Tag Archives: tolerance

Opinion Religion

Why not live and let live?

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.


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.

Lifestyle Opinion

Despite (Or to Spite?) You Moderates: Against Tolerance

I am a rather intolerant person and I think you should be too. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society in which I can’t say that, without qualification, and retain a serious audience. So allow to explain what I’m not saying. I do not think schools should be segregated, that the holocaust was exaggerated, or that marriage is legally different for homosexual couples. Additionally; I do not think violence is acceptable in almost any society, and I do think we should listen, to the best of our abilities, to any opinion.* Yet I still think the implied axiom of toleration is the slow death of any intellectual movement, especially in one as progressive as secularism.

What does toleration mean? It seems to demand that we accept the existence of things we hate, regardless of our reasons for hating it. The toleration I refer to is the kind of thing defended by people saying “well that’s your opinion.” Not only does it add nothing to any conversation I’ve ever had, it also suggests that we should accept an opinion’s existence simply because it is an opinion. Such statements ignore the obvious truth that opinions shape decisions. Jim Jones could never have convinced anyone to move with him to Guyana if opinions had no effect on decisions. Since it is something unstated, yet typically accepted, we jump to the obvious supporting factors: it means not being racist, homophobic, or what have you.

 But then how should we respond to a member of the Westboro Baptist Church? By tolerating their opinions? Insisting that we respect their hideous views? Naturally not, we should exercise our free speech to its fullest extent, and show all those who may be in doubt how destructive and pernicious these liars really are. This is justifiable intolerance. If we were to alter the object of our verbal attacks from these charlatan chaplains to, for example, black people, we would again be charged with intolerance. But now it would be unjustifiable. The question of tolerance is meaningless, the arguments behind the intolerance are the only salient details, for it is impossible to create a system of tolerance that both allows us to speak freely and critically while suppressing morally poor sentiments.

Therefore we should not tolerate religion. We should employ our free speech to the best of our abilities against it. In the very least, religion motivates people to think about reality fallaciously, and that alone is enough reason to challenge it. Whatever comfort it provides does not justify the lives lost and bunk believed. When we do tolerate religion we challenge the foundation on which all of secularism rests. We make secularism just another alternative on a long list of faiths, rather than the only rational conclusion one can come to after understanding just a few of the faiths. This is because if all of these views are above mockery and questioning, then we imply that they all have, at some level, a semblance of respectability and validity. But this is ridiculous, if we can’t laugh at those who believe the world is flat, what belief can we laugh at?

Some will object to my use of “tolerance”. They will, doubtless, insist that tolerance does not mean we must respect all opinions, only that we will not do violence on those who hold them. Ecclesiastes insists that there is a time and place for everything and I tend to agree. There is a time and place for toleration; for the respect of the disgusting. But it is not in the discussions of the skeptical. We must question everything, and we should not allow anything to go unscrutinized because of anyone’s insistence on tolerance.

* Once.

Activism Religion

A Question Posed by an Increasingly Concerned Christian

Given the angry rants of “Brother Jed”, the extremist Christian who dropped in on GVSU campus for a friendly reminder that we all deserve hell, a silent protest seemed like a great idea. What better way to counteract a vicious hate-speech than showing up with positive messages; a simple reminder that there was an alternative on campus? I showed up to the protest hoping to support my friends and classmates, and I admit, poke fun the crazy guy with the weird staff. But the day didn’t go like I planned. After significantly less than an hour, I was so overwhelmed by the fascistic ramblings of this man and his cronies, that I excused myself and went home. I retreated to my nice, comfortable house, sat on my nice, comfortable couch, had a nice, comfortable afternoon, but I felt horrible. More than horrible. I was ashamed of myself.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I frequently and proudly declare that I’m not a religious extremist. They could also tell you that if asked what I am I get a lot more vague. In my entire life I have done next to nothing to provide any constructive contribution to a discussion of faith and its practice in the world we live in. What’s worse, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend among many of my peers in the religious world.

People practically trip over themselves to dissociate from thinkers like Rob Bell for broaching the idea that the traditionally accepted idea of Hell might not be as sound as previously thought. But we seem alarmingly nonchalant about extremists being our loudest voices. Why do we preach toleration towards angry fascists while rejecting anyone who challenges us to examine ourselves? Why are we content to let ignorance represent the church? What do we think will happen to the church if we sit on our hands and pretend nothing is wrong? What (if you pardon the expression) in hell is going on here?


Jaime Wise is a devoted member of Center for Inquiry on Campus at Grand Valley State University where she is studying Writing and English and continues to be a model of rationality and tolerance from within the Christian faith. She has recently defined herself as a Christian Humanist and has started a theology sub-committee of CFI GVSU to discuss these matters among others.