TO MAKE THINGS EASIER TO SEE, I'LL PUT MY NEW COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS. I'M NOT FLAMING, I SWEAR.
Outrageous claim number 3: All religion is oppressive.
According to The International Manifesto for Atheistic Humanism, for instance, "Religion is oppressive. The act of subjugating human will to "divine will" is oppressive. The practice of obeying clergy, of letting them make our decisions for us, is oppressive and irresponsible."
THIS WAS PROBABLY THE WRONG QUOTE TO USE FOR THIS. BUT LET ME ADDRESS THIS QUOTE ANYWAY. WHERE THERE IS CHOICE, THERE CAN BE NO OPPRESSION. WE SUBMIT OURSELVES TO THE DIVINE WILL OF OUR OWN VOLITION. MANY RELIGIOUS GROUPS ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO MAKE UP THEIR OWN MINDS. YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO OBEY SOME PRIESTLY AUTHORITY. PART OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION WAS ERADICATING THIS ASPECT OF CHRISTIANITY, GIVING THE LAITY THE RIGHT TO STUDY AND DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES. IN MOST PROTESTANT DENOMINATIONS, THE LAITY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO HIRE/FIRE THE MINISTER. AGAIN, WHERE A CONSCIOUS CHOICE IS MADE TO OBEY AN AUTHORITY OR TO SUBMIT TO THE WISDOM OF LEARNED THEOLOGICAL SCHOLARS, THERE IS NO OPPRESSION.
This one flies in the face of the evidence. Yes, it's very easy to show many instances of oppression stemming from religion. However, it is also easy to show many instances in which political and social progress were spearheaded by religious individuals based on the teachings of their particular faiths. Study the abolitionist movement or the civil rights movement and you will be hard pressed not to encounter the role of religion in these struggles for liberation. To go beyond Christianity, there is now a movement in Africa that teaches Muslim women how to read the Koran so that they can refute the false claim that that religion demands or even permits female genital mutilation. THERE ARE MANY WHO CONSTANTLY HARP ON THE EXCESSES/ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF RELIGION. IN MOST HISTORICAL CASES, RELIGION WAS A SUPERFICIAL EXCUSE THAT COVERED THE TRUE MOTIVATIONS OF THOSE WHO MADE THE DECISION TO OPPRESS OTHERS. UNFORTUNATELY, HUMANS DO NOT REQUIRE RELIGION TO WANT TO OPPRESS OTHERS OR TO JUSTIFY IT. IN FACT, AFTER THE ENLIGHTENMENT, SCIENCE PROVIDED THE JUSTIFICATION FOR SLAVERY (RACIAL THEORY), THE SUBJUGATION OF WOMEN (FEMALE PHYSICAL/MENTAL INFERIORITY) AND GENOCIDE (EUGENICS). FOR THOSE WHO THOUGHT THE ISLAM EXAMPLE WAS A BAD ONE, ONE PERSON POINTED OUT THAT FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION WOULD NOT HAVE EXISTED BUT FOR ISLAM, I THINK YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF THIS PARTICULAR TRADITION IS LIMITED. FGM EXISTED LONG BEFORE ISLAM AND IS NOT FOUND IN ANY OF ISLAM'S HOLY TEXTS. THIS IS A MATTER OF CULTURE TRUMPING RELIGION, AS IRSHAD MANJI IS SO FOND OF SAYING.
Religion, like any system of belief, is subject to the often contradictory nature of humanity and the tides of history. It is one thing at this moment and in this place and something completely different in another time and place. Oppression or liberation (with a few exceptions) are in the application, not necessarily inherent in the system of belief itself. For instance, communism may look fine on paper, but in the hands of the Russians post-revolution, it was used to support one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history. NO, I'M NOT A COMMUNIST. HOWEVER, ONE MUST AGREE THAT THE IDEALS LAID OUT IN THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO LEAVE NO ROOM FOR THE AUTHORITARIANISM, CULT OF PERSONALITY, AND PARTY ARISTOCRACY THAT CAME TO EXIST IN COMMUNIST COUNTRIES IN THE 20TH CENTURY. HUMANS AREN'T VERY GOOD AT PRACTICING THEIR OWN IDEALS/BELIEFS.
Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.
Marxists and anarchists, specifically, hold that the total eradication of religion is an essential but not sufficient step in the creation of an atheist utopia. In some interpretations of these systems of thought, false though they may be, the eradication of religion is thought to be sufficient to create utopia. AGAIN, THESE ARE FALSE INTERPRETATIONS OF MARXIST THEORY. I'LL CONCEDE TO THOSE WHO ARGUE THAT ONLY A FEW REAL NUTTERS WOULD ARGUE FOR UTOPIA. HOW ABOUT THOSE WHO SIMPLY THINK THE WORLD WILL BE A MUCH BETTER PLACE? THEY IGNORE THE VERY NATURE OF HUMANITY. IRRATIONALITY, ANGER, HATRED, GREED, NARCISSISM, ETC. ARE NOT CREATED BY RELIGION AND WILL NOT BE DESTROYED BY ITS ABSENCE.
Forgive me for discussing Torah, but I think the story of Adam and Eve (interpreted as a parable) is relevant here. Adam and Eve couldn't remain in the garden because they were fully human, with the free will that that implies. The message: humanity and paradise cannot exist together. In any society, no matter how ideal, there will be discontent, antisocial behavior, criminality, anger, uncontrolled passions, greed, avarice, disobedience, and dissent. There will be, at last, the human animal. Some new system of control and punishment will arise to cope with those aspects of the humanity and free will that endanger society. No utopia can withstand that. OKAY, ADAM AND EVE WERE A BAD IDEA.
Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.
This is perhaps the claim I've heard most often in conversations with friends and readers of the atheist persuasion, some of whom condemn it as false. I tried to find an "official" source for this hasty generalization with no luck, but chose to include it here based on personal experience. In addition to the fact that it's a logical fallacy based on a habit of many but not all atheists to judge all religions by their negative experiences with or feelings about Christianity, this claim also flies in the face of reality. I REFER YOU TO THE GUY IN MY "WHO ARE THESE EXTREMISTS?" POST WHO COMPARED RELIGION TO THE BORG COLLECTIVE, SWALLOWING EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH.
If I may, permit me to speak for those of the religious persuasion. Yes, many religious people do want to convert you, however, some of us could really care less what you believe. Personally, I wouldn't care if you believed that a big head of lettuce were going to come down and give us all strong bones and healthy teeth. Hey, as long as you're not interfering with someone else's rights, all hail the holy radicchio and bully for you. That's your business. Of course, I'm a practitioner of Judaism, which absolutely forbids proselytizing and any attempt at coercing or forcing someone to change his beliefs. In fact, many have even been denied conversion to Judaism and those who are finally accepted face a long and arduous process. Oh, wait. Judaism is a religon! SOMEONE SAID THAT "CONVINCE" WAS PROBABLY THE WRONG WORD, SINCE OF COURSE, PEOPLE WOULD WANT TO CONVINCE YOU AT LEAST. NO, IN JUDAISM, EVEN THE ATTEMPT TO CONVINCE SOMEONE OF YOUR BELIEFS IS FORBIDDEN. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME A RABBI KNOCKED ON YOUR DOOR WITH TORAH IN HAND, TRYING TO CONVINCE YOU THAT YOU SHOULDN'T EAT PORK OR WORK ON SATURDAY? IN ISRAEL, PROSELYTIZING IS A CRIME AND MISSIONARY MATERIALS ARE REGULARLY SEIZED BY THE GOVERNMENT. WHILE I DISAGREE WITH THAT PRACTICE, I THINK IT PROVES THE POINT.
After that brief foray into snark, we come to the dangers. In modern America, secular extremists as a group don't have the wealth, influence, numbers or power to affect the way most of us live our lives. However, we should learn from what has happened elsewhere and be prepared to meet them if or when they do. While most who believe in the separation of church and state hold that only government support of religion in the public sphere should be forbidden, the secular extremist may take it one step further to forbid the private display of religious symbols in public places. Remember the laws forbidding the wearing of yarmulkes, crosses, hijabs, and the like in France. THIS WAS INTENDED TO SAY THE LAWS WERE PASSED IN FRANCE, NOT THAT THESE THINGS WERE FORBIDDEN THROUGHOUT FRANCE. ALTHOUGH THESE LAWS WERE PASSED BY A CENTER-RIGHT GOVERNMENT, I THINK THIS IS SOMETHING THE EXTREME LEFT MAY BE CAPABLE OF... READ THE RELIGION DISCUSSION BOARDS OVER AT DEMOCRATIC UNDERGROUND AND NOTICE THE PEOPLE WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT PEOPLE WEARING RELIGIOUS JEWELRY OR POSTING THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ON THEIR PRIVATE CUBICLES JUST AS THEY WOULD A FAMILY PICTURE. HOW LONG BEFORE SOMEONE CLAIMS THAT THIS CREATES A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT FOR ATHEISTS, SINCE IT OBVIOUSLY MAKES SOME OF THEM HORRIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE? Such laws are just as much a violation of the liberal ideals of freedom of religion and conscience as laws that require religious practices.
But that's far in the future for America if it ever comes to our shores at all; the greatest danger the secular extremist poses now is to the integrity and success of progressive movements. I THINK I DESCRIBED WHAT I MEANT BY THIS EARLIER. If we are to truly uphold the liberal ideals of freedom and liberty, we must stand against extremists of all stripes who would threaten those ideals. Secondly, in a nation comprised predominantly of those who believe in some sort of supreme being, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the secular extremist as a legitimate voice of the left. WE'RE NOT GOING TO GET ANYWHERE POLITICALLY (ELECTORALLY OR IDEOLOGICALLY) IF WELL-MEANING RELIGIOUS PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LEFTIST/LIBERAL/PROGRESSIVE CAUSES AND IDEALS FEEL OSTRACIZED BY THE SCORN AND RIDICULE HEAPED UPON THEM. LIKE I TOLD AN EARLIER COMMENTER, TRY PARTICIPATING IN ANY DISCUSSION ON EVOLUTION (EVEN FROM THE PRO SIDE) WITHOUT ENCOUNTERING MASS ATTACKS ON THE "STUPIDITY" OF ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE (WHICH CONTINUE WITH NO REGARD FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS FACTORS INVOLVED SUCH AS A STRUGGLING AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM). Finally, our commitment to truth demands we counter the fallacies being perpetuated in our name.
PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW WHAT I MEAN BY THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS, THE ONES I LEFT OUT. I MEAN THE ONES LIKE DAWKINS' QUOTE (PARROTED A FEW TIMES DURING THIS DEBACLE) THAT RAISING YOUR CHILDREN IN YOUR RELIGIOUS TRADITION IS CHILD ABUSE WORSE THAN SEXUAL MOLESTATION. OR THAT IT'S BRAINWASHING. OR THAT ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE STUPID, DELUDED, BIGOTED, HAVE NO COMMON SENSE, ETC. OR THE CLAIMS THAT BELIEVING IN G-D IS THE SAME AS BELIEVING IN SANTA CLAUS, WHEN WE KNOW WITHOUT QUESTION SANTA CLAUS IS A LEGEND DERIVED FROM THE STORY OF ST. NICHOLAS AND GIVEN HIS CURRENT FORM BY A COCA-COLA ADVERTISING CARTOON. (OF COURSE, THIS IS AN EASY WAY TO CLAIM THAT RELIGOUS PEOPLE ARE ALL NAIVE, STUPID, CRETINS WHO BELIEVE IN "OBVIOUS" IMAGINARY FRIENDS.)
OR THE ATTITUDE VERY PREVALENT TODAY THAT YOU GET TO TAKE WHAT EVER ABUSE HAS BEEN HEAPED ON YOU BY A SMALL PART OF A GROUP OUT ON THE ENTIRE GROUP. IF SOMEONE IN A MAJORITY GROUPS DOES THIS, WE CALL IT WHAT IT IS: BIGOTRY. WHY DO WE PRETEND AS IF IT'S ACCEPTABLE SIMPLY BECAUSE IT COMES FROM A MINORITY WITH WHOM WE CAN SYMPATHIZE? HAVING BEEN VICTIMIZED DOES NOT, IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM EXCUSE ATTACKING INNOCENT PEOPLE (VERBALLY OR PHYSICALLY) BASED ON THEIR MEMBERSHIP IN THE SAME "GROUP" AS SOMEONE WHO DID YOU WRONG. NO, WE'RE NOT ALL ALIKE.