Should atheists be insulted by the religious?

Christopher Hitchens has often suggested and encouraged the ideal that atheists and secularists should be insulted by people who use religious justifications for certain acts. I’m not sure whether I agree with him. To begin with however, I think it would be constructive to ask why would an atheist/secularist (hereafter atheist) be offended by religiousness and action based on religious causes.

Hitchen’s own angle was developed from the exigency of religious groups pertaining to their own offense at atheist views or religious criticism. The above link is a prime example when the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten submitted the ever so controversial images of Muhammad wherein there was worldwide riots and retaliatory killings. Dutch embassies were burned, Dutch products were banned in some Muslim countries and there was a concerted effort at encouraging such attacks (with further unrelated images involved in distribution of the material). There are a few points to make here in regards to why this is an important issue. Firstly, religious offense one could argue is particularly easy. I can criticize a person a great deal about a plethora of topics  – what they eat, what politics they follow, how their Britney Spears fanaticism is melting their brain etc. However, as it would seem, talking and  critiquing one’s religion seems like a big sore spot for a lot of people (reasons for and against are for another post). Second point, tied up with the first, is that the retaliation to this offense is often excessive and vitriolic, with the cartoon controversy again a good example. Finally, it would appear that the offense is something which is taken on a whim. Many moons ago and on a different blogging site, I asked readers to consider the depiction of Muhammad in South Park that went by without a whisper before the cartoon controversy, and then post-cartoon, the images banned and creators criticised. Conventional atheists causing violence to stifle criticism of atheism are unheard of. Hitchens argues, if the religious are allowed offense, why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t atheists take offense at manner in which religious people sometimes conduct themselves? Why shouldn’t I take offense, for instance, towards the depiction of a manger on a street corner which my taxes partially pay for?

There are other reasons to take offense that I can think of. Perhaps the most important is the way in which religious values infringe on my rights as a person. As an important example for a significant minority of the community, the institutionalisation of attitudes towards homosexuals (to the point of making physical intimacy a crime not repealed until terrifyingly recently) was intrinsically related to anti-homosexual beliefs stemming from christianity, and homophobia still pervades almost certainly based around the same precepts. There are other ways in which a religion can infringe on my rights, or adversely affect my livelihood. For instance, I would never raise a child in a school that advocated intelligent design, or taught it in science class. It is a ludicrous hypothesis with equally ludicrous reasons for hanging around the big boys of natural selection- and in a public school with supposed secularism I could justifiably be offended.

The third reason why an atheist might be offended is not by religious infringements but by their beliefs themselves. While point one was regards to having equal footing with religiousness in terms of “offensibility”, and the second was due to religious infringements on my own lifestyle, this third point relates to my offense at a religious person’s ideas and actions I find repugnant. I think it’s stupid to believe in miracles with zero evidence, I also think it’s stupid to believe (rather than not), that Lazarus came back from the dead, that the Second Coming is nearly here, or that Siddarta Gotama could shine seven shades of light when in meditation. I am offended in the same way a religious person might be offended by my views that as long as it’s consensual, it’s ok. Realistically this concept of offense is probably the weakest of the three, and I doubt any moderate atheists would be comfortable with  taking offense in the same way religious people sometimes do.

What would be the repercussions of taking offense at religiousness in any way? One way it could be used would be to do what the Jyllands-Posten protestors did and burn mosques, churches and so on. The idea is so pointless and backwards I won’t continue with it, but it does say something about the condition of religion when such actions are considered and feverishly carried out.

Second option is taking offense in a manner becoming of someone educated in a civilisation and seeing the difference. While an atheist can be offended, and protest in a peaceful manner, comparative religious protests may not be so calm. Atheistic offense can cause criticism of a written and comprehensible nature, religious offense can cause destruction, moral decay and death. The upshot of this comparison and perhaps the most useful reason to cite offense is that it will point out the sheer nonsensical behaviour of some religious behaviour, and that they are no more ‘offended’ as retaliatory dictators. Fence sitters or non-observants can look at the contrast and decide for themselves what sort of lifestyle is best for them.

Personally, with the exception of religion actively infringing on my life in a manner I would not like to tolerate, I find it difficult to take offense at religion. Maybe it’s in my nature, but I prefer some degree of live and let live, and let my peaceful arguments and logic win over an emotionally charged concept like offense. If I was to use Hitchen’s rationale for offense, it would be purely for political points and not reflect my actual values- I simply do not care enough about some religious people getting offended at things that they shouldn’t get offended at, additionally I don’t think I will find myself getting offended at things I know I shouldn’t. That is not to say I won’t fight for my/other’s rights or criticise them for it or anything else I see as reprehensible What’s your view?

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~ by freeze43 on July 4, 2010.

One Response to “Should atheists be insulted by the religious?”

  1. […] statement, Wong makes a very sweeping generalization for both the religious and the rationalist. I can say with confidence I am not ‘legitimately offended’ by Christianity. To go on to suggest that everyone likes the idea of an all-powerful creator shows […]

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