Thursday, June 5, 2008

"But Some People *Need* Religion..."

That's an objection you've probably heard when you've asked someone why, exactly, they think that an atheist world wouldn't definitely be a better place. Know what? I'm prepared to partly agree.

I partly agree not in the sense that Adam Carolla attacked this argument on his radio show; briefly, he pointed out to people who think that religion keeps the world from breaking down into immoral violence and selfishness that, hey, look around: it hasn't.

What I do accept is that some people really do need to feel that there's a design to it all and a light at the end of the tunnel. You can think of a few examples right now of people you know in this category. Life is too scary for them to handle on its own merits (and life for a lot of people in this world really is scary, every day); even when people have no real-world reasons for needing there to be a plan in the end, it's hard to convince yourself that a sheltered religious upbringing is 100% at fault. It's a psychological coping strategy, and those rarely work if you admit to yourself that they're coping strategies. The bottom line: not only will you not be able to devert these folks, you won't even be able to move them very far down the track from ardent believer -> casual believer -> apatheist -> atheist. And these people form a huge chunk of the religious demographic. (Read about stepwise deversion here.)

So is it hopeless? Not at all. Remember that what modern atheists are most worried about is politically aggressive organized religion. You might not have much respect for the New Ager who insists on the healing power of warm stones on the spine, but you're at least not worried about them stacking the supreme court or declaring a holy war against people who draw cartoons of them.

So here's the dirty trick of the day. The trick is: get these people away from their church, or disillusion them with the principles of organized religion, without damaging their spirituality - because you can't succeed in that second part anyway. There are several approaches you can use.

- Get em young, get em young, get em young. Most churches segment themselves as institutions to get the kids away from everyone else where the honest, common-sense questions they ask can be squashed with repeated soundbites and isolated from other believers. That seven-year-old niece is doubtlessfull of awkward questions about the scriptures that they aren't allowed to ask.

- Personal dislike of people at their church/temple. "You have to ask yourself, if they let Shirley be the treasurer, then what kind of church are they? Maybe you just need to follow Jesus in your own way."

- There are always individual tenets of their faiths that people aren't comfortable with. That Muslim lady you know might be resentful she wasn't allowed to pursue an education. Your neighbor might beconflicted because his sister is gay and he realizes that if he feels so awkward judging her lifestyle, there must be something wrong. "Well John, maybe your church is missing the point on this one.I think God would understand if you have to take some time and figure it out on your own."

- People who are sincerely faithful are often bothered by the realization that organized religion usually becomes a racket focused more on preserving itself than promoting the principles it's founded on.

- Inconvenience: why get up early on (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Vernal equinox, etc.) when you can just love God in your heart at home?

You get the picture - now add your own!

No comments: