MYTH: “You Can’t Talk about My Religion!”

        November 2006

Jenna Haze as sexy naughty Catholic Schoolgirl

FACT:  “Yes I can.”  Religious people tend to think of their religions as, well, sacred.  Because of this, they may try and tell you that you have no right to criticize — or even ask honest questions about — their faith.  Here are some totally valid counterarguments to use against their totally invalid protests.

When they say _________    --->  You say _________

1. “My religion is my business!”

Response:  Like anything else, your religion would be “your business” if you kept it to yourself.  But most religious people don’t.  Very often, they will criticize others for not acting in accordance with the principles of their faith, and are also in the habit of supporting politicians who have similar religious principles.  Now, since politicians make laws, and these laws would bind everybody, this makes “your religion” everybody’s business.  If you are going to pass some law that you can only support with “evidence” from your religion, and you also take the position that the millions of other people who would be bound to follow this law “can’t talk about your religion,” then you are arguing that these people should be bound by laws they have no say about.  If you think back to the fourth grade, you’ll remember that this is the whole reason the American Colonies revolted against England in the first place.  (NOTE: Even if you don’t talk about your religious beliefs, they are still everyone else’s business if you vote based on them.)

2. “The Constitution says we have Freedom of Religion!”

Response:  That’s certainly true, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means.  As is the case with Freedom of Speech, the Constitution says you have the freedom to practice whatever religion you want, but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t allowed to criticize you for doing so — if it did, then that would infringe upon those people’s Freedom of Speech, and remember that laws are only valid up to the point where they interfere with other laws (for example, if your religion said you should kill people, then that would not be protected by the Constitution, because we also have laws against killing people).  It would indeed be horribly unconstitutional if the government made your religion illegal, but if another citizen simply criticizes it, then that’s not the same thing, because you are still allowed to practice your religion no matter what the other person says.  If, however, you use your judgment and decide that what the other person says is a valid criticism…  Well, that’s the point of Freedom of Speech.

3. “Okay, even if you are allowed to do so, it is just plain rude to tell someone that their religion isn’t true!”

Response:  Maybe so, but it isn’t any more rude than you are being.  You see, if you identify yourself as belonging to a particular religion, then that means you are also identifying yourself as not belonging to any of the many other religions in the world — which is equivalent to saying that all these other religions are not true.  So, when someone says that your religion is not true, that person is only doing the same thing to you that you are already doing to all those other people — plus, you were the one who started it, since you picked your religion first, and then the other person criticized it afterwards.

4. “It’s not like I’m hurting anybody!”

Response:  Are you sure?  Even if you are not one of the religious people who use their religion as an excuse to treat others badly, there are still any number of good arguments in favor of the idea that you are hurting people.  There are many examples about which you probably agree with me:  when practitioners of Santeria sprinkle poisonous mercury around their babies’ cribs because their religion says that it keeps evil spirits away, or when Christian Scientists refuse to take their sick children to a doctor because their religion says that you should never use medicine, or when Snake Handlers force their children to pick up poisonous snakes because their religion says that the snakes will only bite bad people, most people agree that these things should not be permitted under the law.  But what about the more subtle ways that being brought up with a particular religion might hurt a child?  If your religion says that sexual thoughts are sinful, and as a result of this, your child eventually has to be in therapy because they developed emotional problems as a result of having the sexual desires that science says are normal and unavoidable, is this not a medical condition that they have to spend time and money to try and fix, just as much as if they had mercury poisoning or a snakebite?  Or if the general faulty reasoning that is necessary to maintain a belief in most religions makes a child worse at thinking, and as a result of this, the child doesn’t do as well in school as they otherwise would have, and ends up going to a worse college, and having a worse job, then in the long run isn’t that even worse than being bitten by a snake?

5. “Criticizing a religion is discrimination, the same as being prejudiced against a race!” 

Response:  No, it isn’t.  Prejudice means you are assuming that because someone belongs to a certain category, then some other unrelated thing must also be true about them, even though you don’t really know whether it is — in other words, you are pre-judging them (see Frequently Misused Terms entry for prejudice).  If someone states that they have a certain belief, and then you criticize it, that is not prejudice, because you are not assuming that they have this belief — they just told you they did!  Someone’s race or gender (and probably sexual orientation, although this has not been proven) is in their genes; someone’s religion is not.  Religion is a set of beliefs that you decide to have, and it is crazy to say that no-one can be criticized for their beliefs, because that would mean that no-one could ever be criticized for anything, since everything someone says and does is a result of what they believe.  (NOTE: In accordance with our correct definition of prejudice, 1585s are hereby warned that we must avoid assuming that someone believes a certain thing based solely on what religion they say they are, since not all members of a particular religion believe the same things… but once you have confirmed that someone believes something stupid, feel free to throw down.)

6. “I said it’s my fucking RELIGION! AAARRGH!!”

Response:  First of all: it’s not your religion; it’s a religion — you didn’t make it up, and it doesn’t belong to you.  Secondly…  Hey, wait a minute, maybe you did make it up!  What I mean by that is:  Are you sure that the things you’re saying are actually what your religion says you have to believe?  Who told you so?  Your peers?  Your parents?  A religious official?  Since you have never personally met God, the odds are that the highest authority you have ever talked to is a religious official of some kind.  In religions where there is not one ultimate authority figure, religious officials often disagree with one another — how are you choosing which ones you believe and which ones you don’t believe?  If you are just arbitrarily deciding based on what you feel like believing, then how is that different from having no religion at all?  In religions where there is one ultimate authority figure (for example, the Pope in Catholicism), whoever occupies that position at any given time does not necessarily agree with the previous person who occupied it — and since you probably believe that God does not randomly change its mind all the time for no reason, how do you know which one of those people actually believes the same things as God?

Lots of religious people are simply mistaken about what their religion “really” says — for example, many Christians are under the impression that they are supposed to believe that December 25th is literally Jesus’s birthday, but in fact, when the Church established the Feast of the Nativity in 350 CE, they firmly declared that they were simply agreeing to observe the birth of Jesus on that day, since they didn’t know the real date, and that it would forever be considered a sin to believe that he was actually born on that day, since the real date was supposed to remain a mystery!  (And if you're a literalist, be advised that the December 25th date actually contradicts the Bible, since, although no date is given, shepherds definitely wouldn't have been “keeping watch over their flock by night” in December.)  Nobody in the Catholic or Protestant Churches ever formally reversed this (and even if they had, what would the difference be?  Either he was born on that day or he wasn’t), but most Christians have got it totally backwards, just by mistake (by all means, if you don’t believe me about this, go ahead and look it up).  

Strangely, many religious people get mad when others point out things like this.  For example, if you tell a Christian that something in the Bible is a mistranslation (the 3rd Commandment, for example), and that people can even prove this because we have copies of the original Hebrew version, they might say that you are “criticizing” or even “making fun of” their religion. But shouldn’t they be thanking you?  After all, if they believe that the Bible is really the word of God, and that God originally said it in Hebrew (or, technically, said it in Aramaic to someone who then wrote it down in Hebrew), shouldn’t they want to believe the thing that God actually said, instead of believing a mistake that some lazy translator made hundreds of years later?  If you’re going to tell someone not to “talk about your religion,” you should probably make sure first that it really is your religion, right?

Of course, asking this of these people would assume that they possess the ability to apply rational thought within the boundaries of their irrational thought (like how movies that require suspension of disbelief are still supposed to have internal consistency).  But apparently, they either don’t have this ability, or choose not to use it, or a combination of both.  Sadly, many religious people just believe whatever they want and then call it their religion, in an attempt to erect a magic rhetorical forcefield that makes it immune to criticism.  And when they get sick of believing something, they just change it, and then act like the new thing was what they really believed all along.  Religious beliefs are no more “noble” than any other variety of stupid belief, and are entitled to no more courtesy.

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