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  • Matthew Kelly

Are Religious People Stupid?


Have you ever heard someone say, “Religious people are stupid!” I’ve heard it many times, but someone said it in a conversation recently and I challenged myself to really think it through.


When we hear statements like this, our tendency is to either accept them as completely true or reject them as completely false.


In the case of the statement, “Religious people are stupid” people who oppose religion instantly accept it and religious people instantly reject. The problem with that is that we are just reacting based on bias, rather than thinking critically.


Are religious people stupid? No. Why am I so certain? Well, for one, the statement is a gross generalization, there are billions of people on the planet who fall into this category, and at the very least generalizations are never completely true.


Some people would be satisfied at this and return to the comfortable place in their mind, assured that religious people are not stupid.


But let’s go a little further.


Why? Because the further we go, the more compete our answer, the greater confidence we can have in our conclusions.


So, I asked myself two questions: Why do some people believe religious people are stupid? and Do religious people behave stupidly sometimes?


The main reason non-religious people believe religious people are stupid is found in their accusation that religious people are “narrow-minded.” But then I asked myself another question: How to non-religious people experience religious people’s so-called narrow-mindedness? Is it in rigorous discussion of important topics? I don’t think so. It’s through judgement, sometimes real and sometimes imagined.


The definition of stupid is “showing lack of intelligence or common sense.” So, this is the question that emerges: Is it stupid to be judgmental?


Jesus was clear in Matthew 7: 1 when he said simply, “Do not judge.” He repeated this teaching many times throughout his public life.


I think a fairly good case could be made that judging other people shows a lack of intelligence and a lack of common sense.


But why did Jesus counsel us not to judge? Many reasons, but let’s look at a three. First, because it is unreasonable to ask someone to do something they are incapable of doing. It’s like asking a three-year-old to teach a post-graduate course on bio-ethics. When we judge other people we are pretending to be God, but we are eminently unqualified.


Next, because judging others interferes with healthy human relations (something God is intensely interested in). And finally, because judging other people poisons our hearts and complicates our souls.


All these lead to chaos and confusion and God prefers order and clarity.


But here is the big revelation I discovered in my recent exploration of this topic: Judgement makes empathy impossible.


What is empathy? It’s the ability to emotional understand what other people are experiencing and feeling. It’s the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. It’s the ability to imagine yourself in their situation. Or… and this is a big one… the awareness that for whatever reason you are unable to relate or connect or imagine what it feels like to be that person.


Empathy is so central to human relationships that God rigorously steers us away from anything that impedes it, and judgement seems to be at the top of that list.


Judgement makes empathy impossible.


I don’t know for sure if it is stupid to judge others, but I do know that empathy is a beautiful expression of emotional genius that we are all capable of and that we should all continue to develop.


Are religious people stupid? No. But we do behave stupidly sometimes, and when we do, we impede other people’s ability to experience God.


Judgment belongs to God and stealing from God is never a good idea.


The difference between God’s judgment and human judgement is that in His perfection God can judge and remain empathetic. His judgement and mercy are in perfect balance and unison. When human being become judgmental it shuts down our capacity our empathic functions, creating division and conflict.


There is no such thing as a highly evolved spiritual person who lacks empathy. Empathy is proof that the truth of religion has taken deep root in our lives.


Matthew Kelly


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