Let’s talk about overgeneralization. And the first thing to keep in mind is: Don’t worry, everybody’s doing it! 

Overgeneralization is what psychologists call a “cognitive distortion.” Cognitive = thinking. Distortion = fun house mirror. So a cognitive distortion is a thinking fun house mirror. You look at your reflection, and rather than Dan T, you see a snake who ate five turtles.

Discussions about religion always involve overgeneralizations. For example, “All atheists are jerks” is an overgeneralization. I know this because I, an atheist, am like the nicest guy in the world: kind, generous, loving, funny, brilliant. All I lack is humility–which is a pretty minor failing, if you ask me. 

So it’s wrong that you paint us all with the same brush.

“All religionists wear funny hats” is also an overgeneralization. Some of those hats are not funny at all–they are simply awesome. See, for example, this mitre:

I would kill to wear a hat like that. But the truth is, I look terrible in gold. So I had a brilliant idea: Wear it somewhere dark so the color thing wouldn’t be an issue. But all the people in the seats behind me just bitched and bitched. It didn’t work out. 

Frankly, although I don’t generally like to say either atheism or religion is better than the other, when it comes to hats, the believers are the clear winners. So the funny hat thing is also an overgeneralization.

It’s easier to spot overgeneralization when someone else is doing it than when you are doing it. Which is good, because it isn’t worth it to see it in ourselves.

Wait, you might say. What’s wrong with seeing that I’ve made an overgeneralization? Well, here’s the problem. If you’ve made an overgeneralization, it means you were wrong about something you knew you were right about. And if you are wrong about something you knew you were right about, then you’re probably wrong about everything you know you are right about. And if that’s the case, then you can’t trust yourself. And if you can’t trust yourself, that is a catastrophe. And catastrophes are bad. 

So the trick is to spot overgeneralizations when someone else makes them, and be blind to them when you make them.

And like I said, it’s totally cool, don’t worry. Overgeneralizations are awesome.


  1. What overgeneralizations are the other guys always making that drive you nuts?
  2. What’s Franco got to do with it?