August 25, 2011

Religious Stupidity vs. Other Forms of Stupidity

StupidityOne experience that is probably universal, shared by nearly everyone regardless of their thoughts on religion, is that of hearing someone else say something incredibly stupid. Haven't we all had this experience many times? We do not always react the same way when we hear someone say something stupid. Our reaction is influenced by things like the nature of our relationship with the person and the context in which the statement occurs. For example, I will react differently when my best friend says something stupid than when my boss does. Still, I think it would be fair to characterize our reactions as typically involving some mixture of surprise, laughter, and disdain or pity.

Some people - mostly religious people but some atheists too - insist that our response should be different when the content of the stupid statement is religious. They want to carve out an exemption for religious stupidity so that it brings a different sort of response, usually one that is far more muted.

When a close friend tells me that she always reads her horoscope in the daily paper because she cannot imagine navigating her day without the information it provides, I am free to laugh.
Are you serious? You can't possibly believe that!
Many of the religious people I know would respond in precisely this way too. None of us would give it a second thought.

But when the stupid statement is an expression of religious belief, everything is supposed to change. When my friend tells me that she plans to baptize her child for the health of his eternal soul, I am not supposed to respond like I did above. Instead, I am supposed to keep my laughter to myself and simply nod. Why is one flavor of bullshit to be treated so differently than another?

The usual answer is that someone's religious beliefs are important in a way other beliefs aren't. My religious friend is assumed to hold her religious beliefs dear in unique way. Therefore, we are not supposed to mock her (even though she is certainly free to mock Mormonism and Scientology). But what if my astrology-loving friend feels the same way about her star charts? And why is the strength of one's delusion an acceptable indicator of how the rest of us should behave?

I am becoming increasingly comfortable rejecting the supposed difference between religious stupidity and other forms of stupidity. I recognize it as the product of religious privilege, and I am convinced that religious privilege must go.

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