29 June 2011

“If the battle is waged on a level playing field, our victory is assured”

Secularism is on the rise, and religious groups aren’t happy about it. A favourite pushback tactic of theirs is to cry discrimination, that their rights are being trampled on by the godless. If they’re referring to their right to be bigots, to be shielded from criticism, to be accorded special privileges like tax-exempt status and unelected political power, and above all to be unquestioningly respected, then yes, such ‘rights’ should be denied to them. Religious groups demand these pseudo-rights because they understand – and fear – the consequences of not having them: they would be forced to compete with more liberal, rational, progressive and humane ideas on equal terms.

A level playing field in the great social debate humanity has with itself is a prospect that frightens the religious. Daylight Atheism’s Adam Lee makes this clear in his post on the worried reaction of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler to the recent same-sex marriage law passed in New York State. Likewise, the UN gay rights protection resolution passed two weeks ago was condemned by Muslims, who would prefer an international climate more conducive to their religiously inspired homophobia. The sacred task of shaming, assaulting and killing gays becomes noticeably more difficult to execute when global opinion is most emphatically not on your side.

Atheists, humanists and freethinkers know that they have a better than good chance of winning in a fair ideological fight. Religious groups and their accommodationist allies are aware of this, so they try to silence their opponents either by force or by the more subtle yet no less deplorable method of tarring them as supposedly strident, aggressive, militant, arrogant, simplistic polemicists. As Lee writes:

In their furious hushing of atheists and demanding that we be more respectful, in their efforts around the world to pass bills punishing speech that insults or denigrates religion, we see that what the major religious groups and their allies want is to silence dissent. Again, they don't want to compete in a marketplace of ideas; they want society to be their parishioners, sitting in enforced silence while they alone stand in the pulpit and preach.

There's a lesson here for freethinkers: to win the debate, we just have to show up. If we can speak freely and make our case, we've already won. If we can successfully claim the same rights and the same privileges as religious people, we've already won. If ordinary people have friends and family who are atheists, and know that they have friends and family who are atheists, we've already won. If the battle is waged on a level playing field, our victory is assured, because we know that in an open and fair debate, our arguments are the better ones and will carry the day. It's only coercion and prejudice that can hold us back, and both those obstacles are weakening and falling one by one.

Yes, our arguments are indeed the better ones, for they are based on reason, evidence and universal compassion. Which is why the religious would rather we didn’t voice them.


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