Today, I made a couple of posts regarding religion. One was regarding the need to religious ideologies to be criticized in the political sphere and the other was a simple counter-apologetic question for people to discuss and play with. In the wake of these, I was accused of attacking religion and persecuting the religious. I believe that this needs to be discussed.
Christopher Hitchens, in a lecture on free speech put it very well…
I exempt myself from the speaker’s kind offer of protection that was so generously proffered at the opening of this evening. Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me is quite free to do so, and welcome in fact, at their own risk.
But before they do that they must have taken, as I’m sure we all should, a short refresher course in the classic texts on this matter. Which are John Milton’s Areopagitica, Ariel Pogetica being the great hill of Athens for discussion and free expression. Thomas Paine’s introduction to the age of reason. And I would say John Stuart Mill’s essay on liberty in which it is variously said — I’ll be very daring and summarize all three of these great gentlemen of the great tradition of, especially, English liberty, in one go: What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.
In more modern times this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxembourg, who said freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. My great friend John O. Sullivan former editor of the National Review, and I think probably my most conservative and reactionary Catholic friend, once said — it’s a tiny thought experiment — if you hear the Pope saying he believes in God, you think, well, the Pope’s just doing his job again today. If you hear the Pope saying he’s begun to doubt the existence of God, you think he might be on to something.
You see, all ideas can and should be criticized. They should be poked and prodded from all directions. How else will we know if those ideas are worth of holding onto? If an idea cannot withstand criticism, then it should be discarded. Any idea that is placed on a pedestal and exclaimed as being protected from criticism is the most dangerous of ideas, and should be torn down immediately for the sake of free thought and honest discourse.
Now, let’s talk about persecution and what that means.
When we attack ideas, that’s all that we’re doing. We aren’t attacking people. If the people who hold those ideas are offended because those ideas are being called into question, then they need to seriously reevaluate their worldview. If I’m criticizing an idea and someone is offended, that is entirely on them. That is their fault and their problem. If their idea cannot be criticized, and handle that criticism, but instead needs to use to the “I’m offended” cop out to survive, then it should be discarded, because it’s not worth holding onto.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair put it well when she said…
I’ll tell you what you did with Atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanised them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disembowelled them, hanged them, burnt them alive.
And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.
You see, even now, in other parts of the world, I have friends who live in religious theocracies and are frantically trying to get out of them. The problem they face is that the penalty for apostasy is death. If you don’t believe in the god of the state, you are subject to capital punishment under the law.
In America, we have a growing movement of Christians who are insisting that the government should be a Christian based theocratic entity. This movement has taken over one of the major political parties, the Republicans. It should not only be acceptable, but even morally mandatory for Americans to stand up and speak out against this ideology.
Christians are not being persecuted in America. They are the standard, the default. It’s like being a straight, cis, white male…they hold all the privilege when it comes to belief systems. Even today, in 7 states, an atheist is prohibited by law from running for office. In many communities across the country, atheists are still terrified to be known as one, because they’ll face bullying and persecution from their overtly religious community.
So, when people start whining that criticizing religious beliefs is somehow a personal attack or persecution, it becomes increasingly obvious that they haven’t looked at the state of the nation in any meaningful way, when it comes to religious belief in America.
Contributor: Robert Sacerich
Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.
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