Sunday, 8 March 2009

Our fundamental freedoms are under threat from organised religion

I am an atheist. I always have been except when I was young enough not to know any better. It's never bothered me that other people are religious, even though I think the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - are a bad thing, until recently. The fact is that, worldwide, religion is in decline except where it has been re-inforced by force in theocratic countries like Iran. As religion gets pushed into a corner it becomes more strident, more extreme, less tolerant (and those religions have never been good at tolerance), and more violent.

The response of Islam has been to threaten with death anyone who 'defames' - i.e. criticises it - such as Salman Rushdie for writing the book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was famously subject to a fatwa - a death sentence - by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for offending Islamic sensibilities. To their credit the British government of the time protected Rushdie though one wonders if the same would happen today. The violence and bullying of the Muslims has , to some extent, worked. When the infamous Danish Cartoons of Mohammed incident occurred, provoking a violent Muslim backlash, many Western governments failed to rush to defend free speech. The European Union was notably silent.

Now Christians, having seen the success of the Muslims, are jumping on the bandwagon. They haven't resorted to violence yet - except in the United States where abortion clinics have been attacked and doctors and nurses have been threatened and killed - but they have resorted to a vindictive and dishonest campaign against atheists and those who seek to undo religious privilege in the UK. A good example of this was a recent post on CiF in which Mary Kelly said that Christians were being persecuted in the UK. This is typical of the line that British Christians have adopted. Kelly starts her post by writing that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor - head of the Catholic church in the UK - is being elevated to the House of Lords and then goes on the talk about Christians being persecuted????? The persecution claim is simply untrue. Why? Well, the Queen is head of the Church of England, there are 26 Bishops in the House of Lords, Christians control thousands of schools in the 'state' education system. Need I say more? What is happening here is that Christianity is declining. The only bit that is growing is, like Islam, the more extreme evangelical wing. As it declines it becomes more strident, and in the case of Christians apparently, more dishonest.

Meanwhile the Muslims appear to be using all the means they can to silence dissenters or critics of their religion. Fifty seven Muslim countries, the largest block in the United Nations, are attempting to pass a binding resolution which would outlaw 'defamation' of religion. The aim is to silence anyone who dares to criticise Islam - globally. The UN used to be the global defender of freedoms with its Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Now it is in danger of becoming the enforcer of theocratic tyranny. If you want to know more watch this video with Christopher Hitchens.

I have no doubt their are decent Christians and Muslims who deplore both the dishonesty and the tyranny but we never seem to hear from them. Its time for them to speak out and defend human rights and the benefits to all of living in a secular society. If they don't their religions can only become more extreme, more violent and more irrelevant to the majority of humans on the planet. Meanwhile, if you value your freedom to think for yourself you can help fight the religious threat to your freedom by joining and supporting the National Secular Society.

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