Should Atheists Stand Up For Religiously Persecuted?

Pastor Wick raises an interesting point about religious persecution:

Yes, people in other places of the globe suffer for claiming Christ. They have in the past, they do today. We need to be in prayer for them. But I would assume even the Atheist community in America would stand on their behalf. Our constitution will not be changed anytime soon.

You do see groups like the ACLU and Americans United fighting on behalf of Christians all the time. But they’re not atheist organizations.

I’m hard-pressed to come up with any explicitly atheist organization that has helped, or fought for, or even stood behind the rights of the religious when they were facing persecution.

Can you think of any?

Also: Should atheist organizations even be supporting those religious people? Do we want to see less religion in the world or would we rather see religious equality for all? Is it paradoxical for atheists — or their organizations — to support Christians or Muslims who are not allowed to spread their beliefs?

I imagine that some atheists are pleased to see the religious under fire, but I hope many, many more would like to see their (non-)beliefs respected alongside religious beliefs. We can debate and argue all we want (we’ll win every time, of course), but I hope most atheists are just as sickened by stories of religious people being persecuted as the faithful are.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    …I realize that atheists may be members of the communities mentioned above (ACLU, AU, etc.)..so maybe there’s no need for an “atheist” group. Just was curious if there was anywhere.

  • Gullwatcher

    While I do support the right of people to hold whatever beliefs they do (mostly on the grounds that you can’t stop them), most of the ‘persecution’ that I hear about is not because of beliefs but because of actions. I especially don’t see proselytizing as any kind of human right to be fought for and won.

    That said, there are also those places where the religion is inextricably wound up with culture and tradition, and the ‘persecution’ is as much based on those as on religion. Those are some often horrible situations, but for religious types here to characterize it as religious persecution and ignore the other aspects looks like a way of extending their favorite “poor us, we are so victimized and downtrodden” gambit into places where it is a grotesque simplification of complicated cultural, historical, and often ethnic situations that won’t be improved by mischaracterizing them.

    Or I could have just said “no, bad idea” and left it at that.

  • Aj

    They should support freedom of expression for all, but should also fight against the very ideas they’re protecting. All the atheist organisations I know of support freedom of expression.

    When choosing to campaign they should choose desirable expressions first. The level of oppression should factor into it as well, violence trumps inconvenience. Also, how much support a group already has is important, Christians aren’t lacking advocates in the US.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    I am more for “free thinking” than I am for atheism.

    But I am not for freedom so long as the said religion doesn’t step on the rights of others.

  • Michael

    This is a hard question.

    It’s kind of like saving a shark. If you save it, it may very well turn and eat you.

    Probably a bad analogy, but we are talking about helping people you believe in a system that says it is okay to kill us (the non-believers).

    But none of us would want to be in that position either.

    Hard question indeed.

  • http://bligbi.com KC

    This strikes me as being similar to the writings of certain anti-feminist men who complain about how women’s organizations do not stand up for them when other men terrorize them.

    Atheists are a minority group here in America in literal size and resources. We’re the ones with less political power and have a lesser social standing than our theistic counterparts. Organizing for our own benefit is hard enough.

    On the other hands, theists count for approximately 80 to 90 percent of the population. They, as a collective group not individuals and discluding in-house spats, are further up the ladder when it comes to political power and social standing. Their groups are often internationally organized.

    To put it bluntly, they have the means to deal with their own problems without needing an atheist to help them out.

    Sure, they might give each other hell, but that’s the nature of the beast when you declare that anyone who isn’t for you is against you.

    Sorry, but it’s my firm belief that it is those with the most political power and social standing that have the duty, if you will, to stand up for the small(er) guy, not vice versa.

    Anything else reeks of blind privilege, IMHO.

  • Gary

    It’s like standing up for the rights of smokers. It’s bad for them and I don’t want it done anywhere that it could affect me.

    I don’t think anyone should be persecuted for exercising their rights. I value the freedom associated with the right to practice religion. I do not value the superstition, hatred, and dogma associated with that right.

    If they truly were advocating ‘religious equality’ and the ‘supposed’ altruism associted with religion – I could support the right to practice one’s religion. However, it’s more likely to be about superiority than equality and bigotry than atruism.

    On that assumption, I can not see myself getting upset over persecution solely on religious grounds.

  • mikespeir

    Actually, Michael, I think your shark analogy is fairly apropos. Yes, I realize religious believers are technically rational people. The problem is that their faith so often prevents them using that reason, at least in ways where there’s a chance their faith might be undermined by it. Like the shark, they’re not likely to see their saviors as friends.

    Still, that persecution is wrong should be a principle that trumps most and maybe all other considerations. (Although, as Gullwatcher points out, a lot of what’s called “persecution” isn’t really.)

  • http://nosmokings.blogspot.com joe

    Tricky. It seems to me that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good basis for Human Rights. Article 18 protects the holding of belief.

    I think any rational person would want to protect people who undergo violence from others – particularly where that violence is caused by belief in an idea others find offensive, even an idea I find offensive. On the other end of the scale, I wouldn’t spend any effort on protecting people from others calling their ideas ‘wrong’.

    I’m not sure where I would draw the line. For me, wilfully publishing cartoons which only have the purpose of mocking a religious group might not be an invasion of human rights, but it is certainly rude.

    Maybe like in comedy, you have to consider whether the person is able to take the criticism in a light way. I don’t know, I’m not sure how to build a rational on basic things like ‘level of offence felt’.

  • penn

    Shouldn’t this be the work of secular groups like the ACLU? I think atheist groups could offer statements of support, but it’s kind of like asking Habitat for Humanity to help AIDs relief efforts. It’s just not what they do.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    I am for free thinking. Which means I’ll defend people’s rights to believe in whatever they choose to believe in. The alternative is to denounce free thinking.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Hemant wrote: “Do we want to see less religion in the world or would we rather see religious equality for all?” I think that is a critical question, and I think that is where we see a lot of divide in the atheist/humanist movement. I fall on the “religious freedom for all” side. I see no need for religion to be abolished from the world, as long as we have peaceful, secular government, respect for science, and respect for diversity and freedom. As a nonbeliever, I want my rights respected, and I want to make sure that a universal respect of freedom of religion includes me. But I do not want to limit the religion of anyone else, assuming, as the caveat always is when it comes to discussions on rights, that their religion does not try to infringe on my rights or those of anyone else.

    So I do think we should speak out against all religious persecution. Of course, I know that a lot of people lose heart to do so when the Religious Right in the United States calls it persecution against Christians whenever they are not allowed to put a ten commandments monument up at a courthouse or impose creationism on a school.

    But the reality of persecution against Christians in China and other countries is real, and it is of major concern. We should also be concerned with the influence of Hindu fundamentalism in India, which has been a powerful political force there and has been a problem for India’s many religious minorities (including the 10 percent of the country that is Muslim).

    And personally I am very concerned that some European countries are not doing what they should to respect religious and cultural diversity.

  • Siamang

    I stand with the common cause of liberty with anyone who opposes oppression.

    As such, I appreciate it when the ADL or other groups similarly aligned ALSO fight for our rights, because religious liberty and anti-persecution are needs we have in common with Jews.

    Let’s put it this way, if Michael Newdow gets the US to revert to the original pledge of allegiance, that’ll benefit the people of many different minority religious traditions as well.

    If you’re asking the question, “have any atheist groups stood up against religious persecution” I think atheist groups in this country have had a hard time just holding themselves together. They’re combatting the perception that they’re tiny organizations committed to anti-americanism and bitter isolation from God.

    In other words, we’re fighting our own isolation within American society. I can understand why it’s not the ORGANIZATION’S time to open new fights for people who don’t like us anyway.

    BUT. As an INDIVIDUAL, I give to many organizations with which I share a common cause. Some of those groups are religious in nature, but their primary purpose is feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and caring for the sick.

    Perhaps the question should be, can atheist organizations gain better respect by working for common cause with religious organizations on issues of religious persecution.

    That answer may be yes.

  • Aj

    KC,

    As long as they are a powerful collective group not a group of individuals who are being framed to justify discrimination. For example, men are not a collective group. A women’s organisation has many legitimate reasons for favouring giving support to a woman over a man, but none of those reasons include discriminating based on gender. At the basis of feminism should be a strong dislike for gender discrimination. If an organisation acts from female chauvinism then I wouldn’t even call them feminist.

    The same with theists, it’s true that theists increasingly join together, sometimes to oppose secularism. A theist doesn’t automatically belong to a powerful collective of theists, or in fact may choose to disassociate themselves with such groups. We shouldn’t be punishing them for that, it would be in our interests to encourage that.

  • Christophe Thill

    My wish is, as Marx said, that religion becomes a purely private matter. If people have their right to religious freedom trampled by a state or by any other authority, they should be supported. I think there’s no freedom FROM religion without freedom OF religion. Because if religion is persecuted, people will be even more attached to it, as was the case in Eastern Europe. Whereas if they are left free, religion won’t be a flag for them. And then we can engage the discussion.

  • http://madmansparadise.blogspot.com Asylum Seeker

    Atheists do not have the ability to make any stand collectively, since we honestly are a minority group ourselves, without much political presence, and as likely to be persecuted as any religious minority. But, ideally, atheists would be opposed to actual religious persecution. Whether we can do anything about it is another issue, but just because we think that religion itself is a crock doesn’t mean that we can’t oppose discrimination against individuals for subscribing to the wrong form of idiocy.

  • Larry Huffman

    All people should stand up for the rights of all other people…regardless the reason. That transcends theistic belief…or lack thereof.

    However…like others have mentioned…what constitutes persecution is the real key.

    If a christian group is not allowed to prostelytize someplace…I do not care. If people are making comments about their belief…I do not care. If a person is prevented from having their bible or koran, then I do care. The persecution they are experiencing has to be some true form of loss of rights or opportunities for the individual.

    So the answer is yes
    …an atheist should help others who are being persecuted, regardless of their religion. That is part of being a human being in a human civilization…so long as the person needing ‘help’ is really being persecuted.

    Another way to look at this is by outcome. By helping this person…am I forwarding an individual, or have I forwarded their religion? Fighting to allow someone to prostelytize, is essentially forwarding the religion not the individual. Fighting for someone to have their bible is forwarding their individual religious freedoms. Our responsibilities and obligations would be to the individual, not at all to the organization.

    (I want to say that I understand that some individuals would say their ability to prostelytize is commanded of them so to allow them is a must for their personal religious freedom. The practice of prostelytizing infringes on others, however…and so if a community has anti-prostelytizing laws in place, they are there to protect the citizenry as a whole. If that needs changed, the religious organization can go to the officials, voters, courts, etc. I draw the line for my personal responsibility as a citizen with the individual…let the organization take care of itself.)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I especially don’t see proselytizing as any kind of human right to be fought for and won.

    Whether you like the message being spread or not, freedom to “proselytize” is just another name for “freedom of speech”, and it is a human right.

  • Larry Huffman

    I also want to make a very important distinction: I am not saying that atheists should somehow organize and help these people collectively…not at all. The very notion of atheists organizing for anything has big implications and can often be considered as impossible…hehe.

    I am speaking as a human, who happens to be atheist…what is my ethical responsibility…as I see it? I believe that I do have a personal responsibility to help others who are truly being persecuted.

    I also think very strongly that if we ever expect people to come to our aid if we are being persecuted…then we must be prepared to stand when others are persecuted. We should not offer help based on what religion the person is…and we should stand for their individual religious rights as we would any of their other rights.

    Just my view of how people should treat others.

  • J Myers

    I’ll defend people’s rights to believe in whatever they choose to believe in.

    This is like saying “I support people’s rights to choose whatever race they want to be.” People cannot choose their beliefs.

  • Larry Huffman

    Prostelytizing is not freedom of speech…not in and of itself.

    It is usually door to door…and severly infringing on a community.

    Also…if NO religions are allowed to prostelytize…then the playing field is fair.

    Keeping religious people from prostelytizing does not keep the people from speaking their religion…it merely limits how they are allowed to do so to the community at large. If anyone is that interested they can attend the church in question…where no one will prevent the message.

    Could there be true persecution with regards to prosteltyzing? Possibly…if an individual is prevented from doing it, when all others are allowed…that might warrant it. That is not usually how those things go…it is generally a blanket law, however.

  • mikespeir

    Whether you like the message being spread or not, freedom to “proselytize” is just another name for “freedom of speech”, and it is a human right.

    I disagree with you a lot, Mike Clawson, but not this time. Furthermore, there are versions of Christianity where “witnessing” is very much a part of the religion. Denying these people the right to proselytize is as much as denying them the right to practice their religion. Sure, you can go too far with that….

  • http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com tinyfrog

    Yes, there is. Center for Inquiry has a person at the United Nations. They do stand up to fight against laws that seek to entrench religion in society (i.e. censorship laws that prevent freedom of religion and freedom of speech). A while ago, a few Muslim countries tried to push-through some UN resolutions making it illegal to criticize Islam. CFI helped fight against it.

    And, yes, I think atheist organizations should stand up against these types of things. When a religion attempts to restrict freedom of religion and freedom of speech, they also restrict freedom from religion and criticism of religion. We are in a far better position if a society allows for free debate on religion, and I get angry when countries persecute people on the basis of their religion (even though I’m an ex-Christian myself).

    I’ll post a link in my next comment (I’m not posting it here because it will probably get held for moderation).

  • http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com tinyfrog

    Here’s a podcast about the CFI/UN situation:

    Go to “rd15 The Soul of Secularism with guest Austin Dacey” here:
    http://feeds.feedburner.com/reasonabledoubts/Msxh

  • BZ

    Depends what you mean by proselytize. If people are speaking in public, that’s a necessary right. If people are going door to door, they’re entering the private sphere. People have a right to limit who can contact them in their own homes.

  • Spurs Fan

    I actually have no problem with door-to-door proselytizing. As long as people are protected when they say they are not interested. I think religious people should have the right to proselytize as long as we have the right to disagree with and/or reject the message and tell people to get lost.

    That being said, I still oppose “faith-based” plans that would give federal money to groups who provide for a need (shelter for the homeless, etc.) and then force those people to hear a gospel presentation or go through a Bible study in order to get the food, shelter, etc.

  • http://mcdevzone.com/ Mike Cohen

    I usually find myself sticking up for Muslims, since they’re usually being discriminated against.

  • http://imaginggeek.blogspot.com/ Bryan

    I cannot think of an atheist group that meets that criteria. But then, atheism is not an organized religion, and what groups we do have tend to be rather small. After all, why form our own group to fight discrimination (or poverty, or whatever) when there are excellent secular organizations which we can join without “ethical issues”.

    I myself donate and volunteer for several such organizations.

    As a counterpoint, atheists experience substantial discrimination throughout the world. Many countries have laws banning or limiting atheism; and in many of those atheism is a capital offence. Even in western nations discrimination against us is common – several US states ban us from public office, there are numerous cases of violence recorded against us every year, and the courts are filled with cases of various forms of discrimination – employment, housing and so forth. Most concerning, violence against our children in schools is common place, and complaints to school boards are seldom taken seriously.

    So I’d ask the Christians the opposite question – Christianity is huge, with over a billion members world-wide. There are hundreds, if not thousands of large Christian organizations around the world. How many of those have fought against the rampant anti-atheist discrimination found throughout the world?

  • http://www.christophermwalsh.com Christopher

    How do we define persecution? I believe that science teachers who insert religious beliefs that are not backed up by evidence into their classrooms should be fired. Christian science teachers might call this persecution, while I think it is improving the education system. At the same time, I could not turn a blind eye if I saw those same science teachers and their families rounded up and carted off to camps just because of their religion, either. At what point does my responsibility shift from being a foe to being a friend?

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Does the ACLU routinely “defend” “persecuted” Christians? Seems like most of their work is in the secular arena.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, and if so, I’m sure some of the fine folks here will educate me..
    :-)

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    I have been saying for a long time that protecting the rights of the faithful to appropriately worship (and even evangelize) as they see fit ought to be a high priority for atheists. Our rights as non-religious people to be free from governmental imposition of religion are the same thing as the rights of religious people to freely practice as they choose. The freedom in question is the right of people to decide for themselves whether and what they believe. Just because we make different choices than them does not excuse us from honoring their rights — if their rights are diminished, so are ours.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I have been saying for a long time that protecting the rights of the faithful to appropriately worship (and even evangelize) as they see fit ought to be a high priority for atheists. Our rights as non-religious people to be free from governmental imposition of religion are the same thing as the rights of religious people to freely practice as they choose. The freedom in question is the right of people to decide for themselves whether and what they believe. Just because we make different choices than them does not excuse us from honoring their rights — if their rights are diminished, so are ours.

    Very well said. I think this is exactly right. And speaking as a Christian, it’s also a good reason for religious people to stick up for the rights of atheists to speak & practice their views freely as well.

  • http://sanguinity.livejournal.com Sanguinity

    I think there’s a strong common-cause argument to stand with minority religions that are being persecuted by the religious majority. After all, a good piece of the persecution that atheists experience is due to choosing to opt out of the norms of the locally dominant religion.

    A perfect case is this one: an Apache child barred from kindergarten for wearing his hair long. The Christian school administrator justifies his position with a bunch of stupid ideas that atheists are forever frustrated by. (He wants the kid to prove that his religion isn’t just made up — can HE prove that? Also, the administrator privileges religion as a justifiable reason for having different practices, privileging religion over any other possible reason for having a different cultural practice, such as having a different culture.)

    I think we’ve got strong grounds to ally ourselves with minority religions against Christian cultural hegemony, and we should be exploring the possibility of building those coalitions.

  • Polly

    The bottom line question for me is: Am I ever OK with someone having their rights trampled if they’re someone I disagree with or dislike?
    I’d have to answer with a big, fat NO!

    We can argue about where to draw the line between rights and privileges, but if I see someone denied their rights as I understand them and can help, I hope that I would.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommy

    I come down on the side of promoting freedom of belief and even did a couple of posts on my blog berating Malaysia for denying its citizens whose official religion is Islam but who wish to change their religious identity to Christian or Hindu. Incredibly, the Malaysian government delegates the final say to a Muslim religious court. Gee, you already know how they’re going to rule on the request!

  • Aj

    BZ,

    Depends what you mean by proselytize. If people are speaking in public, that’s a necessary right. If people are going door to door, they’re entering the private sphere. People have a right to limit who can contact them in their own homes.

    I agree, freedom of expression does not mean freedom to make unsolicited calls into someone’s private life, whether to home, phone, or internet. Proselytizing isn’t protected, speech is, if that speech is used for proselytizing then it’s protected.

    Sanguinity,

    A perfect case is this one: an Apache child barred from kindergarten for wearing his hair long. The Christian school administrator justifies his position with a bunch of stupid ideas that atheists are forever frustrated by. (He wants the kid to prove that his religion isn’t just made up — can HE prove that? Also, the administrator privileges religion as a justifiable reason for having different practices, privileging religion over any other possible reason for having a different cultural practice, such as having a different culture.)

    I don’t mind rules, although I’d like them to be justified. I don’t like privileging religion as a way of getting out of rules. I don’t think culture should be privileged, that’s just as bad as religion, it’s not really for cultural reasons at all. Culture is what we make of it, culture is not just tradition, not just what the majority say, or authorities say it is. “I don’t want to” is a much better reason than religion or culture. All religion is made up, if I want to get out of rules that religious people get out of I’m becoming a pastafarian.

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    Oh good. I’m glad this thread ended up turning in the direction of active advocacy for freedom of religion. I’ve long supported the idea of FFRF (for example) filing amicus briefs in favor of public religious expressions that are legal and appropriate. It would serve as a powerful demonstration of principles, showing that atheists are interested in fairness, not just self-advocacy.

  • Marzipan

    I’m for freedom of speech. Soliciting door-to-door, however, is not a right, and people and organizations can and do restrict who they want to communicate with on their property.

    And besides, religious people, especially Christians in the US, are unfairly privileged, and any attempt to take that privilege away from them is seen as persecution. It’s amazing that people would actually believe that not paying taxes combined with the ability to deny a couple adoption (or even a freaking pavillion. for renting which they will pay. which they let everyone else use) because they are same-sex partners is a more fundamental right than the right of two people who love each other to be together (which many same-sex partners from different countries are simply denied; and getting married in one of the states that recognize same-sex marriage would only make matters worse for them as it is not recognized federally, but USCIS would be able to use the records of their marriage to bar the foreign partner from entering the US on a non-immigrant visa because of the motive to stay in the country illegally). And yet I hear Christians employ this reasoning all the time.

    Or take Texas, for instance. The removal of children from the FLDS nutjobs at the YFZ ranch was a big deal here in Utah because (I suspect) as much as Mormons would like to distance themselves from their fundie offshoot, it hit too close to home. The essences of the two belief systems are identical: pay, pray, obey. Except one of them allows you to wear stuff other than frilly pastel dresses, and polygyny is postponed until the afterlife. So yeah, a lot of Mormons here felt that since the initial phone call to CPS was fake, the evidence of abuse, neglect, and the fact that it was basically a single household with householders not knowing how many people lived in their own house that they found upon investigation should be discarded and the children just be left there for those lunatics to do whatever they please with. And bizarrely, no thought at all was given to whether or not the 16-year-olds who were “legally” married to old geezers were coerced or had any choice in the matter. If it’s on paper, it’s no child abuse, or so the argument went. And then Texas supreme court decides that brainwashing girls to prepare to be raped by 50-year-olds does not put children in imminent danger and therefore, they should just be reunified with their parents. Apparently, no one there has heard of severe emotional abuse, not to mention the fact that there is clear intent to engage in or allow child sexual abuse in the future and blind obedience to their imprisoned prophet who has himself basically raped everything that moves, including his own sister, niece and nephews. Yet this whole incident was largely seen as persecution of FLDS adults. Are you shitting me?

    And soon after that, the same court ruled that it’s okay to traumatize children and drag them around the carpet by their hair if you think you’re exorcising evil spirits from them. Whew! that was a close one. Poor church almost got persecuted by a teenager who almost killed herself as a result of their freedom of religious expression.

    I agree with Dawkins 100% that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse, but society at large disagrees. Including the ACLU, by the way.

    So if protecting children from harmful indoctrination is persecution, I’m all for persecuting the sky fairy’s favorite people. If the kids grow up and truly decide that believing in talking snakes and interbreeding between gods and humans makes sense to them, and they should try to convince other adults that those things are real, let them. But I have a hunch that the number of fundamentalists, if not religious people in general, would drop significantly.

    I also oppose any kind of exemptions from laws or rules of conduct on the grounds of religion which are not available to the irreligious. But violence and infringing on people’s personal freedoms just because of their beliefs is pretty wrong.

    Do we want to see less religion in the world or would we rather see religious equality for all?

    False dichotomy.

  • Ngeli

    Well, it is of course an issue of quantity. Freedom of thought, speech and expression is something, that should be granted, likewise the right to assemble for religious ceremonies on private property. But what about people, who want to deny their children medical treatment and claim persecution?

  • SarahH

    It really all comes down to whether or not a law is specifically discriminating against a religious group. Not just specifically affecting a religious group, but discriminating – something that puts an unfair burden on them for an insufficient reason, basically.

    A local law forbidding door-to-door marketing would be perfectly fair. A local law forbidding door-to-door proselytizing but not sales and fundraisers, etc. would be discriminatory.

    A recent case that’s fairly relevant is laid out here, and it’s actually a Jewish family who’s being ridiculously targeted by their condo board. I think it’s important for anyone who cares about justice to speak out in support of minorities facing discrimination, whether as part of a group or simply as an individual, like Richard Wade did by sending his letter. If more people took an interest in across-the-board freedom, every minority would be much better off, IMO.

  • Pseudonym

    There’s a bit of a switch going on in the write-up.

    Should Atheists stand up for the persecuted, religiously or otherwise? Absolutely.

    Should Atheist organisations do that? That depends on the organisation.

    I’m very strongly in favour of free speech, but I’m not fazed if the blood bank doesn’t take it up as one of their issues. It’s just not what they do.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    The comments that people should have freedom of religion, but not a right to proselytize don’t strike me as particularly well thought-out. Saying that people have the right to believe something, but they have to keep quiet about it, is not a particularly meaningful right. It reminds me a bit of Christian friends who have told me that anyone can be President, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack therof—it’s just that if they’re not Christian, they have to pretend that they are (seriously, I’m not making this up).

    And yes, you own your home, and you have the right to turn away people who come to your door. I’m not sure how that’s relevant. The religious persecution when the government starts making decisions about which groups can come to your door and which groups can’t.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Psedonym, your blood bank analogy is interesting, but I’d say that the goals of atheist organizations are closely related to these issues. Sure, everything else equal, I’d like it if more people were atheists, but I don’t think that’s so important. I think it’s much more important that everyone be allowed to believe what works for them, and talk or argue with each other if they want, and the government to stay out of that process. That belief produces the same conclusions about atheist speech in the U.S. miliary or Christian speech in India. And it’s kind of hypocritical to care strongly about one case, and be indifferent about the other.

  • J Myers
    The freedom in question is the right of people to decide for themselves whether and what they believe. Just because we make different choices than them….

    Very well said. I think this is exactly right.

    Wrong, and wrong. I’m not sure why I have to keep pointing this out: you do not choose what you believe. You can’t; a belief is what you suspect is true about the world, and reality is not yours to specify. You see what you see, you hear what you hear, and from your experiences emerge your beliefs.

    I did not choose to become an atheist. I cannot help that I find apologetics to be hokey and contrived; that I find theistic arguments inadequate; that I see no reason to suspect that anything resembling any sort of deity actually exists.

    Similarly, theists are struck as they are by these things; they do somehow find the theistic premise compelling, our criticism of it less so, and they cannot choose their impression any more than we can choose ours.

    Beliefs are things you have whether or not someone else thinks you should; the “right to believe” is meaningless.

  • Gullwatcher

    @Autumnal Harvest

    The comments that people should have freedom of religion, but not a right to proselytize don’t strike me as particularly well thought-out.

    You are thinking far too narrowly. From the rest of your comments, you seem to be thinking of it in terms of people going door to door in the USA. That’s only one example. Here’s another: the DOD permitting fundamentalists to proselytize among the recruits. That’s one place where proselytizing is already illegal, and rightly so, not that that stopped them. Where there is an imbalance of power, proselytizing should not be protected as free speech.

    Many countries have made proselytizing illegal. You can argue over whether that’s legitimate (personally, I applaud them), but if the law were instead that it was illegal to do so during natural disasters and emergencies, that would be a country legitimately protecting its citizens from people who came there to take advantage rather than to help. That’s a theoretical example, since I don’t think any country has such laws, but it’s a point.

    Greece does have laws against proselytizing, but part of the definition is the methods used, so that it’s illegal if it includes threats or bribery. Simple preaching isn’t proselytizing.

    I don’t have kids, but I know how I would feel if some adult was pestering them to adopt some religion. Again, there is an imbalance of power that makes it more than just an exercise in free speech. There’s a difference between supplying information and applying excessive pressure (or worse) that some people just don’t get, and if a country makes a law to address that difference, I think that’s legitimate.

  • http://www.ofsteel.net Arnoc

    I consider the answer to the “should” as obvious. It’s about freedom and repression has to be fought. No matter if believing or non-believing is right – repression is wrong.

  • Beowulff

    Is it paradoxical for atheists — or their organizations — to support Christians or Muslims who are not allowed to spread their beliefs?

    I don’t think there is a paradox.

    As many comments have already said, I think most atheists would protect the freedom of religion, since it goes hand in hand with freedom from religion.

    However, atheists probably would use the same arguments against, say, Muslims oppressing Christians as they’d use against Christians trying to oppress Muslims or atheists: we reject the authority of your holy book, and it can’t be used to support your backwards ideas, let alone force them onto others. Your religion can’t be used to shield those ideas from scrutiny.

    So while atheists will support freedom of religion, they’ll likely use arguments against the oppression that will put them opposite to a large portion of the people they’d be defending from prosecution.

    You could say atheists are more likely to oppose the oppressors, rather than support the oppressed. If you put it this way, any apparent paradox disappears.

  • stogoe

    For me, the line is drawn at proselytizing. You can believe whatever you want, but you can’t try and make others believe it too. If you’re spreading the word and the locals don’t take kindly to your badgering, you’re not being persecuted. You’re the one who’s the bully there.

    This is kind of a sore subject for me, as my cousin has been a secret missionary all of her adult life, going into non-christian countries under the guise of teaching English, while her true purpose is to convert the brown people. I think her career is kind of underhanded and despicable, but at the same time if the countries she’s been to harrass/arrest/kill people who are already christian, that’s definitely not right either.

  • Beowulff

    J Myers said:

    Wrong, and wrong. I’m not sure why I have to keep pointing this out: you do not choose what you believe. You can’t; a belief is what you suspect is true about the world, and reality is not yours to specify. You see what you see, you hear what you hear, and from your experiences emerge your beliefs.

    I think I understand what you’re saying, but I have a few problems with this view.

    First, you are able to choose what to look at or who to listen to, and thus help shape your beliefs. People don’t just passively absorb information, they can (and should) go out and look for it too.

    Second, you can choose to look at your beliefs critically and test them against reality, or you can choose to leave them unchallenged. You can choose to change your beliefs when you encounter new evidence, or you can choose to ignore overwhelming evidence against your beliefs.

    Of course, your beliefs will affect what choices you make, but the choices clearly are there. I’ll grant you that there exist belief systems that make it incredibly hard to make the right choices, but the idea that people had no choice at all to change their beliefs at any point in their life is incredibly hard to believe.

    And finally, are you saying nobody is responsible for what beliefs they hold? If so, under the entirely reasonable assumption that people tend to act according to their beliefs, doesn’t that mean that nobody is responsible for their own actions either?

    Yes, to an extent, people are victims of their circumstances, but I don’t see any reason to assume people have no control at all over their own beliefs, their actions, or their lives. At the very least, everybody lives their life as if they have at least some control over their life. Furthermore, most people would agree that people have the right to take control of their own life. The “right to believe” is just part of this.

    One last remark: the right to believe, IMHO, comes with the duty to constantly question your beliefs, and critically examine why you believe what you do. It’s something that people who make appeals to the right to believe all too often seem to ignore.

  • mikespeir

    It’s true that when faced with the best confirming or disconfirming evidence we will either believe or disbelieve accordingly. Unless you’re insane, what your mind sees as reality will be what it accepts as reality.

    That said, the mind is also pretty good at shuttering us to evidence it suspects might lead to uncomfortable conclusions. To use the analogy of a trial, our minds are not only the jury, they’re the judge. Sometimes our minds rule inadmissible evidence that could lead to a verdict we don’t like.

  • http://synapostasy.blogspot.com ben

    Atheist organizations (assuming their mission statement is one of general benevolence) should stand up for religious *people* who are being persecuted for holding certain beliefs. In this case, we’re opposing violence, regardless of its cause.

    We should not, however, be involved when the religious group in question is being persecuted for *spreading* its beliefs. In other words, let the missionaries swing.

    Now, if missionaries are being held *hostage*, say, we can argue for their release in exchange for a promise never to come back, but not free them to continue their subversion and mischief.

  • Pingback: listen to… » Standing Up For The Religiously Persecuted Even If You Don’t Agree with Them


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