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.
Amateur video from a Manhattan doctor on September 11, 2001
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