A woman I know traveled to Dubai a few years ago. She was going for work and in a visa application it asked her religion. She happens to be an atheist and was told to lie and state Christian instead. When she asked why, she was told that in Saudi Arabia, being a non-believer is considered worse than being a believer of the wrong faith. I think that feeling is not just found in the Middle East. The reason I believe religious people are so offended if you say you do not believe is because they take it as a personal insult. Non-believers are at times seen as arrogant and condescending, or treating those with faith as if they are stupid for being fooled by religion. It is quite a personal and sensitive issue for the religious, because there is more to it than just a personal conviction; it’s also often about their families, honouring their parents’ beliefs and traditions etc. While I have empathy for these people, I also think respect for other people’s beliefs has to be a two-way street. Since religions cannot seem to agree on what is right and wrong, it is vital that states and laws remain secular and objective. Discrimination laws are a great example of an area where the state and church do not align. Many scriptures contain passages and acts that in our modern age are considered crimes against human rights.
It seems there’s an unwritten (although in some countries it is written) rule that non-believers are not allowed to offend believers or even exist. Religion is seen as a right, and as a “good and moral” thing to have. Never mind if that religion sends other believers to hell and non-believers to a worse place yet (if we can imagine that). Aaah but non-believers can’t have hurt feelings. They are a nihilistic, negative, cynical group of people who try to take comfort away from believers. This is a notion that some religious people hold and it is wrong.
The fact is faith is just that, a matter of faith, it is not proven. When people do not have that faith, why is that considered offensive? It seems to be the doubtful way that their “God” has made them, or perhaps they are wired to accept scientific proofs of things over scriptures. I could write a very long article about the ways in which many religions personally offend me and I am lucky enough to live in a free country that allows this.
Some religions send us to an imaginary hell for saying that perhaps we all go nowhere when we die, or become nothing, in which case the threat of hell is not the slightest bit frightening. The fact is I do have respect for people who believe in a god, despite disagreeing with them. I would just like them to consider other viewpoints in return, as we atheists are constantly having to consider theirs. You can only believe in what rings true to you, and as much as inter-faith organisations try, many of the world’s religions are not in sync. This is why we need secular systems of justice and education. We have all seen what happens when church and state are one.