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Antireligious Discourse
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The "Religious Tolerance" thread, as well as a couple of others, are generating some interesting conversations.

But I wanted to address something that Roy said specificially. It was this:

It's all well and good to say that no one should impose their beliefs or disbeliefs on others, but neither should they impose their opinions about sufficient evidence on others.

To which I would answer: Why not?

Now, if you mean by "impose", actually forcibly converting someone to your way of thinking (ala an Inquisition), then yeah, you're right.

But what's wrong with people directly challenging one another's beliefs? Many Christians go around witnessing to others because they think Jesus is better than sliced bread, and they want as many people as possible to share in the joy and salvation. Some believe that they're saving souls, freeing them from an afterlife of hell and torment.

In a wholly different vein, I think that religious ideology has a net negative effect on society. I think society would be vastly improved in nearly every way if people were more skeptical, critical, and rational.

Benjamin Franklin wrote a satirical piece for the Pennsylvania Gazette entitled "A Witch Trial at Mount Holly" in which he mocked the still very prevalent popular belief in witchcraft among colonists.

He thought such a belief was irrational and harmful to society, even though witch trials and burnings were no longer commonplace.

Was he wrong to do so?

Likewise, is it somehow unkind or rude to challenge someone's belief in astrology, if you think it's hogwash?

Many people answer that it's harmless, that people don't really take it all that seriously. Let them have their innocent beliefs in silly things.

The problem is, widespread irrationality affects society as a whole, thus affecting the individuals in that society.

I so no sensible argument against an individual strongly challenging the underpinnings of another person's faith. If that person doesn't like it, they can go about their business, believing whatever they want to believe. But their ideas should not be immune to criticism, and there's no good reason why those same ideas shouldn't be put to scrutiny. If they can't hold up under pressure, they're probably not very sound to begin with.

So the whole, "just let people believe whatever they want" seems pretty damned silly to me. People shouldn't be let off the hook, allowed to nestle down into the safety of their preconceptions, with their beliefs held tightly to their chests, gone unchallenged. One of the most important functions of an open society is the dynamism that results from constant challenges to orthodoxy.

It's how we grow. It's how we better ourselves. It's who we are.

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