As a semi-vocal atheist I tend to post links, articles and stories about some of the horrible things that happen in religious circles to a variety of online social sites. On those sites I have contact with both believers and non-believers. Most of the time the discussion around the posts is quite interesting and in many ways positive, but not all of the time.

One of the most frequent comments that I get from believers who are attempting to defend their religion is:

Those people [in said article/story] are not true <Catholics/Christians/Muslims/etc>. Those of us who are would never do <horrendous act in the name of said religion/deity>.

I think ...

  1. ... this statement is an absolute cop-out.
  2. ... believers who remain silent, at least until others start pointing the angry finger at their religion, need to understand that silence is effectively condoning the actions of those who are performing these acts.

I would like to make clear my reasons for these views in the hope that believers will start being more vocal and actively speaking out against people who are part of the same religion.

You are really no different

Despite your claim, you are in fact no different to those people you are attempting to distance yourself from. It is simply not a sound enough argument to say that those in your church are not of the same mould. From the perspective of the outsider you are all the same. I believe that this perception is spot on. You are the same, the only difference between you is that one chooses to be more extreme in their interpretation of the religious doctrine, while the other does not. This is not a big enough difference to allow for a complete separation.

It's still the same religion. The same doctrine. The same bullshit. Just because you don't (yet) follow it and live it to the same extent as the extremists it doesn't mean you get a free ticket to non-scrutiny. Nor does it mean that your religion is good, true or should be taken seriously by those of us who don't share your belief. It's not a get-out-jail-free card. If you took this stance and applied it to something outside of religion, you'd come to the same conclusion.

Passively separating yourself from your follow believers by stating they're different to you doesn't do you or your religion any favours. If anything, implying that your religion isn't united makes it even more difficult to take seriously.

Your silence speaks volumes

Believers who associate themselves with religions -- particularly those often known to be bigoted and violent -- hardly ever speak up about it. People all over the world suffer unmentionable horror as a result of extremists pursuing their religious views, yet a large percentage of those associated with that religion remain silent. They don't speak out against it. They don't publicly denounce it. They avoid talking about it. They let it lie despite knowing that other people are doing awful things in the name of their faith. They keep their heads firmly in the sand. The only time any form of derision is directed towards these actions is when someone else (usually a non-believer) indicates some form of distaste in a public forum, resulting in the believers turning defensive.

To those believers I say this is simply not good enough. It is clear that your reaction is due to you feeling embarrassed at the association and that you have kicked into damage-control mode. If you don't agree with what is being done in the name of your very own religion then stand up and do something about it. Those of you who follow the same faith are in a much stronger position to prevent the extremists than those of different faiths, let alone those with no faith at all. Sitting idle and letting this kind of behaviour continue does nothing to further the position of religion (quite the opposite in fact) and only serves to make you and people like you appear as apathetic morons with no moral grounding. It's yet another example of you choosing the parts of your religion that you're willing to live by, and ignoring those that are actually important.

If I were to hear of or see a non-believer or agnostic performing any act that I consider to be immoral I would not sit quietly and watch things unfold. I would not dismiss the issue by stating "that person isn't a true atheist". I would be actively denouncing their actions. I would be posting publicly at the shame that I would feel that someone who is a free-thinker could act in such a manner. I would do this immediately after finding out about it. I certainly wouldn't wait for a religious zealot to attack atheism before I took action. I would make a point that the actions of the individual are not inline with my moral views and that I stand behind anyone who denounces the acts as well.

To sum up ...

Just because you live your life as a religious serf it doesn't mean you should also be a serf to others who share your beliefs. Stop hiding behind your religious shroud. Stand up and be heard. Demonstrate to people that you refuse to condone these actions.

If enough of you do it, who knows what kind of impact it could have? Your brethren may even listen ...

Views: 321

Comment by Rich on January 4, 2012 at 5:12pm

What you have wrote here is right on the money and I agree with your views. I think Islam is the biggest problem in the world though. We dont see Catholic nutters walking into malls packing bombs because they're 'going to a better place'. Its a different kind of madness. Its the idiocy of religious beliefs that are stopping this planet from achieving immense and ground breaking discoveries. Laugh as you will, but think how many Starship Enterprises could have been built from all those aircraft carriers that fuck off around the world blowing shit up. Look how far science has progressed in just the last ten years! Its a messed up world man, and I hate to say it, its not gonna change while were still walking on this planet. 

Comment by Albert Bakker on January 4, 2012 at 6:02pm

The illustrated "cop out" is a clear demonstration of the no true Scotsman fallacy

But I doubt this pushy holier than thou approach will get you anywhere other than what you've already seen. And it depends on the specificities of the claim in question, but on the face of it, it seems rather shaky too.

Comment by OJ Reeves on January 6, 2012 at 6:54am

Albert, could you clarify your point a little further for me please? Assuming that my claim is that I feel religious folk are in a better position to stop the extreme behaviour than the non-religious and, if not for the sake of religion then for the sake of other people, make a stand to denounce the behaviour, what exactly is shaky about it?


Comment by Albert Bakker on January 6, 2012 at 7:38am

I agree with you that it would be good and much more effective for (moderate) religious people to criticize the fundamentalist crazies. In fact I agree with you that this goes for any group as you have illustrated. In general in-group criticism is more effective than out-group criticism to achieve change.

But where the first sign of shakiness comes in is in the contradiction, that you then from the outside, not belonging to this group of religious moderates, should reproach or express your out-group reprehension of other people's in-group behavior. This is more likely to achieve the exact opposite, either going into outright denial mode, or an incentive for redefining group identity (causing the invention of creative no true Scotsman's.) I suspect the efficacy of your exhortation would diminish even further with increasing assertiveness.

The bigger shakiness comes in with the particulars of the claim, so in general it is difficult to pin it down, but oftentimes, in the real world people's behavior are not uniquely defined in terms of religious conviction. There are other aspects to it, that may not be shared even within the larger in-group. So if you define the reprehensible actions in terms of religion solely, then they although they might agree with you on the reprehensibility of the actions, do not agree with you on the defining incentive. Guess what happens when you exhort them to distance themselves from the reprehensible action. They are likely to take it as an unfair, decontextualized attack on the religion and perhaps even inclined to excuse or try some way to trivialize it.

Comment by Ed on January 7, 2012 at 8:46pm

Religious groups are not stellar when it comes to policing themselves. Case in point- the blind eyes of the Catholic bishops, cardinals, and pope to their subordinates pedophilia over the course of, what, a hundred years or more. Ah, the grandeur of piety.

Albert was correct that they invoke the no true scotsman fallacy as their out. There's much less effort involved than actually confronting those who violate their rules and regulations.

Comment by OJ Reeves on January 10, 2012 at 9:21pm


Thanks for clarifying. While I can agree that criticism from me on this issue while trying to get religious folk to be critical of their might seem like a contradiction, I still think it's a valid thing to point. Without any influence the believers will rarely (if ever) take a stance by themselves and do something about the insidious behaviour that we see all the time.

The latter part of your point feels like over-complication to me, but that could be just down to the fact that I don't fully understand what you're saying (for that I apologise). I think the point is much simpler than you make it out to be.

While the article is targeted at the religious, the point really applies to any group of any kind.

Thank you again for taking the time to respond :) I appreciate the opportunity to be educated. I hadn't even heard of the "no true Scotsman fallacy" before.


Comment by OJ Reeves on January 10, 2012 at 9:25pm


I agree. The latest story of the paedophile investigator being jailed for child porn offenses is another great example. So far I haven't heard or seen anything from anyone of the Catholic faith about how disgusted they are about this. I have seen someone say "No Catholic would do that", what a surprise.



Comment by Artor on January 10, 2012 at 9:34pm

I would like to address Rich's comment at the top of the list. Please consider Northern Ireland. The bombings have slacked off lately, but for several decades last century, you had almost exactly that : Catholic nutters walking into malls packing bombs because they're 'going to a better place'.  

Today it's the Islamists, next year, maybe the radical Buddhists will be on the warpath. (Oh yeah, weren't they making trouble in Peru? Or is the Shining Path more a Chinese-Marxist group?) Then the Xtians can have another turn.

I see the problem less as one of a particular faith, then as one in which every faith is culpable. Belief in a higher power enables people to do horrible evil in the name of "the greater good." It really needs to stop.


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