Monday, November 19, 2012

Response to the Oatmeal's article on religion "How to suck at your religion"

The Oatmeal is a really popular online comic which addresses many issues. I'm not sure when it was published, but one article is titled "How to suck at your religion". The author uses many pieces of false information and lies to convey the idea that religious people are by-and-large not very good people. He lists several reasons. I will proceed to refute the arguments he presents:

1) Does your religion make you judge people?
First of all, it's ironic that he thinks judgement is a bad thing then proceeds to severely judge religious people. Christians are told to judge not lest ye be judge. We are not to judge people, but we are to decide which actions are morally right and which are wrong. Everyone in fact does this.

2) Does your religion hinder the advancement of science?
This is a perennial accusation made against religion. The fact is Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, have in fact cultivated science. Many of the top scientists in the world were priests. Very religious scientists included Louis Pasteur, Nicholai Copernicus, and Georges LeMaitres. There are countless others as well. To illustrate his point, the author uses the example of Galileo and his heliocentric theory. There is too much to disprove here, but suffice it to say, the Church only wanted Galileo to be absolutely certain of his findings until they were declared official (most scientists opposed his ideas), and usually the Galileo case is the only one people can cite as an example of an anti-science attitude in the Church. This goes to show it is not very common.

The author also makes the regrettably amateurish criticism of the Church that it opposes stem cell research in general. Even a cursory glimpse of the issue would reveal that the Church supports adult and umbilical cord stem cell research but only opposes the harvesting of stem cells from embryonic human beings. The author implies that opposition to "stem cells" from the Church has prevented a cure for diseases like leukemia. In actuality, embryonic stem cells have yielded no positive results and scientists are moving further away from embryonic stem cells and toward the adult variety which have produced many positive results.

3) Choosing your own religion
The author then illustrate the "correct" way to teach your children about religion. It is to just tell them about every conceivable belief system and tell them to choose one. This is nonsense for many reasons. Children, by their very nature, inherit the beliefs of their parents concerning countless issues, whether it's government, morality, nutrition, etc. No parenting book would advocate teaching children every conceivable way of thinking for every conceivable topic. Parents also impart their language, culture, heritage, nationality, etc. to their children. No one complains about this. But because some people do not want children to have any religion, they advocate not passing it on. The fact of the matter is parents impart everything to their children. Upon reaching adulthood, people will decide whether or not they want to continue with these traditions which were handed down. The same goes for religion.

To further make the point that parents ought not pass down religion to children, the Oatmeal author compares it to a child choosing her favorite color. In the example, she says her favorite color is green and the parent objects that she must choose another color because she's wrong. I'm assuming he wasn't making a serious point since this is a comic. It doesn't follow that just because a parent doesn't pass down every little detail of thought to a child, this therefore leads to the conclusion that parents ought to teach their kids nothing at all. This is absurd. A favorite color is a pure matter of opinion, whereas bigger issues such as religion are not.

4) Sexuality
The author then rhetorically asks if religion gives you anxieties about your sexuality. Religion does teach a proper role for sex in everyone's life. You can see the devastation caused in our society by adultery, pornography, rape, and other forms of sexual perversion. When it comes to sexuality, studies have shown religious people to be far more satisfied. I do not see modern attitudes toward sexuality as any kind of good argument that it's somehow beneficial or better than religious attitudes.

5) Sharing your religion
The author is also critical of people who share their religion with others. His basic point is you can have a religion, just keep it to yourself. But I'm not sure what he's so worried about. Are you that threatened by what other people believe? If someone talked about a sport with which you are unfamiliar, would you get mad at that person and say how dare you tell me about that sport! What if they spoke about some political idea. Most people wouldn't mind. So why do some people seem to get so offended that others are talking about their religion?

Another point I heard the other day and which was attributed to Penn Jillette who is an atheist is that he expects religious people to try to share their religion. If these people truly believe the eternal souls of millions of people are at risk, it would seem very unloving to not let anyone know. He compared it to some impending disaster, I forget what exactly (maybe an oncoming truck), and said it would be your duty to tell people to watch out or to be prepared. This is logical.

6) Mocking other religions
The author perhaps has a point here. He rhetorically asks if you mock other peoples' religion. He essentially says others could easily do the same to you. Mockery is not productive and it is better to talk about facts and use logic and reason to defend your points. It reminds me of something related which Jimmy Akin once said. He was talking about the word "cult" and said he doesn't use it to describe other religions because it is simply a perjorative term and has no real value because the definition can change so easily. Again, it is better to respond in a clear, logical way, rather than using insults.

7) Using religion to inform your political decisions
In this section, the author basically implies religion shouldn't be used as an evaluation criteria in politics. This would make sense for an atheist, but makes none for a religion person. Religion incorporates morality and ethics. These are central when making political decisions. Atheists must derive their morality in some other way, but to the religious person, these morals guide their life and cannot be neglected at the voting booth.

8) Dying or killing for your religion
The Oatmeal author now asks if you would die or kill for your religion. Of course from this atheist's perspective, religion is pointless so obviously it would make no sense to die for something pointless. Surprisingly, this is where his logic ends. He mockingly creates a person who is about to jump off a bridge because his religion told him to. Again, religion for many people goes to the deepest core of their being. It teaches them how to live, and religious people believe in ultimate realities, things which go beyond our own lives. Therefore, there are things for which many religious would die because it represents an ideal so important that it is worth it.

In terms of "killing" for one's religion, that's a different story. I'm not sure how that could exactly be said in a Catholic context. Catholics must turn the other cheek, and can be martyrs, but you cannot kill to bring about some desired good. Therefore, I do not see any cases where murdering someone for the faith would be acceptable. There is a Christian doctrine of Just War which describes when war can be justified, but I do not think there are any specifically religious reasons for killing someone in a just war.

9) Does your religion make you better?
Finally, after mocking religion for quite some time, the author asks if your religion makes you happier or a better person. If so, he says, then you should carry on. He adds that you should not try to evangelize anyone else though (my response to this idea in point #5).

Final Thoughts
The Oatmeal can be funny at times, but in this particular article, the author really didn't do his homework. Beside contradicting himself, and being very mocking, he gets a lot of information wrong which could have been located with a Google search. It's important to know that his criticisms of religion do have responses. I hope mine prove somewhat helpful.

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