My Breath Caught in My Throat.

My Breath Caught in My Throat. March 1, 2015

(Content note: Terrorism, extremism, physical violence.)

Like a lot of folks, I have news alerts on my phone to keep me abreast of what’s going on in the world.

But I wasn’t ready for what flashed on the headlines last night.

“Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death”, it said.

I’m not ashamed to tell you that my breath caught in my throat.

I know a lot of atheist bloggers. Some of them are in areas that aren’t exactly friendly to those who don’t toe the religious line. I couldn’t even breathe as I frantically tapped the headline. Load, load, load, LOAD, damn you.

And slowly–I hit my limit on data about five days into every month–the article loaded.

It was nobody I knew. I felt air flow back into my lungs.

But it was still horrifying.

Avijit Roy and his wife were attacked by Islamic extremists who hacked him to death and savagely injured her. The worst part? Their brutalization isn’t even the first time this has happened in a while.

Roy, who was 42, is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004.

All they did–their big crime–was to challenge religious ideas (CN: post-attack photos) and ask for an end to religious dominance. And that was enough to call for this man’s murder and the physical assault on his beloved wife.

It’s not just an Islamic problem. The Pope himself has come out on the side of condoning religious violence, after all, as the brilliant Rosa Rubicondior has pointed out. Even after Muslims stormed France and murdered people over having their delicate fee-fees bruised over a political cartoon, people worldwide sympathized and used the incident to try to silence religious dissenters, as Dan Fincke has examined so thoroughly. Protestant extremist-zealot pastors regularly advocate for violence and force to achieve their goals, even going so far as to fearmonger and pander to frighten the flocks into docility. And they do it because it works for their followers–at least a little.

No, in my country it’s not Islamist extremist zealots committing the worst deeds; it’s Christians. And thankfully we’re not at the stage where most of us feel physically unsafe or are at risk of harm, though certainly non-believers face all sorts of penalties at the hands of “loving” Christians. One big reason it hasn’t gotten that far is because our country is supposed to be secular, rather than a theocracy; if we’d allowed such a terrible thing to happen to our government, no doubt we’d be seeing similar brutality against non-Christians. The only reason we don’t see this sort of violence is because it’d be a hate crime and a secular society still finds such crimes repulsive.

Indeed, we’ve got enough violence, all from the self-appointed ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love. Christians shoot people they think are Jews and Sikhs mistaken for Muslims, gay people, and they even go after fellow Christians who just aren’t as violently bigoted as their bigoted attackers would like.

These violent, rage-filled bigots aren’t using logic or reason to sway those who dissent.

Indeed, they really can’t.

Instead they use violence and terror to get their way.

So when you ask me why I blog like I do, when you ask me why I keep talking about where religion goes wrong and which of its claims has been debunked this time, this is why.

Christianity can be a very peaceful religion, as can Islam. Though people’s perceptions of Islam in my country tend to be very unfriendly, the truth is that Muslims aren’t a big security issue in this country. And considering how many billions of Christians live on Earth and how few become terrorists or would ever condone violence against anybody, I have to conclude that it’s not the religion that is itself the problem.

The problem is that I don’t think religious leaders do enough to create a culture wherein even the suggestion of violence is totally unacceptable. When Pope Francis himself “jokes” openly about feeling free to punch anybody who insults something dear to him, he can’t expect that his millions of followers aren’t listening to him and absorbing his rationalizations of violence, that they aren’t thinking oh, okay, so sometimes it’s totally fine–as long as we’re really mad.

But in the hands of bigots, racists, misogynists, classists, controllers, manipulators, liars, fleecers, scam artists, abusers, and narcissists of all stripes, religion can become a brutal and violent tool used by brutal oppressors to strong-arm dissenters into silence, and yes, an effective method of preserving a status quo that did not ever deserve to come about in the first place. There’s a good reason why the number of Christian hate groups increased dramatically after Barack Obama got elected president; he was a visible sign of the end of Christian dominance, in their eyes. Ironically, he’s Christian, just not a bigoted extremist hate-filled Christian, so therefore he’s just as much The Enemy as any atheist or Muslim might be in the eyes of those sorts of Christians. Their enemy isn’t non-Christians; it’s anybody who doesn’t subscribe to their particular ideology of control and oppression.

When you hear one of these toxic Christians whine or rage about wanting “their country” back, mentally translate that to “their dominance.” That’s what they’re really sad about. America still exists, but it’s not an America that recognizes their dominance anymore and wants everybody to have equal representation and fair treatment. Their version of Christianity depends utterly on inequality and unfairness, all of it using religion to justify their grab for power. They won’t be happy until they are safely ensconced in their privilege again, and I think they realize that the genie isn’t going back in the bottle for anything. That’s the kind of realization that leads to the kind of desperate lashing out we’ve been seeing of late.

It’s no secret that the most dangerous time there is for an abuse victim is when he or she is walking out the door at last; that’s the moment when the abuser will unleash the worst violence and threats to try to reel in the victim again. Nothing else has worked, so all the stops get pulled out. In the same way, Islamist extremists abroad are realizing that women’s rights are a thing that is going to happen and that education is a thing that is proceeding with or without their approval and it’s making them oppress women and suppress education harder and harder to the point where their ignorant, oppressive leaders are starting to look ridiculous even to their own adherents, and with good reason. Notice, however, that these ridiculous examples of overreach are happening in countries where religious privilege is enshrined into law.

Any time one group gets that kind of legal power, you’re going to see this kind of violence when that group’s dominance gets threatened. There’s no real reason why the group should have power, so there’s no real way for them to keep power except through the worst methods. What, did you think it was some wild coincidence that rape is becoming a serious crisis in deeply-sexist India now that women there are kind of getting a little tiny bit more equality? What we’re seeing in countries racked by such directed violence is a very serious and concerted effort on the part of groups that previously enjoyed uncontested power to maintain that power.

Does anybody (except toxic Christians themselves, of course) imagine that America would be any different if it allowed Christian privilege to be enshrined into law? I know–because I’ve actually heard them say this–that Christians think that Jesus would make the difference there and that a Christian theocracy would be totally totally totally different, for sure, man than those evil nasty Muslim theocracies abroad. I’ve heard the same rationalization around slavery from fundagelical Christians–that “Biblical” slavery would be totally different than real slavery as it is really experienced and has always really been experienced, almost with a pining sigh for those “good old days” when everybody knew their place and was happy with their lot and everybody was Christian (days that didn’t ever exist except in Christian imaginations, but hey, whatever). Any atrocity can be rationalized by zealots seeking a reason to control and oppress others.

I seriously don’t think most Christians who blithely endorse movements like Dominionism, Reconstructionism, and neo-Confederalism actually know what a theocracy is like, much less understand that when religion gets power over people’s lives, I mean real power like the ability to silence dissenters with violence, to imprison those who don’t toe the line properly, and to penalize anybody who doesn’t behave quite right, then everybody suffers except the very few fortunate enough to claw political power in that environment. A Christian theocracy would not be any different from a Muslim one. It’d just fly a different flag, is all. That’s why you’ll hear people who talk about a Christian theocracy called the American Taliban. And that’s why we have to keep calling them out for what they really are.

Christian_Difference

I’m looking forward to a world where headlines like the one that horrified me so much last night simply don’t exist, and where I don’t have to wonder if it’s someone I knew and cared about this time. One of these days, I know that I’m going to know who it was and it’s going to be someone I care about. Or even me.

The violent Muslims in other countries care about as much about peace and love as the violent Christians do in my country. What they all want is power and privilege, and a return to their former dominance. What they all want is control. Really, all that’s different about them is what symbol flies on their flags and what clothes they wear. If they can’t achieve victory over dissent through loving, rational means, then those of either religion will do whatever it takes to get their way. That should really sober Christians who still mistakenly believe their god and religion are always good for society, but the ones who need most to reconsider their chosen path of hypocrisy are the ones who have the least shame about what they’re doing to their religion’s credibility and image.

And they certainly are doing damage to their religion with each act of violence and each attempt at suppression. Only a very small–but vocal, increasingly vocal and active–number of Christians really want to control other people’s lives or do anything unkind to anybody. But every single time it happens, another truly good and decent Christian decides to stop using the label and to stop giving money to groups that advocate and propagate ignorance and violence. You’d be surprised, perhaps, to discover how many Christians refuse to use that label for themselves in public and have started calling themselves simply “followers of Jesus.” They tend to be pretty nice folks, and there are a surprising number of them in America–all alienated and shocked by what their religion’s leaders are saying and advocating, and what their peers are doing to those outside the tribe. And that’s a good sign.

How religious people treat outsiders–who they consider the least of us–speaks volumes about what they’re really like and who their deities really are, and that’s why their religions are fading in power and popularity as fast as they are. It might take a little longer in countries like Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, but the second real control is removed from religion, we’ve seen over and over again, the faster it falls apart. Extreme, violence-condoning, ignorance-celebrating forms of religion need real power over people’s lives to survive. Such religion can’t survive by any other means.

Terrorism only hastens the end of religious dominance–both here and abroad. But oh, at what a dreadful cost.

I’m thankful to live in a country where religious extremists have so much less power over my life than they do in other countries. I’m thankful that I have the right to speak and write what I please and to dissent publicly from religious ideology. But I know that not everybody has that same freedom, even here.

My heart goes out to the bloggers who have lost their lives and been hurt, and who even today live under a threat of death and violence at the hands of those following religions that are supposed to be about peace and love. We cannot allow Avijit Roy’s death to be in vain and we cannot forget him and those like him who suffer and die thanks to religious extremism of any kind. We need to remember that the label worn by the extremists is not the problem; it is the extremism itself, and we need to keep in mind that these zealots’ desire to control everybody and silence dissenters transcends all religious labels.

The Muslims who attacked Avijit Roy and his wife share far more in common with the Tea Party than they do with 99.9999% of their fellow Muslims. And we must oppose all overreach and harm, recognizing this kinship and knowing where religious dominance leads.

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