It's About Time That The Religious Are No Longer A Protected Class

The following is a question asked of Daniel Dennett, and his answer which was in the Washington Post the other day. My comments are below.

Q: Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?

There is no media bias against Christianity. If it appears to some people that there is, it is probably because after decades of hyper-diplomacy and a generally accepted mutual understanding that religion was not to be criticized, we have finally begun breaking through that taboo and are beginning to see candid discussions of the varieties of religious folly in American life. Activities that would be condemned by all if they were not cloaked in the protective mantle of religion are beginning to be subjected to proper scrutiny.

There is still a lot to accomplish however. We need to change the prevailing assumptions in the same way that public opinion has been reversed on drunk driving. When I was young, drunk drivers tended to be excused because, after all, they were drunk! Today, happily, we hold them doubly culpable for any misdeeds they commit while under the influence.

I look forward to the day when violence done under the influence of religious passion is considered more dishonorable, more shameful, than crimes of avarice, and is punished accordingly, and religious leaders who incite such acts are regarded with the same contempt that we reserve for bartenders who send dangerously disabled people out onto the highways.

I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming, about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty. Telling pious lies to trusting children is a form of abuse, plain and simple. If quacks and bunko artists can be convicted of fraud for selling worthless cures, why not clergy for making their living off unsupported claims of miracle cures and the efficacy of prayer?

The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all. I don't see bankers or stockbrokers wringing their hands because the media is biased against them; they know that their recent activities have earned them an unwanted place in the spotlight of public attention and criticism, and they get no free pass, especially given their power. Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light. If they detect that the media are giving them a harder time today than in the past, that is because the bias that protected religion from scrutiny is beginning to dissolve. High time.

By Daniel C. Dennett | January 12, 2010

Dennett is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His most recent book was Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

A few notes:

My first reaction is to disagree with Daniel Dennett. I think there is a definite bias towards religion in this society, which carries over into the media.

For example, watch a football game with the crybaby Tim Tebow playing. They never fail to mention how pious he is and how his parents are ministers, or some other such dreck. What the hell does that have to do with him throwing the ball down the field? Nothing. But the commentators (and whoever decides on such content) feel the need to share a heartwarming story. It's biased. I've never once heard them mention godlessness in a sport, only how religious sports people are. It's nauseating. Like that makes them better people. Watch their behavior and you'll see they are no better than anyone else, or often they can be worse.

I agree with Mr. Dennett. It's about damned time that we hold religious people and institutions accountable when they lie and cause hurt, either directly or indirectly through propaganda and hate-mongering.

I think indoctrinating children with religion and lies is harmful and often abusive. I have no idea how we can even tackle this though.

We also need to work harder on stopping quacks and pseudoscience proponents like Oprah, Jenny McCarthy and anyone else who lies to the public to promote their own agenda. We do so little to stop this sort of harm. So much more needs to be done to hold people who lie for a living accountable. Of course, this includes the religious, including the pope who is just as human as the rest of us, and whose lies are deadly to people in Africa and around the world.

Unfortunately it's true that religious institutions and many religious leaders are powerful in America and around the world. Why should they be given carte blanche to do whatever they like, even if it is to molest children, or to spread hate, fear and lies, all while not paying taxes?

I wonder how much we really do scrutinize religion, the religious and their institutions, though. Not nearly enough, I'm afraid. But at least we're getting somewhere. Now, let's make them pay taxes. If they can bilk people of their hard earned savings while lying to them and using their pulpit for political agendas, shouldn't they have to pay taxes too?


  1. Hear, hear. Why people get such deference and even special rights based on a chosen lifestyle is beyond me. Nobody would dream of pretending one's political party or career choice meant they deserved any more reverence than another person. But mention their "faith" or "religion" and suddenly you have to walk on eggshells, or bow down to them like they're something special.

  2. I agree, Buffy! It's crazy. Just because someone has an invisible friend in the sky, we are supposed to treat them special? Insane.

  3. Good post, Neece! My level of intolerance for all the lying hypocrites who call themselves "saved" rises by the day.

  4. I really enjoyed your blog. Great posts! Please continue posting such profound cotent.