Thursday, July 26, 2012

An atheist's reply to "A Catholic's Reply to 'How to Suck at Your Religion'"

This is going to make people mad, but whatever. Matthew Inman of created a web comic titled "How To Suck At Your Religion." The comic has ruffled a lot of feathers and one religious (in this case, Catholic) blogger decided to refute the comic, panel by panel. However, he doesn't seem to realize that his arguments are all pretty asinine and rely heavily on the reader having the firm belief that Christianity isn't so much religion as fact. No. That doesn't work. I'm going to go point by point and show why his arguments don't work.

1. The first panel of the comic shows presumably a Catholic priest saying "Thou shalt not judge! Unless you don't belong to our church and then I judge that you're going straight to hell." The religious blogger says that this panel is erroneous because the Catholic church has never "declared anyone in Hell" in the way that it would canonize saints. This argument is hopelessly naive. For starters, Inman is hardly leveling this observation at Catholics alone. Yes, the character in the panel has a priest's collar but that has more to do with the familiarity of that image than a singular chastisement of one particular faith. More importantly, whether or not anyone has ever been "officially" declared to be hell-bound, anyone who has spent time on a college campus, walked through the busier parts of town, or even had the audacity to answer their doorbell has most likely been informed of just what awful sinners they are for not believing in religion X. My own grandmother told me I was going to hell for not believing in her religion.

2. Galileo. Oh, Galileo. The blogger's argument that Galileo's treatment by the Catholic church is misunderstood links us to an article on (which we can be assured is totally objective) in which Galileo is depicted as a megalomaniac who essentially bullied the Catholic Church into reluctantly persecuting him. The article even characterizes Galileo as "intent on ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom." This is kind of hilarious and hypocritical considering that Christendom was doing it's own ideological throat-ramming with its Inquisitions at the same time. The article is a, um, neat read.

3. The blogger actually equates stem cell research with Mengele's human experimentation in Nazi Germany. He actually draws this comparison. For real. He also makes the claim that there's a scientific consensus as to when life begins but there actually isn't! There isn't even a religious consensus! So, yeah, that there's a big, fat lie.

4. Inman argues against parents choosing their kids' religious views for them. This is pretty much the only area where I can see where the blogger is coming from. A great deal of parenting has to do with teaching your children how to be good people and to many, that means they have to be religious people. However, I do agree with Inman that children shouldn't be discouraged to question and find answers on their own. That's another big part of being a parent - getting your kids to the point where they can start making these big decisions for themselves.

5. The blogger really shoots himself in the foot here. He's making his way toward a legitimate argument and then lets it all fall apart when he conflates encouraging a child to come to their own conclusions about the afterlife to saying that the answer to "what's 3 x 3" is changeable according the child's fancies. No. A mathematical formula is not akin to religious belief. Can you imagine if math was as ambiguous and changeable and mysterious as religion? Do you think we could build things if measurements were always subject to someone's personal convictions? Sorry, Catholic blogger guy, that was a dumbass argument.

6. The blogger really misses the point, here. Right now, at this very moment, citizens of the U.S. are being actively denied basic rights because of religion. People are being told that they are immoral, sick, wrong, and subhuman because of the way certain religious people view their sexuality. And since I'm picking apart a Catholic blog, what about the church's long history of sexual abuse of children by priests? Isn't that messed up? Couldn't that have something to do with the church's treatment of sex which, to paraphrase Stephen Frye, is akin to an anorexic or bulimic attitude toward food? It's disingenuous to deny that religion hasn't played a pretty big role in why people have anxieties about sex and sexuality.

7. This is just silly. I have personal experience with door-to-door proselytizing and it's annoying at best and infuriating and invasive at worst. In this day and age when information is literally at our fingertips thanks to modern technology, is it really necessary to darken someone's doorstep with your unsolicited beliefs and opinions? If someone is looking for Jesus or a reserved seat on the rocket to Kolob, they can find the resources they need. It's great that you're looking out for my spiritual well-being but could you please take a moment and look at it from my perspective? I won't knock on your door and try to convince you of my beliefs, please extend to me that same courtesy.

8. Blogger, do you realize that to a non-religious individual that this is how your religion sounds to many of us? In my mind, Scientology and Catholicism are equally bizarre. It's not just Scientology and Catholicism that are strange and ridiculous to me, it's every religion. There are good things sprinkled throughout a bunch of illogical rambling about hidden kingdoms for good people vs. horrible dungeons for bad people and invisible whatsits that tell you what to do and resurrections and strange laws about what to do if your neighbor's donkey falls into a pit that you dug.

9. People vote according to their religious beliefs all the time, which is why people will consistently vote for someone who doesn't have their best interests at heart but will really stick it to "teh gays." Also, stop bringing up the mythical scientific consensus about when life begins. THERE IS NO CONSENSUS.

10. This is where the blogger heavily implies that Muslims are all "violent, intolerant psychos" unlike fuzzy Christians who are never mean, ever. Do I have to get into why this is a shitty argument?

11. Killing for religion is an awful thing to do. Don't do it. Also, calling someone or something out on their bad behavior isn't the same as saying "I hate you because God tells me to."

12. What the hell is this "placebo religion?" Inman ends his comic strip with "just keep it to your fucking self." He isn't saying "don't have your beliefs." In fact, there's a whole section that the blogger ignores wherein Inman indicates the ways religion doesn't suck - "Does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier?" And does it help you with the metaphysical mindfuck of being human (I'm paraphrasing). Those are good things. But using religion as an excuse to hurt people, stifle discovery, and justify awful behavior is crap.

I have religious friends and family members who I love and respect. Their religion helps them make sense of the world and is a positive force in their lives. They don't use it to make people feel like they are less than human. They don't try to force others into believing as they do. They don't blame senseless tragedies on a lack of God. That's how they don't suck at their religion. I don't know why that's hard to understand.

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