Since I’m an atheist, why do I care about religion?
P.Z. Myers of pharyngula fame linked to a video by a youtuber (gogreen18) today on the topic of why an atheist would care about religion. This is a fairly common question from theists — why do athiests care about religion? Why, if you don’t believe in any gods, do you care so much that other people do believe? Anyway, PZ’s link prompted me to dig up this little essay which I wrote a few years ago on the same topic and to post it here.
Why do I care about religion?
So, if, according to me, religion is just so much bullshit, why do I care? Why do I bother to argue? Why not just go about my life and ignore it?
For more than 30 years, I did just that. I figured it was pretty harmless, and didn’t seem to affect me too much, so, eh, who cares? Well, I began to care when I realized that religion does affect me, and not in a good way.
If atheists are sometimes angry, there’s a good reason for it. Faith — believing things to a degree of certainty which exceeds (sometimes greatly) what is warranted by the available evidence — is exactly what drove those planes into those towers on 9/11. So yeah, that kind of idiotic, unquestioning belief, and the actions which follow from it make me angry. But that is an extreme, rather atypical example. Yet the beliefs held by millions who do not fly planes into buildings are no less absurd. Religion allows sane people to believe by the millions what one person alone would have to be insane to believe.
I may repeat myself, but let me try to give you some idea about what it feels like to be an atheist in this country. This is going to be difficult for you to take seriously, but to get my meaning you’re going to have to suspend disbelief and take this seriously for a moment. Imagine that 90% of the people around you seriously believe that leprechauns exist. You might think, so what? What do I care what they believe? What effect would that have on me? I wouldn’t be bothered in the least. Well, let’s continue. Not only do they believe in leprechauns, they have special leprechaun hunting stores which stock all manner of contraptions and books about leprechauns, and special schools which teach children about leprechauns, and all of this is exempt from taxation, while the non-leprechaun-believers like yourself get nothing from it. Moreover, the leprechaun believers are constantly bitching and moaning about the non-leprechaun believers, sometimes going so far as to actually shun them, or refuse to communicate with them except anonymously through an intermediary. From time to time you meet some nice girl, but each time you let slip that you happen to think this leprechaun stuff is a load of nonsense, they break off communication and disappear, having been apparently brainwashed to believe non-leprechaun-believers are not suitable company. If you want to pursue an elected office, you had better believe in the leprechauns, and express your belief loudly and publicly, or you can forget it (Unless your a pro-wrestler in Minnesota, perhaps.) Surveys show that non-leprechaun believers are the least trusted of all minorities.
Sometimes you argue with the leprechaun-believers, and you find that after hundreds of such arguments, not a single solitary leprechaun believer has any arguments worth a crap. Not a one.
If you’re unlucky enough to be from a family who takes their leprechaun belief very seriously, you may find yourself excommunicated, divorced, and generally reviled by your own family.
Dealing with that sort of thing day after day, year after year, after awhile, and a few really bad experiences, you’re going to a be a tad touchy when the leprechaun believers come around with their same old tired “arguments” consisting mainly of holes that you’ve seen defeated a thousand times before.
And all of that whilst not a single person has ever captured, killed, or photographed a leprechaun, nor has anyone showed up with a big pot of gold, despite centuries of ritualized leprechaun hunting.
You may think the leprechaun story is not a good analogy for various reasons. From my point of view it’s a fine analogy, but, even if it weren’t a good analogy, the point is to demonstrate what it feels like to be an atheist in this country and give you some clue about why some atheists might be a bit touchy on the topic of religion, that is my intent with this story. The analogy is secondary. I’m not the only one who’s made such analogies, for example, Brent Rasmussen has written similarly about this on his blog Unscrewing the inscrutable, there are many other examples.
So, I’m one of the touchy atheists. I happen to know a few other atheists and I don’t see them arguing, or being touchy the way that I am. Probably nobody’s pissed them off quite like I’ve been pissed off yet, or they’re just the sort of person who shies away from rocking the boat.
Oh, and here’s the video by gogreen18 that PZ linked to: