Guest post: Dave Muscato on 9/11.

Yesterday Dave Muscato, the PR person for American Atheists, sent me the following guest post.  I spent the whole afternoon napping so I didn’t get it til late, but here it is today in all its glory:


It’s September 11. This is a very difficult day for all of us here today at American Atheists headquarters, and for our affiliate group, New York City Atheists, as well as atheists all around the country.

To be frank, I have been avoiding writing this post all morning because I just don’t know what to say.

Religion is so dangerous. I want to wake people up. I got into activism because I want to help people—not just people who want our help but people who don’t even know they need help, because they are so indoctrinated. The feeling of being free from the oppression of religious thoughts is so overwhelmingly positive that it’s nearly indescribable. I want that feeling for more people. I know that so many of you out there are aching for it and the fact that it’s so close makes it even harder.

One of the most common questions we get when people email or call or tweet is “Why not live and let live?” What’s the harm in believing if it makes me happy? Why are you trying to take my hope away from me?

We don’t want to take hope away from you. We want you to see that, rather, it’s *false* hope. False hope is not comforting; it’s delusional. The only way it can feel good is if you disconnect from reality and deceive yourself into forgetting that, deep down, you know it isn’t real. That is not hope and that is not positive for you or for anyone.

The truth is that religion is poison. It attacks people’s minds and spreads like a virus, infecting person after person, generation to generation.

Islam is often purported to be “the religion of peace.” This is absurd. The Qur’an explicitly orders death for infidels, and calls Muslims who do not participate in the violence hypocrites. Why don’t we see more moderate Muslims standing up publicly against this?

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.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.

I will leave you with this video. It was shot by a doctor in New York City on September 11, 2001, at the base of the World Trade Center after the second tower was hit. He went there in order to help injured people and videotaped as he went along.

There are these alarms that firefighters wear. They are programmed to go off, very loudly, if a firefighter doesn’t physically move from his or her position for a set period of time. The purpose of the alarm is to help other firefighters find him in a burning building or pile of rubble, the assumption being that if he’s not moving, he’s injured, buried, or dead.

Listen carefully to the video. You can hear siren-type sounds wailing in the background throughout the video. Dozens of them. It’s the most chilling thing I have ever seen.

- Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director, American Atheists

  • Beth Clarkson

    I dislike this attitude of intolerance. I hope you will reconsider it.

    Religion is so dangerous. I want to wake people up.

    This is a subjective value judgment. You provide no criteria for how and why you judge religion to be “so dangerous”. Can you provide some explanation for that
    judgment such that others can examine how you came to that conclusion and
    determine whether or not they would agree with you. If you applied the same criteria to another set of major and diverse cultural institutions – i.e. governments, how would that fare? I suspect much the same, yet (I presume) you would not argue for the abolition of all governments.

    I got into activism because I want to help people—not just people who want our help but people who don’t even know they need help, because they are so indoctrinated.

    People who insist on “helping” others who have neither requested nor desire the help is more likely to be perceived as an attack than a friendly gesture. At the very least, you are advocating that others convert to your belief system. That is your right, just as it is the right of Mormons, Evangelicals, etc. to attempt to convert people to their belief system.

    One of the most common questions we get when people email or call or tweet is “Why not live and let live?” What’s the harm in believing if it makes me happy? Why are you trying to take my hope away from me?

    We don’t want to take hope away from you. We want you to see that, rather, it’s *false* hope. False hope is not comforting; it’s delusional. The only way it can feel good is if you disconnect from reality and deceive yourself into forgetting that, deep down, you know it isn’t real. That is not hope and that is not positive for you or for anyone.

    It seems to me that what you are saying here is equivalent to ‘yes, I want to take your hope away because I think you are wrong to believe in it.’

    The truth is that religion is poison. It attacks people’s minds and spreads like a virus, infecting person after person, generation to generation.

    Poison is in the dose, not the substance. Like many toxic substances, it can also be medicine, helping people to overcome problems. To call it poison is to like ignoring all the potential beneficial effects of chemicals like acetylsalicylic acid, chlorine, iodine, opium, etc. only noticing the harm that results when they are not used with care and caution.

    Islam is often purported to be “the religion of peace.” This is absurd. The Qur’an explicitly orders death for infidels, and calls Muslims who do not participate in the violence hypocrites. Why don’t we see more moderate Muslims standing up publicly against this?

    I assume we don’t see much of that because pacifist rhetoric doesn’t boost ratings. Consider how the Westboro Baptist Church gets tons of media attention for their inflammatory tactics while Christians that support gay rights and same-sex marriage don’t get any media exposure to speak of while the WBC is considered a lunatic fringe group by most other Christian denominations.

    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?

    I find this a specious argument and always have. It’s nothing more than the slippery slope fallacy as I have not seen any objective evidence that moderate religious beliefs lead to extremist positions. I think it leads far more often to atheism, but that’s just my personal observation.

    Further, a religious moderate has as much right and ability to fault a religious extremist as you or anyone else. They can and do emphatically reject those interpretations of the Bible or Koran whether talking to or about the extremists.

    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.

    When people are willing to fight, kill and/or die for the right to believe what they want, I don’t see advocating for intolerance of their beliefs to be a superior approach. As long as no one is allowed to force their beliefs on the unwilling, I’d much rather coexist with both them and you.

    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.

    This stand is why I disagree with so many of the so-called ‘new atheists’. Are you actually advocating for the repeal the first amendment of the U.S. constitution? That’s how this comes across. If that isn’t what you are wishing for, could you please clarify?

    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.

    And where does the right of belief encroach upon your rights or negatively affect others? It seems to me that only actions can do that. Society has the right to restrict our actions, but not our thoughts. When atheists start talking seriously about how certain beliefs shouldn’t be allowed, I cringe.

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

    In the past, atheists in positions of political power have been just as oppressive as religious believers in positions of power. Given your irrational hatred of religion ( it’s poison, too dangerous to tolerate even moderate believers, etc.) why should I believe that if you were successful, your society would be any more to my liking or less oppressive than if the religious right manages to successfully obtain great political power?

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Holy wall of text, Batman!

      I’ll just start at the beginning. Religion is dangerous because it is fuzzy thinking. It says that believing something, without evidence and in the face of contrary evidence, is a good thing. It means that elevating ideology over evidence that shows current policy to be ineffective is to be praised instead of condemned. It means we get things like austerity in a recession, instead of looking at the evidence. It means we get abstinence-only sex education in schools, instead of looking at the evidence. It means we say God wouldn’t let us affect the climate of the planet, instead of looking at the evidence. It means we invade a sovereign country out of pride and blindness and pain, instead of looking at the evidence. Religion puts blind faith on a pedestal and denigrates reality, and that, in and of itself, is dangerous.

      Religion also loses all its reality checks, for the reasons stated above. Religion tells you to do silly things all the time- go to church/shul/mosque once a week or more, eat or don’t eat certain foods, wear or don’t wear certain clothes, etc. Sometimes religion says to do downright dangerous things- refuse blood transfusions, pray for healing instead of get help, exorcise demons, etc. And sometimes religion says to kill people. If God says it, you must do it, right? What is the reality check on religion? At what point do you step back and say, this religion thing has gone off the deep end? There’s no empathy check, no reality check. Religion says that if God says it, it must be true, and that is a very dangerous belief indeed.

      • Beth Clarkson

        “Religion is dangerous because it is fuzzy thinking.”

        Fuzzy thinking is dangerous? I think we have a problem with the human condition. And creativity.

        Your description of what religion is/requires simply isn’t applicable to all religious sects. It’s not convincing because it isn’t accurate. If you want to convince me that religious thinking is dangerous, you need to have a better articulated standard of how you define ‘dangerous’ and how you weigh the benefits against that risk. Knives are dangerous too, but I think it would be foolish to campaign against their existance.

        Can you come up with a set of criteria that could be used to compare the benefits and dangers of religion against those of other common yet diverse human cultural institutions, like governments?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Creativity is about interpreting what is through the lens of various imperfect mediums to capture it, evoking emotions through carefully chosen imperfections or exaggerations. Or using simile to connect this thing (which exists) to that thing (which also exists). Creativity is still based entirely on reality.

          Religion isn’t. Religion requires belief in things that cannot be tested, measured, empirically analyzed, or logically demonstrated. It requires that belief even in the face of evidence demonstrating that the object of one’s belief is logically impossible or empirically nonexistent. That habit of thought, of holding to a belief even when it makes no sense whatsoever to do so? That is what is dangerous. And yes, it is universal to all religions.

          I could come up with such a set of criteria, but why? There is only one criterion that is necessary: does it have a reality check? Is there a feedback mechanism through which learning and positive (and negative) reinforcement can occur? For any human institution you can come up with except religion, the answer is yes. For religion, the answer is no. Religion has no reality check.

          • Beth Clarkson

            Hmmm. Interesting. Now to me, everything you wrote to describe creativity fits my idea of fuzzy thinking.

            I also disagree with your assessment of religion having a reality check. It most certainly does, at least as much as such institutions as corporations and government channels can be said to have such a feedback mechanism.

            How are you defining ‘reality check’ such that religions all get a ‘no’ but wall street bankers in their bubbles get a ‘yes’?

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Creative interpretations of things don’t claim to be the thing itself.

            Eventually, even the house of cards that is Wall Street will crash. When things got too out of control, the economy crashed, yes? They played games with fantasy, and reality bit them back. Now, we-the-people mitigated the bite for them, but there was most definitely a reality check for the deregulation side of politics and economics. And there’ll be another one and another one and another one until they finally figure out that deregulation doesn’t work and change their policies. Their ideology will fall apart in the face of contrary evidence. Even the most fanatic libertarian will eventually see the evidence of their failed policies in front of them. And did you ever wonder why the ideology of trickle-down economics and deregulation became so much like a religion? It’s because it employs religious-type thinking of “this must be right, so any evidence to the contrary can just be discarded and/or ignored, because my way is right by fiat”. The real world just doesn’t work that way, so there’s a corrective mechanism for economic theories built in.

            What is the reality check on religion? What will God not say? How can you check to see if someone who claims to have seen/heard God is telling the truth or not?


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