Pat Condell insults religion, or how religious antagonism needs a closer look

I used to like Pat Condell. Well, I still like him, but he lost me a bit with some of his anti-Islamic screeds. He's losing me a bit more now, with his latest rant about how we should all proudly insult religion:

Look. I don't like religion either. I think it's irrational and generally divisive, and I'm not afraid to say so. And when it comes to certain fundamentalists or science-denying stupidity, I'm not above some mockery myself. But here's the thing: most religion people aren't actually raving nutjobs. They're normal people. If any atheist doubts this, it's probably time to stop watching Christopher Hitchens videos on Youtube and get out of the house for a change.

The problem I see with Pat Condell's firebrand anti-theism is that it paints all believers with the same brush and, in the process, shuts off what could otherwise be a constructive dialogue. Believers, just like atheists, don't like to have their intelligence insulted. Most believers are not stupid or irrational in general, and many are amenable to discussion. If someone asks me if I "respect" religion, the answer is no, I don't. Like all bad ideas, it doesn't deserve respect unto itself. But I respect people's right to believe what they will, and I respect the fact that highly intelligent people who are right about lots of things can be dead wrong about religion, and being so does not make them ignorant fools – especially not the belligerent kinds. Michael Shermer, in his new book Why We Believe, points out that intelligent people are highly skilled at rationalizing irrational beliefs, but being intelligent doesn't not make one immune to poorly reasoned beliefs. Isaac Newton, remember, was an alchemist.

So, when I see stuff like what Pat Condell is doing here, I just think to myself... we can do better. I'm not suggesting a soft-toe approach where we don't give religion the direct rebuke it requires. But no, Pat Condell, insulting religion should not be compulsory. That kind of mindset is nothing more than chest-beating, and it's not going to win many minds.


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