The baggage of religious belief

Over at En Tequila es Verdad, Dana wrote (in response to this post):

Getting over gods is a great start, but it’s only a beginning. Once the gods are gone, we’re left with people, and civilization, and all of the imperfections that plague both. I’m sorry, but losing religion doesn’t mean all problems are solved. Religion amplifies some of our worst qualities, but those are still human qualities, and they remain once religion is gone.

I used to think it would be easier to fix things like sexism and homophobia and racism once religion was gone. But looking at how so many of our atheist celebrities and their fans have reacted to even the most mild requests to please not make sexist assumptions or do sexist things, I’ve realized it can actually be harder. The men (and some women) who have let go of gods seem so assured of their own rightness that they refuse to listen to the people affected by their words and actions. They sneer at the evidence presented, although they pretend that evidence is important to them. They don’t question their assumptions. They don’t do the hard work, but worse, don’t believe they need to. They got what they feel is the most important question right. They coast on that. And when people don’t go along for the ride, they get pissed.

I agree with her (obviously). Eliminating religion and religious belief will likely make the world a little better, but it’s not going to make the world a harmonious one because there are a host of other problems that exist. These problems are independent of religion, but they are also interconnected with religion. Religious belief helps sustain and propagate many of the social ills in the world.  As I wrote on Dana’s blog:

This is something I think a lot of atheists don’t realize. I remember thinking (years ago) that so many of the world’s problems would be solved if we eliminated religion. But that’s a privileged view to have. I was only aware of how religion impacted people. I didn’t notice how sexism, racism, homophobia (this one I understood to *some* extent), transphobia, ableism, ageism and the rest affected the lives of others. Nor did I realize that all those social ills affected people in big *and* small ways. I also didn’t realize how religion didn’t create social ills, but served to amplify them. Hell, I because of my privilege, I didn’t even see how religion amplified social ills, by providing a huge base of support for them.
Except I did, at least with regard to one social ill: homophobia.

Being gay, I saw (and continue to see) how religion and religious beliefs are used to sustain homophobia. You see it in the news almost everyday. 10 years ago, I’d have said religion is the cause of homophobia. Today, I know that’s not true. Religion propagates homophobia, but it doesn’t create it.

You’d think that would have been a big clue for me about other social ills not originating from religion. Alas, that was not the case.

Again: privilege.
I had no idea how sexism and misogyny affected women.
I knew nothing of how transphobia wrecked havoc on the lives of trans people.
I knew very little of how religion twisted the lives of and fucked over people of color.
It took listening to people from other marginalized groups and paying attention to what they said for me to realize that “Hey, the world doesn’t revolve around me and my problems. Other people have shit they’re dealing with and that shit is awful. I ought to pay attention to that stuff too!”

Once I saw that there are a host of social ills, many of which I don’t deal with, I began to see them everywhere. I also began to see how religion helps support those ills. I realized that religious belief isn’t limited to belief in god. I know of no theist who simply believes in god. There is baggage that accompanies god-belief:
what you can eat
when you can eat
what you can wear
who you can date
what activities you can enjoy
your views on women
your views on economics
your views on gay people
your views of trans people
your views on the environment
your views on gender roles
your views on corporal punishment
your views on capital punishment
your views on mercy
your views on morality
and more.

God-belief carries baggage.

This is what the dictionary atheists refuse to even contemplate. They think atheism is just about not believing in gods. That’s true in the strictest definition of the word. But what then? Once you reject god belief, what else? For them, they say there is nothing else. For me, I say there’s a fuckton of something else, because there are a host of beliefs that are influenced by god-belief.
If, for your entire life, you thought the role of women was to be in the home, caring for children and tending to housework and you thought that largely bc of your religious beliefs what does that mean for that belief when you become an atheist?
If, for your entire life, you thought that it was ok to beat (read: spanking by far too many people-this shit is child abuse) your children to raise them up strong in the eyes of the lord, and you reject god-belief, ought that not affect your thinking on corporal punishment?
If, for your entire life, you thought that gay people were immoral bc God said so (providing no justification for it, just decreeing it), and you stop believing in God, doesn’t this say something about your homophobia? Shouldn’t you reexamine that view?

The answer to all of those is YES. You ought to reexamine the views you have, bc they find so much support from religious beliefs. If you reject God, you should be prepared to examine a host of biases, beliefs, and prejudices you hold because there is a connection. Rejecting God-belief ought to lead people to becoming better. But only if they realize that there god-belief carries baggage and you’ve got to be willing to check your privilege *and* your baggage.

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The baggage of religious belief
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