December 4, 2011

Why It Makes People Uncomfortable When You Talk About Your Religious Beliefs

keep your religion to yourselfI have heard many religious believers, mostly Christians, ask why it makes other people uncomfortable when they talk about their religious beliefs. It is a fair question, and as you might expect, different people are going to have many different answers. I'll highlight a few of the reasons it makes me uncomfortable. Please recognize that my reasons may be a bit different from those of other atheists based on differences in our experiences.

Let me acknowledge at the outset that it does indeed make me a bit uncomfortable when someone begins to talk about their religious beliefs, especially when I do not know the person very well. The primary reasons for this are as follows:
  1. I was raised in an environment where religion was a private matter, and it was considered rude to talk about it with people one didn't know fairly well. This leaves me reacting in a visceral way with something like "I don't know you that well" or "we don't have that kind of relationship" when a casual acquaintance or stranger approaches me to talk about their religious beliefs or ask about mine. For me, a complete stranger asking where I attend church is comparable to how you might feel if a complete stranger were to ask you when you last had sex. It is an intrusive violation of privacy.
  2. I worry that I might laugh in your face. I don't say this to be mean, but I find religious beliefs so absurd that my immediate reaction tends to be very similar to how I would react if you told me that you can fly like Superman. Because I generally try to be polite in social situations, the amount of self-censorship required of me when you bring up your religious beliefs can be taxing.
  3. I have little use for one-way conversations. I have found that most of the time people bring up their religious beliefs, they are interested in having them confirmed by others and not critically evaluated. I am not only not going to do this, but I might criticize your beliefs. Since this is typically met with hostility, these one-way conversations quickly become uncomfortable. If you've ever been in a conversation where you felt like the other party didn't want to hear what you thought, you know what I mean.
I cannot speak for other atheists, but these are the main reasons it makes me uncomfortable when you approach me to talk about your religious beliefs. I do support your right to your religious beliefs; I do not support your right to involve me in your religious beliefs against my will.