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Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Suck at Criticizing Religion

The Oatmeal is a very witty comic site, but the author, Matthew Inman, has been showing his true colors recently. After bashing Jerry Falwell, and defending war in the name of atheism, he now comes out with this whiny tirade comic called How to Suck at Your Religion.

Here is Inman's basic method.

1. Assume that all claims to supernatural revelation are either false or unjustified. This is really the most important of my points, and it is kind of necessary to make your sucky criticism work. It is important that your readers don't try substituting "political view" or "ethical ideology" for "religion." That would sort of ruin it.

2. Treat religious beliefs like personal preferences. This is related to point 1. It will make the task of treating religious leaders as maniacal tyrants much, much easier.

3. Never apply your criteria for religion to your own unbelief. It would make you look like a hypocrite.

4. Perpetuate myths about religion conflicting with science. Don't worry if they have no basis in reality.

5. Use silly terms to describe these religions. By poisoning the well this way, you can use your own sense of smug superiority to gloss over all the holes in your arguments.

Awesome. Now let's take a look at the comic strip.

What's really ironic is that this is from Matthew 7, where Jesus is condemning the Pharisees, not for judging, but for judging people unjustly. Like the Pharisees, Inman is judging Christians for having a splinter in the eye, while Inman has a plank in his.

Ahh. The ever-popular Galileo myth. Here is a short response, and a longer one. In short, Galileo's beliefs were not considered heresy. He developed arguments for Copernicus' heliocentric view while he was bankrolled by the Roman Catholic Church. His arguments were terrible and failed to convince anyone, including Tyco Brahe.

When Galileo's financial benefactors told him to quit wasting their money on developing these arguments, Galileo feigned compliance, and then secretly wrote a dialogue between himself and a foolish tyrant representing the Pope and then published it. After then lying about it to the inquisition, he was forced to recant and placed under house arrest. This seems like a light sentence, considering that Galileo committed massive fraud against the Pope.

Regarding stem cells, Inman's assertion is just as ridiculous. Stem cell research was never condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Adult stem cell research has resulted in over 70 treatments, including leukemia. Embryonic stem cell research, which has been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, has resulted in zero treatments, and for good reason. Embryonic stem cells, if used in these treatments, have an unacceptably high chance of causing malignant cancer and killing the patient. Adult stem cells do not carry this risk.

This is because religion is nothing more than imaginative speculation. Never mind that the religion of ancient Israel alone proclaimed that the universe had a beginning, in opposition to everyone else. Remember that if you place a comic about personal preferences like favorite colors next to a comic about life after death, it means that the latter is just as subjective as the former.

Instead, we need to let people believe whatever feels right to them. Obviously, no one would ever do this with physics, chemistry, biology, law, medicine, safety, or ethics.

But we can say this about religion because we have proof that divine revelation (which would provide real knowledge of this topic) is impossible, right?

If by "sexuality" Inman means "whatever turns you on sexually" one only need probe the Internet to realize the depth of our depravity there. Leviticus 18 seeks to place restrictions on this. The Bible places restrictions like not having sex with your mother, or your dog. Don't kill your infant children in a sacrifical ritual to pagan gods, such as Molech. These perverse sexual appetites were (and probably still are) so widespread that they had to be outlawed in order to be stopped. If Matthew Inman has a problem with this, then that really scares me.

Preaching so you could validate your own beliefs? Is this what Isaiah meant when he said Yahweh has bared his holy arm before the nations, that the ends of the earth shall see him? Is this what Jesus says in Luke 9, when he send out his apostles? Is this what Paul and Apollos were doing when they were arguing in the synagogues?

And is this what Matthew Inman is doing when he is trying to spread his beliefs about religion to us?

Oh, and that last panel would be hilarious to anyone who grew up in an ultra-orthodox family, especially in the Yiddish communities of Williamsburg. It is kind of hard to leave the fold when you are completely financially dependent upon them, and don't speak English. Considering his vitriol about forcing your religious views on your children, he does not seem consistent here.

This assumes that all religious views are equally insane. This might be true if we already assume that divine revelation is impossible, but isn't this comic supposed to be directed at religious people?

In other words, it is okay to affirm the silly, childish stuff that your religion practices, but don't you dare actually bring it into the serious, adult world of politics!

Way to caricature religion as mentally deranged. Again Inman assumes that religion is false.
If it turns out that Inman is wrong.
If it turns out that God is out there.
If it turns out that God revealed himself to humanity.
If it turns out that Jesus is who he said he was, and that the only way to God the Father is through him, why shouldn't we want to suffer and die, if it would advance that cause?

In other words, because your religion is obviously false, you shouldn't really believe it. The reality is that we are evolved primates on a dying planet with no God, no life after death, no objective meaning, no objective morality, and no free will. But if that is too depressing for you, it's okay to follow some noble lie, as long as it helps you get through your day. Carry on.