‘Most of these people’, Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix, ‘are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.’
Occasionally the producers of 4thought, Channel 4’s atheist-inclusive answer to Thought for the Day, get in touch with me when they’re looking for heathens. I’m visiting London next week to be filmed myself, but I recently referred them to Sue Cox from Survivors Voice Europe. I can’t embed the video, but go watch it here before you read on. It’s excellent. Below on the 4thought website, a user called J. Shelley leaves the following comment.
The hate preaching started with an elderly woman (Sue Cox) walking onto the screen, sitting down in a chair and proclaiming that she was an atheist and ‘recovered’ catholic (implying that having a love for Jesus is nothing more than a disease).
I felt butchered by this attack. At no point in my faith in God; have I ever attacked people, discriminated them or harassed them for believing contrary to my beliefs. What you have done is horrible. Not only rude but also immoral! Going against the very objective that you sort to present! If my love for God is a disease; then I am glad to be infected because loving our fellow man, caring for each other and loving Jesus who set this example, is a good thing!
You made me feel like a victim, while I waited for the next program to begin (Inside Nature’s Giants).
What you did was utterly distasteful and immoral!
Those pesky rape survivors. I mean, really. How dare they talk about what happened to them? Perhaps Sue doesn’t realise this makes her a horrible, immoral, hate preaching, victimising butcher. But here’s the thing: Sue is an addiction therapist. She doesn’t see religion as a disease, she sees it as a dependency. (So did Karl Marx, who compared it to opium. So did Nietzsche, who compared it to alcohol. So does Maryam Namaziee, who compares it to smoking. So do I.) The thing about addictions is they take over your life; once dependent enough, you can see your habit as part of you, not just something you engage in. So it’s unsurprising that we see this kind of indignation a lot when we criticise churches – even when speaking in the broadest worldwide terms, or about the most narrowly personal experience.
Last September, Joseph Ratzinger visited Berlin just as he’d visited Britain the year before. I’d only just moved here, and I joined the demonstration against him after finding its Facebook page. Across it were strewn comments from outraged believers – taken aback at how disrespectfully they’d been treated, determined to show their faith wasn’t like the Pope’s, anxious to assert they weren’t involved in the Vatican’s past. We face this from our parents too, when we’re told despite the most obvious contrary evidence that real Christians don’t believe in Hell. We face it when Muslims tell us real Islam never leads to violence. In each case, the people to whom we’re talking become defensive. They respond as if it’s them on trial, as if the only relevant form of their religion is the one they practice, failing to engage with the average realties of how faiths play out across the world.
Particularly in faiths which target the young, and ones which have strong ties to minority ethnic or national identity – Islam in the West is one example, as is Catholicism in many areas – belief is never simply something you hold, but something you are. I don’t want to sound too much like Darrel Ray, who examines these issues far more closely than I can, but it strikes me these belief-memes have a very strong defence mechanism in that sense. It makes it difficult, much of the time, for believers to understand they aren’t personally under attack when their religion (as practiced by them or others) is scrutinised. It makes it hard for us, even if we’re very clear about what we’re saying, to get past that emotional wall.
I don’t claim to know how we should deal with this issue – how we get believers ‘ready to be unplugged’. I’d certainly be interested to know what people think. I do think it’s something to consider often, though.