Respect My Religion!
Keeping religion isolated from criticism
"Blasphemer" they used to cry, often followed with the more frightening "Death to the infidel" and "Stone him". Yet now, in New Zealand at least, when the religious believe their faith has been insulted they merely implore us to "Please respect my religion". What do they mean by this plea? How should we respond?
In NZ and in an increasing number of countries religion has a major problem on its hands — the majority of citizens are no longer ignorant and uneducated. Science and reason has replaced religion and faith. The battles have been fought, the war is over and religion has lost. Their power gone, they can no longer force our obedience. Having their primitive stories exposed as fictions mean they can no longer even persuade us to follow them willingly. Yet religion refuses to surrender. It struggles on mortally wounded, gasping and wheezing, attacking when cornered with the only weapons it has left: denial and isolation. For the first time in history it goes off the offensive and onto the defensive, and we get the pathetic plea of "Please respect my religion".
Is this a legitimate and fair request? Should we feel obliged to back down? Definitely not, and we'll explain why this request should not only be ignored, it doesn't even make sense. This is just another bogus religious statement, a subterfuge designed to keep reason at bay while religions attempt to protect their ill-gotten assets, reinterpret their myths and brainwash a new generation of followers.
How did religions slip from the authoritarian "Stone him" to begging "Please respect my religion"? Let's recap on the way things were and what's changed to bring about this new wimpish approach from religious believers.
For most of recorded history persuasion and force, working hand in hand, has kept religion to the forefront in most societies. Persuasion worked mainly because it was very easy for an educated, literate priesthood to convince illiterate, ignorant and superstitious peasants of anything they wished. For those that could see the flaws in the religious argument, fear persuaded most to feign belief. Fear of divine punishment if religion was true and the very real fear of how religions responded to disbelief. Religions have never been backward in resorting to torture and execution. Torture would 'convince' non-believers that religion was obviously true after all, and execution would permanently remove their negative and unwanted influence from the scene. Either way, religion held its grip on the populace with an iron fist.
Of course many intelligent people throughout history have questioned religion, but most still found themselves concurring that while obvious flaws exist, the overall premise that a god created the world must be true. They reached this conclusion because there was simply no other alternative. If a god didn't create the world and life and the amazing way it all fits together, then what did? No one could come up with an answer that made sense. And so even in recent centuries, with science on the rise, religion was still able to persuade the great majority that religion was right, with science merely verifying the details.
Then in 1859 along came Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection. For the first time in history there was an alternative explanation as to how life evolved, and it didn't need a god. More than any other, this one event was the beginning of the end for religion's hold over society. Scientists, philosophers and anyone that was never completely comfortable with the 'God did it' solution finally had an alternative answer to 'Life, the universe and everything'. Darwin's success at explaining the evolution of life gave scientists new found confidence that the universe could be explained in a naturalistic way, without resorting to gods, demons, fairies or leprechauns.
As science advanced in leaps and bounds, religion found hallowed belief after hallowed belief being debunked. Of course religion vigorously attempted to defend its position in not only its churches, but universities, schools, governments and the media, but slowly and surely religion lost its grip and scientific answers took precedence over religious ones. Science and reason effectively and conclusively demolished religious dogma. Their holy books have been shown to be fictional, their histories mythical and their explanations of natural events fanciful magic. Religion has lost the enormous power it once held and has largely been relegated to a "private and irrelevant superstition practised by a minority". While admittedly the majority still holds vague religious beliefs, only a minority still holds a literal belief in religion as practised by their ancestors. They can no longer threaten us with torture and death. Even their threat of Hell and divine retribution does nothing but raise a giggle. The universe is a completely different place to what religions would have us believe, and their silly stories about vengeful gods and talking snakes persuade few. Religions have been marginalized and what power they still appear to have is largely symbolic. They are impotent. The days of an ignorant society cowing at their feet are long gone, their proclamations are ignored and their mystical explanations laughed at.
So in the 21st century, how can religious leaders and devout believers — religion's eunuchs — ensure the survival of their faith?
With the option of force outlawed and their explanations ridiculed, religion is left fighting a rearguard action. The best they can do is attempt to retain what followers they do have by insulating their beliefs from analysis and criticism. For all their blustering about open discussion and debate, the intelligent and knowledgeable among them have rightly concluded that real debate would be disastrous for religion. While the church could easily fool ignorant and superstitious peasants, they know that if educated and open minded people are exposed to all the arguments of religion verses science, history, philosophy, ethics etc they will clearly come to realise that our origins are best described by science and not religion. That our laws are best formulated by the people and not Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus, Allah or Shiva.
Religion's realise they need to limit the damage that science and reason is inflicting on a daily basis. If they can't convince the rest of society of their views, they need to at least to shield their followers from alternative views. But how can they prevent public commentary, the publication of books and the screening of science documentaries, comedies and movies that expose and highlight the absurdities, contradictions and falsehoods contained in their faith? How do they stop rational, intelligent people picking on them?
They appeal to our sense of fairness, of justice and of equal rights. Put simply, they ask us to respect their religion, to respect their beliefs, as they respect ours.
But this is nothing but a scam. Nothing but the latest ploy used by religions in an attempt to prevent criticism of their beliefs. Since no one wants to feel that they are being disrespectful, rude or discourteous to someone's personally held beliefs, this demand can stop debate in its tracks. It effectively prevents us from even discussing let alone challenging, ridiculing or criticising religious beliefs. But is it a valid demand or are we simply being silenced by religious arrogance? Is this demand merely a cunning ploy to prevent us showing up religion for the silly superstition that it is?
Yes of course it is, and we'll endeavour to explain why.
To start with, here are some quotes that show this ploy in action. In NZ the two main examples of recent times (2006) are the publication of the Islamic cartoons featuring Mohammed which offended Muslims and the broadcasting of 'Bloody Mary', an episode of South Park featuring the Virgin Mary, which offended Catholics.
A TV3 news item on a Muslim protest march in Auckland stated,
"The [Muslim] organisers were at pains to say this was a protest about respecting all religions, including their own".The protestors carried banners that read:
"Stop offensive publication. Do not offend any religion."A Muslim woman went on to state:
"I think it's disgusting. They should respect our religion just like we respect them."Around the world Muslim leaders, community leaders and even Christian and Jewish leaders added their voice to the protesters, saying that while they didn't condone the violence or the threats that occurred in Europe, they did support the Muslim outrage at the disrespectful treatment of their prophet and their religion.
Roy Greenslade, a former newspaper editor in Britain was quoted as saying:
'You have to respect race, colour and creed, and that means not being gratuitously rude about religion.'Australian newspaper 'The Age' stated that:
'The Vatican yesterday appealed for mutual respect.'Raymond L. Flynn, National President of 'Your Catholic Voice', and Former Ambassador to the Vatican expressed his view:
'I sometimes don't agree with other peoples' religious positions either, but I respect them and don't criticize them or tell them what to do or believe...The Christian outrage over the South Park episode, like the Muslim cartoons, again centred on 'respect' and others also took up their cause. A commentator on National Radio's Media Watch programme stated that religions are not getting:
'the respect they deserve'.Even NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark commented on the problem saying,
"... but I think it is important to show religious faiths respect and tolerance... I think the critical thing is that we show respect for other people's beliefs."A Christian web site that was protesting the screening of the South Park episode stated,
"We value and respect a New Zealander's right to hold a religious faith without condemnation."So the general theme is: Respect the Prophet. Respect the Virgin Mary. Respect other religions. Respect all religion.
What's happening here, with conflicting faiths supporting each other? Each demanding that we not only respect their faith, but the faith of their adversaries as well?
Devout Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus etc are all utterly convinced that every religion but their own is false. Each would be ecstatic if the secular world would help them probe, analyse and convincingly debunk the false beliefs of other religions, relegating them to history. But at the same time they all realise that having eventually discredited all other religions, reason and science would turn its spotlight on them, and their foundations are just as weak and rotten as the others were. Once started, the search for the truth wouldn't stop. Science and reason would destroy all religion.
Actually much has already been lost and we believe every religion is already mortally wounded, lying in a persistent vegetative state with the ageing priests, mullahs and rabbis unwilling to pull the plug.
Realising that if they openly encourage criticism of other religions then this will eventually come back to haunt them, religions have tried to hold off their inevitable demise by forming a coalition with those that follow 'false' religions. They all recognise that free inquiry is a far greater threat to their existence than other 'false gods'. Thus the leaders of these many religions, but certainly not all their followers, have reached a fragile truce. They have agreed not to publicly challenge, ridicule or criticise the beliefs of other faiths. They have agreed to 'respect' each other's religion. They have agreed to 'respect' the lies and falsehoods of other religions, all in the name of self-preservation. But this is only the first step. The crucial step now is to stop the penetrating gaze of science and reason, thus the secular world must be convinced to abide by a treaty it was not a party to. The secular world must accept that if religions have agreed to effectively ignore each other, then science and reason must do likewise.
Sorry, but we in the secular world do not have to turn a blind eye to your silly little games. Truth knows no boundaries. Science and reason will not stop looking at religion just because religion is afraid of what it will reveal. Reason refuses to put on the blinkers that religion has provided.
This 'respect' ploy isn't new, remember the protests over the piece of art known as 'Virgin in a Condom', 'The Da Vinci Code' and even Monty Python's movie 'Life of Brian'?, Christians bleating on about their right to have their religion respected. But this right is a myth. It doesn't exist. They are confusing it with their right to 'freedom of religion or belief'.
Section 13 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act states that:
'Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without interference.'This guarantees them the right to believe anything they wish, but it does not promise in any way or form that the rest of us have to accept or even understand that belief, let alone respect it. They merely have the right to hold differing beliefs. We are not compelled to accept these beliefs and we most certainly don't have to respect them. I repeat, we are respecting the right to hold a belief, not the belief itself.
OK, so there is no law saying we must respect religion, but do we have a moral obligation perhaps? Is this what they mean, that some sense of fairness should cause us to respect religion? But does the demand, 'Respect our religion', even make sense? What does 'respecting' something actually mean?
My dictionary defines 'respect' as:
respectFor definition #1 it goes on to say that respect:
'implies appreciative, often deferential regard resulting from careful assessment'.I believe it is correctly used in statements such as 'I respect so-and-so for the outstanding work they've done in their particular field', eg I respect Sir Edmund Hillary for his mountaineering achievements and his humanitarian work. However it is mischievously hijacked for dogmatic commands such as 'Respect your parents, Respect your elders, Respect your superiors' etc. As we all know, respect in this context must be earned. Why should a child respect a parent that abuses him? Why should we respect elders or leaders that are corrupt? Since most people know little if anything about the religious beliefs of others, there can be no respect, since there has been no 'careful assessment' of them.
Of course some people may truly believe that they have investigated and actually respect religions other than their own, but this is a naive. To have deferential regard for a belief system that insists that your belief or religion is false, your gods are false, you are deluded and you're destined for eternal torture because of your refusal to accept this, is stupid in the extreme. You can respect your own religion but you can't respect an opposing one, at most all you can do is tolerate it. More on this shortly.
'Respect all religion' they say. Not just 'our' religion but 'all' religions. But why? No doubt if I asked them if they would in turn 'respect my religion or belief', they would immediately reply with an emphatic "Yes!"
But again, why? Shouldn't any reasonable person first ask, 'What is your religion or belief?'
What if I stated that my religion was Satanic worship involving human sacrifices, or that my belief was that magic fairies told me that to reach enlightenment I must sexually abuse small children. Would they 'respect' my belief and leave me alone to abuse small children as long as I 'respected' them in turn and left them alone? One would hope that given these answers they would refuse to respect my beliefs. They would probably insist that after due consideration of my beliefs they feel that they can't respect them after all. But why do they have this right to choose whether they will respect my beliefs, while demanding I blindly respect theirs? We can't enforce respect for all beliefs because it is impossible to respect beliefs you don't agree with. Do Christians have 'respect' for Islamists who slaughter infidels according to their deeply held religious beliefs? If they do then they should be viewed with contempt, if they don't then they are hypocrites. They can't demand that we respect and refuse to criticise their religious beliefs, while they freely condemn the religious beliefs of others.
Thus one can not blindly follow demands to 'Respect the Prophet' or 'Respect our beliefs'. If this is the meaning of 'respect' adopted by these proponents, then their plea for 'respect' fails and can be ignored.
However if religious proponents merely wish to prevent criticism of their beliefs, then definition #2 has more power when it comes to preventing debate: 'To avoid violation of or interference with'. This is a blanket 'hands-off' approach. Regardless of your view, you are being told not to challenge their beliefs. You must leave them alone. To violate in this context means: 'to do harm to (property or qualities considered sacred); desecrate or defile'. Thus to make statements that suggested their sacred views were false would be to violate their beliefs. Those that claim this defence, this definition of respect, knowingly do so to prevent any challenge to their belief.
Thankfully we no longer live in the Dark Ages. Unlike the dictionary example given above, 'respect the speed limit', there is no legal requirement that states 'Respect your parents', and there is no law that states 'Respect the beliefs of others'. In fact we have just the opposite, it's called 'Free Speech'.
The third definition of respect, meaning 'in relation to' or 'in reference to' doesn't apply when used in this context so can be ignored.
So, we have three options in the way we can respond to calls of 'respect my religion':
"They don't want my respect, they want my submission."
Ok, so the demand that we 'Respect their religion, belief or whatever' fails, but others may claim that what the person should really have said was that we should be more tolerant of religion. They meant 'tolerate' not 'respect'.
But does the modified request that we 'Tolerate their religion or belief' achieve their desired outcome?
My dictionary defines 'tolerate' as:
tolerateLet's look at definition #2 first. If people take 'tolerate' to mean 'to recognise and respect the rights, beliefs, or practices of others', then this is just another way of saying, 'You should tolerate my religion, and by this I mean you should respect my religion'. All they've really done is redefine 'tolerate' as a synonym of 'respect', and we've already gone down that path. Religions can not demand our respect or our tolerance when it is used in this sense.
However, if by 'tolerate' one means 'to allow without prohibiting or opposing; to permit; to put up with; endure', we are again presented with a problem. As with demanding respect, who has the authority to demand that others tolerate something? One authority would be our legal system, and thus we must 'tolerate' the situation that women are allowed to vote, that homosexuals can walk among us and neo-Nazis can legally hold meetings to idolise Hitler. It matters not whether we agree or disagree with these things, we must permit them, we must put up with them, we must tolerate them. As the dictionary says, toleration in this sense means 'reluctant acceptance despite reservations'.
The only thing that we must legally tolerate about religion is the right of people to hold religious beliefs.
Do religions and other groups or organisations etc have any authority to demand that we do more than this? No. Can they demand that there is no analysis, criticism, satirising, lampooning or debating of their views? No. Thankfully religions have not had this authority for centuries, and neither do special interest groups such as Neo-Nazis, alien abductees or NAMBLA. Many religious groups, in their arrogance that only they are right, fail to realise that if this authority to demand toleration, in the sense of not challenging their beliefs, was granted to one group then it must apply to all, religious or otherwise. It's hypocritical to insist that people must tolerate your beliefs, but not those of others. If we have to tolerate Catholic views, we have to extend this courtesy to all Christian faiths, then to Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and right down the line to New Age religions and Satanic worshipers. All religion, good or bad, popular or unpopular, would have to be tolerated. Then the paranormal wackos would want their beliefs tolerated. Everyone who felt picked on because they held some silly belief against all evidence would demand that society tolerated them as well.
Yes they have the legal right to hold these beliefs, we've already agreed on that, but they don't have the legal right to force us not to oppose, investigate or criticise these beliefs.
If society foolishly accepted that it must tolerate (and not oppose) all beliefs, then even objectionable fringe beliefs must be tolerated. People would have to tolerate groups that advocate slavery, racism or inequality for women or the execution of homosexuals and adulterers, likewise groups that practise female genital mutilation, child abuse and honour killings. Unfortunately there are religions and groups that still believe in all of these things. Accepting their demand that we tolerate their beliefs is little different from condoning them. We would have to agree that while barbaric and inhumane things were going on under our very noses, we wouldn't challenge or criticise them. We would agree to ignore them, to tolerate them.
But the fact is that we don't have to respect or tolerate any religious belief. If we did, slavery would still be a part of our lives, since for most of its history Christianity supported it, as did Judaism and Islam. The Bible and Koran go into considerable detail over how we should treat our slaves. Remember that when slavery in the West was finally outlawed that it was Christians who were trading in slaves and owning slaves. The American Civil War, the war that freed the slaves, saw Christian fighting Christian. Evidently slavery still existed in some Muslim countries right up to the 1950s. We refuse to tolerate Christian groups calling for the execution of homosexuals, adulterers and abortion doctors or Muslims that maintain that giving up or changing your faith is a death sentence. Even though these religious fundamentalists insist that we should at least tolerate their barbaric demands, people with any sort of decency refuse and actively oppose them. Enforcing tolerance would take away our moral right to oppose them.
People that push tolerance or respect for religious beliefs that they agree with or those that they deem harmless, while condemning and opposing those that they disagree with or find reprehensible are nothing but hypocrites. Think of Christians that say we should respect their religion, but then criticise Muslims for wanting to stone an adulteress to death, or Muslims and Jews that insult Christians by stating that Jesus wasn't the Son of God. Why can they analyse and criticise other religions but we can't? With due consideration and free will they have decided which beliefs they will tolerate and respect, which is good and proper, but when it comes to us making a decision regarding their beliefs, they refuse us the same courtesy and make the decision for us: 'Respect our religion'.
Rather than respect or tolerate religion we must be free to investigate, analyse, challenge, criticise, debate, satirise, lampoon, ridicule and mock any and all religious belief. We need to continue this until everyone that has the intellect to comprehend sees religion as the superstitious and dangerous nonsense that it is. We need to expose the terror that religion has evoked throughout history and that is poisoning our world once again, especially by Muslim terrorists, but also barbaric acts by Christians, Jews, Hindus and even Buddhists. We can't let our inquiry into these atrocities or even our curiosity about some silly religious claim like the virgin birth be stopped in its tracks by their demand to back off: 'Respect our religion'.
Religions correctly view science, reason and critical inquiry as instruments of their destruction, as an acid slowing eating away at their cherished beliefs, and it must not be allowed to come in contact with believers, especially those whose faith is weak, for they will be more easily persuaded to cross over to the secular 'dark side'. Religions know that many of their so-called followers lack the indoctrination and the required dullness of thought to resist reason and logic, and are seduced by the notion of thinking for themselves and living in a universe where they're not playthings of a vengeful and barbaric god.
Religions are putting up a smokescreen, a diversion, when they demand we respect their beliefs. By isolating their faith they are attempting to put their beliefs off-limits to science, reason and critical inquiry. They are trying to maintain the fog of delusion that envelops their followers. Their hope is that these god-fearing, gullible, ignorant, and usually poor and uneducated sheep will have lots of sex without contraception, preferably in the missionary position, to produce a new wave of children that can be brainwashed and mentally and physically fucked by the priesthood into continuing their crusade of ignorance. Religions have always seen childhood indoctrination as the key to their survival. They hope that by pushing the likes of 'Bible in Schools' and repackaging 'Biblical Creationism' as 'Intelligent Design' that their army of zombies will multiply until once again they're in control. But at the moment they're weak, vulnerable and ineffectual. Until their numbers swell they must stay unobtrusive and non-threatening, protecting their followers and beliefs from criticism. Gone are the days when they could force belief onto the multitudes and so new tactics are called for. Rather than instil terror, their beliefs now invoke laughter and incredulity. And so they meekly ask us, 'Please respect my religion'.
We need to realise that if groups have to demand that you respect their beliefs, rather than letting their beliefs speak for themselves, this is automatically a mark against them. If their beliefs and claims were true and just, they wouldn't need to demand that we respect or tolerate them, we would adopt them as our own.
Far better that one adopts the beliefs of science which doesn't demand respect or tolerance. On the contrary, it demands critical inquiry, debate and rejection of theories if the evidence doesn't support them. Religion should demand no less.
Last Updated Mar 2009