Keep it to Yourself?

Posted on July 26, 2012 by richardgoulter
Tags: , , ,

sigh. I can’t say I’d prefer to write about this particular topic. Not that it’s such a nasty topic to talk about; of course everyone would happily talk about it.
I would hesitate, though, to discuss this thing below because, (to borrow a term I’ve seen used to describe discussions on this topic), of the trend towards peckerfication.

Anyhow, I’ll stop dawdling about my point.

There was recently a comic from the Oatmeal titled “How to Suck at Your Religion”. Go and have a look at it, if you haven’t already, but one gets the understanding that the artist isn’t at all a big fan of ‘religion’*.
You might want to take a moment in thought to consider that trend toward peckerfication, and whether the artist is being a dick in the way he treats the views of others. But disregard your conclusion, anyhow, it’s just a web-comic.

Without nit-picking through the whole comic, (how dull would that be?), one thought which is concerning is the artist’s contention with ethical concerns ‘holding back’ science. One frame comic mocks those who would raise ethical concerns about certain science research or methodology.
– However, it does this in trying to draw parallel to historical understanding most folk have. (The same historical understanding which would have people 1000 years ago believe that the earth was flat).

On the whole, the artist generally vents on aspects he finds strange or frustrating about ‘religion’. However, the ultimate point the artist makes, which is made loud through whispering, is this: “Just keep [your religion] to your fucking self”.
I’m not sure that the artist’s rationale boils down to any more than “Your religion annoys me, so shut up.” Anyhow, that argument isn’t what I’m interested in. (And we could come up with a better rationale if we felt the need to). It’s not the first time I’ve seen this maxim on the subject of ‘religion’.
More concisely than a web-comic, there’s the cute phrase: “religion is like a penis: don’t show it in public, and don’t shove it down people’s throats”.
It may be worth considering the validity and assumptions that lie behind statements like this.

I recall reading from Peter Singer’s “The Expanding Circle”, the author points out that when a person discovers that the way they think about what’s right and what’s wrong is different to how other people from other cultures think about what’s right and what’s wrong, (that is, disagreements over morality), the initial resolution is to come to the conclusion of moral relativity. Since both views on morality, when incompatible, cannot both be ‘true’, one simply comes to the conclusion that what is ‘right’ in one context, may not be ‘right’ in another context. (Singer then thinks that’s a naive and poor way to think about morality).

Is it not a similar thought process here?
If my attitude and understanding of religion disagrees with yours, what’s to be done?
Rather than relativism, I would think the first approach is instead closer to an attitude of conquest. “I’m right, you’re wrong, but how can I show you that?”. The response is each party argues their opinion to convince the other about how right they are, and how wrong the other person is. I’ve seen the word ‘militant’ used to metaphorically describe such a “truth at all costs” approach to truth-seeking.
And to be fair to people, it’s not only ‘religion’ which folk will get so ‘religious’ about. (I’ve seen that adjective used to describe this exact behaviour). I would think that, for any thing, a Google search of “ sucks” would yield a result. People on the internet are good at hating stuff.
It turns out, people aren’t so easily convinced that they themselves are wrong. “Keep it to your fucking self” is an attitude which attempts to resolve this. It does seem a slight progression on the ‘militant’ attitude: I think you’re wrong, and you probably think I’m wrong, let’s agree to disagree and discuss it no further. (That acknowledgement of the other side is what makes this attitude more sophisticated than pure hostility and prejudice to other views).
Perhaps, reader, you might be able to derive what logically is the next progression in maturity of understanding and discussing such things as ‘religion’ (or Oxford commas, or whatever else you find yourself in an argument about), but that’s for another day.

As mature as “keep it to your fucking self” might be above naive hostility, it still fails to resolve what the hostility set out to conquer: not all attitudes of ‘religion’ can sit comfortably together.
Here, reader, we must at least describe a property of ‘religion’: many ‘religions’ deal with belief about the existence of deities, and their role and interactions with humanity. Some ‘religious’ belief dictates that there’re many gods, some dictate that there’s only one, and some dictate that no deity exists.
It is difficult to reconcile the notion that there’re many deities with the notion that there’s only one while satisfying both understandings; and it’s even harder to bring the concepts of an absence and presence of deity into a mutually acceptable understanding.
So, not everyone can be ‘right’ at the same time. Not in the same universe, anyhow.

It seems to me that there’s an immaturity in the “keep it to your fucking self” statement.
If one is certain that they’re right, they must also be certain that all ideas incompatible with theirs are wrong. And assuming it’s good to enlighten one’s fellows about the truth about the universe, then to “keep it to your fucking self” condescends that whoever’s wrong is too stupid or pigheaded to realise that they’re wrong. (This condescension at the same time as holding as certain that one is right).
The artist isn’t at all aggressive against those who aren’t certain that they’re correct. Perhaps it’s harder to be a dick in sharing information on what you’re not certain about.

The artist does indeed say more than just that in the comic, though. We can infer a few things about the artist’s ‘religious’ understanding and attitude from his comic.
Later on in the comic, the artist ascribes to ‘religion’ the sole purpose of giving meaning to a minor existence within the universe. (This counts towards a definition of ‘religion’, take note, but it tends to bear the assumption that any belief in higher significance or power is flawed. That’s somewhat begging the question).

That’s the artist’s understanding of what ‘religion’ is, and there’re implications as to what the artist’s metaphysical philosophy is. And in a sense, the artist is very much preaching this to the reader.
So it seems to me that that’s an example of the artist’s ‘religion’.

Many of the things the artist states are less about ‘religious’ belief, and more about belief about ‘religious’ belief; which makes much of the comic ‘meta-religious’. (Things which aren’t quite ‘religious attitudes’ themselves, but discuss ‘religion’).
I gotta wonder: Does “keep [your religion] to your fucking self” describe a ‘religious’ attitude, or is it ‘meta-religious’?
Why wonder this? Well. People can get pretty dickish about ‘religious’ opinions themselves, but ‘meta-religious’ opinions are much easier to agree on even when ‘religious’ opinions differ.
But perhaps the distinction of something as ‘meta-religious’ is arbitrary, and insignificant.
It seems to me, “keep it to your fucking self” is not only a part of the artist’s ‘meta-religious’ attitude, but also is a part of his ‘religious’ understanding.

In that sense, the artist very much also has a ‘religious’ attitude, and one really has to wonder if there’s any irony or contradiction in stating the opinion: “keep your religion to your fucking self.”

* Why the quotes around ‘religion’? I feel the word ‘religion’ is implicitly defined, yet I don’t think everyone quite has the same idea about what ‘religion’ is. If one is to discuss ‘religion’, it’d be important to agree on what ‘religion’ is. I’m not making the effort to define it here, nor does the artist make a good effort; but it’s an important enough assumption to question, that I’m going to point out that I’m not pointing out what it is. (Even at the expense of style).

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