Religion relies on social consent to perpetuate itself. So we have to refuse that social consent.
This is an idea I’ve been kicking around and alluding to in passing for some time, and I wanted to give it its own post.
Religion is a bad idea. It can’t stand up on its own. But it can — and does — perpetuate itself through social consent. It perpetuates itself through people not asking hard questions, or indeed any. It perpetuates itself through dogma saying that asking questions about religion is sinful and will result in punishment, and that trusting religion without evidence is virtuous. It perpetuates itself through dogma saying that joy and meaning and morality can only be found in religion, and that leaving religion will automatically result in a desperate, amoral, pointless life. It perpetuates itself through parents and other authority figures teaching it to children, whose brains are extra-vulnerable to believing whatever they’re taught. It perpetuates itself through social and even legal protections that keep religious leaders and organizations from suffering consequences when they behave despicably. It perpetuates itself through religious communities and support systems that make believing in religion — or pretending to believe in religion — a necessity to function and indeed survive. Etc. Etc. Etc. (More examples are welcomed in the comments.)
Religion perpetuates itself through social consent.
So those of us who think religion is a bad idea — mistaken at best, flat-out harmful at worst — have to deny our consent.
But there are a zillion other things we can do as well. We can support atheist billboard and bus ad campaigns. We can support groups that are doing atheist organization and visibility work — especially among young people. We can work to form and strengthen atheist communities, and make those communities more visible — to make the atheism option harder to ignore, and to give people who are questioning their religion a safe place to land. We can treat religion as just another hypothesis about the world, and stop treating it with special deference. We can speak out against religious absurdities and religious atrocities — and point out how religion itself, and its uniquely untestable nature, contributes to and perpetuates them. We can point out that even progressive and moderate religion perpetuates the idea of faith — the idea that it’s acceptable and even virtuous to believe things you have no good reason to think are true. We can live good, happy, meaningful atheist lives, and give the lie to the idea that that’s impossible. We can go to the atheist march on Washington in March 2012. We can put atheist bumper stickers on our car; link to stories about atheism on Facebook and Twitter; organize an atheist bowling team. Etc. Etc. Etc. (Again — more examples are welcomed in the comments.)
There are a zillion different ways for us to deny this social consent. Coming out is just one of them.
Refusing our social consent to religion will have a snowball effect. It is having a snowball effect.
So let’s keep the snowball rolling.