Thursday, October 15, 2009

Christian group: I hate religion because...

No, this isn't some religious rant from me. A religious student group at Purdue, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, invited me and other members of the Non-Theists to an event they were holding today on Memorial Mall. They had a black board with "I HATE RELIGION BECAUSE..." written in large red letters, and invited students to write their opinions on the board.I ended up talking to some of them for a while (even though it was really cold outside, boo Indiana weather), especially the pastor who works with the group. He explained that they wanted to generate discussion about religion so they could learn from the different viewpoints and think about why some people dislike religion. Much like our Blasphemy Day event, they wanted to let people know it was okay to criticize religion - in fact, they encourage it. They don't want people to blindly accept what they may have grown up with, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, atheism. College is a place to question things and learn about different beliefs, and that applies to religion as well.

While they said no one was disrespectful, they were sad about some of the things written on the boards...not because they were mean, but because they were true about far too many religious people. Hatred of gays, lack of acceptance of science, judging others, being hypocritical...these are all things they concede that some Christians do in fact do. This group was more of the "Christianity is about a personal relationship with God, not organized religion, just love everyone and be a good person" thing. While I still don't agree with the supernatural aspects (we had a long discussion about my atheism*), I really don't mind these types of theists. They're all about being moral people and loving others, and recognize you don't need their brand of Christianity to be moral (and eagerly agreed that atheists can be moral).

Though, this one (temporary) counter protester amused me...
Why temporary?

Him: I actually came out because I thought they were those Non-Theists saying bad stuff about religion.
Me: I'm the President of the Non-Theists.
Him: ...Oh.

After his initial embarrassment, he was actually pretty nice to talk to. I tried to make a point that we can dislike some aspects of religion but still like religious people - that we're not just a bunch of cranky rabid anti-theists. I think I made my point, since he was friendly when I left.

EDIT: See that part that's scribbled out? Apparently a friend of mine wrote "It's okay to be gay" there, and the guy didn't like it so much. Yeah, great Christian tolerance there.

I made one comment that I think the event's organizers hadn't thought of, and they were intrigued by. When the Non-Theists do a practically identical event - actually, more innocuous because we didn't have "I hate religion because..." as the prompt, we just let people write whatever we want - people see us as hateful. "Why are those cranky, meany-head atheists going around criticizing religion? Can't they just leave us alone?" But when a Christian group does the same exact thing, they're praised for it. "Yes, we should definitely be critical of hateful, ridiculous things in religion! Speak up, question things!" It's a double standard that really shows people's biases.

If you'd like to see what people wrote, click the close ups of the signs below. Can you guess which one is mine?
*It always amuses me when I introduce myself as an atheist to religious people. 90% of the time there's a look of awe/confusion, then they ask me why I'm an atheist. I really need to come up with a concise reply, but there isn't one. My atheism, like most others, developed over decades and took a lot more thought than can be summarized in a short conversation. I generally try to explain my atheism as a null hypothesis, but non-scientists don't really appreciate that. I also had to explain how my atheism is not a faith, what purpose there is to life (none, more shocked looks), and the other general things you hear over and over again... At least they were very thoughtful about my replies.


  1. … Okay, I’ll admit, I have no idea which is yours. Not like I know your handwriting, though. Mind giving us a hint? *pretty please*

  2. Is it the "Some people put faith before science and facts" comment?

  3. Wow, Veritas is right. I'm going to hope you're a good guesser and haven't just been obsessively studying my handwriting.

  4. Yes, Jen. I've been slathering over your written words for months now, secretly lusting after the way you make your letters J and E, desiring to see you curve your hand around the sensual C.

    But in all seriousness, it just sounded like something you'd say, and the handwriting looked familiar.

  5. I did not even think about the Non-Theist being criticized for Blasphemy Day, but it being viewed as unacceptable to criticize this event.

  6. For your consise reply, just use something like:
    "I come to all conclusions using the rational scientific method, and by examining the proposed hypotheses and the evidence I've concluded that there is not substantial evidence for the existence of a deity, and thus I don't accept the existence of one."

    Yeah, that's kind of wordy; perhaps you can do better. However, it is important to get the single most important message of atheism across: We reach our conclusions using the rational thought process of the scientific method, as we try to with all other conclusions.

  7. I like..."I can't believe in anything without actual evidence, and there's no evidence for your god or anyone else's. Sorry."

  8. Damn Veritas, good job. I was going to be wrong with both of my guesses.

  9. A possible concise reply to "Why are you an atheist?" could be "For the same reason you don't believe in Santa Claus". However I suspect it may be perceived as too dismissive rather than inviting of further discussion, which is unfortunate.

    Also it can backfire if the questioner does in fact believe in Santa Claus.

  10. While as a Dutch citizen, atheism is the norm, my mother-in-law and her husband are both very religious. At their wedding just a month ago, in the center of the Dutch "bible-belt" (a town called "Rijssen"), I was asked the same question: "Why are you an atheist?". My brief reply: "Because I do not need a God to live a good life". It might not be the best reply, but it at least made people think. As you mention, I indeed should work on my "Atheist Elevator Pitch" a bit more. I might just adopt the abbreviation "AEP" for that purpose... hrm....

  11. When I am asked why I don't believe in God, I usually say that I don't think that is the right question. I then tell them that I think the question is: Why would you? Why would anyone? Ever?

  12. I love the fact that there's so little room left to write why one loves Jesus.

    You have nice handwriting.

  13. I love these stories you write. As a spanish undergrad I find them so exotic. Is this representative? I mean do young people in America really care so much about this stuff? I'm asking because if some guy walked around holding a sign that says "I love Jesus" in my college, everyone would hurry to the other side of the street thinking "lol, what a huge dork". "Ho hum" or "Meh. I don't know. I don't care. Whatever." could very well be the average response to the whole god thing around here.

  14. It's really difficult to have a concise answer for why we believe what we believe. I'm always marveled at people who seem to think these decisions are so obvious and easy, like yeah... it's all about the "Aha! moment" woo hoo.

    Anyhow, I guess it would be nice to have a concise answer for conversational purposes.

  15. I feel like there is not discrimination here with different organizations. This event is not exactly like the non-theist sponsored event the other day. The difference is this event was run by Christians who were encouraging people to criticize Christianity and other religions. The non-theist event was more towards free speech and criticizing whatever people wanted or talking about whatever people wanted to talk about. If the non-theists hosted an event about why people hate atheists or non-theists, and it was done in a similar loving and open way, people wouldn't be upset.

    ...something you might want to test and see what happens.

  16. I have a quick question for the person who commented "We reach our conclusions using the rational thought process of the scientific method, as we try to with all other conclusions.
    " Is the scientific method really sufficient to answer all our questions? Can you use the scientific method to prove your parents love you? Don't we reach conclusions every day without the scientific method? I would argue that there must be ways of knowing things beyond what we can measure or test.

  17. To the "love your parents" last comment.

    Imagine this: your parents died when you was 5 and you don't remember them. You haven't got not even one photo with them, no letters, no family videos. You live with your aunt. When you ask her if your parents loved you, she says "but of course!". So you want to believe what your aunt says, while in the other hand... come on, not even one photo? nothing? Your aunt says it all was destroyed in a house burning accident. Maybe, but it sounds a little too convenient as an excuse, doesn't it?

    So you have to believe what your aunt says. Maybe it's true, or maybe she doesn't want to upset you so she white-lie to you. But this is not really a way of knowing whether your parents really loved you. If you decide to believe your aunt, then you're just believing, not knowing.

    One day, you find a old bag with lots of old stuff. OMG, there's a photo album here! and some video tapes! ZOMG, this is you with your parents in a pool! You all look happy! And look at this, your 4th birthday on video! Now you know they loved you. Until now, you were just guessing. Now you know because of... EVIDENCE.

    Now imagine this: you have been living with your parents all your life. OK, you know them so you know whether they love you. If you're a bible guy, look at Mt 7,16: "By their fruit you will recognize them." It's simple.

    So people don't just believe things about their parents -they base their conclusions on evidence. It sounds a lot like scientific method to me... or maybe it's just common sense.

  18. I have sufficient scientific evidence to prove my parents love me.

  19. "I have sufficient scientific evidence to prove my parents love me."

    Also - If nothing else, I know my parents existed

  20. Yes, you can prove your parents exist/existed. I also agree that we use evidence when evaluating ideas such as love. However, in the case of people that we interact with daily, we don't think they love us because they look happy in a photo. If you've ever been in love then you know the feeling goes beyond what you can express in words, yet you know that you love the other person. Can you measure it? Can you reproduce it in a lab? No, but it's still real. My position is that there is a reality beyond what we experience with our five senses. You likely disagree. That's fine with me because I respect anyone that is truly searching for the truth. Perhaps you've limited the methods at your disposal though.

  21. You may find this useful.

  22. I thought that this quote was informative on the misunderstanding of atheism

    "They don't want people to blindly accept what they may have grown up with, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, atheism."

    Isnt one of the basic ideals an atheist holds dear is skepticism? A healthy questioning of the life around you?

  23. wow, i think the biggest disappointment of all is how most of those comments sound a whole lot like something an angsty, emo high schooler would write. yeah, it could be said that organized religion keeps people ignorant and in the dark, but i'd say that kids do more damage to themselves by not studying or even trying to learn in school. 'religion makes people judgemental and hate others???' please! there's tons of discrimination in places like japan and china, where organized religion is minimal. i'm not a hardcore religious fanatic (quite the opposite!), but if this is the sad state of university students today, i'd think they have more to worry about than hating on religion because it's "cool."

  24. Well, there's not doubt religion makes people more judgemental and intolerable towards others, that's a fact. There's no use denying it.

    Personally, I don't know if God exists. Maybe He/She/It DOES exist, I'm completely open to that possibility. For the time being, I can't know for sure.

    But because I refuse to believe that Jesus was God and he came to Earth, etc... (you know the story) my whole family treats me with indifference, especially my mother who said she regretted having me, because I don't believe the same thing she does.

    Yep, I didn't murder anybody nor did I turn out some sort of perverted freak; as a matter of fact, I'm quite the opposite of what anyone would consider a "sinner", I don't drink, I'm not sexually promiscuous or some sort of deviant, I treat others with respect, I'm very polite with everyone, but no... it doesn't count. According to my family I will rot in hell for all eternity because: I don't believe a man that once lived was God, and he died for me. OK.

    To put it simply (and think about it): Christianity turns people into the opposite of what Christ was.

  25. I really wish Miami U. would have had one of these while I went there. While I believe in God, and I beleive that Jesus was his son, I do not buy into religion. I've studied the bible, and no where in the New Testement does it preach hate or elitism like the modern religions do. It preaches a personal kinship with whatever your god is. Whether spirit, man, science, or Batman. When asked my reply is always I believe in Christ and God, but by no means am I Christian... That would imply I believe in organized religion

  26. Yeah, I hate religion too!

    Free In Christ