to have no problems letting everyone know where they stand. If your going to put yourself out there, you better be ready for every kind of response.
Comment by Shine on March 8, 2010 at 7:44pm
Shasta, I think the fact that religious people will turn it into a personal attack is the problem. Let's be clear: I'm not talking about walking up to someone who is wearing a crucifix and railing them with a list of metaphysical questions about Christianity to force them to think. I'm talking about a religious person voluntarily making a comment about how God works in mysterious ways, or how people will go to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior, or how the Bible says X-Y-Z, or any other baseless declaration. If I respond to any of those statements, how is it automatically a personal attack?

Take the "God works in mysterious ways" comment; I am not attacking the person if I respond "How do you know?" or "Well, his mysterious ways seem like veiled sadism to me." However, if I respond, "Only an idiot would say that!" or "That's a stupid thing to say," then I would be making a personal attack. As long as I am responding to the statement itself and not insulting the speaker, there is absolutely no reason for the religious person to paint my response as a personal attack. This is where the ridiculous social decorum comes into play, and why it is erroneously considered rude to question or criticize a person's faith-based assertions. Disagreeing with someone is not a personal attack. Even in the example of the father who massacres kittens, telling the child is not a personal attack. If there is no derogatory insinuation, then it is just the truth. Just because the truth is harsh does not mean that the person telling the truth is making a personal attack on anyone.

About intellectual laziness, I honestly do think that this is a huge factor. Maybe it is limited to my personal experience, but it seems that every time I actually get into a debate with a religious person there inevitably comes a point where they just respond "Whatever, I just believe it, I can't explain it" and quit trying. To me, it is intellectual laziness to just give up on an argument instead of probing its weaknesses. I have reevaluated and amended my position on different subjects so many times that I really cannot fathom this reluctance to change. Because it does take effort to truly examine and flesh out a solid argument, I am led to believe that most people refuse to do this out of laziness.

However, I probably should have also recognized the role that fear and uncertainty play in many religious people's beliefs. Like I have mentioned in the past, I know a lot of people who are motivated by pain and fear to cling their religious delusions. Maybe it is wrong of me to not be uniformly critical of religious statements, but I tend to not respond to religious statements from someone who is suffering. I don't condone or respect the delusions, but i respect the fact that the person is in pain that I am not experiencing. I try to differentiate between people spouting religious nonsense because they refuse to put the effort into thinking, and people in pain who cling to religious delusions.
Comment by Eric Steiger on March 9, 2010 at 10:31am
You bring up a good point Shine. The problem is that the people you're describing tend to view their religion as such a central part of their personal identity, any degree of questioning their world view is taken as a personal attack.
Where you are approaching the debate from an intellectual point of view, they are coming back from a purely emotional one.
Unfortunately, human history is filled with examples of reasoned arguments being completely ineffective against emotional convictions. They simply have too much time and energy invested in their beliefs to accept, or even consider, that their energy has been wasted. So, they put the blinders on and cover their ears.
That's why I try to avoid debating the faithful whenever possible. Life's too short.
"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig." U.N. Known
Comment by Shasta McNasty on March 9, 2010 at 2:36pm
Shine, Your forgetting very huge factors at play, like context. What if the person who says "God works in mysterious ways" isn't looking for a debate? That person may not have wanted to have a theological debate, and you going out of your way to ask your question in direct opposition of their statement is an attack. Also, in this context, your question "how do you know?" is an extremely loaded question, with the sole intent of a personal response. Therefore you've just made a personal attack. You asked a loaded question at a person who made a faith based statement. Now maybe this isn't the context you were thinking of, but it shows that simply disagreeing can be viewed as a personal attack. You can't assume that everyone who makes a faith based statement wants to debate.
About intellectual laziness, I honestly do think that this is a huge factor. Maybe it is limited to my personal experience, but it seems that every time I actually get into a debate with a religious person there inevitably comes a point where they just respond "Whatever, I just believe it, I can't explain it" and quit trying. To me, it is intellectual laziness to just give up on an argument instead of probing its weaknesses. I have reevaluated and amended my position on different subjects so many times that I really cannot fathom this reluctance to change. Because it does take effort to truly examine and flesh out a solid argument, I am led to believe that most people refuse to do this out of laziness.
So whenever someone doesn't want to debate you on a specific topic, they're intellectually lazy? Religion is very personal to people. They don't owe you any explanation. You have 0 idea what goes on in their minds throughout the day, and just because they don't want to engage in a specific topic doesn't mean your any more sound of mind. Maybe they ask themselves those some questions at night in bed, and they just don't want to answer them to you.Or maybe they've actually experienced something they cant quite explain. Also, maybe they reached a point in the discussion where they felt that it was pointless to continue, that doesn't make them intellectually lazy. They aren't lazy just because you want to talk and they don't. It doesn't matter if its in a debate or not, religion is personal, and people shouldn't be called "intellectually lazy" because they don't want to discuss a very personal matter with you. You have a point in certain circumstances, but not enough to make the sweeping generalization you just did.
Comment by Shine on March 9, 2010 at 5:44pm
Shasta, how am I forgetting context when I explicitly said that I try to differentiate between religious statements derived from a lack of examination, and religious statements derived from suffering? If anything, this is a direct admission that I do take other factors into consideration. I clearly said that I don't go after anyone like a verbal pit bull the minute that I hear a religious utterance.

That person may not have wanted to have a theological debate, and you going out of your way to ask your question in direct opposition of their statement is an attack. Also, in this context, your question "how do you know?" is an extremely loaded question, with the sole intent of a personal response. Therefore you've just made a personal attack. You asked a loaded question at a person who made a faith based statement.

I could not disagree with this more. How am I going out of my way when I respond to something that someone else says? They went out of their way to say it; all I am doing is responding. I am not the one introducing religion into the conversation.

And why is asking someone to validate their statement a personal attack? Usually, religious statements are offered as an explanation for an event of unknown cause. How is it a personal attack if I then ask the person to explain how they know of this explanation? If a tornado destroys your house and I say to you "God works in mysterious ways, He must have a plan that necessitates rendering you homeless" to explain the tragedy, would you really be satisfied with that? Would you not want to know how I know of this plan? I have just told you that I know the reason--or at least the explanation--for why your house was destroyed by a tornado. Is it really that crazy to ask me why or how I claim to know this?

Asking someone how they know something is not a loaded question. If you make a statement, then you open up the floor for your statement to be questioned. If you do not want your statement to be questioned, then it should not be vocalized. Why does it matter if it is a faith-based statement or not? So any statement motivated by faith is given a free pass? What about Muslims who preach that the reward of seventy-two virgins awaits any suicidal terrorist who kills innocents in Allah's honor? Should we just respect what they are saying because it is based in faith?

If anything, a statement motivated by faith should even more subject to question. This is because faith-based conflicts are inherently irreconcilable. Religious tolerance is a myth because all religions themselves are innately intolerant. To let statements go unchallenged simply because they are rooted in faith is incredibly detrimental, and only fosters future conflict. Let's be clear, I am not advocating religious censorship by any means; I only insist that we remove religion from its untouchable pedestal that says we cannot question anyone's faith.

So whenever someone doesn't want to debate you on a specific topic, they're intellectually lazy? Religion is very personal to people. They don't owe you any explanation. You have 0 idea what goes on in their minds throughout the day, and just because they don't want to engage in a specific topic doesn't mean your any more sound of mind.

I do not really care what goes on in other people's heads throughout the course of the day; I only care what comes out of their mouth in my presence. There seems to be a misunderstanding here, because it sounds like you think I walk up to people and just start demanding they offer complex Christian apologetics if they say, "God bless you!" Let's go back to the sort of statement that this post originally described:

So it's OK to post "God is so awesome! I feel bad for anyone who closes their heart to feeling how loved I feel!" - that is no longer taboo.


Am I really making a personal attack if I respond, "How do you know? How do you know that I have closed my heart? Why do you think that you need to pity me?" This person has just made an incredibly loaded statement, and insinuated a lot about me (as someone who has apparently "closed my heart to God"). But I am the one making a personal attack if I ask them to clarify or explain why they think that?

And I'm sorry, but anyone who makes a statement like the one above and then refuses to back it up is intellectually lazy. If their only response to my questions is, "I don't need to understand or explain God," then I can only see this as a refusal to think.

It all boils down to a point that Eric identified in the post before yours: I am approaching the debate from an intellectual perspective, while the religious person is coming from a purely emotional one. Why does the fact that someone is emotionally invested in something automatically give them a free pass to say whatever nonsensical gibberish they want and not be questioned?

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