Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pro-Tip for Christians: Don't Appeal to Special Knowledge When You Don't Have It

Have you ever had the experience of asking a religious person what exactly is lost to people without religion, and they bring out the "intangible" argument: usually along the lines of something you can't measure or put into words but it's somehow still real. In this interview, one argument made is that great works of art or music can't be appreciated without faith and a religious background. Really? My feelings of rapture listening to classical religious music must be completely fictitious then!

And the most frustrating thing is: someone will say something like this to you, and you'll see common ground and want to share your genuine appreciation of something like Dante's Inferno, or Milton, or Handel's Messiah, or da Vinci's Last Supper, and as you start talking about the work itself and the religious context they glaze over and gradually back out of the conversation. Almost as if they actually know a lot less about this than you, the atheist!

This is not an uncommon occurrence. While I don't think every religious person who can't cite their holy text chapter and verse is a hypocrite, I don't think it's nitpicking to point out that very, very often, religious people know much less about their religion than we atheists do, despite appealing to exactly this special knowledge or experience as a reason to beleive. Needless to say they don't like having this highlighted. And this is consistent with atheists' knowing more about religion than the faithful, shown in this survey. (Can't find the quote, but one Catholic priest said this was because atheists were good at trivia. That guy didn't realize how funny he was.)

We could all tell stories about these kinds of conversations (and feel free to share yours in the comments!) but two in particular that I'd like to share of mine:

- I once had the painful experience of having to explain to a professing adult American Christian what the word "exodus" meant, after I used it and she said she'd never heard it before. She had no idea it was a book in the Old Testament, let alone what that book was about. This woman was college educated and taught Sunday school.

- I once had to explain to my cousin that a) Catholicism was a branch of Christianity, not the other way around and b) that in fact Catholicism was not the majority religion of the United States. This was in the context of his telling me I better get with the program and start going to Catholic church, because who did I think I was to defy the majority of Americans. Most ironic is that, like everyone in my family except for myself and my parents, my cousin is Lutheran, and attends a Lutheran church almost every Sunday. (Did he never notice the sign on the church?) Not surprisingly, the conversation didn't endure past the point when I told him our grandparents would be rolling over in their graves if they knew he thought he was Catholic.

Both nice folks. Just don't have much business telling other people what program to get with where this stuff is concerned. And their imagined reasons for why life is worse without religion don't withstand the slightest scrutiny.

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