In defense of vocal believers

I’ve let go of the Christian beliefs I grew up with, but I still have a passion for protecting religious speech.

I’m really bothered by those who say believers should ‘keep their religion to themselves’ or that religious speech belongs only in homes and churches.

I am not saying that there is no wrong time or place to talk about religion. But there are many situational factors that determine whether a given topic is appropriate.

A non-religious example: I’m walking into a grocery store, and between me and the door is a guy with a clipboard. He looks at me and says “You registered to vote?” I find this inappropriate because of the position it puts me in. I don’t want to discuss my voter registration status with a total stranger, and in any case I came to shop, not to have that conversation. So my choices are to answer the guy’s question, ignore him while walking around him, or get really confrontational and tell him what I think of his tactics.  But should I tell him to keep the topic of voter registration to himself, to never discuss it within earshot of strangers, to only discuss it within the office of the registrar of voters and in private homes? No. I just don’t want to be forced into a conversation about it while I’m trying to buy food. I wouldn’t even mind if the same guy and a friend of his were discussing their voter registration statuses next to me in the checkout line.

In addition, ‘religious speech’ is a pretty ambiguous concept. Which of these would you consider religious speech?

  • Saying “God bless you” after a sneeze?
  • Saying “A guy who goes to my church …”?
  • Identifying yourself as a Buddhist?
  • Stating that drinking alcohol is prohibited in Islam?
  • Quoting a Bible verse that happens to have been co-opted as a secular proverb?
  • Saying “Amen” in response to a statement unrelated to religion?

Finally, “Keep your religion to yourself” is a disturbing sentiment in that it is directed only at believers. You seldom hear “Keep your skepticism to yourself.”


Posted on January 3, 2012, in Sympathy for the theists. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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