Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

    By Greta Christina | 29 April 2012

    Image: Malenkov via Flickr

    Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

    We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

    I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

    So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

    In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

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    1. Simple: Because people are desperate to believe that they (and their children) will not really die, and religion is what (they believe) assures them of this. Anything they perceive as attacking their religion, even if unrelated to death, anything that makes them question it too much, might (they sense) cause it all to unravel, and at the end of the unraveling is (they are afraid) DEATH. People are the same way about their belief in ghosts, which is a folk religion. They get livid if you even suggest that what they see as evidence might have a natural explanation. At the root of that folk religion, and all religion: DEATH.


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