Why is Religion So ‘Untouchable’? March 15, 2011

Why is Religion So ‘Untouchable’?

If you’ve been an atheist for a while, you’re well aware that religion is treated by most people with kid gloves. There are relatively few places to find outspoken atheists or critics of religion — the blogosphere is an exception. Certainly, in the mainstream media, it’s rare to see anyone calling out religious bullshit. (Meanwhile, how many times did you hear the media say something about “praying for the victims” of the Japanese tsunami this past weekend?)

So imagine you’re discovering all this for the first time…

Welcome to the real world, where most people are too afraid of speaking the truth because they don’t want to hurt the sensitivities of religious people. Even when the consequences are staggering.

(via Saztheatheist)


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  • fiddler

    It’s always nice to see a rational, clear speaking, young person question the status quo.

  • Steve

    It’s because deep down they know that it’s indefensible. So they have to put these artificial defenses.

  • Don Rose

    Cute.

    The untouchables days are fading. I’ll say whatever I want.

    It was always fun to see how shocked people were when an individual spoke out against religion. It was thrilling to me, the first time I saw a religious person lash out, and find themself outnumbered, out-smarted, and shut down.

  • Lion IRC

    I read somewhere that even the atheists in prison are reluctant to come out of the closet.

  • Liz

    Her hair got short with bangs halfway through the video. It’s cute!

    And she reminds me of me when I was first learning questioning religion and then learning about atheism.

  • I guess it depends a bit on the perspective, though I can’t disagree with anything in the video overall. Personally, I’ve got no fear of slamming religious concepts, online or off; the only thing I do is to wait for someone else to bring it up, since going door to door being atheistic at people is every bit as dickish as its polar opposite.

    As for theists taking it laughably personally that I don’t believe in deities, I see two problems.

    First: They can’t simply accept that I lack beliefs about deities, in much the way that I lack beliefs about goblins; that I don’t believe in their imaginary friends doesn’t directly equate to holding the belief that the things don’t exist; I’m atheistic, but I’m also admittedly agnostic—I guess deities might exist somewhere, possibly hiding behind the goblins.

    Second: That I don’t believe in deities [regardless whether I somehow believe *against* them] seems to remind theists that their beliefs are a bit fragile in nature. When they can’t convince me that—having prayed for hundreds of things for decades, something loosely similar to one of their wishes finally came something like true—that’s NobelPrizeWinning evidence of Odin—or whichever deity they’re into—that I decline to agree exuberantly that they’ve just settled the debate once and for all forces them to question their own baseless faiths, giving them the simple choice between painful intellectual honesty and stark hostility. You can guess how that usually works out.

    Technically, I don’t really even have to say anything. I doubt I have to be atheistic to wreck their certainties. I’ve seen muslims drive christians nuts simply by doubting that Al’lah—occasionally the same thing as Jehovah—ever had a kid. That I, to paraphrase Stephen Roberts, go a step further and believe in one [or three] less deities only calls a few extra details into question.

    So, yeah: It would be kinda cool if they could just get over it, and allow that I’ve got uncommon opinions—like the idea that things accused of existing should maybe be proved to exist. But, since that equates somewhat directly to conceding that, in fact, these things aren’t proved as yet to exist, I’m not expecting that level of rationality from them.

    ‘I read somewhere that even the atheists in prison are reluctant to come out of the closet.’

    Prison is a somewhat chaotic closed system; being atheistic in prison is as dangerous as being atheistic in feudal England was.

  • Lion IRC

    Gremlin,

    The issue seems to be that some atheists have a problem with these words showing up in the media… that they are forced to watch

    “…praying for the victims of the Japanese tsunami…”

    On behalf of all religious / theists, please accept our apologies for letting our spiritual side, at this tragic time, intrude on the media which you are forced to watch

    How insensitive of us not to realize that talking about “praying for the victims Japanese tsunami” bothered you.

    Lion (IRC)

  • Anonymous

    Yeeeaaaaaaaahhhhh!

  • CanadianNihilist

    Same girl from the bible is not for children video. It’s good to see she’s still making videos. I wonder if her parents know about it? I also wonder if they’re religious.

  • ST8

    I agree that we should be more open in discussing these things, but it’s interesting that atheists are also extremely offended when their beliefs are overlooked or not included (this blog is a prime example). I think atheists ALSO need to take it easy. Did you ever think that religious people also don’t like it when atheists preach at them? Let’s not force anything down anyone’s throats. Let’s have a discussion. Anyone?

  • I love this kid, she’s gonna be quite the heathen one day as she’s already presenting constructed arguments beyond her apparent years

  • Valhar2000

    Oh, Lion! I do so hope your delicate feelings weren’t hurt!

  • Lion IRC

    Valhar2000
    Actually I think it is pretty brave for atheists to complain about media references to “praying for the victims” of the earthquake/tsunami.
    Lion (IRC)

  • TheRealistMom

    Lion, that “wooshing” sound was the point going way, way over your head.

    The POINT being, that it’s permissible, even encouraged, that religious faith solutions be broadcast. It’s ASSUMED everyone out there should be begging the imaginary sky-fairies for help. Nobody is saying that religious people shouldn’t pray if that’s what you want to do (so long as you don’t sit back and go, “Ok, I did my part” instead of finding ways to actually help). The allegedly unbiased media sources should be giving us news, not promoting the idea of religious succor.

  • Erik

    On behalf of all religious / theists, please accept our apologies for letting our spiritual side, at this tragic time, intrude on the media which you are forced to watch

    How insensitive of us not to realize that talking about “praying for the victims Japanese tsunami” bothered you.

    Lion (IRC)

    It’s not that we somehow abhor the mentioning of prayer. It has more to do with the idea that people are telling others to do nothing to help anyone, but feel ok about it.

    Honestly, screw prayer, donate to the Red Cross. You might end up helping someone that way. Even if it’s only a few dollars it’s better than doing some kind of ineffectual chant.

  • Anonymous

    If Saztheatheist makes her way over here, I’d like her to know she’s joined a very distinguished chorus of people asking the same question. Here’s a good one from a little while back.

    http://ethicist.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/can-we-talk-about-religion-please/

    …Yet despite the risk of provoking the ire of believers, we should discuss the actions of religious institutions as we would those of all others — courteously and vigorously. This is a mark of respect, an indication that we take such ideas seriously. To slip on the kid gloves is condescending, akin to the way you would treat children or the frail or cats.

  • I am beyond thrilled to see a young person not only acknowledge the special status religion receives but also have the courage to articulate it.

    I have so much hope for the upcoming generation.

  • Jim

    I had this problem too when ranting on facebook. As usual, my religious friends jump the shark and suddenly become saviors of their faith, claiming me the bigot when all I did was rail against an extremist. I really do wonder why religious beliefs, no matter their degree of fervency, cannot be questioned or criticized?

    My problem started when I made the point that religious extremists were going to blame the Japanese for bringing this onto themselves by angering god.

    There always seems to be a double standard.

  • Lion IRC

    TheRealistMom said…

    Lion, that “wooshing” sound was the point going way, way over your head.

    The combination of;

    a) Media being part of a very understandable human response to the misery and suffering of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami tragedy.

    b) Pro-atheism, pro-secularism blog agenda.

    …really presses my buttons!

    It’s the same as when prominent atheist, Catherine Deveny (Global Atheism Convention)tried to score a cheap anti-theist point on a discussion panel about the recent flood disaster in Australia. Right in the very middle of the flood disaster recovery effort, while religious charity volunteers were there in huge numbers, up to their knees in human misery, Catherine Deveny is there trying to push a tired old agenda about tax exemptions for religious charities. Like the real estate sales person at the funeral home.

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3125637.htm

    http://www2b.abc.net.au/tmb/Client/Message.aspx?b=114&m=124411&ps=50&dm=2

    Lion (IRC)

  • Mike

    What was the video?
    It’s not showing up on here or on youtube…

  • J.

    How insensitive of us not to realize that talking about “praying for the victims Japanese tsunami” bothered you.

    Sarcasm aside, It should be noted that most of the liberal churches, and media outlets that use the phrase ‘pray for the victims’ or ‘keep the victims in your thoughts’ also have links to the same aid groups as linked by secular groups. That is both RichardDawkins.net and xyz media will link to Doctors without Borders, or The Red Cross.

    So give aid if you can, donate as you can afford it.

    I usually tend to shrug off the phrase as well intentioned. Like the joke is a theist insulting an atheist, when he says ‘God bless you’ after a Sneeze? Only if the atheist takes it as such.

    For myself, I look at Natural Disasters like this one, and Hurricane Katrina and think: If there were a God, he wouldn’t need to call on us humans to be Suicide Bombers. But I tend to see life as a struggle to survive, and tame Nature as best we can.

  • I agree. I’ve been annoyed lately at those Christians who complain about atheists being rude, pushy, or “militant”. They are hardly worse than the supposedly “inspired” heroes of the Bible who teach hate and discrimination against unbelievers. I wrote a piece about it on my blog, where I go through the Bible and alert Christians to the hate speech and name-calling in the Bible. The next time you hear a Christian complaining about this, send them this link:

    http://whirledbulletin.blogspot.com/2011/03/christian-remove-plank-from-your-own.html

    thanks, jeff b

  • Patrick who is not Patrick

    Lion, its actually quite difficult to decide how to interact with religion. I don’t know if this is going to be something you can get, but… try to look at it from outside. You’ve got a bunch of people who believe doctrines that often have, as their logical consequences, some really horrific things. But they don’t actually believe those things. But sometimes they say they do. But they don’t really and they don’t act like they do.

    What do you talk about? What do you attribute to them?

    The prayer issue is rather low key in this context, but its real. You’ve got a bunch of people who say they believe that magical incantations will help relieve natural disasters. Someone who actually believed that would naturally be less likely to offer real help, because they think they’re already offering real help. Its exactly like people who think prayer will heal their kid’s horrible disease, and then their kid dies.

    But in real life most religious people don’t seem to really believe prayer will help. They just think its the right thing to do. So they pray, and then they go and actually help because they’re decent people.

    But if you even mention the mismatch, they respond by doubling down on how certain they are that prayer will actually accomplish something. And they get really mad.

    And some of them, sort of hidden amongst the rest, actually DO believe praying will help and that other efforts are pointless in comparison to prayer. And they really DO behave that way, and give Bibles to people who really need food or water.

    The whole thing is such a mind screw from the outside.

    And don’t even get me started on people who belong to denominations that believe that even children are metaphysically evil to the point that they deserve infinite pain, and yet feel a sense of injustice when bad things happen to children.

  • AtomJack

    Lion (IRC)- It’s not that we are so offended as we see the utter futility of it, and it’s boring to see and hear about it, as though this groveling before a construct is making a person better in some way.

    Back on topic, I personally consider religion to be a construct of the human mind. It’s had some uses in terms of uniting people. And divided and killed many, as well. I personally consider “prophets” to have a little bit of crazy in ’em. You read the bible, right? About the part where prophets get no respect in their own villages? There’s a reason for that- they’re crazy, the villagers know it, they see that the rest of the prophet’s family is crazy to a lesser or greater extent, and dismiss it.

    What I REALLY don’t like is the respect religion gets. I consider it to be
    1) based on fear of the crazies
    2) based on the fear of the charismatic crazy able to rally people behind him (yes, him, they are almost without fail male authoritarians, “LION (IRC)”). Rational people can smell/see/hear crazy a mile off, and don’t want any part of it,because they see where it leads. Reliance on authoritarian sources is a bad thing. Believe what you want. Don’t stand around like a Pharisee telling me how holy you are by praying for the victims of a natural disaster…or would you prefer to call it an act of “god”? Hmmm?

  • AxeGrrl

    ST8 wrote:

    Let’s have a discussion. Anyone?

    To ask such a question suggests to me that you don’t frequent this forum very often 🙂

    In the sea of vacuous, vitriolic and censorious interaction that is the internet, this blog, and especially some of the regular ‘commenters’, is a refreshing haven of true ‘discussion’.

    Go back and scroll through past discussions and you’ll see that we atheists aren’t afraid to say that we disagree……a lot.

    Seriously, this is the last place you or anyone has any justifiable reason to say “let’s have a discussion. Anyone?” as though it’s a novel/rare thing.

  • geeze, how many takes did she do? I don’t ‘get’ this style of filming opinion videos on youtube by recording it in a variety of camera positions and then chopping it all together. It makes me think that the video is intended for people with ADD. It’s like the only way you can keep the viewers attention is if your wildly switching camera views every 3 seconds. Is it so hard to listen to someone’s opinion without seeing them in 10 different outfits with 10 different hairstyles in 10 different camera views?

  • Melp

    “Lion” burgers anyone? ^_^

    The girl in the video is cute and articulate, and she makes a lot of sense! I like her style of filming and editing. It’s edgy. Single shot monologues work better perhaps for someone like Andy Rooney.

    My mother said of this entire nightmare in Japan, “God’s got everything under control,” and my father said, “It looks like events are quickly leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.”

    I puked a little in my mouth, and then I got online and made a donation to relief efforts in Japan. Maybe it will help somehow, and I wish my parents weren’t so brainwashed in the scaryfairytales of King James and his ecclesiastical crew of cream crackered clergy.

    I sincerely hope my friends in Japan are OK. I haven’t heard from a couple of them since the quake and tsunami took place. I’ve thought of them often since this cataclysm occurred, but I haven’t uttered a single prayer. I haven’t howled at the moon, danced in a circle nor chanted soothing sounds whilst bending my body in an aloeswood smoke-filled temple. I just keep quietly hoping as fear dances around the edges of my mind. I’m human, and I’m grateful to be alive.

  • Kids get to say the obvious stuff that somehow stops being obvious when you’re older.

  • sven

    Why don’t christians just pray for natural disasters to not-happen? Then there would never be a reason to pray for victims.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Beautiful beyond beautiful. What a brilliant brave kid!

    There is no such thing as “non-overlapping magisteria”. This is just a bullshit phrase made up to wall off religion from criticism. If there were such a thing (apologies to Stephen Gould), we wouldn’t keep having these conflicts between “magisteria”. Biology teachers that teach creationism for instance. And at the risk of digression, “irreducible complexity” should raise everyone’s bs alert system.

    Every time religion claims dominion over reality, it rules with an iron fist and inoculates the flock to reject reason by establishing that evidence is unnecessary. This is how to believe impossible things – a half a dozen before breakfast! So when a calamity strikes, the Black Plague for instance, and the church’s diagnosis and remedies prove futile, science and reason has to force through the ramparts to (hopefully) solve mankind’s greatest problem. Then, astoundingly and inevitably faith will claim any victory for itself. It’s absolutely mental.

    This is how stupidity works.

  • ST8

    @AxeGrrl

    I think you have a very flawed view of what a discussion entails. This blog is not a discussion. I have been reading this for several months now, and all it is is people hating on Christians.

    People’s comments are always just them agreeing with someone’s comment about how Christians are stupid, hypocritical, or at the very least lame. None of the discussions have to do with philosophical statements about why they are wrong. It’s just assumed that you know why. But I don’t even think you do.

    I am interested in what you people think about what is true, not what isn’t. This blog is a one-sided, half-ass, piece of shit that people blindly and mindlessly buy into because they hate the idea of God, or they have some beef with the Bible thumper that they could never seem to refute. It has NOTHING to do with intelligent discussion. If anything, I’d prefer hypocritical Christians to this close-minded group.

    No, this is NOT a discussion. At least have the balls to discuss your opinions with people of opposing positions. To say that there are differing opinions here is a bunch of bullshit. It’s mindless. You’re just a group of people who agree with each other and like to demonize those other people with whom you are not smart enough to engage in intelligent discussion. You guys are just as much bigots as the people in Westboro Baptist Church.

    You can have your stupid little “discussions” if it makes you feel better, but don’t call it a discussion until you are willing to face those you are opposing head-on.

  • meD8

    @ST8

    I can see where you are coming from, but I think you are a little harsh. Obviously there is going to be a bias on this blog since it is written by an atheist. We can’t expect this to be an equal argument.

    But I do agree with the fact that there should be more of a discussion rather than an assortment of pot shots at Christians. I too am beginning to wonder what these people think beyond their strong dislike of Christians. That’s easy! Even Christians hate Christians! It seems that Hemant is more of an anti-Christian than an atheist.

  • AtomJack

    Awww, looks like ST8’s sacred ox got gored.

    ST8, do you have a paypal account, so I can send you money to buy a clue?

  • ACN

    *Makes popcorn*

    Please ST8, tell us how you really feel, get it all off of your chest about how mean all of those bad atheists are.

  • Rieux

    No, no, I think ST8 is just trying to prove Saztheatheist’s point for her. The “You guys are just as much bigots as the people in Westboro Baptist Church” line is the clincher. (I’ve always wondered when someone was going to get after Hemant, Claudia, and AxeGrrl for all that nasty picketing they do at Christians’ funerals. You monsters!)

  • ST8

    @AtomJack
    @ACN

    Are you guys that dull? You guys just don’t get it! I’m not attacking atheism! I attacking your methods. You have only enforced what I have said.

    I live my life as an atheist, yet I am at least willing to understand, think, discuss and challenge other people’s beliefs and ways of thinking. Let’s try to change things, not just sit around and mope and complain about how shitty Christians are. Everyone already knows that! Let’s actually do something! We’re getting nowhere by just saying “they suck, we don’t.”

    @meD8

    I think you get what I’m saying, but I don’t think you can get through to these people unless you are harsh.

  • ST8

    @Rieux

    YES! You get it! In hating Christian bigots, you are only mirroring their hate and you are just as bad as they are. Don’t stoop to their level!

  • ACN

    Rieux was making fun of you.

  • Brian

    “Faith”–anti-woman, anti-human, anti-reason, anti-progress, anti-science–is an EVIL, and those who claim to practice it, well…

    We may respect the practicers as humans, but we must speak out against the evil–faith.

  • Rieux

    I think you should read my comment again, ST8. What I “get” is that you are trying to enforce precisely the nasty and unjust form of religious privilege Saztheatheist was criticizing. That you somehow thought I sympathized with you seems to be a further symptom of the blindness you’re laboring under.

    Challenging, criticizing, and mocking religious ideas has nothing to do with “hating” believers. You just can’t see through the thick soup of religious privilege you live in. (Note that one does not need to be a direct beneficiary of privilege to be invested in enforcing it—as Ann Coulter, Clarence Thomas, and Ted Haggard demonstrate.)

    I am at least willing to understand, think, discuss and challenge other people’s beliefs and ways of thinking.

    So are millions of atheists who express our disbelief differently than you do—and your hyperbolic nonsense about outspoken criticism of religion shows more about your difficulty dealing with such outspokenness than it does about the criticism itself. (Calling the discussion that goes on here “one-sided, half-ass, piece of shit that people blindly and mindlessly buy into because they hate the idea of God, or they have some beef with the Bible thumper that they could never seem to refute” is absurd garbage that you should be ashamed of.)

    At least have the balls to discuss your opinions with people of opposing positions.

    I take it you haven’t been here very long. “People of opposing positions”—including atheists of opposing positions on various issues—engage in discussion and debate all the time. You are brutally misrepresenting what goes on on this blog.

    Let’s try to change things, not just sit around and mope and complain about how shitty Christians are.

    Your ignorance of the “change” that outspoken atheism is in fact bringing about in the English-speaking world does not obligate the rest of us to take orders from you.

    You guys are just as much bigots as the people in Westboro Baptist Church.

    I mocked you for saying that once, but you missed it somehow, so here it is straight: Bullshit. Ridiculous declarations like that do tremendous damage to your credibility.

  • Whelp, so much for Saz. YouTube account(s) closed permanently. It’s really difficult to defend the indefensible, I guess.

  • Christians like to say “hate the sin, not the sinner.” The equivalent here is “hate the belief, not the believer,” and otherwise there are no differences in terms of whether this is acceptable conversations to have or not. If you can talk about our “sin” without being a hateful bitch for doing so, then we can with just the same amount of justification talk about your “belief”.

    And I do hate the belief, and usually not the believers.

    On another note, what happened to Saz? I was really enjoying watching her journey, and suddenly she disappears from the web? Why? Her Dad seemed to be cool with her doings. Is she being persecuted by someone for her viewpoints? I want to leap to her defense for some reason.

  • I saw Saz close her account almost in real-time. I was in the middle of explaining to her the fallacy behind her completely unoriginal “Can God create a rock so big…” video when it happened.

  • Saz

    My dad.