The rise of “political,” “radical” or “extreme” (fundamentalist) Islam globally is making strange bedfellows that in the end will likely be of tremendous benefit to one of the most hated minorities on the planet: Atheists.
Although I do not call myself either a theist or atheist, as I reserve the right to entertain whatever thought I deem appropriate at whatever moment – what I consider true “freethought” – I am highly sympathetic to atheistic thinking under a variety of circumstances. Indeed, I consider atheistic thought quite natural and appropriate in response to various events, such as atrocities.
As one example, I recall a news item some years ago about a tornado that hit an American church, inside which many people had taken refuge. A woman was relating that her young and innocent son, a child of about six, had asked her why God had sent a tornado to destroy the church. In her evident insecurity to defend God, the woman immediately shut down his intelligent and probing thought processes by responding, “Oh, God didn’t send the tornado – he stopped it!”
Such a platitudinous response must be very confusing for a young mind that is being taught there is an invisible, giant, all-powerful anthropomorphized male God somewhere “out there” who is in charge of everything! If God didn’t send the tornado, then, who did? The typical response is “Satan!” But that simplistic answer begs the question of who created Satan, which of course would be God, and why God just can’t get the better of Satan, since the Lord of the Cosmos is supposedly omnipotent. The child’s questioning of this God concept – a type of atheistic thinking – was entirely appropriate and should have been encouraged, rather than suppressed, as is what happened. It is a shame that child may never again entertain such a penetrating thought.
In the meantime, for some bizarre reason evidently based on centuries and millennia of being bludgeoned by such fearful responses, such rational, logical and appropriate thinking has led to those who engage in it – often calling themselves “atheists” – to be feared and reviled worldwide. This irrational and nonsensical reaction of hatred is expressed on a daily basis around the globe in many venues, from the pulpit to the op-ed pieces in major media. In this regard, several studies over the years have found that atheist are, in fact, the “most feared and reviled minority.” As remarked by the authors of the article “Atheists As ‘Other’: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society” (American Sociological Review, v. 71 (April, 2006), p. 211):
Despite the declining salience of divisions among religious groups, the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong. This article examines the limits of Americans’ acceptance of atheists. Using new national survey data, it shows atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. This distrust of atheists is driven by religious predictors, social location, and broader value orientations. It is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds. We demonstrate that increasing acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to the nonreligious, and present a theoretical framework for understanding the role of religious belief in providing a moral basis for cultural membership and solidarity in an otherwise highly diverse society.
Obviously, this kneejerk reaction is based not on reality but on superstition, as if the mere belief in God makes someone a better person and more trustworthy. This contention is patently false, as there have been many God-believers who have been absolutely immoral reprobates – quite evil, in fact.
Here is not the place for a debate as to whose bogeyman is scarier, the theist’s or the atheist’s, such as in examples of evil individuals that may be raised to defend or attack either position. Suffice it to say that any number of names are tossed about in this debate as to whether theism or atheism is more responsible for atrocity, including Charles Manson as a murderous religious believer and Jim Jones as a dangerous cult leader, to Joseph Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot as examples of perilous atheism. The Inquisition or Communism? Those are two of the more basic examples raised when arguing the merits and flaws of theism and atheism.
Interestingly, this Great Divide, which flourishes even in the face of greater freedoms and better methods of communication and education, such as the internet, may be significantly reduced because of the rise and spread of fundamentalist Islam. Indeed, even though I am a Christian apostate and criticize all religious pathology, including Christianity and Judaism – two expressions of an intolerant Abrahamic monotheism that has caused tremendous grief on this planet – it has been my declaration for many years that, if push comes to shove, I will side with Christianity against Islam. I began studying the global situation decades ago vis-a-vis religious fanaticism, and I knew that we were bound to see increasing problems with the fostering of Islamic supremacy in our midst.
In my efforts to keep the infidel-hating and woman-subjugating cult of male domination at bay, I have been inclusive of the Judeo-Christian community, while its members have been uneasy with my overtures, to say the least! It should be understood, however, that my efforts at finding out what has really happened on planet Earth are not attempts at making atheists of everyone. I personally am not interested in mind control, and what you do in the privacy of your own head is none of my business. If you want to climb a mountain and ponder a glorious God in heaven, go ahead, if it makes you feel better and more inspired to be alive. If, on the other hand, you hear about an atrocity and question how any good God could possibly be in charge, feel free to do that as well, as I find such thinking at such times to be entirely appropriate.
So, I personally do not have any problem aligning myself with my former cultmates (recall that I am a Christian apostate) or with others against the global encroachment of a dangerous ideology that has especially me, as a woman, in its sights. My critiques of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, do not mean that I am going to attack anyone personally or attempt to ban all religion. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy religion, from a distance, as a fascinating cultural artifact that can be studied for what it has brought to the human experience. I am, however, a mythicist, meaning I view supernatural tales to be mythical motifs and the individuals about whom they are told to be largely if not wholly mythical. Deeming something as “myth,” however, does not mean that I dismiss it. Indeed, I seek to discover the meaning behind it and then relish its creators, if said meaning is profound enough for my taste.
In any event, getting to my point: In the face of global onslaught by Islamic fundamentalism, many religionists are finally recognizing that they will simply HAVE to align themselves with the nonreligious, i.e., atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, in order to address this increasingly distressing problem. As but one example of this interesting, if cool, “welcome” in the following story we actually find a Christian pastor encouraging atheists to put up billboards in order to compete with Muslim proselytizing! When in history would that sort of encouragement ever have occurred previously?
It’s a great sign of things to come, including a greater acceptance of atheistic input in the public arena. As a freethinker might say, “To each his own, so long as it doesn’t spill out onto me in a negative fashion.” If all children can see that they are allowed to ponder religious beliefs AND to have doubts, we will be raising a much healthier future citizenry.
I predict such alliances will continue to increase. In my case, please recall that while I am a skeptic, I am not interested in castigating individuals for what they do in the privacy of their own minds; hence, a nonfanatical believer who is not trying to force others into his or her viewpoint need not feel threatened personally by casting lots with me in exposing the dangers of religious fanaticism, e.g., Islamic fundamentalism.
“The bishop said he would pay for billboards to counter those of MyPeace if he could afford it, and ‘maybe the atheists should run their billboards as well.'”
CHRISTIANS in Sydney will have their core beliefs challenged by provocative advertisements due to appear on billboards and buses in the next month.
The ads, paid for by an Islamic group called MyPeace, will carry slogans such as ”Jesus: a prophet of Islam”, ”Holy Quran: the final testament” and ”Muhammad: mercy to mankind”.
A phone number urges people to call to receive a free Koran and other Islamic literature.
The organiser of MyPeace, Diaa Mohamed, said the campaign was intended to educate non-Muslims about Islam. He said Jesus was a prophet of Islam, who was to come before Muhammad. ”The only difference is we say he was a prophet of God, and they say he is God,” Mr Mohamed said. ”Is it thought-provoking? Yes, it is. We want to raise awareness that Islam believes in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Mr Mohamed said he hoped the billboards would encourage Christians and Muslims to find common ground. They were not intended to downgrade the significance of Jesus. ”We embrace him and say that he was one of the mightiest prophets of God.”
MyPeace plans to extend the campaign, funded by private donations, to television.
The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said it was ”complete nonsense” to say Jesus was a prophet of Islam. ”Jesus was not the prophet of a religion that came into being 600 years later.”
But the billboard was not offensive, he said. ”They’ve got a perfect right to say it, and I would defend their right to say it [but] … you couldn’t run a Christian billboard in Saudi Arabia.”
The bishop said he would pay for billboards to counter those of MyPeace if he could afford it, and ”maybe the atheists should run their billboards as well”….