The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever


June 1, 2006 | 30 Comments

Is there something special about sky-god baby-talk fairytale belief that requires the state to treat it better than any other kind of lunacy? In a new paper, Professor Brian Leiter says no. From the abstract of Why Tolerate Religion:

Religious toleration has long been the paradigm of the liberal ideal of toleration of group differences, as reflected in both the constitutions of the major Western democracies and in the theoretical literature explaining and justifying these practices. While the historical reasons for the special “pride of place” accorded religious toleration are familiar, what is surprising is that no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion: that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral or other principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral treatment to religious practices. There are, to be sure, principled arguments for why the state ought to tolerate a plethora of private choices, commitments, and practices of its citizenry, but none of these single out religion for anything like the special treatment it is accorded in, for example, American and Canadian constitutional law. So why tolerate religion? Not because of anything that has to do with it being religion as such — or so this paper argues.

(The full essay can be downloaded in a variety a formats if you scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Reading the treatise, I surmise that there must be some academic convention that prohibits a scholar from coming right out and calling the majority of his readers stupid. The analysis is chock-full of euphemism. The conclusion — “there is no moral reason why states should carve out special protections that encourage individuals to structure their lives around categorical demands that are insulated from the standards of evidence and reasoning we everywhere else expect to constitute constraints on judgment and action” — does come close to being insulting, but still falls short. I can understand why some writers avoid words like idiotic, nonsensical, moronic, imbecilic and brainless, but if one of your primary premises is that religion is a pack of lies you shouldn’t risk having that point hidden by jargon. And it doesn’t necessarily require invective. Leiter could have simply described some of the most common religious dogmas, e.g., virgin-born crucified martyrs, invisible elephant-headed deities, and made the necessary comparisons to astrology, alchemy and the Wizard of Oz.

Part of the reason, I suspect, that Leiter holds back he’s not arguing that there’s something especially harmful about tolerating beliefs that are unhinged from evidence — indeed, he asks, “is there any reason to think that attention to evidence precludes embrace of abhorrent categorical demands?” His thesis is merely that there’s no reason to accord favored status to the subset of false beliefs categorized as religious. All stupidity should be treated equally. But that conclusion, at a minimum, does require a clear showing that religious belief is stupid. And I doubt Leiter would have written the piece at all if, deep down, he didn’t think it was better and safer to be smart rather than stupid.


30 Responses to “Intolerable”

  1. Mookie
    June 1st, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    I think with recent events, we cannot afford NOT to do something about religious idiocy. Of course, taking action almost always involves calling religious people stupid. Like this site. Other ways may be more effective, but they just don’t feel as good. Not to mention, it is difficult to engage a very religious person and expect to dismantle their beliefs. It amounts to something very akin to having a discussion with someone with a mental disorder. Reason is a great tool in rational arguing, but does not do so well against the irrational. For that, you need to invoke emotions like fear, pride, envy, guilt/shame, etc. Religion has been using these feelings to great effect for centuries. So have despotic/corrupt rulers.

  2. Mister Swill
    June 1st, 2006 @ 1:20 pm

    I tolerate religion for practical reasons: 1) It’s so deeply important to so many people. 2) I want people to tolerate the many, many things that are deeply important to me that cannot be explained through reason alone, such as taste in music and art, choice of lifestyle and occupation, ethical standards of conduct. I have to assume that’s true for everybody.

    Keep in mind, though, that when I say I tolerate religion, I mean that I tolerate people holding religious beliefs and asking for what I consider reasonable accommodations, such as time to gather for worship, reasonable food options, reasonable allowances for wearing certain items of clothing, etc.

    I do not tolerate people using religious beliefs as a basis to judge or regulate the behavior of others. And I hold myself to the same standard: I do not use my own ethical principles to judge the behavior of others unless I can logically explain how my ethical principle defends a value that I believe is important to a majority of people. (If that last sentence doesn’t make sense, I will try to come up with some examples.)

  3. Mister Swill
    June 1st, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

    “Reason is a great tool in rational arguing, but does not do so well against the irrational.”

    Repeat after me, Mookie: “I am the irrational. You are the irrational. We all hold beliefs about what ought to be. Those beliefs are based on our personal preferences. Those preferences exist in the realm of emotion. We are all, therefore, the irrational.”

  4. athiestinafoxhole
    June 1st, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

    well i wouldnt simply agree with all of mister swills sentiments but i must say he puts his argument across very well. i dont think we are all irrational. i infact believe that the discussion between the devoutly religious and non religious is drawn from several areas, one being that the non religious are the rational.

    as regards the article being discussed, it always facinates me how one group that believes in a spiritual higher power can so readily dismiss other beliefs of the non tangiable kind. not only that but i always get the impression from these same spiritual folk that if a christ figure did return they would not believe it. i actually feel that the idea of a second coming of any kind is completely alien to believers, it is my contension that the very nature of the belief is its saviour and main defence. if christ never returns we can never disprove that he wont, also we cant disprove his existence because they are always going to be waiting for him to turn up for eternity.

    this debate will never actually be resolved for the simple fact that the belief in a higher power is based on an irrational belief. i do however think this irrational belief is important. now before anyone goes crazy let me explain. i feel that we non believers are the true understanders of our place and existence. we can rationalise our place in the world and we know that one day we are going to die and that that is it. on the other hand you have those that need more security, and what better way than to create an eternity of paradise when its all over. the irrational need that comfort, because by their very nature they cannot rationalise the big truth. when you die you die, mind, body and soal.

  5. Mookie
    June 1st, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

    I have irrational elements. You have irrational elements. We all hold beliefs about what ought to be. Those beliefs are based on our personal preferences. Some of those preferences exist in the realm of emotion. Some are based on observation, irrespective of emotion. This is reason. Some, like revelation, rely on emotion. These are irrational. We all, therefore, have an element of the irrational, to a certain degree. We all, also, have an element of the rational, some more than others.

    Sorry Mr. Swill, but I will have to judge nutters based on their actions and their beliefs, and declare that the latter are delusional, and the former, in many cases, destructive. I’ve done lots of math homework that doesn’t involve emotions to solve. (I may get mad or frustrated, but this does not change the answers.)

  6. Lily
    June 1st, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

    I am afraid that you are all mistaken but Mr. Swill is very close to being right.

    The fundamental problem that I see here is the premise that religion is a sort of coat that one can put on or take off at will. It is not. Homo sapiens is inherently a seeker of meaning and religion is the fundamental answer to the question “why?”. You can no more separate man from religion (broadly conceived) than you can neatly cut a raw egg in half. You can try, but I guarantee a mess.

    We “tolerate” religions, then, for at least one obvious reason– that which one holds dear, that by which one defines oneself and one’s culture is going to be defended at the cost of life and limb, if attacked. Tolerance serves, if all goes well, as a mechanism for keeping the peace.

    To pose this as a question between rational and irrational beliefs is… well, irrational. Your belief, prejudice really, that religious faith is fundamentally irrational is comical, at best, but deeply anti-social, if carried to its logical end.

  7. Mookie
    June 1st, 2006 @ 2:52 pm

    Your belief, prejudice really, that your religion is the one true faith is comical, at best, but deeply anti-social, if carried to its logical end.

    Hence my dislike of religion, because it bases it’s tenants on emotion, and not on observation.

  8. Mister Swill
    June 1st, 2006 @ 4:50 pm

    Things that are factual (like math) can be solved using reason alone. Things that have an emotional basis cannot.

    Preferences, by definition, are based on emotion. One cannot logically figure out what is good or bad without tracing the issues back to pure human whim.

    “I have concluded that religion is bad.”
    “Because it causes people believe things that are incorrect.”
    “So, a lot of times these beliefs will cause people to have priority other than life here on Earth!”
    “These priorities cause people to do destructive things, such as killing in the name of their religion.”
    “Killing is wrong.”
    “Well, if everyone didn’t think it were wrong, what’s to stop anyone from killing me?”
    “So? I WANT TO LIVE.”

    Some philosophers of the past have concluded that there’s no such thing as right or wrong, and if one is basing that conclusion on logic alone, it’s correct. But the fact is that we humans are primarily driven by our emotions. Yes, we have the ability to reason, but it is generally at the service of our ability to feel.

  9. Lily
    June 1st, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

    Mookie, if your message (#7) was aimed at me, it is way off subject. I have made no reference to any belief of mine nor have I claimed that this belief is the one true one. (Nor is religion based only on or, even, primarily on emotion despite your unsubtantiated prejudices. But that is off-topic, given what I actually wrote.)

    I’d be interested in a substantive reply to my last post.

  10. Thorngod
    June 1st, 2006 @ 5:09 pm

    That was an excellent irrational argument. Let us press forward toward ever greater irrational truth.

  11. Mister Swill
    June 1st, 2006 @ 11:59 pm

    Very cute, Thorngod.

    Okay, I’ve explained this to death. I’m tired of the burden of proof being on me. Let me pose everyone here a question:

    Can you explain to me, purely through reason, without emotion being involved, why human beings should go on living?

  12. Mister Swill
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 12:28 am

    Oh, also, if you disagree with me that emotion is inherently irrational, please explain that to me.

  13. Thorngod
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 8:22 am

    M. Swill- Pardon my flippancy. I agree fully that if all life were to suddenly stop, it would be no tragedy. It would, in fact, be the ultimate blessing for the two billion miserable and starving, and the rest of us would lose nothing. However, that is a different matter than the rational/irrational question. We are able to reach the above conclusion only through reason. I thought you had said–or implied–that all human thought was irrational. It is obvious that emotion is not rationality. I apologize if I misunderstood.

  14. ocmpoma
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 10:22 am

    Ok, Lily – here’s a substantive reply.

    First, your ‘broad redefining’ of religion is a disagreeable tactic. Religion is not commonly understood as being a vague ‘answer to the question why’ – it is commonly understood to be a belief system, a philosophy of life, a guideline for how one should live, that includes some sort of supernatural element. In this case, what you are saying is religion is in fact just human curiosity.

    Second, all belief and faith, religious or otherwise, is of course irrational and subjective. There is no rational, objective belief, by definition. One does not have faith or believe that a locomotive is larger than a housefly, one knows this by examination of objective evidence. One does believe that life is important, or that causing pain to others is wrong. Religion is founded upon emotion, because all human desires, dislikes, hopes, fears, etc. are emotion. Belief itself is an emotion.

    Irrationality, subjectivity, and emotion are not, however, negative – as I have said, even saying that being objective and rational is better than being subjective and irrational is itself irrational.

    On the lines of this comment thread, I think that everyone is irrational all the time. We never stop feeling, or thinking subjectively. Even when we are doing purely objective things, like straight abstract mathematics, we still feel. We might be objective [i]about the math[/i], but we don’t set aside our irrationality completely.
    That said, we can realize that we are being irrational and subjective about something which it might be better (subjectively) for us to be objective about. I personally think that one should try to be as objective as possible about external reality (meaning about the world ‘outside’ of our own minds), since I feel that it would lead to greater well-being for us all.

    And, on the topic of RA’s post, I agree that Leiter probably thinks that religious belief is bollocks. But I can certainly see why he wouldn’t want to come out and say it. In fact, he’s probably relying on his reader’s ability to glean such information from what he did write, as RA was able to do.

  15. Lily
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 10:47 am

    So if this is true:
    On the lines of this comment thread, I think that everyone is irrational all the time. We never stop feeling, or thinking subjectively. Even when we are doing purely objective things, like straight abstract mathematics, we still feel. We might be objective [i]about the math[/i], but we don’t set aside our irrationality completely.

    why on earth should I waste one more nano second on your message? It is just meaningless noise.

  16. hermesten
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 11:53 am

    Lyling Lily: “I have made no reference to any belief of mine nor have I claimed that this belief is the one true one.

    Does Lily ever stop lying? Some quotes from LL in reference to what she believes:

    LL: We all agree, as the creeds state, that Christ will come again “to judge the living and the dead” but exactly how that will play out is not a matter of 100% agreement. ”

    LL: I am silent on the gay issue for one reason and one reason only. I have nothing new to add. My views are those espoused by the Catholic Church.

    LL: I am an adult convert. My folks were rather cheerful agnostics,

    LL: I am not Catholic yet. But I think it is easy to see that I have read more Catholic documents in the last week than you have in your entire life.

    LL: Because the Church understands love in all of its dimensions better than anyone else, it understands very well indeed that the love two people have for each other is not just physical.

    LL: My religion infuses my entire life. It fundamentally shapes my worldview and the way I want to live and what I think is good for society.

    LL: Even in my quasi-fundy days, we used to sit around after church drinking coffee and arguing (in a friendly way) about the Christian Coalition, Robertson, Swaggert, Baker, et al.

    LL: As long as you are alive, you have God working in you and through you, since He is the source of all being (which is another one of those good things we have from Him).

    LL: Christianity is the answer to the world’s problems.

    LL: God is love and without God there is no love, no friendship, no anything that is good. Free will is the freedom to choose God’s way or your own way. But if you cut yourself off from God, you cut yourself off from the source of all love and all that is good and beautiful. You can no more love nor experience love in the absence of God, than a rose bush that has been yanked out of the ground can continue to bloom.

    Further more, any number of Catholic websites assert that the Catholic Church is the one true church and the Catholic faith the one true faith. And anyway, if other beliefs are equally true, then why does someone choose conversion to Catholicism? For the cool hats and the tasty wafers?

  17. Lily
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    I am touched beyond words that the old guy has treasured my words so deeply and has saved them for his edification. However, it needs to be pointed out, yet again, that in message #6 I made no reference to any specific religion, much less my own. It would have been off-topic.

  18. Jahrta
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

    Lily, I find it odd that you mock hermesten for referencing your posts and for being able to readily recall which threads they came from, when you yourself expected me to remember every nuance of your personal stance on topics such as gay marriage. I believe your words were “you must have a really poor memory when it comes to me because we’ve had this conversation before”

    Even if we had this conversation before, you self-banned months ago and have only recently returned to the proverbial fray.

  19. Lily
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

    Jahrta: I didn’t and don’t expect you to remember every nuance of every stance I take–just the ones you feel moved to curse me out over. But maybe you are so used to mocking theists that you don’t remember any particular one. Nevermind, I am not insulted and I was not trying to insult you.

    As for Hermesten, I am not mocking him. I am trying to make him understand that he has crossed a line– he has gone from hijacking every thread I comment on into insanity. He used to be or, at least, seemed to be smart. Now he stalks me on this forum.

    His response with all of those really great quotes from me (though he is trying to throw them in my face) is completely inappropriate in this context, since I did not reference my religion in the comment I posted. It doesn’t matter to him. He wants an excuse, no matter how flimsy to launch a tirade that really seems to be wholly delusional. Have you not noticed that everyone ignores him? At least when he goes into lilyrant mode.

    It is so sad.

  20. jahrta
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 2:39 pm

    Oh don’t mind me. I’m just drawing a parallel. I like to draw :)

  21. hermesten
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

    LL: “Now he stalks me on this forum.”

    Extremely wishful thinking. For the entire time I have posted at this site my practice has always been to pick out the dumbest, most dishonest, and most hypocritical theist for attack. At the moment, that happens to be you –though I will qualify “dumb” as applied to you not as an absolute estimate of your intelligence, but an indication of the very large gap between the intelligence your profess to have and the intelligence you actually display. . Now, it’s true that Mr. Reborn may not be as smart as you are, but he seems also to lack your depths of dishonesty and hypocrisy; and more importantly, he doesn’t make the repeated claims to intellectual and moral superiority for himself that you do for yourself.

    LL: His response with all of those really great quotes from me (though he is trying to throw them in my face) is completely inappropriate in this context, since I did not reference my religion in the comment I posted.

    You’re so predictable in your dishonesty. Mookie knows your history here, as many of us do. Sort of like having a discussion with Stalin about communism where he says it’s “inappropriate” to call him a communist, or make remarks about what communists believe, because he didn’t mention the fact that he’s a communist during this particular conversation. You’re watching too much O’Reilly. But it’s a perfect illlustration of why I pick on you. You’re all there is this response: dumb, dishonest, and hypocritical.

  22. Chris Treborn
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

    It makes me sad to see that even someone of Lily’s obvious intelligence is singled out for persecution just because she has accepted our Lord Jesus Christ.

  23. Lily
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

    Chris: Thank you for your kind comment but what is going on with poor Hermesten is not persecution. per se — he really has grown obsessed with me (not, heaven forbid, in a romantic sense! I mean he has turned me into an idol that represents all that he hates and fears). I do believe that before he goes to sleep at night, he checks under the bed to see if Karl Rove and I are sitting there waiting to pounce on him! :-)

    Depending on my mood, I find this either sad or hilarious. Right now, I can’t help grinning from ear to ear!

  24. allonym
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 9:46 pm

    Gosh, Chris, the last place I’d expect to find anti-religious attitudes is on a blog titled “The Raving Atheist”. I’m glad Lily (sort of) disagrees with your use of the word “persecution”.

  25. Friendly Reminder
    June 2nd, 2006 @ 10:26 pm

    Just a quick reminder, kids.

    There is no such person as “Chris Treborn.”

  26. Facehammer
    June 3rd, 2006 @ 5:39 pm

    Fuck off Chris.

  27. Chris Treborn
    June 5th, 2006 @ 2:43 am

    facehammer, I am ashamed. Your eloquent and persuasive invective has led me to reconsider my core belief system NOT. You are making a fool of yourself. I suggest that YOU fuck off. God bless you, asshole.

  28. Thorngod
    June 5th, 2006 @ 8:03 am

    The comments at this site have degenerated to tripe and ego tussles!

  29. athiestinafoxhole
    June 5th, 2006 @ 7:42 pm

    i have to say that i am quite new to this site and this forum but after reading all of the comments on this subject i can say one or two things. firstly to lily, if hermesten compiles an accurate summary of your comments and pretty much paints a picture of what you’re about just take it, dont try and laugh it off as an obsession of his. one piece of advice to hermesten, if lily attempts to belittle your points as humerous or sad just ignore her as far as i can see if one is not prepared to debate a topic and reverts to shrugging off the points of another then usually that person really does not possess the tools with which to defend themselves.

    i have to say that i do find some of the comments humerous. “you cant experience love without the lord”. that actually made me smile and wonder that an adult with a apparantly sound mind could actually believe that. religion and a belief in a god is spawned from the natural human fear of death and the loss of consciousness that will last for ever. if believing in a higher power lets you sleep at night that doesnt bother me. i think it takes a maturing of thought to realise that we only have eachother on this rock of a planet and we should really make the most of it while we are here.

  30. Facehammer
    June 8th, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

    Truly pitiful, Chris. Or trolltacular.

  • Basic Assumptions

    First, there is a God.

    Continue Reading...

  • Search

  • Quote of the Day

    • Fifty Random Links

      See them all on the links page.

      • No Blogroll Links