Why Do I Care?

Ever since I started to write about politics and religion on this blog, people have asked me why I care, or have questioned (with good intention) my time spent on it. Especially considering that I am studying mathematics, probably the field most removed from reality, why do I care about public affairs?

Apathy

In fact, just two years ago, I used to be a very apathetic person. I even wrote an article on apathy. Though the article does not explicitly mention social or political issues, that was the implication.

apathy_poster

Due to my apathy, I managed to blog for 3 years without a single direct mention of religion or politics. Mainly, I was following the social norm in which it is discouraged to discuss such things. In addition, such things never had any negative impact on me. Even as an atheist in Texas (thankfully Austin is a liberal city), I never felt discriminated against, nor had I ever seen firsthand what religious discrimination looked like. As for the broader social issues, I was pro-choice, for example, but never cared about enough to raise it in a discussion, nor did I realize at the time how connected it was to religion.

Things didn’t really change when I went to college. Cornell is just as liberal, if not more liberal, than the city of Austin, and thus I never felt any push. In fact, the apathy article I wrote was during my first year of college.

So what caused the change?

It started last August with a debate about motivation. I was shocked when my opponent claimed that the ONLY motivation there is to do good in this life is the promise of reward in the afterlife. More strongly, he claimed that his only motivation to do anything at all is rooted in the afterlife.

Being the logic-focused debater that I am, I wanted to test whether he really stood by that claim. So I asked, “What if there is no afterlife?”

His response: He would commit suicide.

That was the first time I had ever heard that line of thought. It was the game-changer for me. Before that, I had never realized how much irrationality could hurt someone or distort their views.

Later, even when discussing topics that were not religion or politics, I realized how much of a pain it was to argue with someone who would not listen to reason, would not look at the facts, and would not use logic. Upon noticing these signs, I wondered if this person was only irrational for this particular debate or if he got that from somewhere else, which I had suspected. So asked this person whether they believed the Earth was created in six days. The answer was yes.

Given that the context of this was a policy decision (of something rather minor), I suddenly had great concern about policy decisions of things that actually matter. Only then did I realize just how many members of Congress were creationists. (This was 3 months before the 2012 election.) Shortly after, I found out the shockingly low proportion of nonreligious people in Congress. From data slightly later, the nonreligious, who comprise 19.6% of the US population, have not a single member in Congress.

After that, I started realizing many other things. For example, I realized how closely (and negatively) correlated religion was to modern-day social progress (in particular on same-sex marriage and abortion). I learned about the modern status of religion in some of the theocratic states of the Muslim world, and how dangerous it is for non-Muslims (both Christians and atheists) to live there.

Due to my apathy, I had previously thought of Richard Dawkins as a hateful preacher of atheism who was “just as bad” as evangelists. Not because I had actually read any of his books, but because that’s what the (even-liberal) media portrays him as. I started watching some lectures/talks on Youtube, with notable speakers such as Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. I learned that they weren’t the hateful, mean people who they were misconstrued by popular opinion to be, but rather, some very intelligent, logical people who tell it as it is.

I watched Bill Maher’s documentary (Religulous) as well as Richard Dawkins’ (The Root of All Evil?) and was shocked at how absurd and dangerous people’s religious beliefs can really be. As someone who cares about the future of humanity, I was highly disturbed by this particular interview.

Last, but not least, I read this article called “Evangelical Apathy,” by Miri Mogilevsky. It makes a strong case against apathy in today’s world:

I’ve found that in my personal life, I tend to have a much harder time getting along with these people than I do with conservatives. With the latter, while we disagree, we can have a good time debating each other or at least bond over our mutual concern for what’s going on in the world. But with evangelical apathists, the very fact that I care about stuff seems like a thorn in their side.

Interestingly enough, this applies very strongly to my previous post, “Religious Logic: Fundamentalists vs Moderates/Liberals,” in which I defended fundamentalists for actually caring about other people, whereas many religious liberals seem to simply take on the most convenient view and bash fundamentalists and atheists alike.

Anyway, that is my answer to why I care. I care about politics and religion because I care about humanity.

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