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Atheist Perspective: Ridiculous

“I have a new appreciation for the Catholic church and Catholics in general. They don’t seem to be all that serious, they have parties, drink, holidays, etc. These other people are just crazy.”

This was said to me over the weekend. It made me think about the semi-debate that comedian Bill Maher and Sam Harris have been having with their fellow liberals (actually, I have no idea about Sam Harris’s politics but I know his stance on religion) about Islam. It’s caused a bit of controversy because the left in American politics has a paradox that it needs to resolve: are they accepting of all beliefs or not? On the one hand liberal politics is supposed to be about progress and bringing in new/different points of view. Right wing politicians in the US have a hard time being anything other than Christian, and even then it’s a certain form of Christianity that they have to appeal to in order to pass the primaries.

Left wingers on the other hand have to cater to an entirely different stereotype. With regard to social policies or ideals, they have to almost be anti-Christian. Pro-Choice, pro-birth control, pro-Euthanasia (oddly too, people of the book on the other side cannot point to one passage from their book addressing any of those issues since they don’t exist) and pro-religious tolerance. Now I don’t want to relate my stance on abortion, birth control, or the right to die in this post. Religious tolerance though, is where the conflict exists.

The tendency on the left is to be unrealistic about the effect of religion on its followers. Their mantra seems to be a kind of cultural relativism, and it’s completely hypocritical for them to do so. If the entire state of Utah wants to enact Mormon policies through popular democratic processes as a matter of culture there isn’t a left winger that wouldn’t criticize it. Stereotypes would fly freely about what a Mormon is, how they want to run things, and that even the moderates are guilty through silence.

I don’t know what happened in the 60s, I was not alive. However at some point being on the left meant that anything exotic or different had to be accepted. The more foreign the better, and this is what becomes the problem.

As an atheist I understand that religion is man-made, all of it. I agree with Thomas Paine on this. I also understand that religion makes people do things, violent horrible things in the name of a spiritual being whose orders come through books, texts, and other people. The actions taken in the name of a religion may or may not be supported by the religion itself, since I’m being completely general I don’t think it’s a controversial statement.

When we get specific we find that almost every one of the major world religions have a substantial amount of violence reserved for non believers…especially the Abrahamic religions. The problem that Maher and Harris have run into with the left is that they haven’t restricted their criticisms of religion to Christianity as is the vogue. They have also decided to condemn Islam as well. In doing so what they have done is given the appearance that they are Islamaphobic.

Are they? Defending their position is difficult because condemning a religion I was not a member of seems to creep myself into some kind of racism. However I’m not prejudging people, I am judging a religion. I can condemn a religion that is anti-education, anti-progress, anti-human rights, etc. That’s not hard, in fact that should be our duty. If someone, anyone goes around spouting hatred and motivating others to commit violence and terrorism we ought to be telling that person and those listening to them that they are wrong. If they are using a religion as the lever to achieve those ends are we supposed to stop? No.

The quote at the top of this post was not a person talking about all Catholics, it was a person talking about people who are really lax about their religion. They believe in the basic story but are completely different from fundamentalist Catholics who oppose homosexual rights, birth control, divorce, and fraternize with apostates and non-believers. The more fundamentalist a member of a religion get the more intolerant of those who don’t share those beliefs. Islam is not unique in this regard.

Saying this does not make a person a racist. The evidence that Islamic fundamentalists execute and make war upon those who don’t share their beliefs exists. The current war in the Middle East concerning ISIS is a sectarian conflict within Islam between those who believe one thing and those who believe another. This is a fact. As the Islamic holidays approach the tensions that exist between the Shia and the Sunni sects are more than likely going to boil over. Again though, this is not endemic to one religion, it’s merely identifying it within one religion.

Of course there are quite a bit of Muslims across the world who do not approve of the actions of the violent minority with whom they share a common religious belief. We have no idea what the numbers are because such a survey, I think, would be impossible to accurately conduct. It exists in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The actions of the violent minority do not reflect the ideas or even the wishes of the majority. Pointing out that this minority exists is not hatred. Pointing out that a larger group give silent approval is also not hatred. It ought not to be our policy to tolerate intolerance or to tolerate violence. Placing a muzzle on our opinions just because people are different is cowardice.

Can we explain the violence a different way? Perhaps, perhaps we can claim that poverty conditions, oppression by dictators, centuries of sectarian tensions all lead to what we have been seeing these last few decades. If the common thread in all the horrible actions is an idea, then that idea ought to be condemned. If a cartoon, in a small newspaper is so offensive that violence erupts it is not the cartoon which is at fault but the idea that those who feel that criticisms are worth attack and death which is. A religion which believes that any apostasy or defiance is worth death should not be protected by politeness.

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