Most atheists and non-theists have a certain degree of scorn for religion and those who practice religion. Atheists tend to think their non-belief superior to religious faith. Many have a great deal of difficulty understanding how others fail to come to the “rational” conclusion that there is no god. Many even come to the conclusion that all who follow religion are lacking in fundamental critical-thinking skills.
As for myself, I believe that most religious folk are just as intelligent and critical as atheists. While many of us love to point out the many important and notable atheists there have been, few like to talk about how many thousands more were firmly rooted in religious dogma. Religiosity does not make a person irrational, it only makes them religious. Still, I would be remiss if I did not mention that religion can cause people to believe some strange, even laughable things.
As I’ve remarked earlier, I am as guilty as anyone of being critical and dismissive of religion. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to do better. I try to see the cross on a necklace as jewelry, nothing more. When someone speaks of God’s mercy, I try to ignore them, as I would anyone talking about a subject that doesn’t concern me. When my mother says that she’ll pray for me, I choose to interpret her words to mean that she wishes me well.
Still, I have a long way to go. The subject of Scientology came up today, and I was surprised at the strength of my reaction. While Christianity frustrates me, Scientology absolutely infuriates me. Why the difference in reaction?
Upon reflection, I decided that my reaction to Scientology was due in part to its validity, or lack thereof. Clearly, a system of belief invented in the 1950′s by a second-rate science fiction author is invalid. The entire system is based around a core belief that directly contradicts scientific consensus. The organization’s pyramid structure seems designed with the singular intent of financially exploiting novice followers. Finally, the group was involved in “the single largest infiltration of the United States government in history” (source).
However, even taking all of this into account, it is irrational to view one religion as more or less “valid” than any other. If I uniformly declare non-belief in any god, afterlife, or supernatural influence, I must also uniformly dismiss all religions. As such, my particularly strong aversion to Scientology is rationally unfounded. Clearly, I showed preferential treatment to the “traditional” religion, unconsciously assigning more validity to Christianity only by merit of it’s age and popularity.
Upon further thought, it occurred to me that Christianity, faith to which I previously attested, has indubitably done far more damage than Scientology ever will. There have been no crusades in L. Ron Hubbard’s name. Scientology will never gain enough influence to govern Europe for a millennia. “The Wall of Fire” will never, ever, be taught in schools as an alternative to evolution.
Taking all of this into account, which is more deserving of scorn, Christianity or Scientology?
The answer, I believe, is neither. Scorn by atheists of religion and the religious will do nothing but harden public opinion against atheism. One of my great dreams is a world in which atheism is afforded the same respect as other religious beliefs. While I have no illusions as to the likelihood of this dream’s fruition, I must do what I can to bring it about.
To this end, I must respect other’s religious views, no matter how irrational or ridiculous they may seem. In return, I can only humbly ask that they respect my belief. While that respect is probably not forthcoming, at least I’ll feel that I’ve done my part.