Earlier this week, I wrote a post regarding some of the reasons why even “harmless” religious beliefs affect nonbelievers. The basic idea was because being an atheist is considered weird and being religious is considered normal, all non-private expressions of faith reinforce the status quo, which is bad for atheists (like me).
I think those are good, real, concrete reasons why even moderate, non-hateful, non-proselytizing religion is bad for atheists and bad for society, but it’s not the whole story, as far as I am concerned. The other reason that I am bothered by so-called “harmless” religious beliefs is that I have a strong emotional reaction to bad ideas.
Emotionally, I am usually rather stoic in the face of suffering. While I am affected by injustice and pain inflicted on others, I am generally able to look at it in a relatively detached manner. Peta commercials don’t stir my heartstrings. Photos of starving children don’t send me running to my computer to donate. I can usually discuss any topic, even topics that are of personal importance to me, in a dispassionate manner. I can watch a loved one cry and still think clearly about how to solve whatever problem is inspiring the tears.
I consider this a weakness. Part of being a good person, to me, is caring about things that do not affect you directly. I struggle with this. I often see people that I respect fly into righteous fury over injustices suffered by people that they have never met. I see people I love feel deep compassion for total strangers. I see people of very little means give all that they can because Some Things Are That Important. I do not do any of these things, and it often causes me, much to my shame, to doubt whether I truly care about anyone but myself.
That being said, there is one area where I become passionate about injustice that has little effect on me directly. I am very strongly emotionally affected by the existence of bad ideas. By “bad ideas,” I am referring specifically to false beliefs held by a person who does not care (or cares very little) whether such beliefs are true. The reasons why this affects me so much are not terribly important, and I’m not even sure I know what they are. Bad ideas, like injustice, like poverty, like bigotry, are all around us and will never go away. My reaction to them is just as irrational as the most bloody of bleeding hearts’ reactions to war, police brutality, or the death of Jerry Garcia. I know this.
But I treasure my reaction. When I experience it, I am reminded that there are things outside of myself that I care about. That my life is not limited merely to a selfish, egocentric existence.* I love this about myself, and I would never change it, regardless of the pain it causes me.
When people ask me “why do my beliefs matter to you?” I will probably direct them to my other post, because what I’ve said there is true, and is a very big part of why I struggle against religion and other forces of unreason. But if you’re reading this, then you know that there is more to it than that, and I hope that you will not hold it against me.
*metaphysically, I belief that all consciousness is entirely selfish, but in a way that is irrelevant to what I am discussing here.