Thursday, January 23, 2014

Believers Never Look in a Mirror

"You atheists are so intolerant!"

How many times have you heard this?  Chances are, it's happened enough times that you want to choke somebody...  and chances are good that the person who says it is himself/herself entirely intolerant of everyone who doesn't agree with them on matters of faith.  It's staggering the sheer level of hypocrisy that is inherent when someone who is religious actually dares to talk about others being intolerant.  Pretty much all religions espouse some form of intolerance and hate.  While you can argue that the individual followers do not necessarily share properties with just every view of the doctrine itself, that doesn't mean they don't agree on some looser level (which can be evidenced by their voting patterns).  But even beyond that, following anything on faith primes you to follow more harmful ideas because someone with a certain level of charisma conflated something horrible with some faith-based belief you do agree with.

Even the more moderate religious folks will still at some point fail to show a moderate attitude about something when really pressed to certain limits.  That's where we have to start saying -- if you are religious and you dare talk to anyone about being intolerant, that makes you in every sense an extreme hypocrite.

Let me remind you of the pastors throughout this country who will unabashedly state that all homosexuals should be put to death.  Let me remind you who is demanding that atheists be deported or that they are ineligible for any basic constitutional rights.  In Uganda, there is a law that puts homosexuals in jail and subjects them to the death penalty...  one that was put into force by the efforts and dollars of Christians in the U.S.  In Islamic nations, not just in the Middle East, but in nations like Malaysia and Indonesia who is it who demands death for anyone who speaks a word that even remotely casts aspersions on their beliefs?  Which belief system was held by those who ordered the extermination of Sanal Edamaruku for the crime of identifying leaky plumbing?  In South Africa, despite laws against discrimination of LGBT citizens, there are still people who commit so-called "corrective rape" against them who rarely get charged for it.  Any guesses as to how many atheists there are among those perpetrators?  People in the U.S. try to fight to have women's reproductive rights eliminated and make things like contraception and abortion ultimately impossible regardless of the actual need for it...  I wonder who is involved in that?

Before you think that I'm picking on some minor smaller group of religious people, and say that the majority are not like that, there are a few ways in which that argument does not hold water.  #1 is the fact that even if it is a minority, they are not necessarily a minority in their influence.  Sure, it is true that a fairly small group of Christians were involved in getting Uganda's death-to-all-gays law passed, but the fact remains that an entire country's laws were changed for it.  Of course, it is fair to say that the only reason they even did it in Uganda is because they couldn't pull off something like that in the U.S., but it also ignores the fact that in Uganda, there wouldn't be any resistance even from the more moderate element.  In the U.S., one survey suggests that about 18-20% of the population are real Biblical literalists (YECs), while another spanning the same time says that's it's more like 47-50%.  What's the difference?  The latter survey limited its scope to the voting populace, while the former was covering the general public.  Ever heard the phrase that evil persists when good men do nothing?  Prop 8 in California is a good example of this -- yes, I know it's been overturned, but I'm speaking about how it got passed in the first place.  In spite of being a pretty liberal state with even the religious communities being far more socially liberal on average compared to the extreme elements in the Bible Belt, people still voted to put into effect a law designed to damage the rights of homosexuals on religious grounds.  This happened partly because those who would otherwise vote against such a measure laughed it out and got complacent enough not to even bother voting on it.  The other part of it is that those otherwise liberal religious types really fell for the ad campaign because they were already brainwashed enough to be swept away by association with what archaic beliefs they couldn't let go of.

In my recent trip to India, I came across a school teacher, who upon hearing that I was an atheist, her primary response at first was repeating "you really should believe in a god".  That too, the way she expressed the "should" was not so much to suggest that there was good reason to believe, but that there was a sort of duty on my part to be a theist.  In spite of having her own religion (Islam as it were), she wasn't particularly demanding about believing specifically in her god, but that it is only right to believe in at least some god.  It didn't take very long for her to realize though that the barrier of intellectual rigor was one she had no hope of surmounting, she finally switched over to the statement that she doesn't like the idea of socially interacting with an atheist.

Now I'm not really trying to put her in particular on the spot here because the reality is that she expressed a fairly common attitude.  It's not as if she was demanding that I convert to Islam or admonishing that I was doomed to burn in hell and I deserve to die.  For all intents and purposes, this person was fairly moderate and tempered in her position, and even then there is a line she wouldn't cross -- the line of tolerating disbelief.  Being in the presence of someone who unapologetically rejects a fairly fundamental underlying belief on which she bases her life is somehow "icky"...  This is still intolerance.

Saying that I find your reasons for belief unconvincing is not intolerant.  Even if I go as far as to say that it's utterly idiotic to believe in such things, that is at most insulting, but not intolerant.  It would be intolerant to say that I refuse to listen to you and refuse to be party to your nonsense.  It is not intolerant to say that your religion has a time and a place, and that science class can never be one of them; it would be intolerant to say that your religion has no place whatsoever.  It is not intolerant to say that every defense you can offer for your faith is logically untenable; it would be intolerant to say that you are not allowed the opportunity to even try or that I don't want to hear it.  I would rather have you own up to the challenge of bringing a solid case to the table if you think you can.  Your inability to do so is your problem.  As much as I disagreed with what she had to say, I wasn't telling her to shut up or go away or that I would not be willing to talk to her any more than I had.  But it was something she couldn't help but say.  And I only use this example because it stands as one very clear example where intolerance does not require one to be an outright asshole or a crazy delusional bigot.  You don't have to be prepared to kill a cartoonist for drawing Mohammed in order to be intolerant.  Even the so-called moderate individual who participates in actions that marginalize an adversarial group, are at least complicit in principles of intolerance.

But as I've also pointed out, it's easy to say that the Christians who bomb abortion clinics are distorting the scripture.  In fact, no so-called holy books really have anything to say about abortion or contraception because these were just not concepts that existed in those days, so this is a fair accusation.  There are similarly people who use junk science to support their bizarre initiatives (e.g. eugenics programs), and it is also fair to call this a distortion meant to drive personal agendas.  If I take something like religious fundamentalists (of almost any religious faith) who go around murdering those who follow other religions...  that's not a distortion.  That's actually there.  Sure, you can call it picking and choosing, which it probably is.  But what you can't say is that the same holy book you revere doesn't say anything like that, because there is no question whatsoever that it does.  This is why it is worth pointing out the hypocrisy of more liberal or moderate religious people for talking about the extremists cherry-picking parts of scripture when they themselves do the same thing.  Sure, the majority of Mormons do not really take the position that gays should be denied basic civil rights, but the majority of Mormons do bankroll an organization which does take an active role in ensuring just that.  The majority of Catholics understand for the most part, how contraception works, but they will contribute money to an organization which deliberately misinforms sub-Saharan Africans into believing that condoms cause AIDS.  And the only reason this happens is because as much as they do or do not believe of the formal doctrine as individuals, they are still not fully extricable from their faith; and that means that simply because of the association with their beliefs, if you are to any measurable extent, seriously invested in your religious beliefs, you will help to fuel intolerance wittingly or not.  You are primed to fall victim to cheap "Jedi mind tricks" by way of your faith.

I will say, though, that not only are all the people who accuse atheists of being intolerant generally hypocritical, but at the very least have a criminally distorted definition of what constitutes intolerance.  More often than not, it's a completely self-centered definition.  This is not really a unique character flaw, though -- it's part of the price of being a human being.  In the U.S., religious organizations are automatically granted tax-exempt status, while non-religious 501c3 organizations have to actually demonstrate their non-profit nature and continue to regularly prove their eligibility for tax-exempt status.  Religious organizations are never required to do this.  This constitutes, by definition, a special privilege conferred onto religious establishments, but if you mention the idea of holding religious organizations to the same legal standards as all other 501c3 organizations, this technically puts religious groups in a position with fewer privileges than the current status quo, which from the point of view of a religious person can be seen as a threat.  What, to any outsider, would be seen as an idea in the interest of fairness will be seen by a person of faith as willfully unfair in the interest of harming religion.  It's all the more funny considering that the status quo which believers want to protect are unarguably promoting preferential treatment to one subset, making it unfair by definition.  Show me the atheist who wants to completely deny tax-exempt status to all churches as opposed to denying it to those which cannot demonstrate their eligibility for tax-exempt status.  Even the fairly moderate Christians here in the U.S. get up in arms at the sight of atheism-related billboards or bus ads.  For them, it's unbearable that atheists might have enough of a voice for such things.  Really?  You have no ability to tolerate that?  I wonder what that makes you...  How many of them have ever considered that similar ads for Christian organizations (which are many thousands of times greater in number in the U.S.) would be annoying or troublesome to anyone else?

It is true that the atheist community is full of people who express a lot of anger, and have a high tendency to view things in black and white.  Quite a lot of that is righteous indignation, if often misdirected.  Yes, being an atheist means we not only don't believe in a god, but also don't respect the idea of such belief either.  That should not come as a surprise, but do you expect a theist to own up to their own disrespect not only of atheists but of those who believe in a different god?  Bear in mind also, that the majority of the religious people who spend their time in atheist discussion boards are not the friendly type.  More often than not, it is the hateful delusional maniacs who shout "you deserve hellfire", "you are doomed to be reborn a dalit" who show up and just troll boards.  It will always be justifiable to be angry and quite frankly hateful with those types.  I defy even a single one of them to be cognizant of what sort of hate they spew when they appear in such venues spouting their message.  I would guarantee you that if the typical theist who gets in discussions with atheists was as tempered as my prior example, you would not see the same reactions from atheists. If the standard model of the religious apologist did not apply the utterly contumelious dishonesty of a William Lane Craig or Dinesh D'Souza, there would not be so many insults hurled at them.  If India's idea of being secular did not mean that a tantrik who literally tramples babies is untouchable because the local community had faith that his destructive crimes would confer a magical blessing or cure diseases, there would be little reason for worry.

Now I suppose titling myself as an "anti-theist" does imply a tinge of intolerance.  No question that you're pretty well justified in thinking so, but the difference between me and theists is that I am actually aware of that and willing to admit it.  After all, I'm the one who designates being a "grumpy anti-theist" upon myself.  It should also be noted that while "anti-theist" describes me, the position itself is one of anti-theism, meaning that the object to which I hold opposition is theism itself (i.e. an idea, not a person), and I at least hold to solid reasons for it, all of which are supported by hard data.  That said, it is still different to say that I believe religion is harmful for mankind and wish humanity would eventually relegate to a forgotten relic of the past...  and saying that people should be forced not to believe in it any longer.  While you could argue that even the former qualifies as intolerant, it's clearly a few hundred shades lighter than the latter.  Moreover, trying to force atheism on people is as effective as trying to force people to convert to a particular religion; it is far more effective to help people realize that theism is fundamentally flawed in every way, and for bringing that to light, I will never apologize.  As someone who knows better than to hold an obsequious allegiance to an antiquated collection of indefensible ideas, it is hard to see it as anything less than a duty on my part to make sure everybody knows better.  There is such a thing as a completely harmless expression of faith, but those are really not issues over which I'm particularly concerned.  It's still wrong, but at least it doesn't pose any major problems.  However, when idiotic beliefs means that people don't get proper medical care, or that people kill each other over religious differences, or that entire enterprises fleece money from those who can't afford it to fatten their wallets under the pretenses of magical guidance, or organizations take the guise of charity in the express interest of lying to people, or politicians argue that certain types of murder or rape should not be punished all too harshly because of some imaginary existential cost in the afterlife, there is no place for it on this Earth.  But yeah, people like me are the problem, right?

If there is anything of which I'm truly and quite grumpily intolerant, it includes things like intellectual dishonesty and willful ignorance.  More than anything else, I fire my barbs at those types of cognitive flaws in whatever form they appear.  If it seems like you are personally on the receiving end of those barbs...  well...  I don't think I need to finish that sentence.