The 10 Stupidest Religious Beliefs


Cyd Charisse Witch

Coming into this week, I had a couple of different articles nearly finished.  Both were impeccably researched, finely nuanced stances on topics I knew would be of interest to the many cultured scholars in my audience.

But then I heard that a Dutch lunatic built a giant replica of Noah’s Ark, so I decided to just rip on stupid people again.  If you would have preferred something a bit more elegant, please address your complaints to Wild-Eyed Loony of the Lowlands Johan Huibers.

Huibers, a Biblical Literalist, says that, based on his faith in the Covenant of the Rainbow signed, sealed, and delivered by God after the “last” Flood, he isn’t concerned about Holland being flooded again — which is ironic, considering that at the rate the polar icecaps are melting, Holland is in fact actually going to be flooded in like, I don’t know, three weeks or something — but instead built the Ark to renew waning Dutch interest in Christianity.

Dutch interest in Christianity is waning?  Hey, I wonder if that has anything to do with why Holland is really fun and people go there all the time.  Well, regardless, this is a trend Huibers hopes to reverse.  And what better way to renew people’s faith could there be than with a giant-ass reminder of the way they figured out the whole thing was stupid in the first place?  I am most definitely not on your side here, Johan, but if I were, I would suggest maybe printing up some quality t-shirts with some really nice stuff that Jesus said on them.  But hey, you chose to go with what is effectively a football-field-sized banner reading “CHRISTIANITY OFFICIALLY REQUIRES YOU TO BE MILDLY RETARDED,” and that’s cool too.

Actually, Huibers’s replica is slightly less than the length of a football field, and only half the length of the “real” Ark as described in the Book of Genesis.  Hey…  Hold on a second, I want to try something real quick.

        Me:  Man, there are a lot of numbers in this…  Okay, it’s ringing.

        Johan Huibers:  Goeiedag.

        Me:  Goeiedag.  Johan Huibers?

        Johan Huibers:  Ja, is hij.

        Me:  Ah, goed.  Spreekt jij Engels, Johan?

        Johan Huibers:  Yes, actually, I do.

        Me:  Oh, good.  Because I just wanted to ask you — did the fact that, even though you were using modern tools and shipbuilding techniques, you could still only get your Ark to be half the size the Bible says the actual Ark was, if you wanted it to not fall apart or sink instantly, did that ever make you suspect even for a second that, you know, maybe the whole thing never really happened?

        Johan Huibers:  Oh, goodness no!  In fact, the overwhelming evidence that the entire idea is blatantly impossible beyond the utmost straining of even a very young child’s credulity just made me all the more convinced that is it definitely what actually happened! 

        Me:  Uh-huh…  And why is that again?

        Johan Huibers:  Well, the fact of it is that I literally have shit for brains.

        Me:  You don’t say!

        Johan Huibers:  Indeed I do.

        Me:  Honestly now, shit?  If I were to open up your head this very day, I would actually find some sort of excrement inside, in lieu of a human brain?

        Johan Huibers:  Hand to God.

        Me:  Yes, of course it is.  Oh well, I had to try.  Doe voorzichtig, Johan.

        Johan Huibers:  Doe-diddly-voorzichtig te jou, gebuurino!  (click)

        Me:  D’oh!  Stupid Huibers!

Okay, evidently that was pointless.  But the “banner” crack leading into it got me thinking, what if I were to rank various Western religious beliefs according to how stupid they are?  We’ve had a lot of fun on The 1585 at the expense of religion in general but never actually stopped to consider the fact that some religious things — Noah’s Ark, for example — are clearly way stupider than others.  Exactly how retarded would someone have to be to put stock in one of them as opposed to another?

Here are my results:


        10.  Intercession / Predestination (efficacy of prayer / all events being “God’s will”)
          9.  Manifestations (face of Jesus in grilled cheese, potato chip, etc.)
          8.  Creationism / Intelligent Design
          7.  Young Earth Hypothesis / Non-Existence of Dinosaurs (or Coexistence with Man)
          6.  Existence of “the Devil” at all
          5.  Demonic Possession / Exorcism
          4.  Rapture / Second-Coming / Apocalypse Scenarios / “the Antichrist”
          3.  Geocentrism
          2.  The Tower of Babel
          1.  Noah’s Ark / The Flood

Some Notes on the Selection Process:

This list was actually fairly difficult to construct — not due to lack of material, obviously, but rather due to the fact that many of these beliefs are so intertwined with one another that it’s hard to decide when to separate them into different entries.  As you can see, I have three separate entries in a row that are all just varying degrees of believing in “the Devil,” and I also granted autonomous status to #7 despite the fact that it’s just a side effect of believing in #1.

I should also mention that, when it came to simple Biblical literalism in general — which obviously yields thousands of individual preposterous beliefs — I narrowed it down by considering only those events that are supposed by believers to have caused something to happen, as in the cases of #s 8, 2, and 1.  So while it may be just as crazy to believe that, say, Sodom and Gomorrah really happened, this belief was not considered for the list, because it doesn’t provide the basis for an antiscientific alternate explanation of any specific phenomenon.

I'd also like to point out that I only considered beliefs that originated with religion, and not beliefs that originated elsewhere but which are sometimes justified with religious rhetoric.  Thus, for example, a Southern racist’s belief that God is against interracial dating — while phenomenally stupid — was inadmissible, since it is simply a case of an extrareligious belief’s being tacked on to religion.

Additionally, I wasn’t sure how to treat beliefs that are logically implied (in terms of internal logic, obviously) by other beliefs.  I ranked belief in the Devil as pretty stupid, and indeed there are lots of Christians who believe some pretty stupid shit and still don’t believe that there’s a fucking Devil — but, then again, many of those people do say they believe that there’s a Hell, so how do they explain…?  I guess those are the people who pull some metaphor shit and say that Hell is “distance from God” or something.  You know, the same people who say “I believe God is Love, and Love exists, so therefore God exists,” which, of course, could just as easily be “I believe God is That Pencil Over There, and That Pencil Over There exists, so…” 

Finally, I'd like to comment on the extent to which the concern of how many people still believe in any given thing was taken into account when determining the pecking order of craziness.  Overall, this was not done with any consistency.  I took into account the fact that many people who are otherwise normal still pray in the decision to place Intercession at the bottom of the list — but, on the other hand, even though more people believe in Noah’s Ark than in Geocentrism, Noah’s Ark is just SO batshit insane that I could not justify putting it anywhere other than the top.   

Oh, and for all you trivia buffs, be aware that this list technically isn’t even the real ten.  That list appears elsewhere on the site, but it was just a bunch of shit about not cooking a calf in its mother’s milk and assorted nitpickings about what is or is not supposed to be leavened, so everyone forgot about it.*

People often don’t understand why it is that we 1585ers, or other atheists, have such a problem with the concept of God.  After all, belief in any of the crazy shit listed above isn’t the same thing as believing in God itself, right?  If someone believes in some version of the God-concept, but no further crazy stuff that conflicts directly with science, then what’s the harm in that?

My answer is as simple as it is shocking:  There are hardly any of those people.

This may sound alarmist or paranoid, like I'm making an assertion that can’t possibly be true.  We have all been taught to believe that the vast majority of theists are simply theists, and that’s it.  But the statistics belie this.

Take the stats on evolution, for example:  all polls on the subject indicate that around 51% of the U.S. population are Creationists, while 15% believe firmly in evolution.  The third group waxes and wanes in size based on whether the third option is given as “Not Sure,” “Evolution Happened, but Was Guided by God,” or what-have-you — but virtually all of the give-and-take there is with the Evolution group; I have never seen a poll where the Creationist numbers dipped below 50%.  Now, when you factor in the fact that somewhere around 10% of the population are atheists (all of whom, obviously, believe in evolution), this means that the majority of Americans who believe in God at all are Creationists.  Factor in the “Not Sure / God Guided Evolution” group, and you end up with the even more alarming calculation that only 5% of Americans who believe in God also believe firmly in evolution.    

Okay, whatever, you might say.  Evolution is complicated and hard to understand, and there’s a psychological imperative to disbelieve it, because believing that they were created special by God makes people feel good about themselves.  Someone who doesn’t believe in evolution isn’t necessarily insane, right?  It’s not like that Noah’s Ark bullshit, right? 

Yeah, great…  Except that, according to a 2004 ABC News poll, the percentage of Americans who believe in Noah’s Ark — this is Noah’s Ark, now, so we are talking about people who believe that one guy built a 450-foot wooden boat and somehow put two of every animal on it, including the animals living on continents that hadn’t been discovered yet (which means he also must have discovered and explored all of the Americas and Australia, not to mention climbed the Himalayas what for to fetch the yaks), and kept them all alive and fed and playing nicely with one another for forty days, and then got them all back to where they lived, and okay fuck this, because I refuse to be reduced to pointing out flaws in the story of Noah’s Ark — is… 


That’s sixty percent.  Even higher, somehow, than the number of people who believe in Creation.  And, as I think I may already have said a couple of times, this is Noah’s Ark we’re talking about.  This is not like saying a quick prayer that your favorite team will win, during the final minutes of the game when the score’s really close and you’re all excited.  We are talking about something that is effectively equivalent to schizophrenia.  Subtract the 10% who are atheists once again, and you are left with the calculation that two-thirds of the Americans who believe in God at all are literally insane.

If you think I’m being unfair, I would love to know why.  We are not talking about people who have heard of Noah’s Ark, or who think it’s a pleasant story, or who are happy to sing songs about it when they are in church — we are talking about people who think that it literally happened; about people who actually believe that any day now someone is going to find fossilized wood from it on Mt. Ararat.  If it is not fair to say that such a person is insane — not in a hyperbolic, sarcastic sense, where the word is used as a general put-down, but literally insane, in the technical sense of being unable to distinguish fantasy from reality — then who is insane?  What does “insane” mean, if not this?

Sixty percent.  A substantial majority of the people who currently reside in the United States.

At this point, many of you are probably about to ask, “But isn’t this all getting better?  Surely, these numbers are lower than they used to be.  Even if the numbers seem alarming in isolation, we would certainly see a general downward trend if we were to examine them over the years, right?”

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that this shirt is blacknot.  The percentage of Americans who believe in evolution is lower now than it was thirty years ago, and recent years have seen a substantial spike in belief in the Devil, which rose from 63% in 1997 to 71% in 2004.  Furthermore, though we tend to think of old farts as being the most crazily religious, only 67% of people over 70 believe in the Devil, while the number for 18-34 year olds is 79%.

Okay, fine, I’m smart enough to know that this is being thrown off by the fact that rich people live longer and are more educated, so a greater proportion of people over 70 who are still alive are educated than in the general population (just one more demonstration of the fact that statistics never prove anything, unless I’m the one using them).  But this is still pretty fucked up right here.  Seriously, four out of five 18-34 year olds believe in the fucking Devil?!

Hold on a second, I need to make another phone call.

        Me:  Okay, it’s ringing…  still ringing…

        Jerry Seinfeld:  Hello?

        Me:  Hey, Jerry Seinfeld?

        Jerry Seinfeld:  This is he.

        Me:  Hey, what’s up, it’s The 1585.  I need you to say “Who are these people?”

        Jerry Seinfeld:  What?  Fifteen-eighty…  Huh?  What is this?

        Me:  Oh, just this totally awesome website.  Anyway, I’m in the middle of this one essay, and I can’t really go into it, but trust me, it would be pretty funny if you said “Who are these people?” right now.

        Jerry Seinfeld:  What?

        Me:  You know, “Who aaaaaaaaare these people?”

        Jerry Seinfeld:  Oh, that.  Well, you know, I never really said that much.  That was more people doing impressions of me.  Which I never minded, because, you see, there are four stages of comedy:  the first is making your friends laugh, the second is ma—

        Me:  Yeah, I know. 

        Jerry Seinfeld:  So, anyway, what’s the essay about?

        Me:  Well, the part I needed you for was about the Devil, but—

        Jerry Seinfeld:  The Devil.  What’s the deal with the Devil?  Why does he carry that pitchfork?  It’s like, is he baling some hay, is he chasing Frankenstein…?  Because as far as I know, those are the only two things you can do with a pitchf—

        Me:  This has become more trouble than it’s worth.

So, why bother pointing out all this?  Just for a larf?  Not exactly.  While I have never denied the fact that mocking the stupid is a good time in and of itself, what needs to be uppermost in our minds here is the fact that ridiculous beliefs almost always yield demonstrably terrible results.  For example, 44% of Americans believe that the world will end sometime in the next 50 years — good luck convincing those people to recycle, or conserve energy… or rainforests or wetlands or anything.  And this, as I’ve said elsewhere, may in fact be the point — among the skeptical minority, the tendency is still to assume that the crazy belief originates with religion; but the frequency with which ridiculous religious claims just so happen to provide believers with an excuse not to have to do what smart people tell them to do lends a good deal of credence to the hypothesis that being an asshole is the cause and religious beliefs the effect, rather than the other way around. 

All the more reason never to feel the least bit bad about making fun of these people.

Religious Conservatives are always complaining about how fancy-book-learning types, effete corps of intellectual snobs, and the like, are encroaching on the private business of their faith (this is actually their second-favorite thing to complain about; their first-favorite thing to complain about, ironically, is people who complain about things).  What they seem not to realize is that this is impossible not to do for anyone who ever wants to have a conversation about anything.

Let’s examine the situation of the faithful’s Public Enemy Number One:  college professors.  Do religious people have any idea how impossible it is to be a teacher and never say anything that contradicts religion?  The Bible says the value of pi is exactly 3, so right off the bat the math guy is fucked, as is the Art teacher if any art involving circles ever comes up.  (Actually, funny story:  the Bible doesn’t say that “pi is exactly three” — it says that a particular cauldron is 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around, which is clearly an approximation, and there’s no problem at all if you take into account the thickness of the rim, but the funny part about this is, many Christians refuse to accept this explanation and still insist that pi is exactly three just to be dicks, even though the flap over this “mistake” originated with people whose intent was to find something in the Bible that is clearly false).

Or let’s say a discussion about body image or societal standards of attractiveness breaks out in an English or Sociology or Psychology class (which seems likely enough, since these topics account for approximately 94% of all discussions that have taken place in college classrooms during the past fifteen years).  Religious types would be quick to object that it isn’t the place of an English or Sociology or Psychology professor to be “teaching evolution” — but how the fuck is someone supposed to lead a discussion about why human beings find certain things attractive and not bring up evolution?  If the teacher can't mention evolution, then the teacher is forbidden from bringing up the only thing that could possibly explain the issues that the students are interested in discussing.

Or suppose an interesting point about etymology comes up — is a professor to be expected not to make mention of the fact that languages evolve from and inform one another, because it contradicts the Tower-of-Babel explanation of where languages come from?  It may seem like this example is a joke, but this shit comes up.  And it has been coming up more and more and more since…  oh, let’s just pick the arbitrary date of January 20th, 2001.      

In February of 2006, Republican Arizona state senator Thayer Verschoor introduced a bill that would have afforded college students the right to refuse to read any books or complete any assignments that they found morally objectionable — which, obviously, was code for making it out-and-out illegal for colleges in that state to contradict, or challenge, or even roughly jostle religion.  And in case anyone is assuming that this initiative must have been prompted by some incident of an “extreme” nature, be advised that the movement started with a religious student’s refusal to read The Ice Storm, on the grounds that there is sex in it.  (The bill was passed by the Higher Education and Rules Committees but, mercifully, failed in the open senate… by three votes.  And because it's important to me to give credit where credit is due, I should mention that the Arizona state senator who led the fight against the bill was another Republican, Jim Waring of Phoenix.)

Now that we’ve gone ahead and brought up party politics, however, we need to address one other little thing that makes all this even more complicated in terms of Left vs. Right.  Over most of the last two decades, the standard response of the Left to religious hogwash has been to take issue with it not on the grounds that it is false, but on the grounds that it is oppressive. This is why (as many Conservatives have correctly pointed out) ostensibly anti-religious opinions expressed in academic circles are typically only anti-Christian opinions — Christianity is the powerful, dominant, majority religion, and so taking issue with it fits under the P.C. umbrella, whereas taking issue with theism in general would also require calling bullshit on various minority religions, which wouldn’t fly. 

And the standard left-wing critique of Christianity involves pointing out ad nauseam that it is patriarchal.  Only… here’s that thing I need to tell you:  one of the constants that held true across all the polls I consulted for this essay, in relation to every single one of the absurd beliefs mentioned here, is the fact that a markedly higher percentage of women believe in them than men.  Noah’s Ark, the Devil, Creationism, you name it — more American women believe in those things than do American men.  

I don’t really have a particular agenda connected to this bit of information.  I’m just tossing it out there, because it seems important.  For a good long while now, our strategy as American Liberals when it comes to criticizing religion has been to lead with the charge of sexism.  So what do we do with the fact that American women are substantially more religious than American men?  And if Western religion is so patriarchal and all, then why is this the case?  It just seems like we’re not going to make any headway here unless we start taking this into consideration.  

Oh, and speaking of gender issues, 24% of Americans believe in witches.  Fucking witches.

But at least this last tidbit allows us to wrap up in an amusing way.  Assuming that virtually all of the people who believe in witches are also Creationists — which they would pretty much have to be — then it can accurately be said that roughly half of all Creationists believe in witches.

Seriously.  Fucking witches.

Veronica Lake Witch

    *This is a joke about how the list of rules commonly referred to as the 10 Commandments aren’t actually the 10 Commandments, but just some stuff that Moses says God said.  The phrase “10 Commandments,” and the fact of their being on tablets that Moses schleps down Mt. Sinai, actually appear only in conjunction with another list of 10 things that no-one’s ever heard of.  If you don’t believe me, read the Book of Exodus.  This just goes to show you how few people have actually fucking read the Bible.

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