A 2011 piece from the Jehovah’s Witness publication The Watchtower considers apostates to be mentally diseased criminals who should be shunned and avoided.
A frequent criticism of organized religion I and others voice is that religion often creates division. While creating division does not necessarily make particular religious ideas false, one can focus on the harm that is caused by religion when talking about its divisive nature.
Personally, I’ve encountered a large amount of vitriol from religious individuals (some of whom are family members) in my community following my activism for separation of church and state – most prominently in 2009 when I objected to a nativity scene placed on county courthouse property. A local disc jockey, on his radio show, called me the ‘third most hated person in Luzerne County‘ (only to be ‘topped’ by two judges implicated in the infamous Kids for Cash scandal) reflecting the outlook of many in my community who sent me hate mail (physical and electronic), tried to interfere with my education/scholarships, and sent nasty letters to my parents.
I have maintained that if the Christian faith (or any religious belief for that matter) is based in truth, individual believers should welcome critical discussion and be prepared, as the Bible says, to answer objections. Shouldn’t one be sure about what they believe if they want to dedicate their lives to a belief? I began a journey listening to criticisms of the religious beliefs I held and determined that there is no good reason to believe the Christian god exists after finding significant objections — unsatisfactorily answered by Christians — and determining that the reasons Christians provide for belief in God are not sufficient to justify belief.
It’s often the case that those who question religious belief are demonized – portrayed as agents of Satan trying to ruin the lives of Christians – bringing them down the wrong path in life. A piece titled ‘Will You Pay Attention to Jehovah’s Clear Warnings‘ in 2011 issue of The Watchtower — a Jehovah’s Witness publication — is a clear example of this. Apostates — people who have abandoned religious faith — are compared to and/or considered ‘false teachers,’ ‘wolves that eat the sheep,’ ‘criminals,’ ‘mentally diseased’ people, ‘and ‘gossipers.’
The Watchtower provides advice about how Jehovah’s Witnesses should deal with such ‘false teachers,’
“We do not speak to them or invite them into our houses. We do not read their books, watch them on television, read what they write on the Internet, or add our own comments about what they write on the Internet. Why are we do determined to avoid them? First of all, it is because we love “the God of truth.” So we do not want to listen to false teachings that go against the truth in God’s word.”
The divisive nature of religious belief is apparent when viewing this passage; the message for Jehovah’s Witnesses is to shun those who disagree on matters of religious belief. Witnesses are not to even respond to or be friends with ‘false teachers.’
Personally, I’m friends with many religious people. It’s almost never been the case — barring some fringe cases of extreme disrespect almost certainly due to religious beliefs — that because I was aware someone was religious I abandoned a friendship or refused to talk to a person. On the contrary, I enjoy interactions with people I disagree with whether the disagreement falls in the realm of religion, politics, law, or other areas.
The religious person who refuses to interact with sincere non-believers* or people questioning religious faith seems weak in their religious beliefs and very likely worse off for not examining their own beliefs. Openness to experience, exposure to a variety of ideas, and a rigorous examination of one’s core beliefs are almost always beneficial and critical to self-development.
If religious belief cannot stand inquiry and must be abandoned, religious believes will be better off – holding beliefs better reflecting the way the world actually is. If reasons for religious belief are based in truth and atheists must abandon their non-belief, atheists will be better off.
Don’t demonize people merely because they disagree with you on matters of religion. Do not let religion be a more divisive force than it already is.
As always, feel free to leave comments below.
* By sincere non-believer, I mean a person who appears to be genuinely interested in a meaningful discussion. I don’t believe everyone should answer or take seriously people who do not appear sincere in their criticisms or are extremely disrespectful/attacking persons. A burden of responding to every person would also be unreasonable.