Folks frequently make the following distinction: Respect the religion, but condemn the “bad” things people do for it.
Recently I have spoken out against religion and its tenets of faith for various reasons, among them are terrorism, denying medical care to children, racism (as found in the Christian Identity movement), and missionary work (which, among other things, too-often separates members of the same family into believers and others).
I also sometimes harp on religious beliefs that I see as highly acidic to a cohesive society. I am thinking here, for example, about the doctrine of hell — which I find troubling whether it causes division of not. Let’s say my Christian neighbor wont let his kid play with mine because “that atheist family is going to hell!” Or let’s say that Christian family treats me kindly and neighborly all the while thinking that I, my wife, my child will, eventually, be roasting eternally in torment… I mean, which one is more disturbing?
Then there are the many admonishments in both the Koran and the Bible concerning non-believers — casting them out as evil, unsaved, lost, and damnable…
I find this whole respect thing to be both unwarranted and a little bit dangerous. A recent article by Johann Hari in The Independent exposes how “the forces of respect” are lining up to erode freedom and to institutionalize prejudice, chauvinism, and certain kinds of violence. The article centers on efforts by some Muslim nations to alter The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 60 years ago declared that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” They claim it is simply not “respectful” to religion.
And because the UN has bowed to this religious cry of disrespect, the objections have spread. Hari writes:
The Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.
Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” -– and Brown was ordered to be silent.
Hari also points out that a quick perusal of last week’s news can give us plenty of good reasons not only to disrespect religious beliefs, but to actively oppose them:
In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.
So yeah, I’m pretty much all for not respecting religious beliefs. As many others have claimed, no one has a right not to be offended — I needn’t stop talking because you don’t like what you hear. I will continue to challenge. Here is a nice closing quote from Hari’s article:
All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him… I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.