How to be petty with your atheism

Posted: 16/09/2012 in atheism

Nuanced opinions seldom make good internet memes.

This blog generally avoids discussion on atheism.  It is not my interest to join in the “atheism v religion” debates for several reasons.  Nonetheless, it is very nice that a facebook friend, Derek, asked for a response to the recent post on The Oatmeal entitled How to Suck at Your Religion.  Before I continue, let me say I do realize that this is a joke.  Yet still what motivates the satire reflects not just the viewpoints of the author.  Judging by its popularity, he is not alone.

Initially, I hoped to touch on a few points on this blog.  However, my desire to have this posted outweighs my desire to dwell on this subject.  If anyone wishes to discuss any of the other points made in the comic, please comment below.

This one’s for you Derek.

What is Religion?

One of the problems in “atheism v religion” discourse is what exactly the term religion means.  The term is so nebulous and far reaching that it can sometimes mean “whatever the atheist doesn’t like.”  In the mind of many atheists all those “religions” tend to be conceptually lumped together.  So that means Judaism is basically Islam, which not that different from the Christianity, which includes WBC, who are just as crazy Sikhs who believe in pretty much the same thing as a Greek pantheon.  No, not all atheists think this way, but why should Christians make an apology for a term we don’t even own?  I am not concerned about “religion” in general.  I practice Christianity, and Christianity as I define it, not as a detractor labels it.  This frames all the responses from here on out.
You suck at your religion when you “hold back science.”

Geocentricism versus Heliocentrism is part of atheist folklore.  The story is like this: Galileo said the earth orbited the sun, and he spent the rest of his life in a dungeon for it.  (I sometimes wonder if atheists believe that Galileo atheist himself).  If only those superstitious religious people weren’t so dogmatic.  They opposed science then, and they still do now.  It is not Geocentricism versus Heliocentrism, it is religion versus science!

Part of the problem with this folk story is that it is incredibly oversimplified.  First, geocentrism did not start within the Catholic Church.  Geocentrism was an established paradigm of …wait for it… science from the ancient world up until Galileo’s time.  What I mean here is this: Geocentrism was based on the best observation possible.  The paths of the planets were meticulously measured.  It was placed in a theoretical, mathematical model that accounted for all motion observed.  Yes, the Catholic Church made it official theological dogma.  Yes, this model involved incorrect assumptions about nature of planets, sun, and stars.  Yes, it is an obsolete theory, but it was still a scientific theory.

Someone might say that this could be true, but the RCC was still wickedly dogmatic about it.  It was still only their superstitions that blinded them to clear, obvious, observation.  Here though is one of the problems:  Galileo built a telescope, and with it he observed craters on the moon.  The moon was previously believed to be a perfect sphere.  He invited a geocentric monk to look through his telescope at the moon.  However, this telescope’s lenses were ground by hand.  The images were magnified, blurry, and fragmented.  The monk said, correctly, that the telescope distorted reality when it looked at a candle across the room.  Wouldn’t it also distort an image across the sky?  Only our hindsight bias makes us believe that a question like this was unreasonable.

In sum, my points are this.  Yes, Galileo did die blind and in a dungeon under house arrest because of a mistreatment.  This treatment of him was reprehensible.  A point that the RCC has acknowledged.  However, this was not a case of religious dogmatism versus science.  This was a case of old science versus new science.  Incredulity towards new and imperfect telescopes was not the result of religion dogmatism.  Scientific paradigms do not turn on dime.

Missionary Work is about self-seeking validation

It’s pretty crass to insinuate that people evangelize primarily to sate their own insecurities.  That does seem to be what the oatmeal believes.  It is not hard to see that the author is annoyed by evangelism efforts.  A lot of people are.  I’ve been annoyed by evangelism.  In my time in Korea, I was proselytized more times than I can count by at least five different groups.  I’m not sure if the language barrier made it more or less awkward.  Sometimes I’d cross myself to let people know I was “covered.”  On one incident, I bit my tongue after a conversation about “God the Mother.”  Other times, I had nice conversations with the Mormon kids.  You get the idea.

In any case, here’s the thing the Oatmeal doesn’t get: if someone is doubting their religion, they’re probably not going to evangelize others about it.  I would think this would be intuitive.  My experiences with Missionary kids, conversations with LDS missionaries, conversations with LDS apostates and my own “short-term” missionary work doesn’t reflect this.  People who door what the missionaries do make a lot of sacrifices, deal with a lot of rejection, and otherwise forgo comforts.  This isn’t really a recipe for self-validation.  People who do the missionary work are on the whole, already feel validated in their beliefs.

But thanks for back pettiness, Oatmeal.

  1. Derek Tripp says:

    but the CONCLUSION joel! The conclusion is so important. the conclusion of the whole oatmeal schtick is that religious, on a personal level, can be a valid, important, worthwhile thing to hold on to.

    I don’t think that this is an issue of atheiests lumping together all religions / religious people as one lump sum (though there are arguments for ways in which one can do that). I think the oatmeal comic is highlighting how hypocritical religious fervor can make you, it toys with notions and understandings of faith (the idea of a proselytizing jew hitting people with the torah from bikes is funny. Maybe offensive, but it is random and exaggerated enough to be funny).

    I think the whole point of this comic is to denigrate faiths or religious individuals, i think it is to poke the eye of those who have no second thought or critical evaluation of their own behavior / beliefs, but are quick to act out against those around them.

    To put it another way, i bet the author of this comic would agree with the following statement:

    “It is great that in America we all have the freedom to practice our own personal faiths!! However, it is extremely frustrating to have to deal with some people’s faith in our society sometimes..”

  2. Derek Tripp says:

    i DON’T*** think the whole point of this comic is to denigrate faiths or religious individuals, i think it is to poke the eye of those who have no second thought or critical evaluation of their own behavior / beliefs, but are quick to act out against those around them.

  3. gold price says:

    I don’t think God intends for us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like science doesn’t exist. He wants us to use our reason. I think that is obvious considering he gave it exclusively to us and not to animals. I think the best explanation is that the Church is only infallible on matters of faith and morals, and the bible isn’t a science textbook. I would have to be an athiest if Catholicism required me to believe in 6 day creationism and geocentricism. (I do not think there is any other religion that could possibly be true besides Catholic Christianity). I think a lot of other people feel the same way. This post isn’t meant to be directed just at you, excubitor, but to everyone who thinks we should believe geocentricism is true.

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