There is a well known line from the movie The Princess Bride where the villain continually declares things to be inconceivable. Despite his declarations, everything he claims to be inconceivable is not only conceivable, but in fact comes to pass. This leads the swordsman Inigo Montoya to utter his famous line ‘I do not think it means what you think it means’.
When I see the many memes by not so well intended atheists that create caricatures of religion, I see that they fundamentally do not understand what religion is. They find the extreme worst of examples of religious practitioners and compare it to extreme best of atheism and in doing so, they are blinded by their own craftiness. They perceive that they are being so clever, as if their trite comments can prove what professional scholars cannot – that all religion is based on falsehoods.
The reality is, as soon as someone shifts from being non-religions to being a critic of religion, they become what they profess to reject – a dependent ideologue trapped by their own false dogma. When one sets out to find fault with and ridicule anything, they have already lost the battle because logic does not triumph through polemics, but rather it triumphs through truth.
Lets consider some common memes. I saw this one show up a few times on my facebook feed today:
So yes, on the surface if you ignore the fact that the story of Noah is an ancient story filled with imagery and symbolism, you could mistakenly find such a moral gaffe but by posting this meme, it only demonstrates the ignorance of the poster. It reminds me of people who mock poetry because roses don’t actually smell sweet or roads less traveled are often a bad idea. Yes, there are some bible readers who take the story of Moses as an expository recitation of history, but there are also atheists who torture animals because they claim there is no god and therefore there is no morality. Just because some people of a particular group believe a certain way, that does not mean the belief is systemic among the group. Yes all cats are mammals, but not all mammals are cats.
This one uses the logical fallacy of mutual exclusivity. If you are religious you must therefore reject science. No religious person I know believes hurricanes are caused by Adam and Eve. Yes, some radical and very public preachers stand up after each disaster and blame homosexuality, pornography or other religions for causing the catastrophe but these radicals no more represent religion than Hollywood represents family values. The meme is a lie, but it is catchy and mean spirited and if you say something catchy enough times, you soon begin to believe it.
Again, this is another example of imposing the interpretation of a few radical Christians on all theists. Consider my views on the Creation story : What Is Genesis 1 Talking About and http://grantsrants.ca/what-is-genesis-1-talking-about-part-two/ . We cannot use Stalin as an example of why atheism is wrong, Greece as an example of why social programs are wrong, and Fox news as example of why right wing media is wrong. We do not throw out Shakespeare because 90% of people who read it have no training in reading his style of English. Stop comparing our worst with your best.
This quote is from an atheist who seems to be lashing out because he has nothing else to lose. This is like saying I hate people who are judgmental. And what exact is atheism winning? Is it science? The vast majority of religious people embrace science. So what is it? The clever quote does not say, it just hurls the insult and runs away.
When you take the time to look into the claims of atheists arguments against religion, you find that there is not much there. Like the watermelon in the picture. There is a lot of sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal but not much substance. Now, I am not arguing that atheism is the problem, just the position of atheists who feel the emotional need to criticize what they do not adhere to. And have no doubt, it is an emotional need. Whenever people have to spend time posting messages on social media criticizing what they left behind, it is because they do not know how to leave it behind. I see people post things against Catholics, against Trump, against Asians, against Mormons, even against atheism.
If the person who posts this type of vitriolic hate were to behave this way at work they would get fired. If they were in school they would get expelled. If they spoke this way in court, they would go to jail. It is the sort of behaviour that most people grow out of when they graduate from grade 7.
My suggestion is, spend less time attacking what you feel a need to reject and more time showing what you accept. If you feel science explains the universe better than religion does, then post about science. Teach truth. Stop pretending you know more about what you hate than those who adhere to it.
What then is religion, if it is not what is represented in the memes above?
Religion is More Amazing Than You Realize
The LDS scholar Daniel Peterson gave an excellent lecture, the transcript can be found here:
I want to touch on a few of his points.
“Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Duke University, has established himself as a premier authority in this area. He and his collaborators argue that religious involvement is correlated with better mental health in the areas of depression, substance abuse and suicide, and, somewhat less certainly, with better results in the treatment of stress-related disorders and dementia.”
“… according to Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University … Regular attendance (at religious services) is associated, for example, with “a roughly 30 percent reduction in mortality over 16 years of follow-up; a five-fold reduction in the likelihood of suicide; and a 30 percent reduction in the incidence of depression…greater likelihood of healthy social relationships and stable marriages; an increased sense of meaning in life; higher life satisfaction; an expansion of one’s social network; and more charitable giving, volunteering, and civic engagement,”.
Dr. Andrew Sims… contends, on the basis of his own psychiatric practice as well as a large number of scientific studies, that “people with religious belief, rather than being timid and lacking clear convictions, have a greater sense of direction and feeling of independence from control.” Indeed, one of the major themes of his book is that “religious belief tends to be associated with better health, both physical and mental.”
“The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry, and medicine generally,” he writes. “If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land!”
In the majority of scientific studies, Sims summarizes, religious involvement correlates with enhanced well-being, happiness and life-satisfaction; greater hope and optimism, even when facing serious diseases, such as breast cancer; a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better responses to bereavement; greater social support; less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; reduced rates of suicide; decreased anxiety; better coping with stress; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; and greater marital stability and satisfaction. A strong faith and the positive relationships and thinking associated with church membership fortify the immune system, “thus reducing the risk of cancer, improving general health and protecting the cardiovascular system.”
“The nagging question we are left with is, why is this important information” — “epidemiological medicine’s best-kept secret,” he calls it — “not better known?”
If it were anything other than religious belief or spirituality resulting in such beneficial outcomes for health, the media would trumpet it and governments and health care organizations would be rushing to implement its practice.
Let’s be clear, despite what the anti-religionists would have you believe, science is agnostic. It makes no claim as to whether or not there is a God. And let’s makes something else clear, religion is not science. It makes no claims as to how the universe was created, how life developed, or why earthquakes occur. Yes some religious people try to make such argument, just as atheists claim erroneously that science proves there is no god.
The bible tells us why we are here. It is a liturgical text that takes real historical events and presents it in poetic language to teach gospel principles. No the earth was not created in 6 days, and no the entire planet was not flooded with only a few survivors. No, donkeys do not talk and a man cannot survive in the belly of a whale; at least so far as the current scientific research tells us. When reading the scriptures, you need to read it in the context of the culture in which it was written, and based on the message that was intended.
I look at the fruits of my religion – Mormons live longer, their marriages last longer, they are more likely to have a university degree and to speak a second language. They have larger families, they give more to charity, and they are more likely to volunteer their time. Mormons have a strong sense of community which leads to a strong support network. When a call goes out to help someone move, or to give someone a ride to the hospital, there are many who accept the call willingly and happily. My religion works.
Brigham Young University, the LDS owned university, has a very large and well renown science department where they teach evolution, big bang and a host of other scientific theories that some atheists insist we do not believe in. The bottom line is, if you are an atheist, good for you. If you are a Jew, that is terrific. If you are a socialist then I am glad that you have values you uphold, just don’t kid yourself by supposing you know enough about those who believe differently than you that you can prove them wrong.
What is religion? Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27