Engagement, people and beliefs


Do we engage with religious people?

Of course we do!

We are happy to listen to what they say and we are happy to explain what we believe. Contact us for a speaker.

However, we sometimes find engagement frustrating - primarily because we seem to be speaking different languages - see our article on "Words that divide us".

There is more about our attitude to engagement in our article "Eggshells".


Three things make us what we are as individuals: nature, nurture and experience.

  • Nature: our genes. We can't control our gender, our sexuality, our skin colour or other variables determined by the genes we inherit from our parents.

    There is no gene for religion - there is no Zoroastrian gene, Christian gene, Islamic gene, Hindu gene or Judaist gene - you are not born religious.

  • Nurture: our experiences in the first few years of life are critical in determined what sort of person we become.

    This can be down to physical things such as our diet and the environment around us - a varied and stimulating environment maxmises our intellectual development. "Intelligence" (whatever it is) is partly down to the potential inherited from parents and partly down to how that potential is developed through nurture and experience.

    The most important nurture influence is the way we are treated by our parents. We could come from a warm, loving, tactile, cuddly family or we could come from an indifferent, colder, resentful or abusive one.

    Having children is the biggest responsibility people can take on. Far too many people have children for the wrong reasons - a one-night-stand, a youthful infatuation, a mistake or "it's the next thing to do", "our family expected it", "it just happened", "we thought it would keep our relationship together".

    Reproductive rights (contraception, abortion, saying and meaning "no") are fundamental in ensuring that every child is a wanted child and every child is a loved child. Why would anyone want children to come into the world for the wrong reasons and against the wishes of its parents? That's a recipe for future social problems and a larger prison population.

    Currently in England and Wales almost one third of prisoners have been abused by parents, almost half have witnessed violence between parents and a quarter had been taken into care in their early childhood.

    Religion has always tried to control what goes on in the bedroom and particularly women's reproductive rights - and it continues to do so. Every debate about abortion is dominated by shouty religious groups - determined to impose their world view onto the rest of us by treating women as breeding machines and denying them the right to choose. Every politician who talks about abortion should declare their religious view.

    Unfortunately, there's more than a grain of truth in Larkin's (depressing) poem:

    "This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another's throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don't have any kids yourself.

    Click here to listen to Larkin reading the poem.

  • Experience: the way we see and understand the world is largely down to our experiences of it and our ability to analyse those experiences and learn from them.


Beliefs come from nurture (most often from parents) and from experience.

Belief is therefore an intellectual choice (or should be) for which we are personally responsible and which we must be capable of justifying.

In an ideal world belief should be a free and informed intellectual choice

In reality it's all about nurture - children are denied a choice when religion is forced onto them by family, social group and schools. We consider this to be intellectual and emotional abuse - see the film "Apostasy" for an example.

People can change their beliefs, or abandon them, since they are a matter of choice. However, throughout history, and in all religions, people have been threatened with death for not toeing the party line. Even today, in 21st century Britain, people are ostracised for daring to change their beliefs - I have personal experience of this happening to Christians and Muslims in Derby. God seems to be an unpleasant entity: jealous, threatening and violent.

As atheists we criticise (and sometimes mock) all religious ideas, from the pagan worship of meteorites in Arabia to the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We believe that most religious ideas are stultifying nonsense - often divisive, dangerous and violent nonsense.

By criticising and mocking religious ideas are we also criticising people? That's a tough one because we judge people by what they do, not by what they say or claim to believe. So, if they end up doing bad things because of what they claim to believe, then of course we end up criticising or condemning them for their actions.

We are often shocked at how little many religious poeple know about their beliefs, their historical background and their consequences. They go through the rituals of their religion with no discussion of anything. Religion becomes "what we do on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays" or "what the priest, imam, vicar, scholar, guru, holy man tells us". We are equally shocked at how little they know about the beliefs of others.

Unfortunately, with so many gods and religions in the world today, this can quickly become:

  • "we are right, they are wrong",
  • "my religion is better than yours",
  • "my interpretation is right, yours is wrong",
  • "my gang is better than your gang",
  • with the inevitable results.

Our world is becoming increasingly divided as "popularism" rears its ugly head in a time of economic uncertainty. Religion is used (as it has been used throughout history) to divide and rule. Instead of people looking for the true causes of the world's problems, they are enouraged to find scapegoats - those from other countries, those with different coloured skins, those who promote liberal tolerance and those with different beliefs.

Religion has become part of the problem and frequently offers no solution except intolerance, hatred and worse.

Religions are often closed communities which avoid problems by refusing to engage in the political realities of the world. Prayer does not change the world (people have been trying for thousands of years and it hasn't worked - religious people can sometimes be slow learners) - political engagement changes the world.

"But my religion isn't like that, I'm not like that!"

We hear this all the time: "I don't believe those things, I am tolerant and helpful and charitable - I am a good person."

Of course you are, and no doubt you would be good person even without your religious beliefs - you are unlikely to become a thief, rapist or murderer simply because you change your beliefs!

Religion itself is the problem: the external authority figure, the hero worship of a prophet, the need for an exemplar, the lack of a personal moral code, the dependence on holy books and holy men (always men!) and the male dominated institutions of religion. Religions are patronising and patriarchal, they insult our intelligence and they insult women.

As a good person you will be fully aware of the bad things being done in the name of your religion, your god and your holy books. It's the same religion, the same god, the same holy books and there is nothing inherently "good" about it - as over 2,000 years of history have clearly demonstrated!

Why not just be true to yourself, be a good person, forget the god bit, forget the centuries-old mumbo-jumbo, forget all the silly rituals - put your fellow human beings first and help out where you can?

You can be just as good without god, you won't have to bother about all the unfortunate religious baggage and you will find it a truly liberating and life-enhancing experience.

Of course, some people can't hack the self confidence required and the personal responsibility that goes with dumping the god bit - but you aren't like that, are you?