In the past few weeks, I have had the (dis)pleasure of conversing with people who claim to be atheist or agnostic or at least non-religious but have adopted the religious apologist approach. I have to say I find this a rather bizarre approach to dealing with religion. I can understand the religious person being an apologist. To say the least of it, they believe in something that is simply not believable and therefore have to find ways of justifying or rationalizing their belief. To say the worst of it, religion has poisoned the minds of untold millions upon millions of people and has had disastrous consequences. It gives people the courage to criticize things that they know absolutely nothing about (Creationists, I’m looking at you). It gives people license to say the most hideously wicked, hateful things that they can possibly say to another human being. It gives people license to justify hatred and intolerance and bigotry because of their religious beliefs. The list goes on and on. People tend to make excuses when cornered. I understand it. It’s disingenuous, it’s dishonest and I don’t like it, but I understand why they do it.
The accommodating non-religious person I do not understand. They will claim that while there are many bad aspects to religion and religious belief, there are also many good aspects to religion and religious belief. People derive comfort from it in times of need. It provides meaning and purpose to their lives. It’s another way to “derive knowledge”. It “inspires” people to do good works and so on and so forth. My question to such people is simply this: Why aren’t you religious yourself? Why not join a church and become religious and take advantage of all these wonderful benefits?
The second and more important question I have for such people is this: How do we deal with the harmful and divisive effects of religion without questioning the religious belief itself? Where does intolerance towards gay people, teaching creationism to school children come from but exclusively from religious belief? Where do 19 men get the idea that their time would be well spent if they flew planes of people into the World Trade Centre if not from religious belief? What good does it do to point out that “not all religious people are like that?”
It’s time to stop apologizing and start criticizing. Stop worrying about hurting people’s feelings because you don’t agree that their religious beliefs entitle them to pass laws to make intolerance and bigotry legal (Hello Louisiana) and can’t think of a nice way to say so. Start worrying more about people who are suffering from this intolerance and bigotry because of the pernicious effects of religion.