I find myself having mixed feelings about this idea of “criticize the ideology, not the person” when discussing religion.  I guess it’s politically correct to look at it that way, but I wonder if it’s unintentionally disrespectful.  On the one hand I get that people are usually born into their religious communities, indoctrinated from a young age, and experience serious difficulties rethinking that whole worldview.  I have been through that, as have many people on this site.  We have used evidence and reason to arrive at the conclusion that belief in gods cannot be supported.

But on the other hand, if we did it, why can’t they?  Why do we not credit them with the same capacity for reason and self-examination and change, and therefore hold them responsible when they don’t use it? 

When we say we should criticize the ideology and not the person, aren’t we in effect saying, “Don't blame them; blame their holy book instead.  Those poor simple people just don’t have the mental ability we have or the strength to follow through.  They are unable to think for themselves or act on their own behalf.  They are victims.”?

It seems condescending.  It seems arrogant.  It seems like a back-handed way of congratulating ourselves for being more clever and superior. 

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I understand what you're saying, however I would raise one point. If you say something like "Islam is wrong. It states that the heads should be removed from the shoulders of the infidels", that is very different to saying "Muslims are wrong. They believe that the heads should be removed from the shoulders of the infidels."

Now, in a rational world these two statements should be the same because (you would think) the definition of a Muslim is someone who follows Islam. However, we know from all religions that this is not the case. Most religious people in my experience make the religion what they want it to be. I find it amusing that people are outraged at the idea that you might think they condone this barbarous stuff and I feel like saying "but you're the one who's telling me you're a Muslim/Christian/etc". What other conclusion am I to draw except that you will follow the teachings laid out in your holy book. But they do not.

This brings me to my point. In a world where religious people pick and choose parts of the religion to follow you can no longer criticize the person rather than the ideology because they may very well not subscribe to it.

Sam Harris (although he is vilified for exactly this) actually makes the point that you do have to go beyond ideology to people because it's people that enact ideology. However you must choose people who are carrying out the ideology you don't like (e.g. ISIS) and not choose people who should be (if they are to consider themselves "true" believers) but don't.

Basically, most religious people want to have their cake and eat it. When it suits them the holy text is inerrant and a guide of how to live life.... except when it's not.

I realize that for every literalist who believes their holy book is the 100% true inerrant word of god there are many others who just think the book is mostly good but with some unpleasant parts that are best left ignored.  I personally think trying to find anything good in a holy book is like looking for peanuts in poop - it's not worth what you have to go through for such a small payoff that is available from many other sources.

In a world where religious people pick and choose parts of the religion to follow you can no longer criticize the person rather than the ideology because they may very well not subscribe to it.

That's exactly why only criticizing the ideology falls short - since they don't subscribe to THAT part of it either, the criticism doesn't apply to them and they are free to continue with all the whacky stuff they DO subscribe to.  Don't they need (as gently as is appropriate) confronting, too, if they are ever to wake up to reality? 

If we believe they can, should we not hold them accountable for not doing it?  If we believe they can't, are we not basically seeing them as poor simple-minded rubes?

"That's exactly why only criticizing the ideology falls short - since they don't subscribe to THAT part of it either, the criticism doesn't apply to them and they are free to continue with all the whacky stuff they DO subscribe to"

If they don't subscribe to it and that's what you're criticizing then it doesn't fall short. It sounds like you are criticizing all the other "whacky" stuff as well. Quite right too but then this whacky stuff just becomes part of the ideology you are critical of. If a religious person exists who does not exhibit any behaviours you are critical of presumably they should not be criticised for being religious per se (or should they?).

Of course the easiest way round this is to be critical of non-critical thinking. That way every religious person is fair game ;-)

I have had this discussion many times. It is like what the religious say about “loving the sinner but no the sin”. I debate with theists on a regular basis. I will always criticize the ideology and never (seldom) the individual. I fight defend their right to believe whatever they want to believe. The problem arises because I debate them on an intellectual level but they are processing what I am saying on an emotional one. Often something like this:

Me: I do not believe in the existence of the god you say you believe in.

Them: You cannot prove God does not exist.

Me: I did not say your God does not exist, I specifically said I do not believe He does.

Them: I find that offensive and think you lack humility.

Me: Do you offensive Hindus offensive or lacking in humility?

Them: No, of course not. They are very religious people.

Me: So when Hindus don’t believe in your God they are not being offensive but when I don’t, I am?

Them: AH, but at least they have Faith (take that atheist!!)

People with a religious belief, whatever their god, demand that we respect them. It is almost an unwritten rule that we must tread carefully.

When it comes to politics its ok. A liberal can engage a conservative in a debate about economic policy and no respect need be shown for each other’s views. Yes, we must support the other person right to hold their views and do so with the same enthusiasm we expect others to allow us to hold our alternative views. We must do so without descending into ad hominem attacks on their character.

I live in a county that has a law against blasphemy. While it is unlikely that I will be arrested for it (not for want of trying), it is used as a model for other countries (Pakistan complemented it!!) where people are jailed and murdered for not believing what other people believe or because someone has decided they are offended by something overheard.

Causing Offense – is the key point. How is it that someone can say I am offending them for not believing in their God? The answer – I am not giving offence to them – they have decided to take offence with what I am saying. Because of the law of blasphemy do I need to self-censor my thoughts as they are being formed in case, when uttered, some religious person decides my words are offensive? No, I will speak my mind on the subject. They can believe what they want but if they utter it in public or insist on knocking on my door on a Saturday morning, then their views are fair game. I will criticize religious views because I dislike them. I contend that they are no longer of any use to humanity. In fact they are a liability to the progress of civilization.

If their views need laws to protect them from criticism or if their piety demands that I respect them just because they are religious then I am their enemy. The only reason for either form of protection is because their beliefs cannot stand up to criticism without it. Their beliefs are delusions that have an emotional hold upon them and are devoid of any intellectual defence.

Them: I believe god loves me and that he created the universe and that because I believe this He will    make me immortal when I die.

Me: You expect me to respect that when you can’t even give me a definition of your god that is not       so full of contradictions that it becomes meaningless? You just knocked on the wrong door.

If they find that I am being condescending or arrogant then they are wrong. I do not care what they believe. It is of no concern to me. However if they try to have their views implemented at State level or enshrined in the Law of the land or forced into the mind of children in the education system then it is open season. This is where I find them to be arrogant and condescending. This is the level where I general “fight” them as my enemies. I want them gone from any position of power in civil life. They do not want a secular world, even though that would guarantee their religious freedom as much as my freedom from religion. So let’s all keep criticizing them until we get there.

On a one to one level where I am debating your “average” believer I will be more accommodating. It is not my intention to take away their religion.  It is just that if I can engage them in the right way then they are more than likely (given some time) to become atheists. It is not possible to get people to suddenly start to think critically about what they believe. It takes time. They did not reason themselves into believing in the first place. It was a gradual process and when they realise that they do believe in a god, they assume that they made a decision to do so (freewill). No one is talked out of their beliefs. It is something that they must do for themselves. The path to Atheism is also a process. I have helped many people to become Atheists. I am happy for them when they do but the reward is all theirs.

If I am to be honest then maybe I do feel a little superior. I am not sure if that is the word. I think I feel disappointed when people that appear intelligent reveal that they are religious. I see the religious worldview as immature. I get annoyed on behalf of the theist because I know the value of what religious thinking is stealing from them. I suppose I have the opposite emotional responses to their religion as they do. I feel frustration and annoyance and sometimes even sadness for them, which might appear a little condensing in its own way.

On the other hand when someone tells me that they are an atheist I automatically give them extra kudos. I know it is said that the only thing you can tell about someone when they say that they are an atheist is that they don’t believe in gods. I don’t agree with that sentiment, especially if they were once religious. I know that they have invested time and intellectual thought into getting to a position where can they say (to themselves at first) that “I am an atheist”.

I am now going to the local police station to get some documents signed. I will be wearing my favorite t-shirt. It reads:

“I openly and gladly blaspheme all gods except yours”

Hi Reg, What's the context for these regular debates with theists you get into? I'm curious to know how one ends up in a position where debating theists is a regular occurrence (I think I'd quite enjoy it).

I have always had a fascination with religious belief. I am an active member of a few atheist and secular groups. This can bring me into direct contact with theists who will come up to me and ask about it when (say) I am manning a table or setting up a local group meeting in a hotel or bar. I will always agree to meet with them so that they can tell me all about their god. Sometimes it even means they will call to my house.

I live in a part of Dublin that is relatively new having seen rapid urban development over the last 15 years. During that time there has been a large migration to the area of people from all around the world. It is reckoned that there over 86 nations represented in one of the local primary schools. This has seen many different religions and several branches of Christianity arrive too. One Saturday last summer 4 different groups called to my door to tell me about their version of god. I always ask them in for a chat. I will not let them leave for at least an hour and sometimes I can see them thinking “How the hell do we get out of here”.(lmfao). I will invite them back for more and often they will bring a junior cult member along to show them “what a real atheist looks like” :-)….. Even though I have “saved” 6 Jehovah Witnesses this year alone they still come back for more. Of course they claim the ex-members were never “true Christians” in the first place.

I have become good at it and take a structured approach to how I debate them. Even my “silly” questions are loaded. It is all about getting them to think critically and stop saying “but the Bible says...” long enough for some doubt to remain alive. I have twice “hidden” cult members from their cults and helped them recover. I am doing this over twenty years and my enthusiasm is stronger than ever, surpassed only by my disdain for religious fundamentalism.

Many conversations flow from people asking about the meanings of my tattoos. The question “So you don’t believe in God” is often asked. Yes, the “A” stands for “Atheism” :-).

Ha ha, I like the idea of a Jehovah Witness getting stuck with you and thinking.. "I didn't sign up for this shit."

Or in hip-hop culture, "don't hate the playa, hate the game".

I guess, in a way, I look at religion like smoking.  I used to smoke.  I realized how unhealthy it is and quit several years ago.  It was difficult but once the reality of the danger sank in, there was no other choice.  I don't seek out smokers and preach to them about the dangers of smoking, but if it comes up I will point out some facts that are appropriate to their stage of change.  I will bluntly ask how an otherwise intelligent person can ingest poison day after day and think it won't harm them.  I don't feel superior to smokers.  I know they can quit once they pierce their denial and see the obvious reality that is staring them in the face. 

My teacher used to say, "Up until you're 18, you can blame everything on your parents. But afterwards, it's ALL YOUR FAULT" A dose of cold water but it bears truth. Now yes, events during development greatly influence an individual throughout life. But when you are and adult and you have a, medically speaking, functional brain, you have all you need to skeptically interrogate the world around you. The will may not be there, but encouragement is all around in the Western world. There is no excuse for following something ridiculous and therefore, you make yourself subject to ridicule.

Now I believe that and intelligent person can follow almost any ideology and still be intelligent. Because there is a level of maturity that one reaches to understand an idea to a degree where they will not be persuaded by logical fallacies. They simply arrive at different conclusions on matters which are purely subjective. That's when it boils down to values and principles, which we can rarely measure as "right or wrong" (but we can note flaws, contradictions, and conflicts between practice and principle). But religion is different from many other ideologies which simply base doctrine on theories like "people are basically good" or "labor is the primary source of capital". Such concepts vary from the abstract to concrete but whether or not the central idea of one of these beliefs is true or not does not actually determine the quality of the thesis which is the interpretation of that idea and the determination of appropriate response. You could have a good idea under the pretense that something which is false is true. This even applies to religion. But what is different about religion is that it asserts and divine truth which is not abstract, but can also not be proven. And the interpretations of that "truth" are so numerous that the only way we have to categorize them all is by calling it a religion.

So religion itself is not an ideology. It is just an idea. One which cannot (currently) be proved or disproved. And so while it is objectively concrete but unknown (it makes an assertion which is unproven) it does not extend the courtesy of properly identifying itself as a hypothesis. NO. It is true and requires no proof, it requires only faith. Faith is the sacrifice of the mind and if God did give it to us, it was truly his greatest gift, and should not even be sacrificed to him. That is why religion is different and why I feel no quarrel criticizing its followers. Almost every other ideology can be boiled down to differing values and hypothesis. But religion asserts truth where there is none and its followers have every opportunity to see this. Now I do not think myself fundamentally superior to others based on my atheism. I may criticize but I refrain from insulting people (usually) out of manners and the avoidance of ad hominem. I do not think them victims per se and I do not afford them the same sympathy I would to some one who is literally brainwashed. I do sympathize with them to some degree and I am grateful for no longer being in their straits. But I reiterate, they have functioning brains and being and atheist is not the hardest thing to do. A leap of doubt is much easier than a leap of faith. It's not that they can't think for themselves, they just haven't (and a minority have and arrived at different conclusions) 

In a theistic world emotion trumps reason every time. You can lead the horse to water but making it drink the reasoned waters of logic is not guaranteed. I can accept someone's obstinance as long as they contain their expectations that others also walk lockstep in their deluded world.

I've found that when dealing with Christians and other theists, it's  _R_A_R_E_  to find one of the capable of separating themselves from their beliefs.  If you even question the historical authenticity of anything they say you are  attacking them personally.  If you insist they are wrong about anything to do with the facts of their own religion they are insulted. 

Next time you have a chance ask a Christian to explain to you how their Holy Trinity came about.  They'll throw you a feast of bullshit.  Tell them it was put together by 318 bishops brought together by Constantine to settle the debate over whether Jesus was "similar" to God or "the same as" God.  It had nothing to do with the religion at all according to the letter Constantine sent to Alexander and Arius before they were called to  Nicea to debate.

He wrote,

"I had proposed to lead back to a single form the ideas which all people conceive of the deity for I feel strongly that if I could induce men to unite on the subject the conduct of public affairs would be considerably eased."  

Take note Constantine didn't mention christians but "all people."  In the year 325 he was still merging Christian and Mithraic worship into a single religion... something few Xians have been taight and even fewer will openly admit.

I've found that when dealing with Christians and other theists, it's  _R_A_R_E_  to find one of the capable of separating themselves from their beliefs.  If you even question the historical authenticity of anything they say you are  attacking them personally.  If you insist they are wrong about anything to do with the facts of their own religion they are insulted.

Don't you think you're really talking about humanity in general?   What you are describing is the behavior of homo sapiens when their tribal identity is questioned, and most of us, including atheists, have a tribal identity that we aren't entirely rational about.  Whether it's defending 'Murica or other nationalism, religion, or responding to those who dare question the merits of one's favorite football team.

Atheists are far from immune.  Take a look at some of the things on the TA boards, particularly when either a theist or an atheist questions the prevailing orthodoxy here.   Look how some have responded when someone questions the historical accuracy of claims about religion and wars, or about science.  Look at the prevalence of juvenile name-calling, which is generally accepted so long as one is belittling members of the "out" group.

No matter what the group or what the issue, it's all very human.


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