Jan 13, 2012

I know why you bother, I just don’t see why the rest of us must live under religious laws

A nice little case study in intellectual disho

Pure Poison IconA nice little case study in intellectual dishonesty in an article on The Punch this week, Why God botherers bother:

You hear many complaints nowadays about pesky, outspoken Christians. Across the West, a fashionable attitude has emerged: Beyond the doing of charitable works, and perhaps the soothing of the bereaved at funerals, “religion” should be an entirely private affair.

The so-called New Atheists are vocal advocates of this position. One of them, Michel Onfray, has admitted that his atheism “leaps to life when private belief becomes a public matter”. Onfray hates it “when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organise the world for others”.

Indeed, many people even of faith object to people particularly of other faiths demanding that their religious beliefs be enshrined in the law that governs all of us.

Does Roy Williams have an argument as to why they should?


He does have a complaint that “New Atheists” dare to criticise Christian belief:

The talented journalist-author Peter FitzSimons is fond of ridiculing sportsmen, like golfer Aaron Baddeley, who publicly give thanks to God. FitzSimons rarely misses a chance to snipe at all “delusional” believers, and, in a recent spray in the Sydney Morning Herald, asserted ludicrously that belief in God “is entirely inimical to educational principles”.

We must silence these blasphemers!

And Roy does has a defence of evangelism (although with no consideration of just what limits should apply in a civil society):

Even today, in affluent and secular Australia, there are many Christians who evangelise in exemplary fashion. These are people who, without monetary reward or popular fanfare, do vital work: feeding and clothing the poor, visiting prisoners, teaching Sunday school, and so on. Some go the extra mile. Recently I met a young Adelaide man who had returned from missionary work in, of all places, Mongolia.

To return, then, to my original question. Why do Christians evangelise? The answer: because they need to and want to. It’s a manifestation of their faith.

Moreover, when Christians evangelise well – graciously yet animatedly, in speech “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) – remarkable results can be achieved. There are now around 100 million Christians in China, up from barely one-tenth that number a generation ago.

But nothing on the subject of religion in law – in the words of the person at the opening of his post, “when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organise the world for others”.

See what he’s done there? He’s addressed the objection to the religious views of one person being imposed on another through the law into a defence of people simply advocating for their beliefs and trying to win converts.

The diabolical “atheists” he quoted in the first paragraph were addressing the former. His response tries to pretend we’re debating the latter.

To illustrate the point, here’s my perspective, not unlike the person in the beginning of Roy’s piece – one Roy has pretended means something else entirely.

Roy, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they don’t IMPOSE it on someone else. You can try to argue your case with me up to the level where you’re invading my privacy or harassing me – in a way that would be against the law no matter what you’re saying: no special exemptions because you’re convinced by the fire of religious fervour that you have THE ANSWER and you’re going to SAVE MY IMMORTAL SOUL – as you always have been able to. Evangelism is fine, up to the point where you infringe my own freedoms.

The point at which I object is when you try to have your religious beliefs enshrined into law. When you successfully use the numbers of people who declare that they share your religion to lobby cowardly politicians to make the law discriminate against other people on the grounds of their gender or sexuality. (Although the fault here isn’t with you advocating your belief – it’s with a two-party system that gives people little choice in voting against those politicians.) That’s going too far – imagine how keen you’d be if it happened to be a slightly different sect getting ITS arbitrary religious beliefs passed into law.

I also have an issue when you use your authority over your own kids to indoctrinate them into your religion, even at school, denying them the information necessary to make their own choice about what to believe. But again, that’s because you’re not exercising your own religious freedom there – you’re imposing your religion on another person.

You’re not a persecuted group, as Roy imagines, being silenced from telling people about your “good news”. You are in fact a privileged group, whose organisations get massive tax benefits and whose self-appointed leaders get their way in public legislation to the cost of the rest of us. That’s what we’re fighting. Not your freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Roy Williams’ piece at The Punch makes it seem like he does not understand what non-religious critics of the system are saying at all. But I find it difficult to believe he could really be so unaware.

Which makes his effort to encourage that unawareness in fellow believers all the worse.

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57 thoughts on “I know why you bother, I just don’t see why the rest of us must live under religious laws

  1. SHV

    Put even more simply – children behave well just before christmas long after they’ve stopped believing that “Santa has made a list, checked it twice, he knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice”.

  2. SHV

    No Peter, you’ve misconstrued the point.

    Of course there are people who INTERPRET what god ‘said’. My point is: doesn’t someone have to REPORT what god ‘said’? Some human has to say: “God told me…..”

    As to whether an old bloke wandering down a hill with a written set of rules is a “philosophy” – you’ve lost me. Isn’t it a ‘report’ of an event rather than a philosophy? He either did or he didn’t. Either way, he had a bunch of rules. Do some people believe they are what god ‘said’ just because someone says it’s what god said?

    That may have a certain utility. Especially if some people get together and come up with what they think are some good ideas and need to imbue those ideas with an authority likely to impress the larger audience. “We’ve had a bit of a chat and come up with some basic rules” doesn’t have the same impact as “god says….”

    At the end of the day ‘god’ hasn’t actually said anything. Unless people accept what they have been told by other people.

    George W excepted, apparently:

  3. silkworm

    The Catholic Church holds that they, under the supreme authority of the Pontiff as God’s Vicar on Earth, interprets authoritatively what God “has said”.

    We all know what the Catholic Church believes, but what do you believe, Pete?

  4. jules

    Silkworm, ok maybe by 14 then, it was reasonably facetious saying 12.

    Lets just call it puberty. Point being you did figure it out. And honestly … were you really the smartest kid at the school or just the best at doing academic stuff? (No offense intended, there are different kinds of smart.) Cos at some point you (and me and everyone) have to do that particular math. God creates two people, they have kids, humanity ensues… I don’t think we need a course in atheism to ensure that idea gets questioned, just an understanding of sex, and lessons in critical thinking would certainly help. You are right, it doesn’t always happen by 12, but if it doesn’t happen by 16 then perhaps there is something wrong with people.

    As for mental torture … I doubt that is mental torture. Spose hyperthetical you grows up in Tory family and reject their family politics at 14. Is the mental torture that might involve fundamentally any different from what you went thru?

    I think its part of the process of growing up. That mental torture you went thru, and the courage you had to develop/employ to follow your convictions are part of what made you who you are. I agree that teaching scientific “untruths” as “truth” is a bit off and actually is a form of abuse, but questioning your most fundamental assertions and rejecting the ones that aren’t applicable anymore is something everyone needs to learn or experience (imo). In fact people should probably spend one day a week (or maybe one day a month) questioning their most deeply held beliefs.

    Teaching scripture is one thing, teaching it as a revealed truth, (instead of a thing that some people believe literally and others use as an inspriation or to give themselves meaning,) is another. Teaching it in public schools could actually be a useful way to frame the idea of critical thinking. Teaching it as “truth” in a public school is probably unconstitutional.

  5. jules

    Should read .. “that prosperity theology bullshit.”

    For those of you that don’t know prosperity theology teaches that material wealth is a sign of grud’s approval. Obviously the richest among us are the most pious so it all fits together well. Anyone who disagrees with this idea is a heretic and must be burned, quickly. That’s what sect 116 of the constitution says isn’t it?

  6. silkworm

    From my POV/experience most religious nuts were not raised as fundamentalists, they are born agains, be it Christian, Muslim or whatever, if anything being raised in a religion is a bit like a vaccination against taking religion too seriously. According to a strict fundy interpretation of the bibble we are all descended from inbreeding freaks (who did cain or abel breed with given their parents were the first people?) Everyone works this out by the time they are 12 unless they weren’t exposed to the idea in the first place. So banning religious instruction of kids is at best counterproductive (as well as fascist and authoritarian in itself).

    It wasn’t until I was 14 that I began to see that everything they told me at Sunday School was a crock of $#!t. Why 14? That was the second year of high school, when I was taught things like paleontology and evolution. One Sunday I approached the pastor of my church and I asked him about dinosaurs and the age of the Earth. He told me that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve was true and that what I was being taught in science class was false. After that, I never went back to Sunday School. My deconversion came rapidly, but I remember going through a lot of mental torture at the time.

    I could have been spared this torture if I had not been taught the Christian garbage in the first place, and I would say that we have a moral duty to our kids, and a social duty as well, not to teach obvious scientific untruths to them. I don’t just mean don’t send your kid to Sunday School. I mean let’s stop scripture classes in our public schools.

    Jules, your point that kids figure out the contradictions in the Bible by age 12 is patently untrue in my experience. When I was 12, I was the smartest kid in school. I topped the state in mathematics, and yet it never occurred to me that there were no women for Cain and Abel to take as wives. It would have occurred to me if I had been taught in school about Biblical contradictions, or there had been a course in atheism at the end of primary school. Maybe that’s something that atheists should turn their mind to – an atheist or anti-religious curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Maybe it would fit into General Religious Education where we are supposed to learn about other religions besides Christianity, but never do.

  7. peter de mambla

    [How does that work? Doesn’t some person or body have to tell everyone else what god has ‘said’?]

    Sure. The Catholic Church holds that they, under the supreme authority of the Pontiff as God’s Vicar on Earth, interprets authoritatively what God “has said”.

    The Protestants, of course, have no such supreme governing authority, and so there are many denominations of Protestant interpretations, some not differing significantly from each other, others considered out of left field, usually deemed heretical by the rest.

    [Even some old guy who wanders down a hill with some slabs of stone with a few rules written on them? “God” told me you all have to….]

    Of course not everybody believes this philosophy to be true. They’re usually called, using the jargon of adherents of this philosophy, “unbelievers”.

    [Cos many aspects or interpretations of Buddhism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive, but are complimentary.]

    There’s a famous verse in the Bible that says something to the effect: “I [Jesus] am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father but through me.” That, to me, makes the tenets of Christianity (at least according to this quote) mutually exclusive with that of Buddhism or indeed any other philosophy.

    [If you think that religious people should be able to force, using the power of the state, behaviour that is peculiar to their religion, come out and say so.]

    Force will always be administered against those who resist the will and authority of the state. In a democracy, the will of the state will reflect the will of the majority. If the majority hold to a philosophy said to be revealed from God, then the democratic state will reflect this. If the majority hold to a secular-humanist philosophy, then the state will reflect it. To say I should be against one and for the other is to say I should be anti-democratic rather than bowing to the will of the majority. Is it not the case that vox populi vox dei?

    [In addition I would add that religious people do not have a monopoly on morals and ethics and that treating them as if they do is offensive to atheists, agnostics and adherents of different religions.]

    What are you saying — that you’re for or against a democratic form of government?

    [You ask how do I, personally, know truth if I see it. My answer is based on the evidence. Things are true if and only if they consistently correspond with reality.]

    Evidence is interpreted differently by different people. Reality is interpreted differently by Christians, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, New Agers, deists, humanists, scientists, etc.

    Since these different beliefs issue from what goes on in people’s heads, I’m interested in how the electrochemical reactions that occur in their brains result in differing thoughts. How does “evidence”, for example, affect the electrochemical reactions? If evidence is the stimulus, how does it elicit varying responses? And how can these electrochemical reactions be sufficiently controlled such that the “correct” thought, the correct interpretation of the evidence, will result? And moreover, if one seeks to control the electrochemical reactions that go on in others’ brains, how does one insure that one controls one’s own electrochemical reactions in the first place such that they produce the correct thoughts and interprets the evidence “correctly”, thereby arriving at the truth?

    [There is a tension there but that tension is resolved by society and not by revealed wisdom.]

    Resolved by the majority in a democratic system of government. The politicians realise it’s a numbers game and will act accordingly.

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