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Six Reasons You Shouldn’t be too Hard on Religious Folks

Posted by on Jun 28, 2013 | 7 Comments

Anyone that follows and participates in my Facebook discussions probably noticed a pattern- I like to tease Christians. A lot. I routinely make Raptor Jesus jokes. I toss out hyperbole-laced rants about the logic of religion. I use religious imagery and ceremony is blasphemous ways.

Most of my friends understand I’m just joking around. I have tremendous respect for those that have strong beliefs. Well, not enough respect to prevent teasing… but Sometimes, however, people will chime in and express genuine disdain for the religious.

This has been especially evident in recent days with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA and Prop 8. I see a lot of pointless arguing between the religious and nonreligious that is generally caused by a lack of understanding from both sides.

As an agnostic-ish atheist, I sometimes struggle with my perceptions of religious folk versus their actual selves. It’s easy for someone from my perspective to think of the religious as backwoods bigoted yokels that cling to outdated ideas.  Luckily I have a significant number of religious friends that are articulate and open-minded (and tolerate my teasing of their belief system.) Their articulation of their beliefs forces me to look beyond my own stereotypes.

For all my nonreligious friends- give religious folks a break. Don’t automatically jump to the “I’m right and you’re wrong” conclusion. I know, it can be difficult at times. As such, here’s a few of the things that help me empathize:

1. It’s not cool to be a dick. We’re often critical of the religious for their intolerance of various groups. It’s not uncommon for the secular folks to openly insult religious people because the religious people insult others. Not only is it hypocritical, but it violates an important rule that should govern all human behaviors: Don’t be a dick.

2. Infringing on their rights ultimately erodes our own rights. We sometimes forget that our own rights are limited by our willingness to protect other people’s rights. I take great pride in the fact that it’s exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to offend me. Why? No matter what you say or do, I know my own right to do whatever I want is contingent on my ability to tolerate your dumbassery.

To quote BRU’s legal scholar Christian Peterson “In America, private citizens have the right to be as bigoted as fuck.”

Do I like bigots? Absolutely not. Will I fight for people’s right to be bigots? Absolutely. Fighting for something you vehemently disagree with is a critical element of living in a democratic society.

I’m about as socially liberal as a person can get, yet I’m often annoyed at my fellow liberals because of their tendency to play the politically correct card. If you’re offended by something, that’s YOUR issue, not the person doing the offensive behavior. As soon as you play the PC card, you’re eroding your own rights.

3. Empiricism isn’t the only route to understanding. I trained to be an experimental psychologist. I taught psych for over a decade. The scientific method is my go-to tool to understand the world around me. It can be difficult to understand how someone could use any other paradigm to make sense of the world around us.

But people do.

And religion is a biggie.

I really like the saying “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming your perspective is the only perspective, but sometimes it can be beneficial to see the world from a screwdriver’s perspective. Or an orangutan. Or a Ford Pinto.

Your way of understanding the world works for you, but it’s silly to assume it would work for all. Some people prefer to use religion. Some use philosophy. Some use science.

We may really like wearing ties, but is it realistic to expect everyone to like wearing ties?

4. Arguing FOR something you don’t understand is a good thought exercise. We like to fall in love with our own ideas. Well, most of us anyway. I like to be most critical of my own thoughts and ideas, which is part of the reason I love debating so much. However, most people are much more likely to be critical of other’s ideas.

Arguing against your own thoughts, ideas, or self-interest can be a great thought exercise. This is especially true of my liberal friends. I’ve found most self-professed liberals aren’t really open to new ideas, they just fall in love with newer ideas than conservatives. It’s not a surprise most liberals eventually become conservative as they age. 😉

I experienced this one day on Facebook. A FB friend that often touts their progressiveness disagreed with a point I made. They claimed to enjoy discussion and debate, yet were completely intolerant of my idea. As it turns out, they didn’t like true disagreement. They liked discussions where a bunch of people agreed with their point of view. There’s nothing progressive about that… it’s merely searching for affirmation for your own “liberal” ideas.

We vilify the religious for their supposed limited perspective, yet do the exact same thing in return. If we were really open-minded, we’d be able to take their side and empathize with ease.

The irony-  actually agreed with the person’s point. I was just arguing the opposing point as a thought exercise.

5. Not all religious folks march to the beat of the same drum. We routinely fall for a simple in-group/out-group bias on a regular basis. We see individual differences among people similar to us, and assign group stereotypes to those that are different.

We assume all tall people play basketball. We assume all overweight people are lazy. We assume all parents of kids throwing a tantrum are bad parents. We assume all French people are snooty and surrender at the first indication of a fight. We assume all Muslims are terrorists.

And we assume all Christians boycott the funerals of heroes that died for our country because they believe God is punishing us for accepting homosexuality.

There is far greater variety of beliefs between the religious than there are between the groups of religious and nonreligious. Just because some religious people express one particular belief or idea does not mean all people of that faith believe the same thing.

Take Christianity. There are thousands of sects that have developed through schisms over the years. Each particular brand has it’s own interpretation of the religion.

Don’t assume all religious folks are the same. Not all religious folks are fanatics. Take the time to get to know them as individuals before criticizing their beliefs.

6. They might be right. Okay, I know this one is going to be difficult to swallow… but none of us have the right answer. Or at least we don’t know if we do. It’s easy for religious folks to sincerely believe their religion is the truth, but that’s okay. That’s the nature of faith.

I have a problem with the secular folks that buy into the idea of empiricism but disregard the possibility that any particular religion may actually be right. The basis for this idea is simple- the scientific method doesn’t “prove” anything is right. Empiricism is always limited by what can be observed, which can then be measured.

This is all fine and dandy… until we factor in the fact that there are always going to be things that we can’t measure today, but we may be able to measure in the future. Since we can’t predict the future, we can’t predict what we can and cannot measure. As such, any idea, no matter how absurd, cannot be completely rejected.

The universe may be nothing but a big bowl of butterscotch pudding.

Is the idea probable? Not at all. Is it possible? Yes. Until we can develop a method to accurately measure something to disprove the idea, we cannot automatically disregard it.

There very well could be a God.

The creation scientists could be right.

We may be butterscotch pudding.

Until we can measure it, we have to at least consider any idea as being possible.

That brings me to my “As an agnostic-ish atheist…” comment at the beginning. What does that mean?

I’m not prepared to put all my eggs in one basket. I may have listed the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the acknowledgements of my first book, may constantly antagonize my religious friends, and may laugh hysterically at Raptor Jesus memes. However, if meteors started crashing down around me, I’d probably drop to my knees and start praying to Shiva.


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  1. jessica
    July 8, 2013

    nice trick to lose those extra pounds without any diet:

  2. Nic
    July 3, 2013

    re ” Empiricism isn’t the only route to understanding”….

    Well, it’s not a question of choosing empiricism above religion because we like it or because it’s cooler to use a scientific approach to the world…. it’s a question of choosing what really works. As much as I understand why some people pray (as I used ton pray when I was a believer), praying has never helped anyone understanding the world. It might have helped formulate new hypotheses at best such as “the world must have been made in 6 days” or conversely “the world cannot have been made in 6 days”.

    I doubt Einstein came up with E=mC2 just by praying and rtaher think that his facukty for reasoning helped him develop this equation….

  3. Tom Peterson
    June 30, 2013

    Don’t be a dick are good words to live by. But who defines what that means?

    What if you have a bumper sticker that says “in science we trust”? Or a bumper sticker “if you can read this, thank an evolutionarily successful hominid”? (Last week at a trail head a stranger told me he thought I was brave to have those stickers on my car. That sad statement implied an expectation of dickish behavior by religious people.)

    Or a bumper sticker that says “if you don’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church” which a friend of mine has? Is it insulting or an insightful commentary?

    But to show you how extreme some people are in drawing the line, every year one new station implies that it is dickish to say happy holidays rather than merry Christmas. This ridiculous behavior certainly implies that individuals can draw the line in many different places. Over the years, I’ve found few people who think that their own behavior is dickish.

    So, where would you draw the line?

  4. Juha Myllylä
    June 29, 2013

    Good post.

    Although I’m kind of atheist I think some religions can be useful to believers, in a kind of placebo effect that gives them certainty, security, direction, courage and such stuff. It probably would be useful for me to be believer also, but sadly I think it needs to be intuitive level of believing to work.

    About arguing against people that are clearly just wrong, it’s worth remembering that many things are like religion – most of the time opinions don’t change because of good argumentation. I have discussed a lot against multiculturalism, there’s a lot of statistics and research to prove some of my points. When I don’t link those stats people say there’s no proof and when I link those they don’t read them, call them bad science (without looking at them) or something like that, bottom line is that nothing changes. Or, ah well, people get bit more hostile towards me, maybe call me racist. Let’s just say that if every critic of multiculturism is racist, then every critic of israel is nazi. And every guy without girlfriend is gay…

    What is important in these sometimes heated debates is how you relate to argument and people you are arguing with. It’s just some talk. It’s just pretty much purely theoretical discussion how things go in the real world. There’s no need or use to start hating or disliking people who are not agreeing with you. Especially when disagreeing doesn’t cause any practical difficulties… You probably just vote differently, but on reguar basis disagreeing on political views, religions or stuff just doesn’t need to cause any real conflicts. To end heated debate that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, good tactic seems to just agree with people that you are disagreeing about the topic.

  5. John
    June 29, 2013

    Choice. The final frontier. Everything we do is predicated on the formulation, acceptance, and implementation of choice. We choose the egg burrito for breakfast…or a bowl of cereal. We choose to smoke, or drink, or do drugs. We choose to run. We choose to believe or not believe in the existence of God, or E.T., or the Spaghetti Monster. We choose because that is what we’re programmed to do. Every choice has a consequence, whether said choice is benevolent or malevolent. I choose to be a Christian because I’ve been through all of the schooling, church services (Catholic, Baptist, and now Presbyterian) and have come to the conclusion that I believe in the existence of a Creator. I will not preach to you or at you. I believe you have been through things that lead you to choose whatever you want to choose. Therefore, enjoy the choices you make, but make them wisely.

  6. Bryan
    June 28, 2013

    While we’re on the subject, I got in a discussion recently with someone about the possibility of life on other planets. He made mention of the discovery of planets in the habitable zone around several stars in the context of disproving God and Creation by pointing out that life at least *should* exist on other planets than our own.

    My reply was simple, and goes to Points #4 and #6: the reason we call these zones “habitable” is because we make the same assumption we made based on space probes in our own solar system–that life is only possible on a planet in a region 1 AU from its star. In other words, there are LOTS of assumptions involved in assuming that life is only possible in the conditions that allow us to exist.

  7. Bryan
    June 28, 2013

    As a person who tries to let his faith guide his life (“religious” implies that I’m simply a fan of a certain dogma and rituals associated, but writing all that out is annoying, lol), I appreciate your points, especially your willingness on the last one. Point #4 is the crux of my dealings with a lot of non-religious people: they are in love with the ideas they have adopted, and see any one who has not as a close-minded Luddite without seeing their own close-mindedness.

    For the record, I do not boycott funerals, either 🙂

    This is a good discussion.