The MU SASHA Blog

The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

Why not live and let live?

This article originally appeared on SkepticFreethought.com and is reposted here with permission.

Hello everyone! Dave Muscato here.

This is a difficult post for me to write. I’ve spent two days on this, actually. For most of my life, I’ve been natural inclined to be non-confrontational, and I think my friends and family would characterize me as a gentle person. It is not easy for me to say these things, but I feel like the time has come for me to take a stand.

I had lunch with a friend the other day and the subject of religion came up—I know, big surprise. My friend’s girlfriend had posed to him a question about the purpose of atheism activism:

“Why not live and let live?”

Aside from being intellectually wrong, what’s so bad about believing in a god? What’s the harm? Is it just academic?

Some background: His girlfriend is “not religious, but open-minded,” and teaches their 3 kids to be accepting of all different religions. He is an atheist and passionate about critical thinking and skepticism. He is concerned because he overheard one of their children praying before going to bed.

He asked me, “What can I tell her?”

Here’s my response:

Because they’re not letting us live and let live. Because, for no rational reason, gay people can’t get married in my state. Because they’re teaching the Genesis creation myth as fact in science classes. Because they’re teaching “abstinence-only” sex ed, which is demonstrably ineffective. Because, despite Roe v. Wade recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, we’re STILL fighting for abortion and birth-control access. Because priests are molesting children and nobody is getting in trouble for it. It’s been said before, but if an 80-member religious cult in Texas allowed some of their leaders to molest children, there would be a huge outcry. It would be front-page news. People would be up in arms! But when it’s the Catholic Church, we barely even notice. It’s gotten to the point where we’re not even surprised anymore—it’s barely even news anymore—when another molestation is uncovered. Like the saying goes, “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the number of followers.” Or worse, “One rape is a tragedy; a thousand is a statistic.”

I brought up Greta Christina’s wonderful book, “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless,” and told him to read it, and to ask his girlfriend to read it. Nothing would make me happier than to live and let live. I dream of a world where humanity spends its time solving “real” problems, doing medical research, exploring space, fixing the climate, making art and music, studying philosophy. I would love for there to be no need for atheism activism. But I can’t do that, because I have a conscience.

He agreed with me on these points, but wanted to know about the problem with liberal churches. What’s the harm of religion so long as it supports gay marriage, comprehensive sex-ed, etc?

First off, it’s important to distinguish between believing in a deity, and believing in God. If we’re talking about a deistic creator, a god who allegedly sparked the Big Bang and hasn’t interfered since, I don’t really see any harm in this, other than that it’s unscientific and vastly improbable. I’d call this harmlessly irrational, on par with crossing your fingers for good luck. It’s magical thinking, which I think should be avoided, but it doesn’t really hurt anything.

sistine-chapel

But once we start talking about Yahweh, the Abrahamic god, the god of the Bible, we get into some sticky stuff.  I’m not the first to say so but the reason moderate religion is bad, even dangerous, is that it opens the door for religious bigotry and worse. If a religious moderate believes the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God, who is he to fault a religious extremist for actually doing what it says to do?

If you use faith as your justification for moral decision-making, you cannot reasonably point at someone more committed than you doing the exact same thing and make the charge that they’re wrong. A religious moderate cannot call a religious extremist crazy without being hypocritical.

There is this idea among moderates that religious tolerance is an ideal condition. The whole “COEXIST” campaign is a prime example. There is this idea that all religions are somehow valid, despite contradicting one another. That no matter how much we disagree with someone, if it falls under the umbrella of religious tolerance, we should make every effort to find a way not to be offended.

To paraphrase Sam Harris, the idea that all human beings should be free to believe whatever they want—the foundation of “religious tolerance”—is something we need to reconsider. Now.

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to mutilate a little girl’s genitals.

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to hinder the promotion of condom use in AIDS-ridden regions, because they believe wasting semen is a “sin.”

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to lie to children and tell them that they will see their dead relatives again, or give them nightmares about a made-up “Hell.”

I will not stand by and tolerate the absurd and unsubstantiated proposition that humans are somehow born bad or evil, that we need to be “saved.”

It is offensive to me that, in the year 2013, people still think intercessory prayer works. Every time I hear about some poor sick child who has died because her parents decided to pray instead of take her to a hospital, I am horribly offended. When religious moderates tell me—although they also believe in intercessory prayer—that they, too, are offended by this, I am appalled at the hypocrisy. We should know better by now than to believe in childish things like prayer.

I am so sick of this crap. There is a time and a place for being accommodating of differences of opinion. If you think tea is the best hot drink, and I think it’s coffee, fine. No one is harmed by this. Insofar as your beliefs don’t negatively affect others, I do not care if we agree or not. But, I contend, your right to believe whatever you want ends where my rights begin. Religious moderation is literally dangerous because it opens the gate wide for religious extremism. A moderate cannot point to a religious extremist and say, “You are wrong. You are dangerous. You must not be allowed to continue.” However, I can. To stand up to religious extremism, we must come from a place of rational thought, of freedom to criticize, of ethics that do not depend on revelation or arguments from authority.

I make no apology for asserting that secular humanism is the most reasonable, most ethical, and best way for us to live. It is more rational than superstitious faith. It is more productive and humane than any religion. It is the ethical choice. To quote Sam Harris, “There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.”

We must become more reasonable if we want to survive. Our planet is in trouble. There is no divine guarantee that the Earth will always be able to support us nor that we will always be here. There is no life after this. What matters is how we are remembered, and the contributions to society we make while we’re alive. I assert that there is nothing more important or more urgent than this: Atheists, I call upon you to stand up to absurdity. If you see something, say something. Start the conversation.

I know that it is difficult to make waves. I know that it can be intimidating, especially when you’re outnumbered. But the facts are on our side, and the stakes are high. We must not be afraid to call bullshit where we see it. We must not allow religions to dictate what is and is not moral. We must speak up in the face of wrongdoing. We must make ourselves known. It can be as simple as correcting someone for using the word “fag,” or mentioning that you are an atheist if the subject of religion comes up.

Ending the danger and oppression of religion will not be easy, but if we work toward it, we can make it happen.

Until next time,

Dave

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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About Danielle Muscato

Danielle Muscato is a civil rights activist, writer, and public speaker. She has appeared on or been quoted in Rolling Stone, People, Time, The New York Times, SPIN, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard Magazine, and on MTV News, VH1, NPR, MSNBC, ABC, "The Real Story" with Gretchen Carlson, The O'Reilly Factor, Huffington Post Live, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Raw Story, CNN, CBS, and Howard Stern Danielle is the former Director of Public Relations for American Atheists. She is also a board member of MU SASHA (University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics). Her website is http://www.DanielleMuscato.com. Follow her on Google+ Follow her on Twitter @daniellemuscato Subscribe to her on YouTube at www.youtube.com/davemuscato

5 comments on “Why not live and let live?

  1. Cubist
    February 7, 2013

    Damn straight. If Xtians would just be content to Believe on their own time, in the privacy of their own heads—if Xtians didn’t insist on unzipping their pants, pulling their Jesus out, and tryna cram their Jewish zombie carpenter down everybody’s throat, at every friggin’ opportunity—then I’d be at (or close to) the front of the line of those atheists who’d be shrugging and saying “Eh, it’s stoopid, but it’s harmless. Whatever.”
    Sadly, Xtian sonzabitches aren’t content to believe on their own time. Their holy book commands them to unzip and cram their Jesus down every throat in the general vicinity—I mean, hell, that’s the whole friggin’ point of their so-called “great commission”!
    Xtians don’t want their Beliefs to be fought against, even destroyed if the opposition can swing it? Well, maybe Xtians should clean up the Xtian community. Once Xtians make it clear that their invisible friend is actively [i]opposed[/i] to such characteristic Xtian tropes as keeping children forcibly ignorant, child-raping, covering up for rapists-of-children, beating homosexuals to death for being gay, imposing their invisible friend’s alleged preferences regarding ‘morality’ on people who don’t happen to believe in their invisible friend, etc etc etc… [long list excised for reasons of space] …anyway… If and when Xtians manage to clean up their own friggin’ “house” (a feat of hygiene which probably exceeds the magnitude of what Hercules is supposed to have done in the Aegean stables), then and only then will it be time for live-and-let-live.

  2. criticofchristianity
    February 7, 2013

    You’re right. Thanks for an inspiring post. Standing up for reason can be incredibly difficult amongst unreasonable people. But it is incredibly important that we do so, for the sake of human rights and a better world.

  3. truth_seeker
    February 7, 2013

    There are some thing I will agree with you one. First I will say I do believe in a God. Yes I hate religion. No I have no solid proof that a God exist. I do agree that religion as a whole has done more harm then good for humanity as a whole. But as I see it you can’t get rid of religion with out getting rid of God. This I don’t see happening. Even if humanity woke up tomorrow and said wow religion is wrong we will all be atheist now there would still be sects of people that believe on way vs another and in another millennium it would have formed a religion. We as humans take our beliefs very personally. If you attack what I believe then yes I’m going to fight back. If you look at the trend especially in the U.S. you will see more “spiritual ” and atheist coming out. People that realize that religion is crap. This is growing trend in all western culture. Now as far as prayer goes I do believe it works, but not as the faithful say. Think of it as voodoo. You must believe for it to work. It a classic case of mind over body. If you arrested truly faithful you can heal yourself of many things by using prayer as a focal point. I’m not saying prayer can cure aids or cancer on it’s own but studies have shown that people who have an active spiritual life tend to recover faster and have fewer complications. The same goes for someone who refuses to give up..It’s all in the mind, some just say God will see me through others say I’m going to get through this. Same principal different use.

  4. rocketkirchner
    February 15, 2013

    Dave , nice to see you writing again . i would have to state that many people who had some sort of truncated and distorted form of obssessive faith , when they lose it they become equally obessed , but in a different direction . it is like trading in one obsession for another . The New Atheism ( as opposed to the Old Atheism ) reminds me of the same level of in your face obsessive compusive behaviour as its relgiuos fundamentalist counterpart.

    if one wants to make a case for being an Atheist that believes in live and let live , it does not get much better than the literary and philsophy of Albert Camus . And as far as challenging the absurd wherever one sees it . Is not that premise equally absurd . What should a good Atheist do ….go up to a couple in love walking down the street and say ”your affection and love toward each other makes no rational sense , therefore i challenge you “”. Some of the greatest things in life are not explanable . they are in a word –absurd . why not live and live and allow these wonderful absurditys to flower ? LOL

    • Jeff McClintock
      February 14, 2014

      “What should a good Atheist do ….go up to a couple in love walking down the street and say ”your affection and love toward each other makes no rational sense”
      Only stupid atheists who don’t understand the advantage a long term relationship has on perpetuating your genes.

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