“Oh jeez, here comes an Atheist! Why can’t you just be quiet and let others have their peace?”
If I had a nickel for every time I heard some variant of that I’d be a rich man. This sentiment is expressed by even the most open minded religious person (don’t get me started on the spiritual but not religious crowd. Often they’re worse about this topic!) and I grow weary of having to explain myself to people on this very basic idea. Often the common person (American) is content to let anyone believe in what they want to believe, even if their ideals are directly opposed to their own! Normally this isn’t a big deal; you like red, I like blue, I prefer Windows, you prefer Apple. It’s all good there. The difference is people literally die over these religious beliefs. People are willing to stop others from enjoying equal protections under our laws because of these beliefs. People are willing to kill for these beliefs.
For these last three reasons it warrants serious, open discussion. I couldn’t imagine a person feeling so convinced that their religion is correct that they are unwilling to talk about it, or explain what they mean when they say something like “I’ve seen God, I know him, I have read His Book”. This seems all very well until I ask the theist where it says some of his or her favorite passages. Oh Jesus did say that did he? Was it allegory or truth? Are women really property under traditional Islamic law? Yes? No? Why isn’t Thor mentioned here, he seems like a pretty cool guy? These are questions you MUST answer if you are to participate intellectually in society in the 21st century. Either Bronze Age law is legitimate and real in modern times or there is some dialogue to be had between not only those of differing faiths but those with no faith.
This brings me back to my original point. This is some serious stuff here that the religious folk would have us believe. It’s built into many religions that those how don’t believe are worse people by that very fact that they don’t share faiths. This creates a second class citizen for anyone that takes religious texts seriously in the United States. Yet, at the same time, those that wish to “live and let live” and are willing to have an open dialogue (to the extent they are able to without running out of intellectual ground) are content to “live and let die” as long as it doesn’t rankle their feathers. It seems that when the atheist speaks out against any form of religion they are becoming a nuisance, they are a jerk or a “militant atheist” (I have yet to see why that is a negative thing) or someone that doesn’t respect other people’s faith. Not because of their views, not because of their moral code, but because they want to talk about it. Anyone that is willing to have a serious discussion about religion to a religious person must tread on egg shells to ensure they aren’t branded a rabble-rouser. There is no quicker way to lose friends than to talk about religion on a social outing!
But, this is important. Strongly held beliefs that are grounded in something considered foolish can be the most dangerous thing in the world. To paraphrase many popular atheist writers today: “only from religious moderation can extremism rise”. If the typical person is afraid to talk about their faith then I say talk to them! Without a self examination of what it truly means to be a theist in the 21st Century, society as a whole will continue to be retarded by ancient teachings in its social and even fiscal laws. This isn’t about who wins or loses when we die, it’s about who wins or loses while we LIVE, and that is far more important than a few hurt feelings or moments of awkward silence. Anyone that is afraid to face up is just that: afraid. Afraid of being wrong, afraid of feeling silly, afraid of intellectual exercise; and let me tell you, we need all the intellectual exercise we can get.
I’ll close with an anecdote my Philosophy 101 instructor shared with us when discussing Socrates. I think this is a very good example of how something like discussing religion works:
Ideas are like balloons. Everyone has their own ideas and when they are young, they are made of paper and don’t float very high. As you grow your balloons are popped and destroyed as you learn more things about the world. We learn why the grass is green, why it hurts when we fall, that (my goodness) you can see the moon during the day too, and why! Those balloons aren’t gone, they are merely refilled and made of stronger material. As we learn about the planets rotation our balloon for the sun is made of something stronger than paper-it cannot be popped so easily! As we learn about air and how it affects plants, our “Plant Theory” balloon is stronger. It is our job as philosophers to go around and pop those balloons that seem flimsy. If the balloon is strong, you will not be able to pop it! You might end up popping one of your own as you learn more about the world. The most important thing about being a philosopher is that you do not pop balloons just to pop them. You pop them to help others make theirs stronger, because if everyone has strong balloons, then everyone will be happier with their ideas, and no one will be afraid.