Thursday, September 22, 2011

False Equivalencies

I haven't written for my blog in months because I've been so busy writing other things. It's been frustrating, because I have so much I want to write about! Instead I've just been posting interesting links to Facebook and having discussions there. Today however, I caught myself practically writing a paragraph as an introduction to a link I wanted to post. If I'm gonna do that anyway, might as well post it in my blog.

So. I was checking out Pharyngula, one of my favorite atheist/science blogs, when I came across this post. It touches on a lot of things that really get under my skin.

I cannot stand it when people call atheists angry, violent and militant. This is what is called a false equivalency. By using the term 'militant atheist' for example, you are drawing parallels between atheists and extreme religious groups. Yes, that is what it means when you take a term often applied to one group and try to use it to describe another.

Look at this PZ explained, religious extremists and fundamentalists do batshit crazy things. They brainwash children, they fly planes into buildings, they execute people for not believing what they believe or having different sexualities. They do horrible, horrible things.

And the people so casually lumped in with those groups, the 'militant atheists'? What do they do that is so horrible? Oh, they write books about how religion is wrong or argue with religious people about their beliefs. That's totally the same thi...oh wait, it's not. Not at all. Not even fucking close.

There is a very significant difference between being outspoken and unapologetic about what you think and being angry, mean or militant. Because of the subject matter however, atheists criticizing religion are often thought of as being rude or hateful when they are just attacking a bad idea. The same way they would attack any bad idea. But most people are practically raised to think religion is special. People's beliefs shouldn't be questioned, because that's what they believe. Atheists don't give beliefs any special treatment, and for that they are lumped in with terrorists. And it drives me crazy.

Back to the issue at hand, though. This particular instance of atheists being called ugly and hateful was in response to a protest by the Backyard Atheists. They had printed out passages from the Bible that they felt were especially...well, hateful. Stuff about women being stoned for adultery and women not being permitted to speak or hold authority, stuff like that. And they were tearing those printed pages up, to draw attention to the fact that those passages do exist, that the Bible says some fucked up shit...and maybe not all of it is worth listening to.

Now obviously people have the right to disagree with what they did, and they absolutely have the right to be offended by it. But the Backyard Atheists also have the right to make the points they were making, and they did it in a cheerful, non-threatening way. And again, it raises a lot of points that I don't think many people often stop to consider.

The lady in the video talking about how the Backyard Atheists obviously didn't know the God of Love was an excellent example of how people take what they want from religion. The Bible passages in question were not full of love. Most likely she wouldn't even agree with them. Sometimes I think that moderate, friendly Christians forget that the justification of their beliefs comes from the exact same place as the crazy fundamentalists. They are both equally guilty of selecting the passages they agree with as God's word and ignoring the rest. There is no way for them to know if they are really behaving how God would want them to. Moderate Muslims have the same problem, they're still basing their beliefs on flawed source material and just ignoring all the violent bits that the extremists have latched onto.

'Ah, but the Holy Book is a symbol of their beliefs, however they choose to interpret it,' you might say. 'Of course they are going to be upset if it is mistreated.' Ok, sure...I can understand that. But that doesn't make it logical. If your faith is really about God as you interpret him to be, based on your experiences and what you've been told and what your preacher has said and heck, even what you've read in the Bible...then why is this ridiculously old, outdated, historically inaccurate book so critical to your faith? Especially when parts of the Bible will likely outright contradict your faith as you know it?

But the fact that it's illogical isn't what really gets to me, it's just something I'd like people to consider. What really bothers me is when religious people expect that since this thing is special or sacred to them, then everyone ought to treat it as such. To you, the Bible may be the Holy Word of God. To me? It's an old, inaccurate, infuriatingly sexist piece of literature. You really expect me to treat something like that with reverence? You really expect people of other faiths with their own Holy Books that are the Word of God to give your particular Holy Book special deference? Just because you think they ought to? It is that sense of privilege, that anyone who treats what they consider to be the Word of God with anything less than the deference they feel it is deserved is being hateful, that I find incredibly frustrating.

Let's recap. Just because one group of people, no matter how large and privileged they may be, says something is Holy does not make it so for the rest of the world. I said the same thing when people were drawing chalk figures of Mohammed, and I said it again when Terry Jones wanted to burn the Koran. Yes, it is polite to be respectful of what someone else believes. I'm all about respect, really. Just not to the point where bad ideas and irrationality are allowed to flourish. Sometimes, going after a symbol is a really effective way to do that. I would argue that the Backyard Atheists and a majority of the people drawing chalk figures of Mohammed handled those symbols as respectfully as possible while still making their points...which are important and worth making, even if it might offend some people.

Also? Arguing logically and respectfully that bad ideas are wrong does not make me hateful or militant. It is that perception in our society, that religion is privileged and it is inappropriate to question or criticize it, that has led to the legislation of religious morality and introduction of creationism in schools. Just because an idea is based in belief does not proof it against criticism. If you are offended by that criticism, so what? It happens, and criticism is important for making ideas stronger. If an idea is bad to begin with, wont you be better off acknowledging that and moving on?

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