Sunday 19 June 2011

A good reason not to mock religious beliefs?

A main thrust of the Gnu Atheism is that religious beliefs are not immune from criticism, and that religion doesn't deserve special respect. Religion has indeed enjoyed special privilege for a long time, but longevity shouldn't confer automatic reverence.

People have long debated about politics, literature, art and much other stuff, often in quite strident terms, but when the subject is religion, many feel inhibited in expressing strong anti-religious views. This reticence may be a hangover from the past, and that's understandable, but there may be another reason.

Regarding politics, many people have strong opposing views, and they are happy to discuss these in the most vigorous manner. The opposing views may be based on varying degrees of correctness, but whatever they're based on, the opposition can have at least some understanding of where they are "coming from". The basis of opposing views in politics (and art, literature, and the rest) can be explored and questioned in an effort to comprehend why someone holds a particular view. One can also investigate how someone's political or other views were formed.

Religious views, on the other hand, may be seen as different, because often their basis is incomprehensible to the non-religious. For many atheists, I suspect, the religious point of view is something quite alien and disturbing, and trying to inhabit that view in an effort to understand it is like stepping inside a fantasy novel. It's not surprising that such an experience leads non-believers to the idea that theists are deluded. If you discover that someone sincerely believes in what you consider to be completely imaginary fantasy, you may well reconsider that person's state of mind. You may feel that they are in need of some kind of help. You may also decide that the last thing they need — for the sake of their mental stability — is a robust challenge to their sincerely held but erroneous beliefs.

There's an old saying that comes to mind. I can't source it other than to say it was used a lot by Frankie Howerd:

"It's wicked to mock the afflicted."