Atheism, by definition, means an absence of faith or a disbelief in the existence of God. By this definition, I am most assuredly an atheist. But as followers of this blog will know, I also have a dislike for some of the attitudes and methods, respectively held and utilized, by a sizable minority of contemporary atheists within the so-called ‘New’ or ‘militant’ atheist movement.
New Atheists will sometimes complain that their branded title is a misnomer and that there is nothing ‘new’ about their atheism. But while atheism itself is not new, it seems to me and to many others, that there is something relatively new, at least in our contemporary culture, regarding the prevalence of religious antagonism and the alleged necessity for an organized commitment to rid the world of religion.
Over the last decade, this growing atheistic trend has attracted its critics and some rather unfortunate labels, including ‘fanatical atheism’ and ‘atheist fundamentalism.’ New atheists naturally abhor such labels, and counter that they are meaningless. They additionally claim that there can be no such thing as a ‘moderate’ atheist, since in their minds, the only alternative to an antagonistic and intolerant approach, would appear to advocate a position of passivity, where one does not seem in any way bothered by, or willing to confront religious injustices.
“… might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves – and still do?” – A.C. Grayling
So the argument goes, that any true atheist must be fundamentally opposed to religion, and presumably, willing to actively challenge it wherever it rears its ugly head. However, it seems to me that in hurriedly framing our definitions as such, we risk conflating several terms: 1) an ontological conclusion (e.g. the nonexistence of God), 2) a natural consequence (e.g. religious ideas cause universal harm), and 3) a moral imperative (e.g. we ought to contest religious thought at every opportunity).
Logically speaking, an absence of faith is just that; it does not necessitate an active promotion of said unbelief, nor does it imply that one ought to take positive actions to challenge the spiritual beliefs of others. Atheism might alternatively involve an attitude of dispassionate indifference. Why waste time and energy, one might reason, angrily debating about the existence of something that does not exist? From this perspective, one might curiously observe it as yet another one of the many strange and irrational beliefs that humans hold about themselves and the world they inhabit – there is nothing extraordinary about that, and perhaps no point in getting up in arms about it.
Of course the necessary ingredient, for turning atheistic non-belief into a ‘militant’ style of rebellious engagement, is holding the additional view that religious unreason is categorically bad or evil (presumably more so than many other forms of unreason), and that one must therefore work to actively extract these dangerous delusions from society, by relentlessly challenging religious belief and the people who hold such views, wherever it is seen or heard. Note that this view is implicitly opposed to any kind of religious tolerance – it is understood that every religious belief ought to be challenged, regardless of whether it is held by a person with a casual adherence to their faith and who respects the rights and freedoms of others, or someone who is a religious extremist who habitually infringes on such rights. So while atheism at its basic level might be a matter of indifference with regard to action, militant atheism is prescriptive, has an active stance it implicitly wants to promote (discussed below) and a collective religious target it explicitly seeks to destroy.
Before continuing, I want to be clear that I do no deny that the world could be a better place without religion, that there are undoubtedly times and places where it needs to be directly challenged, and perhaps more rarely those occasions that call for an aggressive or antagonistic style of engagement. What I take issue with is the aggressive, sneering, and mocking tone employed by many New Atheists, not under exceptional circumstances that may warrant its use, but rather as the typical means of engagement with religious believers. In other words, I am critical of a sub-section of angry and intolerant atheists, who lacking respect for people who hold untrue beliefs, appear to take joyful pleasure in their aggressive ridicule and in the excited anticipation of humiliating their intended targets. This brand of atheist does more than rationally challenge religious unreason when it intrudes upon lives and personal freedoms. In many cases they actively seek it out, and have grown hyper-sensitive, not to anything that sounds irrational (a point worth noting), but rather spiritual. This hypersensitivity has apparently grown so robust, that in situations where human rights and values are secure from religious threat, many cannot seem to resist an opportunity to verbally attack and humiliate anyone suspected of holding religious views, or indeed in many cases, anyone who disagrees with them about their own strongly held convictions.
It is important to emphasize that most New Atheists seem to target religion, and not entrenched ideologies or dogmatic unreason more generally, as the ultimate evil that must be extracted from society – once complete, the implicit belief is that we could finally be optimistic about ridding the world of war, hatred, poverty, and so on. This perspective seemingly allows New Atheists to vilify religion as an absolute evil, while simultaneously treating science and ‘Truth’ as being absolutely good. It undoubtedly also plays a role in allowing people like Richard Dawkins to write and talk in such a derisive tone about religious believers, and for him to come to some rather strange conclusions:
“What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.” – Dawkins, April, 2013
Gad Saad, subject of one of my recent critiques, seems to be in agreement:
“I concur with Dawkins when he proposed that targeting religious messages to children is tantamount to child abuse.” (Saad, The Consuming Instinct, p. 205-206)
Sam Harris is also quite comfortable making rather categorical statements about religion:
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.” – Sam Harris
Many atheist websites also trend toward absolute and polarized discussions, where religious intolerance is encouraged and anger is the primary emotion validated within its ranks. Religious believers are not uncommonly labelled as “stupid idiots,” “morons,” and often worse, while less aggressive atheists who challenge the attitudes of anyone among their ranks, are not infrequently dismissed as “tone trolls,” “accommodationist douchebags,” “closet creationists,” or “intellectual cowards.” A woman recently described her leaving the church and trying to find acceptance within the online community of atheists:
“I would say I felt exactly as welcome in movement atheism as I did at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but that would be a lie. No one at St. Peter’s ever called me a stupid cunt because I disagreed with them.” – Melissa McEwen
Kenan Malik, whose work and quality of thought I deeply admire, and who I had the pleasure of meeting for coffee a couple of years ago during his first trip to Canada, recently provided some insightful challenges to what he describes as authoritarian atheism. Malik most alarmingly draws attention to examples where persons of religious belief are at times dehumanized in online discussions while supposedly rational and free-thinking atheists allowed it to continue unchecked. His arguments are spot on and his piece is certainly worth a read.
For my part, I would like to look at the driving forces of militant atheism juxtaposed against humanistic values, meanings, and notions of legitimate rebellion, and within the broader context of the absurd and our shared human condition. In particular, I want to assess here whether the methods of the militant atheist are consistent with the motives that presumably initiated the call for rebellious action. We will first explore the two oft-cited though admittedly intertwined motives for the necessity of militant atheism: one is based on the upholding of some objective truth(s), the other is based on the upholding of some moral value(s). Though these two positions are indeed entangled, I will suggest that at times one side might be emphasized more than the other to different effects and logical consistencies.
Militant Atheist Arguments emphasizing ‘Truth’
Some militant atheists aggressively argue against religion based on it being untrue, inaccurate, and unsupported by scientific evidence. It is the holding of untrue beliefs, some argue, which often cause us to treat one another unjustly, propagate wars, limit freedoms, violate human rights, and so on. In other words, the undermining and debasement of humanistic values are thought to be caused by religious unreason. Therefore, in engagement with religious believers, the emphasis is placed on the importance of reason, truth, and objective scientific evidence.
“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate the evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” – Richard Dawkins, Edinburgh Science Festival (1992).
Presumably, if an atheist were solely concerned with truth or evidence, if they found it, he or she might be converted to accept the existence of God, and perhaps even the necessity of abiding by His religious doctrine and commandments.
“I would gladly accept the existence of God if I saw convincing evidence for it. I haven’t seen any.” – Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True
Based on my reading of both Coyne and Dawkins, I know that even if God existed they might be inclined to reject Him – as would I, but we will get to that later. For now, we may briefly note that absolute truth may at times be overridden by another value(s). It also tells us that the best cause for rejecting the God of scripture might not be based on an absence of truth, fact, and evidence about God, although most still try to argue it as such.
Arguing from the angle of truth also raises some interesting questions. If the militant atheist sincerely believes that the problem is principally about their opponents not accepting factual truth or evidence, why do most appear to limit their confrontation to religion? People hold all kinds of untrue beliefs about the world – including ideas that are possibly more harmful to humanity than religious ones. For example, what about the irrational belief that Capitalism as it stands, is sustainable, causing us to continue foolishly consuming our limited resources without question, or the myth that the United States is still a Democratically elected Constitutional Republic (versus a Plutocratic one), allowing people to believe that their choices are freer than they actually are, or the myth that the United States is primarily a victim of terrorist attacks, allowing them to justify a “War on Terror,” while denying the fact that it has historically been an indirect supporter of terrorism?
What about faith in extreme left or right wing politics – should child indoctrination into such views also be labelled as ‘child abuse?’ What about the widespread brainwashing into our acceptance of consumer utopianism and faith in a symbolic self-esteem supported by monetary success and the relentless acquisition of materialistic things that we do not need? Should this be considered child abuse, perhaps even more so, since we seem to be propagating a sure path to the termination of their future access to basic life necessities?
If only to be consistent with mocking irrational belief, should we not use that same smug attitude to mock and intellectually challenge anyone who buys new clothes for example, not when they lose their functional value, but when cultural fashion dictates, since we know it to be an absurdity, an unnecessary drain on limited world resources, and in many cases it promotes the use of cheap labour and deprived working conditions in poorer countries?
Looking at the bigger picture, is it not equally if not more irrational and dangerous to try to maintain the current ‘American way of life’ when it is paid for by undermining poorer countries, stealing their resources, manipulating and undermining their governments, causing wars, and using other peoples like commodities in order to satisfy the unending desires of the North American consumerist while siding with transnational corporations and the stockholders they are responsible to?
Should we not also be concerned about the indoctrination into pseudo-scientific beliefs? Beliefs about human nature, for example, including the conviction that free-will does not exist, that we are driven by biological programs adapted to the Pleistoscene, or that mental disorders are caused by brain imbalances? Are these ideas not also likely to cause harm if they are permitted to influence cultural attitudes and social policies?
Why does the militant atheist, not seem to get equally upset, angry, and verbally hostile toward those irrational ideas and the people who hold them? Part of the answer might be that many militant atheists are like most of us – they do not bother to question them, and in some cases they hold to their ideological positions as steadfastly as the religious adherents they detest, though they would hardly believe it to be true.
“if Stavrogin believes, he does not believe that he believes. And if he does not believe, he does not believe that he does not believe.” – Dostoyevsky, Demons
The other part of the answer is that if someone were to be aggressively militant toward any untrue ideas, the whole of that person’s day would likely involve walking around, red-faced and angry, pointing, cursing, sarcastically mocking, antagonistically arguing, and accusing nearly the entire human race for its absurd foolishness and for holding so many untrue beliefs.
The point is to emphasize that irrational belief, dogma, and ideological indoctrination are not restricted to religion. Nor will they be solved by the eradication of traditional religions – in my view, and one that I do not have time to properly expound in this essay (though touched on here), the destruction of traditional religions will simply lead to their replacement by secular equivalents that serve some of the same underlying needs. Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Freud, Camus, and a host of other brilliant minds throughout history have arrived at the same conclusion. Those who need to believe in illusion – arguably nearly all of humankind, will find it in some doctrine or another – whether it be a man in the sky, hope for some utopian future humanity, or nihilistic denial of reality. We do not need religion to be unreasonable; it would appear that we can get along being quite unreasonable without it.
Does that mean that we should leave religion be and not challenge it? No, I think we definitely should, but no less than other forms of unreason that have the potential to cause harm to humanity, and we might be selective about when we choose to do so. For example, I am fairly confident that if I were to become sarcastic and antagonistic toward the slightest hint of unreason encountered throughout my day, while doing my best to humiliate its source, I would be very busy indeed; I would also no doubt quickly alienate myself from society and from whatever friends I might have had.
“He who loves his friend loves him in the present, but the revolution wants to love only a man who has not yet appeared” (Camus, Rebel, p. 239).
“… if the revolution is the only positive value, it has a right to claim everything – even the denunciation and therefore the sacrifice of the friend” (Camus, Rebel, p. 162)
In short, I am arguing here that every instance of religious unreason need not be antagonistically humiliated or even challenged. It is also important that when we do challenge religious thought, we take care to emphasize what might be the most important source for our discontent, which in turn will inform our method. This naturally brings us to the other justification for a rebellious atheism, one not based on truth, but rather in the defense of some humanistic value.
Militant Atheist Arguments emphasizing ‘Value’
Some militant atheists emphasize arguments not based on reason, but rather some ethical, moral, or value-based standard. For instance, we ought to challenge some of the religious beliefs about homosexuality, since they are dehumanizing and discriminatory, attitudes toward contraception use, which may lead to increased prevalence of STD’s, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and even deaths, and attitudes that try to influence what should be taught in public classrooms, distorting and censoring scientific facts, and denying the right of a parent to ensure that their children’s education, paid by their tax dollars, is free from strong religious or ideological influences.
Note that the emphasis here is not necessarily fact or truth, but perhaps some humanistic value, such as justice, freedom, and above all the value of human life. Emphasis on truth or evidence is important, but is in some ways secondary. This is a step in the right direction, and one that I advocate myself, admittedly, to varying degrees of success. A perfect illustration of the difference, between truth and value, is found in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, were a discussion ensues about how an all-powerful God can allow for the suffering of children – to which the Church typically responds: It is part of God’s larger plan, which we cannot possibly understand, and so we must submit to the mystery and to the Lord’s Truth. It is in this context that Ivan exclaims:
“If the suffering of children, serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onward that truth is not worth such a price (Dostoevsky, p. 245).”
Read that last line again: “truth is not worth such a price.” Leaving no room for doubt, Ivan further affirms that he would persist in his indignation even if he was wrong. In short, Ivan would not accept that truth should be paid for by injustice and the death of innocents and would sooner accept eternal damnation than condone such injustice. As an atheist and a humanist, I find these kinds of arguments to be far more courageous, moving, and unifying. The point of course, is that some values are perhaps more important than truth, fact, or evidence. I can guess that some militant atheists would implicitly disagree, valuing the doctrine of scientific evidence first and foremost, while moral value is comparatively something of an afterthought, or perhaps viewed as being more useful as a tool to rationally argue against the existence of a just God.
However, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that if the atheist iconoclast is to find justification for their rebellious destruction of faith-based ideas, in the defense of universal human rights and values, he or she must also strive to never forget what they are defending. In other words, having identified a value worth preserving (e.g. freedom, justice, and human dignity), we implicitly note a limit that we cannot justify crossing, by even ourselves:
“The rebel … limits himself, as a matter of principle, to refusing to be humiliated without asking that others should be (Camus, p. 18).”
It would seem to me that some militant atheists who denounce religion on the basis of tolerance and respect for the dignity of people, in many cases undermine those same values in how they habitually confront religious adherents with hostile ridicule. What’s more, they often seem to conflate the defense of an ethical value with argument about scientific truth, such that they verbally attack and humiliate people for their ideas and not just in situations where human rights or values are being violated.
Religion is instead given homogenous treatment. Indeed many militant atheists curiously treat religion as though most adherents actually follow the commands of what was written in the holy texts. Yet if that were true, the entire world would have by now become engulfed by absolute chaos and anarchy – things are not that bad. It seems to me that we should not concern ourselves so much with what is written in the holy texts, but rather what people claim to be written in the holy texts. The truth is that most religions change with time. More often than not, religious ideology will bend to sociopolitical and cultural necessity, not the other way around, as many seem to fear. Embarrassingly enough, the same can even sometimes be said of science, though thankfully to a much lesser degree, and with its effects being greater on some disciplines (e.g. human psychology) more than others (e.g. basic chemistry).
So let us not be overly concerned with what the holy book says, but rather what the people believe it says… in each instance, we might ask whether these beliefs lead to actions where human rights and values (e.g. freedom, justice) are being disturbingly undermined. In some cases the answer will be yes, in others, no. I would argue that this should inform our decision about whether or not we should take umbrage and rebellious action, not the mere holding of an untrue belief.
It is from this perspective that I question atheists who categorically equate religious teaching with child abuse. What does that even mean? If we were to accept this as a fair comparison, we might be tempted to criminalize or ban religious teaching, or remove children from the custody of their religious parents, but note that we could not do so without undermining the same justice and freedoms that we claim to defend. We must ensure that our approach does not undermine the values that at times give justification to our rebellious protest.
“It is a self-deception of philosophers and moralists to imagine that they escape decadence by opposing it. That is beyond their will; and, however little they acknowledge it, one later discovers that they were among the most powerful promoters of decadence.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
It is curious how we manage to tolerate people who hold irrational views about politics, foreign policy, economics, and cultural traditions. Culture is in reality nothing more than some set of irrational illusions that we all subscribe to in varying degrees and forms. Yet we do not seem so bothered about those false ideas, and often manage to respect them.
So long as they are not infringing on our human rights, freedoms, or undermining cherished human values, can we not tolerate the existence of people who hold false ideas? If the answer from the militant atheist is no, then I would ask him/her to explain, in light of the above argument, how such a position could be justified. Failing that, I would at least ask them to be consistent enough in their value-based convictions, based on what seems to be a worshipping of truth, that they would have the same hypersensitivity to all forms of human unreason, while aggressively mocking and humiliating them with the same degree of repulsion.
Where does the Militant Atheist movement go wrong?
In the above discussion, I tried to distinguish between aggressive anti-religious positions justified by an emphasis on truth, versus an emphasis on defending some set of universal human values. I tried to show, particularly in the context of our absurd human condition, that the latter approach is perhaps more defensible. However by no means does this lead to endorsing an absolute stance where religious belief is aggressively attacked wherever it is heard or felt.
It is my contention that the militant atheist position, in its rebellious movement to eradicate the slightest hint of religious thought from society, often embodies itself as an angry crusade emphasizing the need to challenge religious unreason first and foremost, and defending ethics or value second. As an aside, please note that I am not making a universal accusation of all atheists – I am simply observing a significant trend. Nevertheless, the consequence of this approach may at times lead to a hypocritical stance, where the ideas that militant atheists hold about the world (e.g. arguments about the non-existence of God), become more important to pursue than the values that were to be defended by evoking such ideas in arguments with religious adherents.
Framing the problem of religion as an absolute and necessary war of ideas that must be battled and won, rather than confusion or disagreement about values that must be universally defended, will change how we think and feel about it. If one takes the former position, as do many militant atheists, it will seem clear that lines must be drawn and absolute sides must be taken. This position thus allows them to accuse ‘moderate’ atheists (not moderate in their unbelief mind you, but moderate in their commitment to an all-out antagonistic rebellion against religion), as traitors – intellectual and moral cowards.
For the New Atheist, values are often subsumed by a worship of objective scientific “truth,” which causes the unfortunate misstep of believing, as some militant atheists do, that values can be determined by science. Sam Harris, for example, makes exactly this claim in his book The Moral Landscape (also see Malik’s superb critique). Indeed, it is worth noting that as part of the militant atheists movement toward their dreamt of revolution, there is at times a simultaneous undercurrent of persuasion in many militant atheist circles, for followers to adopt an alternative worldview – typically, some form of reductive evolutionary physicalism. This particular worldview is, in my opinion, often nothing more than a nihilistic secular belief system for atheists – though others will naturally disagree. However, it seems to me that many militant atheists do implicitly emphasize the necessity of somehow living ‘scientifically.’ It is thus unsurprising that many New Atheists find themselves accused of scientism. But to base a rule for human life on science, is to base an absolute value on an approximate knowledge. Something ‘definitively scientific’ is a contradiction in terms. Upon resolving this issue, one must furthermore argue why ‘science’ should be respected over other man-made values, including justice or freedom.
Framing the debate as such also changes the emphasis. ‘Truth,’ ‘reason,’ and scientific evidence, has in many cases become the end goal. Treated as an absolute and necessary end, the means are tacitly justified. The indoctrination of others into a particular scientific worldview becomes more important than maintaining respect for others or acknowledging the freedom for others to hold dissimilar views without treating them as inferior beings. This method thus changes how we view the ‘other.’ Not as a person with whom we share the same boat in this absurd existential condition, but rather as the enemy of ‘progress,’ in relation to our implicitly cherished worldview. After labelling the ‘other’ as a hostile enemy, it makes it that much easier to dehumanize them, which is precisely what Malik observed on Jerry Coyne’s blog:
Alexander Hellemans: “Imagine you would board the Paris metro, and there is a seat next to some person in a burqa, very fat, and you can’t see its face. Would you feel comfortable sitting next to it?”
Kenan Malik: “‘It’ is a person. We should not need reminding of the consequences of such dehumanization. Such comments turn up, of course, on many blogs (including mine). But have people become so loathful of religion that they no longer recognize the need to challenge such bigotry?”
Reason and truth must also note their limits. They must be willing to bow down the moment they begin to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and dignity, of the other person. Otherwise, we become absolute defenders of our own preferred worldview, and in our actions and attitudes, we risk undermining the very rights and freedoms that were supposed to be saved by our espousal of Truth and Reason. Again, the ideological commitment must not become more important than the human values it was employed in many cases to defend.
“The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy” (Camus, Rebel, p. 284).
At one point in his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins asks:
“If we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without religion?” (p. 81).
I would agree with him, but I would in a similar way ask that if aggressive anti-religious attitudes are ultimately based on defending virtues or humanistic values, why not de-emphasize the importance of accepting the science-based truth arguments? In other words, defend those values without pushing to indoctrinate others into one’s preferred scientific fold. It seems to me that if you protest in the name of emphasizing these universal values, you might find yourself, many religious believers, and some more tolerable atheists, to be on the same side. We would thus be siding, not in a war of ideas – ‘religion’ versus ‘science,’ but with the underlying values that could be shared by any side, regardless of ideological orientation. There is nothing cowardly about that, and in fact it seems to me a matter of consistency.
At the present time, this is my best effort to expound my thoughts on some very complex issues involving religion and atheism. Before ending, I will answer some anticipated criticisms. No doubt a casual reader will want to dismiss me as an ‘accommodationist.’ But what would I be accused of accommodating? Yes, I will readily accommodate a person’s right to hold beliefs that I find to be untrue, and as long as they do not harm others, to maintain their beliefs without undue harassment or humiliation. However, I should be clear that I do not think religions should be given special status in society (e.g. tax breaks) and I advocate for the separation of religion from education, politics, and scientific endeavors. The difference is that I simultaneously accept its right to exist, and will try not go out of my way to universally disrespect or humiliate people who follow its doctrines, especially if they do no noticeable harm.
The imperceptive reader may likewise accuse me of advocating a position of passivity, where thoughts and feelings might be censored so as to not offend others. Since persons of faith often take offense to others challenging their beliefs, this could mean endorsing silent inaction. To be clear, I do not advocate complacency as a solution, unless I undermine the freedom of speech that I claim here to value. I believe we have a right to offend people, and we should not censor ideas or debate because individuals or collective groups take offense to them. However, I take issue with those who habitually abuse the right to offend, exercising it relentlessly and unscrupulously – that is, in common interaction with people who hold ideas that are different from one’s own. Again, it is in my mind a matter of consistency and of good taste – ensuring that one does not undermine a value that arguably affords one the right to resist. I do in fact advocate taking a rebellious stand, but only as it relates to the violation of particular values, including human rights and relative freedom and justice, and when possible, basic human respect and dignity.
I anticipate another criticism – that my argument is one made by someone trying too hard to make himself feel superior to both sides in the debate about religious or non-religious belief However, this sort of criticism again assumes that there are two warring sides to be taken: a ‘religious’ side and a ‘scientific’ side. As an atheist, I will intellectually side with science and reason, but as a matter of rebellious action, I will take exclusive side with neither. Again, this means siding with the relative humanistic value we want to protect, not overarching ideology. My position therefore has nothing to do with feeling ‘better’ than those holding another – it is I think logical, and perhaps even a matter of consistency.
In short, I am advocating for a certain kind of dignified respect in how we typically challenge religious ideas and the people who hold them, reserving our antagonistic style or moral outrage when some important values, freedoms, or justices are at risk, while never forgetting what we are defending. Note that in many of these cases, we may find religious adherents to be standing with us – ready and willing to rebel against aspects of their own religious faith. I think there is something very powerful in that.
Now, I readily admit that this style of relative religious tolerance is easier to advocate where I live. I am, as far as I can tell, surrounded by good people who generally mean well and religious ideas typically do little to offend personal rights and freedoms. In other parts of the world, where religious thoughts are strongly tied to hatred, intolerance, and inequality (e.g. racism, homophobia, sexism), I can fully appreciate how this attitude can be made much more difficult. In these situations rebellious action is a daily concern, and tolerance of intolerance is all but impossible. It is up to each person to decide for themselves what part they are willing to play in defending the human rights and values that we all care about, and those living afar should do what they can to help those in less fortunate situations where injustices and restrictions on freedoms are commonplace. Still, even in these situations we ought to resist the temptation to declare all-out-war against religious belief, or resurrect some absolute doctrine or belief system to combat it. If we do, we may risk turning into the very thing we were fighting against.
“He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process become a monster himself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche