In light of yesterday’s post about the CFI’s schizophrenic views on atheism and accommodationism, and its bizarre approach to dealing with the media’s narratives in the great atheism vs. religion debate, I thought this might be a good time to take a step back and reflect on what it is that atheists realistically want. Obviously not being considered amoral monsters as they’re stereotyped by pious con men, or derided for refusing to have sentimental views on an invisible, intangible entity because they see no proof for its existence would be a very good start. But beyond that, what is it that would make atheists happier with the world around them? While I’m just one person and certainly can’t lay claim on representing all atheists, here’s my wish list for how the world would treat religion, science, and tell the difference between harmful dogma and sound, real world reason.
1. Real world facts should trump dogma. Despite the decades of accumulating statistics, medical research, and exhaustive studies, we still have policies based on an idea of piety that made sense before the Medieval period. Catholic preaching and anti-scientific conspiracy mongering are directly contributing to the death toll of HIV and AIDS in Africa, placing more importance on Bible verses than on fellow humans. Spiritual alt med woo tries to make people think of terrible diseases as a "spiritual challenge to be welcomed," rather than something to be excised and treated with cutting edge medical technology. When dealing with real world and immediate problems, we should be wondering what evidence there is for the recommendations we’re given, what technologies and treatments exist to remedy the condition, and how to solve the problem rather than the musings of a creature we can’t see, to whom we can’t talk, and whose existence is inferred from how a priest or a religious devotee feels. If you really think whatever problems we face right now are a divine test, it’s your right to do so, of course. But for the love of FSM’s meatballs, follow tangible evidence to solve them.
2. Religion should not render you immune from criticism. Whenever someone brings up religion to defend a particularly nasty action, people should have the right to be appalled. Doing something because you believed you were commanded to do so by a deity doesn’t mean that what you did is right, and we should be allowed to take issue with that. Calling someone a person of faith, or pretending that there’s some hidden, deep morality in a questionable action just because religion is invoked should be completely meaningless. In any court that tries to establish a defendant’s moral character with a testimony of how often he or she attends church should be treated the same way we would consider how many times someone visits a car wash. Obviously, if you do something wrong, the blame should rest with you and trying to shift it to the supernatural is just a way out. And if your beliefs and the actions you take based on those beliefs are harmful to someone, or encourage the kind of irresponsible behavior that could get someone hurt or in trouble, they deserve to be ridiculed without any of the critics having to be subject to mewing about "respect for faith." Religion doesn’t make good people. Good people raise and nurture other good people, regardless of religion or lack thereof.
3. Religion should not be a justification for violence. Unfortunately, every day there’s a story about someone being killed thanks to faith-based violence. And while modern theologians might offer vague platitudes about a divine morality and human unity via religion, the reality is that faith is often what puts a wedge between us. In the world outside a trendy philosopher’s office, ritualized, religion-enabled violence is all too common and it ends countless lives on an all too regular basis. No one can take away your religious beliefs, but if you think a quote in a holy book gives you the right to take someone’s life or physically brutalize him for not offering what you feel is the proper relevance to your dogma, you should be considered a dangerous maniac rather than an enlightened follower of whoever you worship. And should you actually harm someone, or infringe on the rights of any other human being, you should be hauled to court to stand trial for what you’ve done without getting the kiddie glove treatment from local, equally pious authorities who give you a wink, a nod, and house arrest for a week for your religiously inspired crimes. This is less of a problem in the secular West, but in nations obeying religious laws, this is a constant issue. Of course, there’s always the Vatican’s approach to kids that should be sending courts and authorities on an arrest spree across Europe and America if not for the same artificial religious immunity we just mentioned standing in the way…
4. Religion should not be a tool of authority. While in secular states religions have no real sway on paper, in all truth, the power of religious institutions and their ability to project themselves into politics is obvious. If not for theocratically-oriented institutions and their followers, we wouldn’t have prayers against legislation, and a consistently flawed and failing sex-ed policy proven countless times to be far worse than comprehensive, scientifically backed curricula. We give religious organizations a free pass on taxes and then go on to lavish undue respect on people who threaten us with hellfire and supernatural punishment should we fail to obey them. Why? How does one earn such reverence by demanding it through threats and do it so well? I know the truth of the matter is that there will always be a religion of some sort out there, but the point is not to let beliefs trump common logic, good science, and the basics of human decency. Churches, temples, or mosques can demand that they be obeyed, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it. That’s the whole point of atheism. Just to be able to doubt, ask for proof, and refuse to follow along with something that makes no sense to you, or is a blatant and inherent violation of human rights to free will and well-being. When you enjoy religious texts for the sake of personal comfort, purpose, and solace, that’s one thing. But when you dictate that all around you feel the same comfort, purpose, and solace you feel, and do as you tell them, that’s when we have a problem.