Reindeer Games

There’s another of those Facebook memes floating around, and this time, it’s all OVER my feed. Maybe you’ve seen it?

Cursive font? Really?

Yes, I get that it’s got a joke at the end. But I want to discuss the ACTUAL message of this recently pervasive meme.

“Being an atheist who shames religions and spirituality as stupid and not real is not okay.” 

First of all, if someone saying your religion isn’t real shames you, that’s something you need to figure out for yourself. If you truly believe in your dogma, if you are confident and utterly certain of your own beliefs and religion, then nothing anyone says should be able to “shame” you about it.

“Being a Christian who is misogynistic, homophobic, racist, or otherwise hateful in the name of Christianity is not okay.”

So, this meme is saying that an atheist who says to someone “God isn’t real” is analogous to a Christian calling someone a faggot and telling them they will burn in hell. That is some serious bullshit. In no way is that comparable behavior. Unless the atheist is physically harming someone, or doggedly following them around and mocking them for being religious, or chronically harassing them online, these are in no way the same thing.

Misogyny, homophobia, racism… these are heinous things. Me telling someone I think their religion is silly is a dick move at most. I think it’s dangerous to propagate this notion that if you’re an atheist, you have to keep your mouth shut about it because it’s not nice to tell people that their supernatural beliefs are silly or stupid, and I think it’s truly harmful to declare that doing so is as bad as racism or gay-bashing.

Race, homosexuality, gender…these are facts. You’re born gay, you’re born black, you’re born a woman. You don’t get to choose. Religions and spirituality are IDEAS. You literally get to choose whichever you like best, whichever seems the most right to you. They are ideas, and ideas are never above critique.

One of the comments on one of the postings of this meme that I saw amounted to “We should all tolerate and respect everyone’s differences and beliefs no matter what.” Well, some people think it’s perfectly acceptable to seriously beat their kids when their kids misbehave. Some men think hitting women is acceptable. Some women think it’s okay to fake a pregnancy to trick a man into staying with them. Some people think cheating on your spouse is okay. There are people who believe that God doesn’t want them to get their kids medical attention, ever. There are people who believe sex with children is normal and loving. There are religions that preach hate and harsh judgment. There are atheists who think feminists should just shut up about women’s rights.

There are a lot of people who believe a lot of horrible fucking things. So where do you draw the line when it comes to respecting and tolerating their differences?

Generally, my rule is if it’s not hurting anyone else, it’s okay. However, “hurt” is in no way an objective term or concept. It may hurt someone’s feelings that I think it’s ridiculous that they believe in god, but there’s no malice intended. If I were to publicly humiliate someone, or go out of my way to tell them how stupid they are because they are religious, now there’s malice. I don’t do that. Because I’m not usually that much of a fucking asshole. Usually.

I’m not really sure how to sum this up. I’ve written a few paragraphs, but they weren’t quite right. This meme doesn’t have me angry or butt-hurt or offended. (It’s damn near impossible to actually offend me.) What I hate is the virality of these things, and how quickly people pass it on without really thinking about it. And the fact that there’s a “funny” bit at the end just makes people think less about the message of the first part.

Just think. All I want you to do is think. Be able to defend your ideas, for your ideas, opinions, and beliefs should be worth defending against a legion of dickwads. And if they aren’t, maybe they should be reconsidered.

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8 Responses to Reindeer Games

  1. I have had atheists try to shame me for having beliefs.

    I have actually been told that I am stupid for being a Christian. Not that my belief in a zombie god was stupid. That because I had that belief, that *I* was stupid. I know it can sound like a “reading into it” thing. But I actually asked and clarified with one individual.

    I have been told by atheists (plural) that as a Christian, I must hate gays. Which, as a bisexual, hurts me more than I can say. The whole idea that it’s somehow an either/or deal. That I can’t claim to be a Christian unless I accept the bullshit idea that god hates fags.

    I have had the term “fairytale belief” used against me often as an attack, to try to make me feel bad about having them. I know it can be used in less hateful ways, but I’ve had it used against me as a form of belittlement so many times that every time I hear it now, my asshole puckers for a moment until I can figure out which way it’s being used.

    When I first read it, THAT is what I felt the message was addressing. Not the idea that Atheists (capitol A, apparently) shouldn’t be proud, that they shouldn’t be able to discuss their non-belief. But that people shouldn’t try to belittle an individual or try to make them feel less than in any capacity. That using your belief or non-belief against other people in a hurtful manner is wrong.

    Reading it again, I can see how you can read it the way you did. I also think that the person that wrote it was not an atheist (but maybe an Atheist). I’d like to think it was a well-intentioned message that was executed poorly. I don’t disagree with anything said here really, but did want to bring about that other possible way of looking at it.

    • What you experienced is asshole behavior, for sure. But I still don’t think it’s analogous to being gay-bashed, or experiencing racism. I’ve been told I’m going to burn in hell for being an atheist; I totally share your experience in the asshole behavior arena of this. But you and I, we have chosen to be an atheist and a Christian, respectively. And for anyone to say that being shamed or belittled for that is the same as being shamed or belittled for something no one gets to choose (race, gender, sexuality preference) is wrong.

      I really appreciate your comments, as always. You are one of my favorite believers. Thanks for giving another angle on this!

      • I dunno… I mean, it certain feels just as painful to be bashed for my belief as it does to be bashed for being bisexual. Chosen or not, they are both a part of my identity, a part of who I am. It hurts to have a part of me bashed, no matter which part it is or why it is.

        Maybe it’s the difference between getting kicked in the face and getting kicked in the shins. But it’s still getting kicked, and I’m not a fan of it.

  2. I wish more people could understand the live and let live concept. As a Deist myself I still find that I’m fighting people on both sides of the coin to defend my beliefs. I live in the United States…you know the one that says Constitutionally I have a freedom of religion and the right to express it? Where did that go?

  3. Hi, Molly. I saw this posted on Facebook and I thought I’d put on my philosopher hat and see if I could muster a decent response. I’ll format response in a conversational format with your words in double quotes and my responses beneath them.

    “First of all, if someone saying your religion isn’t real shames you, that’s something you need to figure out for yourself.”

    Mockery has its place but it depends on the context. For instance, if the one employing mockery is merely attempting to silence their religious interlocutor and do violence to their integrity as a human being then it is not justified. However, if mockery is employed to open up the conversation then it might be OK. It calls for discernment and can be quite difficult to utilize properly. This is why the average layperson isn’t very good at satire and tends to misuse it to the point where it often collapses into base derision. And if one is simply aiming for mere base derision then why bother? It’s selfish and counterproductive.

    Besides, calling “religions and spirituality” unreal is empirically false. These things quite obviously exist and quite obviously exert a tremendous amount of influence in our culture. The real question is whether certain religious propositions are true (e.g. does God exist? is there a particular way we ought to live our lives? and so forth). Further it is quite obvious that no amount of mockery and no amount of expressing incredulity is going to settle whether these religious propositions are true or not. That is why the fields of theology and philosophy of religion exist. They tackle these often difficult and abstruse questions.

    “So, this meme is saying that an atheist who says to someone ‘God isn’t real’ is analogous to a Christian calling someone a faggot and telling them they will burn in hell. That is some serious bullshit.”

    Firstly I would agree with you that if this were the proper reading of this ‘meme’ then it would indeed be some serious bullshit. However, I find that reading dubious. For it to be a valid reading one would have to think it entirely reasonable to reduce ‘shames religions and spirituality as stupid and unreal’ to a mere claim that God does not exist. The thing is, I don’t find that reduction reasonable at all. That’s because one can disavow the existence of any deities in a way that is entirely respectable and intellectually honest. There are plenty of atheist thinkers that fit this bill, in my opinion (Hume, Nietzsche, Mackie, Oppy, to name a few). On the other hand I have seen ‘internet atheists’ tell believers that they are idiots and bigots SIMPLY for expressing a belief in God. This is quite simply mean and designed to denigrate the intellectual integrity of people. And words hurt. So it is simply, I think, an unfair way to read this meme if you take it to be equating calling people faggot with denying the existence of God.

    “Religions and spirituality are IDEAS. You literally get to choose whichever you like best, whichever seems the most right to you.”

    I think this is true but only to a certain extent. Let me ask you this (rhetorical question): If you did happen to experience the existence of God in a way that religious believers claim, do you think you’d have a choice in whether you believed it to be true? Here’s my point: sometimes people have such (seemingly to them) overwhelmingly veridical experiences about the world that they literally cannot disavow them. Take David Hume for instance. He famously demonstrated that inductive inferences about the world which go ‘beyond the present testimony of the senses’ cannot obtain rational warrant. When one attempts such an argument one invariably ends up begging the question. And that’s because in the end we have to rely on past experience. Nonetheless, Hume said he could not possibly shake the notion of this uniformity in the natural order. Ergo, sometimes our core intuitions about the way the world happens to be cannot be defeated by any amount of skepticism (and at some point the skepticism just starts to look unreasonable). So, just because it looks one way from the outside, we should be highly cautious about hastily suggesting that religious faith is a mere choice among choices. It just isn’t so simple.

    Thanks for reading and I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday.

    Peace to you.
    – Josh

    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for such an in-depth and philosophical response. While you’ve made many reasonable points, I maintain that religion is ultimately a choice one makes, both in the flavor one chooses and the practice of said sect. Ergo, I really don’t think equating shaming someone for their relious choice and shaming someone for their sexual or gender identity is fair. Whether or not the “shaming religions as unreal” goes beyond insisting gods don’t exist to outright hurtful insults is somewhat moot. Honestly, this whole meme could be better summarized as, “Don’t be a dick to people.” I still wish that it said “religious people” instead of “religions” as I’d have less of a problem with it.

      Ideas are not above criticism. Human beings deserve respect; ideas should be challenged or we become complacent in them.

      Thank you again for revisiting this topic. I hope you have a wonderful 2014.

  4. Dude, guys things can be analogous without being equal in gravity. The meme was clearly just a “live and let live” sentiment. I can’t believe my kids are going to grow up in a world where you can’t even express a sentiment like this without being called out as an insensitive asshole. And I say that as someone who was raised without any religion and who would still identify myself as an Agnostic sometimes-Christian who is passionately pro-gay rights.

    • “Dude, guys things can be analogous without being equal in gravity.” You are stating that false parallels have merit. If you read this as “live and let live,” you haven’t thought it through carefully or critically. As a lifelong atheist, feminist, humanist, and “person of queerness,” I take issue with being tossed in with misogynists and homophobes because someone is threatened by my lack of belief in supernatural beings or in life after death. Again, no idea is above criticism. Human beings deserve respect. Ideas deserve to be challenged. Hopefully, your children are growing up in a world where they aren’t challenged as rude, shaming, or disrespectful when they dare not to agree with everything they hear.