I had a conversation earlier today with someone that accused me of being offensive because I said that her beliefs are silly and akin to magic. While I can definitely see why someone might take umbrage at this statement, I’d like to actually break this down and see if calling religion silly is offensive in and of itself. Before we get in to that, let’s start with magic.
Definition of Magic (bold emphasis and [ ] comments mine)
1 a : the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces
b : magic rites or incantations [such as prayer]
2 a : an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source
b : something that seems to cast a spell : enchantment [again, like prayer… a series of words spoken in order to achieve a desired result]
As we can see, it is far from a stretch to equate religion with magic. Religion, like magic, invokes supernatural powers to explain our creation, attribute miracles to their god, ask for rewards (both in this life and the afterlife), and even to explain the supposed resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not offensive to equate religion with magic, it is at best a semantic argument– and a poor one at that.
What about calling religion silly? While I will admit a poor choice in words, I stand by my assessment. If I had thought about it, perhaps illogical or irrational would be a word better suited to describe my thoughts on religion. However, as these are synonyms of silly (albeit slightly less loaded), I still believe it is a fair term to use to describe a belief system that trades logic for faith. This is not to say that I believe religious people are stupid, obviously quite a few intelligent people are people of faith. I do believe that, regardless of intelligence, there is a disconnect between rational thought and religious fervor. This is considered offensive because people do not like to be called irrational.
However, the fact of the matter is that our society constantly validates belief in god. It is on our money, it was added to our pledge of allegiance during the red scare, and it permeates our culture so deeply that seeing references to christianity, faith, or religion in news, media, music, and even advertisements is a daily occurrence if you’re paying attention. An atheist saying that he or she does not believe in god and that those who do are illogical is offensive, but saying that you believe in a literal interpretation of John 14:6 and that everyone who does not agree with your religious beliefs will burn in hell somehow gets a free pass. It’s mind-bogglingly hypocritical. If you get to believe that I will burn in hell for all of time after I die, then I get to believe that you’re a bit unbalanced when it comes to your religious beliefs. I consider that a reasonable trade-off.
I’m not entirely sure where the religious persecution complex comes from– barring minor quibbles over methods and timeframes for baptism, predestination vs. free will, and whether or not statues of saints are a form of idolatry, the VAST majority of this country are in agreement that there is a personal, loving god who sent his son Jesus Chris to die for their sins. The war on Christmas, ridiculous anecdotal chain emails about religion or the bible being “banned” from public schools, the “secularization of society”– it truly seems that christians feel they are constantly under attack. No one is feeding you to lions, no one is forcing you to accept the mark of the beast in order to partake in commerce, no one is burning down your church.
That would just be silly.