April 16, 2007

Proselytizing Piety

Posted in church, culture, philosophy of religion, politics, psychology of religion at 6:23 am by Jerry

Whenever you’ve bumped into piety, you’ve probably had people attempt to obligate you to “respect” what’s going on.

“Respect” is a great euphemism for “obey,” isn’t it? It gives you that sense of autonomy that “obey” fails to provide. It appeals to your indoctrinated scruples of etiquette, asking you to be compassionate for something that could very well be filled with fabrications and immorality.

And this compassion of yours is required to be patronizing in this context, accomodating all failed attempts by others to properly revere something you yourself wouldn’t consider worthy of worship. You’re told (out of respect) that it’s up to you to bow down to (or not challenge) others’ “weaknesses,” making the “weaker brothers'” spiritual journey the greater priority (or authority) in your life.

And so, you develop a feeling of obligation need to protect the vulnerable from their ignorance, because now you know you have a better understanding of their religion than they do. Now YOU are also considered an authority in this religion (even though you bow to the weaker brother).

BUT, by accepting obeying this obligation, rather than challenging it, you’ve entered the pious circle, becoming one of them. And by obeying the pious, you’ve obeyed the authority of their religious practices.

Beautifully done, isn’t it! Etiquette wins over reason!

Some may say, “There is plenty of freedom to express your rational concern in a religious gathering!” Really? Even in a public sanctuary during the service?

“No! You must respect the context of a service!” And what kind of context is that? Entertainment or education?

“Well, now you’re just being mean.”

Maybe I shouldn’t expect a separation of entertainment and education. After all, what is a novel if not the combination of the two. (But then, there’s plenty of room for anyone to critique a novel.) Also, I was being sarcastic to emphasize my point, which can lead to tonal issues. (Does that automatically imply that I’m “angry” or “mean”?)

Sarcasm is a result of bitterness, no doubt. But not always a bitterness over loved ones disappointing us. There is plenty of room to be bitter over the ignorance (or lack of empathy) in: the beauty we see in our planet (and universe) as an end in itself; the meaning we find in friends and family (diverse, intimate, genuine); and the purpose we recognize in rational discussion (non-authoritarian, informative, creative, challenging).

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” – Ray Bradbury



  1. Eric said,

    Hey Jerry,
    You are so right. Isn’t it strange how criticizing a person’s beliefs is considered the height of bad manners? A taboo subject? We can’t comfortably do it in ordinary social situations so we relegate our discourse to this medium. We must be tolerant, another word for respect.
    Sam Harris writes, “When was the last time that someone was criticized for not ‘respecting’ another person’s unfounded beliefs about physics or history?”
    We can challenge nearly everything else about a person’s ideas in so many other spheres of life, except religion. How did this happen?
    Granted I think this is changing slightly in certain areas and with certain belief systems, but consider the murderous hate generated by that cartoon of Muhammed last year. It was a criticism, albeit not a very constructive one, but even honest, intelligent criticism is not any more welcome.
    I often wonder, so many times I hear people of faith say that atheist arguments come off as angry, emotional. My theory is that many are unwilling to admit of thier own fear and merely chalk it up as someone else’s anger. Your thoughts?

  2. Jerry said,

    Hey Eric,

    I think sentimentalism is the underlying issue. And wherever there’s sentiment, there’s a reason to fear its ruin. Because, by definition alone, sentiment asks the user to devote their lives to certain feelings at the exclusion of any rational inquiry.

    This devotion is becoming ever more a greater challenge to maintain in our contemporary world. It’s just so much harder to hide from reason and scientific inquiry. Like your Harris quote, you won’t find sentimentalism in the classroom or other public forums but the religious ones.

    And I think this is why religious people think atheists/agnostics are either unemotional and/or emotionally cruel – because atheists/agnostics won’t separate reason from emotion. Attempting to ALWAYS have one (reason or emotion) accountable to the other just seems too cold to the sentimentalist. It’s not spiritually romantic.

    So, without the passion of sentimentality (“…and they all lived happily ever after”), any values rich with meaning and purpose to the non-religious are considered pointless to others.

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