Friday, April 19, 2013
Today for Ask an Atheist day, I was asked a rather difficult question - and one I felt should be given it's own post. "What has religion done to harm [me], personally?" Previously, I believe this person has told me that they are technically an atheist as well, though they really don't like the term. This isn't just some Christian who feels picked on.
In the way the question is normally meant, I'd have to say "Nothing". I was raised irreligious, where faith was not raised as a question at all, and it only came up when I brought it up myself. I grew up in a very religious town, with my highschool clique including the pastor's daughter and the ... whatever Mike was, I never remember the name of it. I went to youth group a few times, and was surprised when prayer and The Bible came out, but it just seemed like the rituals that everyone else did; it had no meaning, more or less than that. In large part, I thank those people and those experiences for giving me such an optimistic view of theists. I've written before about how those people have helped me grow and develop, and how I certainly don't hold their faith against them.
When I think of the harm caused by religion in relation to me, be it global criminal organizations like the RCC, or "harmless" family introduction to the rituals and dogma, I think of the impacts as either systemic (and impacting myself) or indoctrinational (and impacting the helpless), for lack of better terms. I don't think there is much difference between them in reasoning, but they have very different emotional appeals to both myself and when I use them in rhetoric.
The systemic impacts are things like gay marriage, pro-choice, or church-state separation. These may or may not have a direct impact on me, but they certainly have significant effects on society. These are battles I fight to improve society, where the goal is to arrive at the best decision. I hope that I'm already holding that point, but I don't assume it. I want us to actually reach that, or at least approach it in a good faith effort. So far as people hold theistic beliefs, but don't put those forward as justification in these discussions, I hold no serious beef. But once "Because [God/The Bible/Jesus/My pet rock] said so" enters the discussion, you have to justify two things: 1) Says who? and 2) Okay, so why should I care? I won't really address those here, but suffice to say, the vast majority of the world also finds these arguments uncompelling - when presented from any religion but their own. I just go one religion further.
The other category is when it directly impacts individuals. When I fight the Judaistic-inspired normalization of cosmetic infant male circumcision ("circumcision" as most people know it, but it always results in a fight if I don't add every qualifier every time), or the indoctrination of children with the fear of hell, or undermining a child's ability to reason and critically think so as to protect the family's particular flavour of dogma, or the social abandonment that closeted atheists fear - these are even less directly attached to me. My own circumcision was for legitimate medical reasons, and I have no issue with it. I was not raised, nor will I be kidnapped and brainwashed to suffer from the other two, and I've been an atheist - by one label or another - for my whole life. But these individuals all deserve our greatest efforts, as a society, to protect them compared to other candidates. These are all direct inflictions of harm upon those who cannot help themselves, either through literal dependence and helplessness, or for the harm that will be directly aimed at them.
Back to "how has religion harmed me, personally?" None. And I feel that is one of my strengths, that I come from such an earnest and harmless background. I am often one of the people at the front of the line to defend the religious, to remind others that they are human and that they too deserve our compassion, our support, our friendship, and our respect. But I am uncompromising in demanding the best of these people, that they act with the same standards of rationality and reason that we place upon any other, and that when confronted with these, they should put in a good faith effort to reconsider their behaviour. I just happen to think that when that happens, religion as we know it today will dissolve faster than we could have ever seriously pictured even a generation ago.