Friday, November 7, 2008

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

This is a common phrase religion uses to patronize its subjects as well as outsiders. We've all heard it before. I don't want to talk about this phrase and what it means itself though; I want to apply it to the atheist movement (if you want to call it a movement).

Hate the religion, love the religious. The non-theist crowd often forgets that the religious are just as human as agnostics and atheists, passive or active, and that they are not inherently our enemies, nor are they inherently bad or immoral or ignorant. (It's very easy to start using religious language at this point - "the religious are just misguided; they need enlightening" - but I'm going to try not to. ) Active atheists and agnostics need to remember that the religious are not here solely to aggravate us. Tauriq Moosa of Edger stated this himself, in part 2 of his essay, "In Defense of 'Militant' Atheism":
People forget that the point is not just attacking and questioning and debating: but promoting the inherent humanity and the expression and longing therein to reach the numinous and transcendent as human beings.
It's especially important to remember this now that Muslims are so demonized in our culture. It's getting harder to tell whether a speaker is anti-Islam or anti-terrorist; in America, the line is blurring more and more every day. I read through much of a forum thread once, started by a very angry anti-Muslim user. He stated himself that he hated Islam more than other religions. I don't recall that he mentioned what his own religious leaning was. It was very difficult for me to determine if he hated the people behind the religion or just the religion; he seemed to bounce back and forth. He hated the violence that Islam encourages in its followers (a valid point), but he also seemed to attack the believers themselves, both the extremists and the "average" Muslim. Some of what he said was very valid and very informed (he was obviously well-educated in general); other things he said were hate speech. Other users challenged him, called him names, reported him, and his thread was quickly deleted by moderators.

As an agnostic/atheist, it gets very difficult for me to remember that religious people are, well, weaker than a non-believer. (Wait, let me explain!) It's hard to let go of God, there's no doubt about it. Some people need to have the comfort of the invisible friend in the sky, the promise of heaven, the scapegoat when things go wrong (instead of taking personal responsibility), the reason to be bigoted and prejudiced. It's nice to be able to say "God told me to do it" instead of saying you thought it was a good idea. As far as that comfort goes, it's difficult to blame the average believer for believing. It's just plain easier to believe. I went through a period in my life wishing for the same comfort that believers had (reason kept me from ever committing to anything). It's very human to want and need that comfort of something bigger than us. We as non-believers recognize that that comfort comes with high costs though, namely bigotry, orthodoxy, and rejection of evidence.

My aim here is not to discourage the "militant" or active atheists; I'm not trying to tell you to shut up and leave the poor religious folk alone. Quite the contrary. I just want to remind you that the religious are human. Most of the non-believers were religious themselves at one time in their lives; think back to how that felt - why were you a believer? What did you get out of it? Use that information to argue with theists. Empathy is a powerful tool in the atheist's toolbox. If we can relate to the religious, it becomes that much easier to "enlighten" them.

Because really - remember why you're non-religious, remember why it's important to "deconvert" the religious. It's for the greater good! (The greater good.) It's to fight the anti-intellectualism in this country, and in the world. It's to encourage scholarship and critical thinking. It's to discourage a culture of hatred, bigotry, prejudice, xenophobia, and ignorance. It's to encourage humanism and freedom.

1 comment:

Tauriq Moosa said...

Thanks for your support and understanding. I'm glad someone does. In the midst of namecalling, tickets-to-hell and barbed phrases, it's good to know some are at least remembering humanity.

Hope you'll continue to read. It shall be mutual.