By Zach Hudson

A You Tube clip from a BBC talk show called The Big Questions caught my attention recently. Kate Smurthwaite, a comedian, actress, and member of the National Secular Society, found herself among a panel of religious leaders when asked about her concept of heaven:

Kate Smurthwaite: We’ve got people here from different faiths, and they all believe, in some kind of heaven in a different sense, and every single one of them believes in this heaven on the basis of faith, and faith, by definition, is believing in things without evidence. And personally, I don’t do that because I’m not an idiot.

Upon hearing the word “idiot” the crowd reacted with gasps, boos, and some cheers. Part of me loved it—the part that enjoys venting my spleen by proxy, the part that enjoys seeing blood on the sand. Such a comment makes quite an implication, though—that because of their religious faith, which requires the suspension of logic and the willful ignorance of evidence, theists are by definition “idiots.” I find such a statement simply can’t be true without fundamentally redefining the word “idiot” into a way we never naturally use it.

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Replies to This Discussion

I enjoyed reading that article and the comments that followed it. Here's a comment that caught my attention ...


With all due respect, Jonn -

Your punctuation is poor and the source of your quote is H. L. Mencken, not M. L. Mencken.  However, I don't see the point of giving you a broad and insulting label based on a relatively narrow area of performance.

I'm not sure what declaring people "idiots," whether deserved or not, is really meant to accomplish aside from making the name-caller feel superior.

It seems more worthwhile to carry on dialogue and try to demonstrate to folks where their reasoning fails and help them see a better way of doing things.  Who knows - by listening, we may even gain a measure of respect for what they hold meaningful and why.  I don't think values are strictly a matter of logic.  There's much more to it than that, and I think that should be respected, even if the views themselves don't make sense.

We may not agree with the religious, and their views may not hold up logically.  I don't see why that alone makes them fair game for being insulted - nor anyone else, for not meeting some arbitrary measure of "idiocy."  We should be well beyond that."

Off topic observation: Jews don't believe in either heaven or hell. And I'm not sure the Buddhist Nirvana actually qualifies as heaven -- it's more like fulfillment.

That is right Natalie.

It's best not to insult others.

I am going to demur from the consensus on this one. The argument offered is that we should all be polite to the religious and never offend them or truly challenge, because, so the thinking goes if we somehow offend someone then we will never convince that person. The unstated conclusion from this line of reasoning is that if we just all be nice to the religious we will convince them. Really? I have not seen it. Or maybe it is that we can convince them. Well, anything is possible, but again I have not really seen it. Let us say that Smurthwaite was all sweetness and courtesy and presented nothing but politely stated arguments against faith. Would anyone on the panel or in the audience have changed his/her mind? Honestly, this be nice to the religious about their religion line is no more effective than boldly saying that religious ideas are stupid, and perhaps is less effective because it makes the atheist appear unconvinced of his/her own arguments. So, I respectfully disagree with the "be nice" position because I'm not an idiot.




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