Matzah does not taste good. But still, in the past week, it conquered social media. It took over Snapchat Stories, Facebook walls, and even my Twitter feed.
A couple of days later, friends began posting statuses containing bible verses—thanking Jesus for dying for their sins, making pledges to be more pious in the coming year, and lauding the Marshmallow Peep. I will admit: Peeps do taste better than matzah.
Meanwhile, I spent a few hours last weekend watching HBO’s new documentary, “Going Clear,” and learning the inner-workings of the unfathomably corrupt, money-making “religion” that is Scientology. I have yet to taste Tom Cruise.
And you know what’s weird? Despite my desire to be an accepting, sympathetic, all-loving member of society, I was equally horrified by all of the above—the toffee and chocolate covered cardboard, the resurrection, and the Tom Cruise.
Why? Because, simply put, while I respect many religious people—and I don’t think faith somehow prohibits intelligence—I remain confident that religion is the world’s most destructive force.
Before going any further, I want to make clear that I am not just talking about religious extremists in this piece. If I were, I wouldn’t have started with matzah and Peeps; instead, I would have led with a condemnation of the zealots responsible for massacring 147 Kenyans in the name of radical Islam, a denunciation of the treatment of women in the Hasidic community, an impassioned defense of gay marriage, etc. (not to create a false equivalency between any of the above).
I’m also not here to say whether or not a god exists. If you believe in a god (that is, any of the thousands who have been worshipped throughout human history), mazel tov. If you don’t, that’s also more than okay—but we can talk about Hitchens another time.
No, this piece isn’t about people who take religion to the extreme, and it’s not meant to mock or deride people’s faith. Again, thousands of articles and books have done that, and I am genuinely not interested in being incendiary or offending anybody.
Rather, the purpose of this column is to identify how America’s culture of religious acceptance has adverse effects—how an overemphasis on religious tolerance cripples intellectual, social, and environmental progress.
Of course, every American should be allowed to practice whatever religion she chooses, and her legal right to do so should never be compromised under any circumstances. However, Americans at Harvard and elsewhere, myself included, have a tendency to stop themselves from making logical, intellectually-driven arguments for fear of offending religious people. And this is problematic.
Here’s a micro-example of this phenomenon: When I stopped eating carbs last week to try to get six-pack abs (an admittedly failed attempt), I was made fun of by all of my friends: “Why would you deprive yourself of the pleasure of pizza?” But when several of my most religious peers swore off leavened bread this week in solidarity with Israelites from a story that takes place thousands of years ago, nobody questioned their decision—in fact, dining halls and other eating establishments changed their menus to accommodate these people’s needs.
After all, no matter how ridiculous people’s actions get, if they are making decisions based on religious beliefs, we, as a society, will not criticize them.
On a bigger scale, this trend has far more detrimental effects. When religious students at Harvard make arguments against abortion in day-to-day conversation, admit that they don’t believe in evolution, or embrace a second-class role for women in society, we tend not to question them and not to push back. In turn, we sacrifice our intellectual rigor.
When people say they can’t believe in climate change for religious reasons—or, worse, argue that atrocities like climate change or natural disasters are God’s form of retribution for leading secular lives—we do not confront them head on. Sure, we might mock these beliefs behind their backs, but without directly questioning and forcing them to defend their ideas, we are letting our political correctness prevent us from engaging in an honest debate.
Which is to say: While I would and could never actually stop you from eating matzah, abstaining from sex until marriage, or conducting Derrida-level deconstruction of L. Ron Hubbard’s prose, I should feel just as safe to criticize any and all of your beliefs as you feel making fun of me for trying to get a six-pack in time for the summer.
Sam H. Koppelman ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Hollis Hall.
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