There are many people who think the debate over religion is irrelevant. They think it’s just another age-old tit-for-tat argument between intellectuals, scientists, or people with too much time on their hands. Some even call it boring, unimportant. They think we (atheists, or for that matter people who spend any time discussing it) should mind our own businesses and get on with life.
The polemic river of scepticism and inquiry (in which my blog is but a humble drop) is compared to a mediocre debate between two rival rock bands, two rival TV shows, or even two competing politicians, as it seeks to pick up speed and viscosity in hopes of quenching the bushfires of religiosity.
Well, if you’re one of those people who think the arguments over religion are boring, or think that us non-believers should just let religion be and get on with our lives, let me tell you something: you’re stupid, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.
It is ironic that the most farcical anthology of myth, rumour, lie, superstition, and fairy tale should become the most important subject on earth today, but it is. I personally wish I’d never heard of religion. I personally wish all religious people (in all fairness many of them do) would just get on with their lives and leave the rest of us alone, but oh no, that can’t happen. Rest assured that although Christians and Muslims will bleat and moan and cry injustice the moment one of their myriad undeserved privileges has been rolled back to an even footing, or somebody somewhere has the temerity to question belief or not take them seriously, the moment a non-believer raises an objection to having someone else’s mental disorders rammed down their throats, not only do the Faithful act like the long-suffering victim, other non-believers actually side with the Believers, jumping on the politically-correct bandwagon, wanting to play it safe for, heaven-forbid (pun intended) they offend the religious.
I can think of no better paradigm of this than 2005’s travesty of Muslims taking offence of Danish caricatures in a Copenhagen newspaper of the prophet Mohammed. In this day and age, in a supposedly civilised, “Western”, democratic age where free speech exists, even tabloid newspapers were afraid to reprint the offending images or denounce the fanatics who hurt and killed in their zealous frenzy. In a splendid act of cowardice, the Pope elucidated the real meaning behind the expression “the enemy of my enemy…” by condemning the caricaturists! It seems that offending faith is the ultimate sin to the religious, even if it’s not even theirs!
The “religion debate” is the most important one on the planet, and here’s why: your life probably depends on it. Sticking your head in the sand is an appropriate metaphor in this case, because if religious dogma doesn’t suffocate you, your surroundings will be very much like a desert – literally. I’m talking about nuclear war style wastelands. The most powerful country on earth has bigoted bible-drunk fundamentalists in places of power; its leader is a self-confessed born again Christian who believes that god talks to him. On the other side, fundamentalist Muslims blow themselves and countless innocents up in colossal terror attacks or daily suicide bombings: a bus, a church, a high-street, it makes no difference: the more innocent people the better!
If you are one of those people who think that people like me should mind my own business, I wonder if you would feel that way after 7th July 2005 in London, when 52 people were killed and 700 were injured. Would the issue of religion and belief have seemed “boring” to you that day?
What if you were one of the 90,000 Christians slaughtered by Persians in 614 AD? How does the Qurayza massacre of 900 Jews at the hands of Muslims back in 627 sound? What about the 4,500 non-Christians killed by Charlemagne in 782? Still bored? Ok: the first crusade in Germany where 10,000 Jews were killed? The 20,000 Muslims butchered in 1098 at the Siege of Antioch by the Christian Crusaders? The 70,000 Muslims slaughtered a year later in Jerusalem (guess by whom?) The 2750 Jewish and Muslim prisoners murdered by Christian King Richard in 1191? The 40,000 Christians killed by Sultan Baibar in 1268? The 10,000 Christians in Tripoli exterminated in 1289 by Muslims? How “boring” was being a Huguenot I wonder when Catholic mobs wiped out 70,000 of them in 1572? Ulster, Ireland, and the year 1641: 12,000 Protestants are murdered by Irish Catholics? Skip forward to 1933, in Simele, where 3000 Christians are targeted by Iraqis.
1947, India: about one million are killed in religious warfare between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.
Rwanda, 1994: the religion-inspired conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis reaches a zenith when 937,000 Tutsis are extirpated by Hutus.
2005, Turbi in Kenya: sixty people are shot dead (twenty-two were children) near a primary school.
If you think this isn’t important, it’s only because you haven’t been directly affected. Yet. If you think it’s none of your business, then you are sadly ignorant of the state of the world. We have a situation where, as Sam Harris puts it, 14th century minds have 21st century weapons, and if you think “minding your own business” or just being a civilian will save you, you are gravely mistaken. Religion has the death of billions on its hands through the ages. Even today, thousands die daily just because of religious hatred. Even in wars where religion didn’t directly kill like the Second World War, churches on both sides blessed the war effort and arms of their respective countries and refused to denounce the violence. (The Vatican’s collaboration and alliance with Hitler’s Third Reich is sickening and despicable, but is too in-depth to expound here.)
There are fanatics out there who have no fear of death, and no deference to human life. They believe they have god’s blessing in whatever they do. The threat of retaliation or mutually-assured destruction means nothing to them. And fundamentalists, whatever their holy book, all ambitiously seek the end of the world! Can you think of a more terrifying combination? The day when a religious fanatic acquires a nuclear bomb will make 9/11 or the Rwandan genocide look like a catfight. And should that day ever come, I seriously doubt it will end with just one thermonuclear device going off.
Let me say explicitly that by no means am I declaring all religious people deplorable. Just as many free-thinkers and non-believers throughout time have shown great courage and honour against great evil in the face of death, so too have many believers. But, one can show courage, honour, strength, loyalty, love, compassion, humanity, and justice, without religion. We don’t need religion for anything! It has no virtues, and all too many vices. It is a cancer. A virus. It kills millions, and keeps many more in ignorance and oppression. If we do not fight this monster with intelligence and freedom, it may very well end up killing us all.
This isn’t hyperbole, and nor do I wish to exacerbate the situation and cause unrest and ill-feeling: I’m just saying what needs to be said. If you think “playing nice” will make religion go away, you are fatally mistaken. Give religion an inch and it’ll take a mosque.
We must all respect peoples’ right to have an opinion or belief. But respecting that right is not synonymous with respecting the belief itself. But who cares, as long as no one gets hurt? You’re free to believe that the moon is made of cheese if you want! I might not take you seriously, but as long as you don’t hurt anyone then it’s your business. But keep it your business.
Unfortunately, religion will not respect our business or opinion, which is why it’s outstayed its welcome on this beautiful planet of ours. Life is too short and too precious to ruin it with the delusions and myths of yesteryear. As Christopher Hitchens says: religion poisons everything. It does affect you, because it affects everyone! The future of mankind is genuinely in the balance and I truly believe our species will survive or wipe itself out based on our response to religion.