The Other Reason Why Your Beliefs Affect Me

Earlier this week, I wrote a post regarding some of the reasons why even “harmless” religious beliefs affect nonbelievers. The basic idea was because being an atheist is considered weird and being religious is considered normal, all non-private expressions of faith reinforce the status quo, which is bad for atheists (like me).

I think those are good, real, concrete reasons why even moderate, non-hateful, non-proselytizing religion is bad for atheists and bad for society, but it’s not the whole story, as far as I am concerned. The other reason that I am bothered by so-called “harmless” religious beliefs is that I have a strong emotional reaction to bad ideas.

Emotionally, I am usually rather stoic in the face of suffering. While I am affected by injustice and pain inflicted on others, I am generally able to look at it in a relatively detached manner. Peta commercials don’t stir my heartstrings. Photos of starving children don’t send me running to my computer to donate. I can usually discuss any topic, even topics that are of personal importance to me, in a dispassionate manner. I can watch a loved one cry and still think clearly about how to solve whatever problem is inspiring the tears.

I consider this a weakness. Part of being a good person, to me, is caring about things that do not affect you directly. I struggle with this. I often see people that I respect fly into righteous fury over injustices suffered by people that they have never met. I see people I love feel deep compassion for total strangers. I see people of very little means give all that they can because Some Things Are That Important. I do not do any of these things, and it often causes me, much to my shame, to doubt whether I truly care about anyone but myself.

That being said, there is one area where I become passionate about injustice that has little effect on me directly. I am very strongly emotionally affected by the existence of bad ideas. By “bad ideas,” I am referring specifically to false beliefs held by a person who does not care (or cares very little) whether such beliefs are true. The reasons why this affects me so much are not terribly important, and I’m not even sure I know what they are. Bad ideas, like injustice, like poverty, like bigotry, are all around us and will never go away. My reaction to them is just as irrational as the most bloody of bleeding hearts’ reactions to war, police brutality, or the death of Jerry Garcia. I know this. 

But I treasure my reaction. When I experience it, I am reminded that there are things outside of myself that I care about. That my life is not limited merely to a selfish, egocentric existence.* I love this about myself, and I would never change it, regardless of the pain it causes me.

When people ask me “why do my beliefs matter to you?” I will probably direct them to my other post, because what I’ve said there is true, and is a very big part of why I struggle against religion and other forces of unreason. But if you’re reading this, then you know that there is more to it than that, and I hope that you will not hold it against me.

 

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*metaphysically, I belief that all consciousness is entirely selfish, but in a way that is irrelevant to what I am discussing here.

2 responses to “The Other Reason Why Your Beliefs Affect Me

  1. something that matters a lot to me these days is definitions. You mentioned ‘selfish’ a lot. Ayn Rand wrote a very important book on the subject, if you’re interested, called ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’. I believe it was one of the better ideas expressed in the history of philosophy.

  2. Nat, this is the second time you’ve brought up Ayn Rand on this blog. You’ve done so respectfully, but in a way that communicates two things: (1) that you think Ayn Rand is the bees’ knees, and (2) that you are looking for excuses to bring her up, even where she is not relevant. I feel this is misguided, as nobody on this blog has anything but contempt for Ayn Rand or Randian philosophy.

    Ayn Rand is one of the most immoral thinkers of the 20th century. Her crackpot libertarianism is completely unrealistic, and serves largely to justify rich people’s opinions that they are “better” than anyone less affluent. While she was a nonmonogamous atheist (which you’d think would get her some points here), instead of approaching religion or sexuality from a skeptical position, she started her own sex cult, with herself as the annointed leader of a cabal of fanatical acolytes.

    Her toxic influence continues to infect our politics to this day in profound and awful ways. Ayn Rand is one of the worst influences that anyone could have. Please do not bring her up again as if she is a role model.

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