The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
– George Bernard Shaw
People sometimes ask me why I criticise religion. They ask me why I don’t just take the attitude of live and let live.
Because religions are just stories and they can be criticised like any other stories.
Because religions are ideas and they can be criticised like any other ideas.
Because religious prophets, messiahs, gurus and the like are just people and what they say can be criticised like anything said by any other person.
Because religious people persecute others who don’t hold to their views.
Granted most religious people I know largely cherry pick the nice bits from their religion, but most carry at least some nasty views, and the more fundamentalist types take the whole thing literally. Most religious people are moderate but they pave the way for extremists when they say that faith is a good thing, that believing in something with no evidence is a virtue. This is a toxic idea.
Some of the religious explain away the more ludicrous stories – such as magic fruit and talking snakes – as metaphorical, and they try to ignore the nastier ideas in a similar vein, claiming they’re allegorical, or by arguing that they only apply in a limited context (a fun demolition of the contextual approach is here). The problem is that this pick and mix approach is not taken by all adherents and many do take these ideas literally.
This assumption that religion provides us with morals – as well as being absurd – is pernicious and dangerous for society.
There’s an assumption floating around these days that saying something about religion is angry, extreme or militant because we have this unwritten social rule that we don’t criticise religious belief. But it’s not, because when you listen to the criticisms it is actually logical and rational to say that religion is silly, and further that it should have no bearing on our moral decisions.
As one brave atheist said: “When I realized that there was nothing out there to redeem me, or tell me how to live, or that I needed to obey, I began to take true responsibility for myself. I sought to examine my thoughts and actions more carefully, and established a morality based on reason and humanity.”
Stephen Fry passionately said: “We must remember that the church is very loose on moral evils because – although they try to accuse people like me, who believe in empiricism and the enlightenment, of what they call moral relativism, as if it’s some appalling sin whereas what it actually means is thought – they, for example, thought that slavery was absolutely fine, absolutely okay and then they didn’t. And what is the point of the catholic church if it says ‘oh we couldn’t know better because nobody else did’. Then what are you for?!”
Education is a big one here. The religious continue to try to indoctrinate children in one third of state funded schools in the UK. This is bad for children and society on so many levels. It encourages segregation. It stifles healthy learning and development. Children should be taught critical thinking and logic in a secular and rationalist environment. They should be taught to ask questions, to be critical about every idea they are taught. They should not be taught what to think but how to think. Anything less is to abrogate our responsibilities to children. Yet astoundingly the UK government is encouraging more of these schools, where it’s okay to dismiss a teacher if they don’t conform to certain beliefs or based on their marital status, where it’s okay to refuse a child on the grounds of whether their parents believe in a fairy tale, where homophobic attitudes are aired and where healthy sex and relationship teaching is withheld. Still, at least in this country they think it’s okay to educate kids, unlike others.
Then many countries are introducing new laws against blasphemy. Blasphemy is essentially criticising, or not showing enough respect for, a religion or a religious figure. There are far too many atrocious examples of such laws being used. Many even want the UN to impose an international law against it. After all, the bible dictates death to blasphemers.
The idea that a being with supernatural powers is so sensitive to criticism that it needs such ludicrous laws is obviously very silly. More seriously, the sensitivity of the religious to criticisms of their beliefs, and the ends to which they will go to silence critics of their views, is on its own reason enough to justify my critical position.
Many people argue that I should ‘respect’ people’s religious beliefs. This is ridiculous as I patently have no respect for religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot respect a person. One must separate respect for a person from respect for their beliefs.
So in conclusion I defend religious freedom but not religious privilege. I defend the right of anyone to hold a view and discuss it in public, but I will not stand by when views I consider wrong are imposed on others. And I stand up for my right to criticise views with which I disagree.