Just a Thought

Awhile ago I did a post about Terror Management Theory and then a follow up to it. This led me to scribble a note late one night as I was about to fall asleep. I just found the note and it still made sense! So I wanted to share it with you.


Often, atheists feel that religious people, new agers, etc., need to rid themselves of their religion completely. While I don't believe accommodationism is an appropriate goal, I think asking people to start over with nothing but a vacuum (not an accurate description, but how it would be perceived) is unrealistic and will almost always be rejected.

Instead, what about getting rid of just the worst influences? For instance, a recipe calls for lard and bacon fat. Get rid of the lard and replace it with something healthy and equally satisfying. Then later get rid of the bacon fat and replace it with something healthy and satisfying.

Let the people understand that it's a healthy replacement and that their worldview is not threatened, just improved.

This is how I did it, in stages.  Baby steps. Instead of threatening and attacking, perhaps use humor and thoughtful Socratic questioning . Maybe it could work?

Definitely add Critical Thinking to the recipe first! :)


What do you think? What would you take out first from the recipe? What would you replace it with?


  1. I think that overall it is a good idea, but difficult when the people on the other side of the argument feel that lard and bacon fat are the ingredients that are ordained by the supreme creator of the universe, and that to substitute margarine and canola oil constitute an affront to their deity, who commands them specifically to suffer no purveyor of vegetable-based lipids to live.

  2. That goes along with thoughts I was having this weekend. While for my part I will never fit in an organized religion, I understand its appeal. Getting rid of the worst features would satisfy me: most Christians no longer feel like it's important to uphold slavery just because it was common in the Bible, for example, so we can continue in that vein. Even better, we have historical evidence that Islam can also exist comfortably and be tolerant, so we know that the task is achievable. Things on my to-ditch list:

    Child abuse and children as poker chips. Some obvious examples include explicit mandatory practices like male circumcision in Jewish sects and refusal of medical care in faith healing sects; implicit mandatory practices like female genital mutilation in some Muslim countries (it's not an explicit part of Islam but has long been condone by it and bundled with it culturally); and implicitly condoned or overlooked practices like child abuse by priests, especially (but not exclusively) in the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, the detestable practice of condemning abortion under all circumstances in the name of children, yet complete lack of regard for the care, health, well-being, and education of the same children once they are born, shows well how they are used as game tokens. This has to stop.
    Misogyny. Many religions around the world have made misogyny part of their tenets, but among those Islam, right-wing Christians, Mormons, and ultra-orthodox Jews are particularly spectacular. (Hindus don't necessarily win any prizes either.)
    Racism. Again, Mormons shine here, even though they have made some progress. Their doctrine is inherently offensive to non-lily-white peoples.
    Homophobia. Right-wing Christians need to stop making shit up and digging up the few meagre Bible quotes that seem even vaguely relevant about homosexuality. Bottom line: the authors of the Bible didn't much care, not nearly as much as lots of other "sins", and quote-mining just makes Christians look like cherry-picking bigots.
    Absolute militancy. Any requirement that the entire world embrace your religion should be dropped here and now. Threats of death for apostasy are unacceptable. If you think refusing your religion is such a terrible thing, leave it to your god to sort it out with the offenders. You'd think the deity would have it all under control, no?
    Exclusive leadership. Organized religious group who, like the Roman Catholic Church, make it impossible for half the membership to participate in the leadership solely through accident of birth, and make the selection of their leaders an authoritarian, undemocratic, secret process need to step into, say, the nineteenth century or more recent times. Hindus and the caste system are another version of this, despite some improvements in the 20th century. If there is no possible way I can accede to leadership from the very day I am born, before I have made a single decision in my life, then I'm not a member of your club and you have no moral authority over me.

  3. I find that "Baby Steps" are required for almost any major change for people, any change to process or way of thinking - so I would totally agree with you here.
    And you know what, this very thing you are suggesting is a baby-step for athiests/skeptics as well.

  4. The problem is that critical thinking would lead them to think thoughts they don't want to think. When that happens, what do you suppose they're more likely to drop, their beliefs or their newly acquired critical thinking skills?

  5. My problem with religion is the lard. That's why e.g. (religious) Judaism and Buddhism don't tend to bother me.

  6. I think if most of us look back on how we became atheists, we would say that we became critical thinkers first. In fact I can remember sitting in my first real college history class, being taught to think critically by a joyful master of such, and just feeling the windows and doors opening in my mind. I certainly didn't go into the class thinking I needed to rind myself of blind faith and the syllabus didn't list it as an objective. But it started that very first semester of college.

    So, while I certainly think we need to stand up and be counted as non-believers, and that foolish and hateful ideas deserve public ridicule, the way to bring someone out of darkness is not to tell them they are stupid, but by engaging their natural human desire to be awed and to learn. Real learning and understanding will most likely result in a more nuanced and humanistic worldview if not completely atheistic.

    That we should work for such a world is a realistic goal I can live with.

  7. I was please to meet and host Charles Kimball (a progressive Baptist minister - i know, right?) several years ago for a discussion on his book "When Religion Becomes Evil". A good read with some honest ideas. His checklist includes the following:

    Absolute Truth Claims
    Blind Obedience
    Establishing the "Ideal" Time
    The End Justifies Any Means
    Declaring Holy War

    All well and good, and his critique come from a good and honest place. But, to channel Hitchens, if you remove all of this evil stuff, what need is there religion? What can it do that good literature, mature secular ethics and humanistic civilization can not provide? Take away that checklist and it seems to me that all you have left is window dressing and habit.

  8. I've been thinking on this, Anthony. I agree with your conclusion. I think some people don't really want to learn, though, and I think you can be a critical thinker in some areas and be a true believer in others.
    I myself fell into that after becoming an atheist. I still believed in pseudoscientific woo for awhile, until I discovered skepticism and started applying it to all areas of my life.

    But yes, I think telling someone they are wrong or stupid for their beliefs (threatening their worldview) is counterproductive and just leads people to dig their heels in.
    So hopefully you're right. :) It's worth the effort to try! :)

  9. Agreed, Anthony!
    Humanism covers all the bases without the need for the supernatural or a deity. We get even more good than religion has ever provided, and none of the bad that it has. Win-Win! :)

  10. Ha! Yes, I have a problem with the lard too. :)

  11. I agree, Zaph, you're right. Both sides need to take baby steps.

  12. Thanks, Sophie. I agree, those things need to be ditched now.
    I really don't see that there would be anything appealing about religion that you can't get even better from Humanism.

  13. Excellent point, Edmund. :(
    Well said, as usual!