Why can't everyone just have their own beliefs?
A common objection to atheist activism is that atheists are attempting to disallow theists from having their beliefs. The atheist is often asked, "Why can't everyone just have their own beliefs?" Many theists assert that their beliefs are harmless, and, most of the time, they are indeed harmless. This objection arises due to a few misunderstandings:
- Atheists aren't attempting to ban theistic beliefs, per se. Most of the time, addressing theistic beliefs is a means of self-defense against actions of theists.
- Most of the time, the people who make this claim aren't the ones directly harming society. Atheists are generally addressing actions of the more extreme theists.
Limits of belief
While everyone necessarily has their own beliefs, not all beliefs are equally valid, nor do they equally reflect reality. An incorrect belief may occasionally be harmless, but it can also directly result in negative consequences. Pointing out the fallacious reasoning behind such beliefs need not be seen as "harsh" or "offensive". If someone is so insecure in his or her beliefs as to be unable to handle criticism, these beliefs probably lack a rational foundation.
Beliefs inform your actions, and if your beliefs are in error, your actions are more likely to be harmful in some way. While people obviously can hold whatever beliefs they want, it is healthier for society as a whole if those beliefs are accurate. If faith is the basis for one's beliefs and is what determines agency in the world, then we should strive to hold beliefs that are accurate.
Harm by religious belief
Some or all theistic beliefs are not harmless. At least some forms of religion are harmful to society. Other harms caused by religion include:
- God won't allow global warming, because he promised not to flood us again, thus sabotaging our efforts to stem the climate issue.
- God won't let us run out of resources - thus contributing to more destruction of the planet, and the avoidance of action that would better our condition.
- Son dies slowly as parents pray, in spite of having an easily treatable ailment.
- The Crusades, where religion prompted a group of Christian knights to slaughter anyone in the way of securing the holy land.
- The Spanish Inquisition, where draconian and barbaric measures were taken to ensure people stayed within the Catholic church.
- Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is religion-driven legislation that would jail or put to death homosexuals.
- September 11, 2001, where faith-driven Islamic terrorists flew airplanes into the WTC, killing over 3000 people, over promises of martyrdom.
- Catholic Anti-contraceptive effforts, which leads to an increased spread of STDs in Africa, and thus death, because the Catholic church is opposed to contraception.
- The psychological damage that excessive fundamentalist indoctrination can do to one's ability to have intimate and professional relationships.
- The unfounded and paralyzing fear of hell for minor actions, such as critical thinking.
- The systematic deconstruction of science education in America.
- The brainwashing of children into thinking they are worthless sinners, which destroys their self esteem.
- Mother kills child during exorcism attempt
There are many arguments that religious belief is beneficial to society. It is difficult to determine if the benefits outweigh the harms, since there is some subjectivity in this debate.
Problem of casual theistic beliefs
- Main Article: Moderate religion legitimizes fundamentalism
Casual theists (such as liberal Christians) contribute indirectly to many of the atrocities above. Even though most theists aren't responsible for such atrocities, their presence helps to establish an environment sympathetic to religiously motivated actions likely to cause harm. Just as a damp basement is an environment more conducive to mold growth than a dry basement, a society infused with casual theistic belief is an environment more conducive to dangerous theistic actions than a society without religious beliefs.