Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Idea that Religion Rules Out Rationality

Over at Friendly Atheist Jesse Galef wrote a post where a variant of the question “Could you date someone religious” is posed. This variant is “Could you date someone who could date someone who is religious?”, keep in mind this is from an atheist point of view. At first I thought this was a weird question. For when I pose the same question to myself from a theist point of view “Could I date someone who could date someone who is atheist” I consider the question to have a “no duh!” response of “yes”. Then I read the posters response to their question,
I don’t think that I would immediately reject such a girl, but I don’t know if the relationship would last in my case. I consider certain traits central to my identity – my skepticism, my rationality, my willingness to accept what I think is true rather than what I wish were true. If a girl has no problem dating a religious person, how much could she value those traits in me?
When I read this I immediately got the impression that at least a little bit of bias and ignorance, if not a lot, was coming to the surface. I am referring to how the poster implies that if someone is willing to date a religious person, then they automatically do not value certain traits such as skepticism and rationality. This further implies that being religious means one is incapable of skepticism or rationality. This is simply, and utterly, false.

Being religious does not automatically make a person incapable of skepticism and rational thinking. In fact, many people arrive at their particular religious beliefs through the acts of first being skeptical about a belief, thinking critically about that belief, and finally coming to what they consider a rational decision about whether or not to believe it. In other words, they exercise these exact traits. I have noticed that the idea that the religious are incapable of exercising certain traits, such as skepticism and rationality, is a trend that is becoming more common among, mainly younger, atheists.Skepticism and rational thinking do not, by default, lead to atheism.

The second thing I noticed in the post is the comment “my willingness to accept what I think is true rather than what I wish were true”. I realize that atheists consider religious beliefs to be false or non-existent. However, this comment goes a little farther and describes religion as “wishful thinking”. There are ways to express your opinion respectfully about something you disagree with, and there are ways to express your opinion that comes out as ridicule, whether intentionally or not. Implying religion is wishful thinking is the latter. My post Criticism vs. Ridicule touches on this issue.

I am not implying that the poster was intentionally trying to imply these things or even that they were aware of it. I also realize that this issue is one that stretches across both atheists and theists. It is something that I think everyone needs to work on when talking about points of view that they disagree with. If you express an opinion about something you do not believe in, read it over a couple times. Try taking your opinion and pointing it back on yourself. For example, if it is directed towards atheism, try replacing “atheist” with “theist”. Then ask yourself the question if you still would consider it respectful. Generally doing so will help you avoid instances where your own bias may be playing too large a role in your thinking and help you express yourself in a more rational manner so that others may take what you say more seriously.


  1. Everyone is religious. What I mean is everyone has some sort of belief system. Everyone's mind, will and emotions are driven by their belief system. This system is their religion. Some believe in a God through a certain system and some believe there is not a God through their system. But have no doubt, what a person believes determines the way they live. Everyone is religious.

  2. Dear Revenator:

    Everyone is "spiritual," but everyone is not "religious." There is a distinction. Being spiritual means that one asks the big questions about the meaning of life. What determines whether you are religious or secular (mutually exclusive) is if you come to a religious (believing in a transcendent spiritual reality) or secular (scientific, materialist, naturalist) answer to those questions. To say everyone is religious is to makke the concept meaningless.

    Bruce Sheiman
    "An Atheist Defends Religion"