Does the Internet Spell Doom For Organized Religion?

From: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

“As we head into a new year, the guardians of traditional religion are ramping up efforts to keep their flocks—or in crass economic terms, to retain market share. Some Christians have turned to soul searching [3] while others have turned to marketing. Last fall, the LDS church spent millions on billboards, bus banners and Facebook ads touting “I’m a Mormon.” In Canada, the Catholic Church has launched a “Come Home [4]” marketing campaign. The Southern Baptists Convention voted to rebrand itself [5]. A hipster mega-church[6] in Seattle combines smart advertising with sales force training for members and a strategy the Catholics have emphasized for centuries: competitive breeding.

In October 2012 the Pew Research Center announced [7] that for the first time ever Protestant Christians had fallen below 50 percent of the American population. Atheists cheered while evangelicals beat their breasts and lamented the end of the world as we know it. Historian of religion Molly Worthen has since offered [8] big-picture insights that may dampen the most extreme hopes and allay the fears. Anthropologist Jennifer James [9], on the other hand, has called fundamentalism the “death rattle” of the Abrahamic traditions.

In all of the frenzy, few seem to give any recognition to the player that I see as the primary hero, or if you prefer, culprit—and I’m not talking about science populizer and atheist superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson [10]. Then again, maybe I am talking about Tyson in a sense, because in his various viral guises—as atalk show host [11] and tweeter [12] and as the face [13] of scores of smartass Facebook memes—Tyson is an incarnation of the biggest threat organized religion has ever faced: the Internet.

A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden [14] to marry nonbelievers. It is why Quiverfull [15] moms home-school their kids with carefully screened textbooks. It is why, when you get sucked into conversations with your fundamentalist Uncle George from Florida, you sometimes wonder if he has some superpower that allows him to magically close down all avenues into his mind. (He does [16]!)

Religions have spent eons honing defenses [17] that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments [18] to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.

Tech-savvy mega-churches may have Twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.

Here are six kinds of web content that are like, well, like electrolysis on religion’s hairy toes.

1. Radically cool science videos and articles.

Religion evokes some of our most deeply satisfying emotions: joy, for example, and transcendence, and wonder. This is what Einstein was talking about when he said that “science without religion is lame.” If scientific inquiry doesn’t fill us at times with delight and even speechless awe at new discoveries or the mysteries that remain, then we are missing out on the richest part of the experience. Fortunately, science can provide all of the above, and certain masters of the trade and sectors of the Internet are remarkably effective at evoking the wonder—the spirituality if you will—of the natural world unveiled.  Some of my own favorites include Symphony of science [19], NOVA [20], TED [21], RSA Animate [22], and Birdnote[23].

It should be no surprise that so many fundamentalists are determined to take down the whole scientific endeavor. They see in science not only a critique of their outdated theories but a competitor for their very best product, a sense of transcendent exuberance.  For millennia, each religion has made an exclusive claim, that it alone had the power to draw people into a grand vision worth a lifetime of devotion. Each offered the assurance that our brief lives matter and that, in some small way, we might live on. Now we are getting glimpses of a reality so beautiful and intricate that it offers some of the same promise.

2. Curated collections of ridiculous beliefs.

Religious beliefs that aren’t yours often sound silly, and the later in life you encounter them the more laughable they are likely to sound. Web writers are after eyeballs, which means that if there’s something ridiculous to showcase, one is guaranteed to write about it. It may be a nuanced exposé or a snarky list or a flaming meme, but the point, invariably, is to call attention to the stuff that makes you roll your eyes [24], shake your head in disbelief, laugh, and then hit Share.

3. The kinky, exploitative, oppressive, opportunistic and violent sides of religion. 

Of course, the case against religion doesn’t stop at weird and wacky. It gets nasty, sometimes in ways that are titillating and sometimes in ways that are simply dark. The Bible is full of sex slavery, polygamy and incest [25], and these are catalogued at places like [26]. Alternately, a student writing about holidays can find a proclamation [27] in which Puritans give thanks to God for the burning of Indian villages or an interview on the mythic origins of the Christmas story. And if the Catholic come-home plea sounds a little desperate, it may well be because the sins of the bishops [28] are getting hard to cover up. On the net, whatever the story may be, someone will be more than willing to expose it.

4. Supportive communities for people coming out of religion.

With or without the net (but especially with it) believers sometimes find their worldview in pieces. Before the Internet existed most people who lost their faith kept their doubts to themselves. There was no way to figure out who else might be thinking forbidden thoughts. In some sects, a doubting member may be shunned, excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” to ensure that doubts don’t spread. So, doubters used to keep silent and then disappear into the surrounding culture. Now they can create Web sites, and today there are as many communities of former believers as there are kinds of belief. These communities range from therapeutic to political [29], and they cover the range of sects:Evangelical [30], Mormon [31], Jehovah’s Witness [32], and Muslim [33]. There’s even a web home for recovering clergy [34]. Heaven help the unsuspecting believer who wanders into one of these sites and tries to tell members in recovery that they’re all bound for hell.

5. Lifestyles of the fine and faithless.

When they emerge from the recovery process former Christians and Muslims and whatnot find that there’s a whole secular world waiting for them on the web. This can be a lifesaver, literally, for folks who are trapped in closed religious communities on the outside.  On the web, they can explore lifestyles in which people stay surprisingly decent and kind without a sacred text or authority figures telling them what to do. In actuality, since so much of religion is about social support (and social control) lots of people skip the intellectual arguments and exposes, and go straight to building a new identity based in a new social network. Some web resources are specifically aimed at creating alternatives to theism, like Good without God [35], Parenting Beyond Belief [36] or the Foundation Beyond Belief [37].

6. Interspiritual okayness. This might sound odd, but one of the threats to traditional religion are interfaith communities [38] that focus on shared spiritual values. Many religions make exclusive truth claims and see other religions as competitors. Without such claims, there is no need for evangelism, missionaries or a set of doctrines that I call donkey motivators (ie. carrots and sticks) like heaven and hell. The web showcases the fact that humanity’s bad and good qualities are universal [39], spread across cultures and regions, across both secular and religious wisdom traditions [40]. It offers reassurance that we won’t lose the moral or spiritual dimension of life if we outgrow religion, while at the same time providing the means to glean [41] what is truly timeless and wise from old traditions. In doing so, it inevitably reveals that the limitations of any single tradition alone.

The  Dalai Lama, who has led interspiritual dialogue for many years made waves recently by saying as much: “All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

The power of interspiritual dialogue is analogous to the broader power of the web in that, at the very heart it is about people finding common ground, exchanging information, and breaking through walls to find a bigger community waiting outside. Last year, Jim Gilliam, founder of Nationbuilder, gave a talk titled, “The Internet is My Religion [42].” Gilliam is a former fundamentalist who has survived two bouts of cancer thanks to the power of science and the Internet. His existence today has required a bone marrow transplant and a double lung transplant organized in part through social media. Looking back on the experience, he speaks with the same passion that drove him when he was on fire for Jesus:

I owed every moment of my life to countless people I would never meet. Tomorrow, that interconnectedness would be represented in my own physical body. Three different DNAs. Individually they were useless, but together they would equal one functioning human. What an incredible debt to repay. I didn’t even know where to start. And that’s when I truly found God. God is just what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God.

The Vatican, and the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Southern Baptist Convention should be very worried.”

Emphasis Mine


Whose Blasphemy? The Atheist Case for ‘Religious Freedom’

From: Religion Dispatches

By: Austin Dacy

“It is hard to imagine a less hateful person than Alexander Aan. Mild and soft-spoken, the 30-year-old Indonesian bureaucrat recently told Al Jazeera, in an interview conducted just outside his jail cell, “As a democracy and part of the global community, because we are not isolated from the outside world, I think we should be more tolerant. Nobody hurts anyone simply because he has different ideas.” And yet Aan is facing up to 11 years in prison for blasphemy and inciting religious hatred because he voiced his skepticism about Islam on Facebook.In the West, the paradigms of blasphemy are fair-haired Danish cartoonists drawing the Prophet and Richard Dawkins badmouthing Yahweh. The public debate is about how to balance freedom of speech with respect for religious belief. But Alexander Aan’s case, playing out in the world’s most populous Muslim country, represents a much different global reality. Here the value at stake is not just freedom of speech, but freedom of conscience. The real contest is not between atheists and believers, but between those who affirm the equality of all persons of conscience and those who deny it.Aan was arrested in a small town in West Sumatra on January 18 after a number of local residents assaulted him at work in an act of self-styled vigilantism. They were reacting to some of his postings on a Facebook page devoted to atheism: a note entitled “the Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law”; a comic suggesting the Prophet slept with his wife’s maid; and a status update reading, “If you believe in god, then please show him to me.”Prosecutors have charged Aan under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law, which prohibits inciting hatred or enmity of a religious group, and under the country’s blasphemy provision, Article 156a, which criminalizes “hostility, hatred or contempt” and “disgracing” of a religion. Article 156a also prohibits attempts to persuade others to leave their religion and embrace atheism.Aan’s small, pro bono legal team is not optimistic. The Indonesian legal system is designed for unequal treatment of unbelievers. The constitution officially recognizes the religions of Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, and stipulates that every citizen must believe in a supreme being.

Desecrating Secularism

As the Indonesian activist Karl Karnadi points out, the persecution of Alexander Aan comes in the context of broader trends of “increasing religious intolerance in Indonesia which has victimized minority Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shia, Christians, Buddhists.” Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs has recently called Shia Islam a “heresy” and publicly backed provincial bans on the Ahmadiyya, who consider themselves Muslims but differ from mainstream Islam on the finality of the Prophet.Viewed in this context, atheists’ conversations on the internet should be seen as one end of a continuum of manifestations of conscience, exercises of the capacity to grapple with ultimate questions of meaning, value, and morality. From a moral perspective, there is an important symmetry between the attitude of the believer who reserves special reverence for a deity, saint, or prophet, and the attitude of the secularist who asserts that every person is equally holy. Neither of these beliefs is uniquely deserving of being labeled a spiritual commitment, relegating the other to mere “speech” against that commitment. Alexander Aan has no less moral ground to claim that monotheism insults his sense of what is and what is not sacred. In my book The Future of Blasphemy: Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights (Continuum, 2012), I call this The Symmetry Thesis.A government that singles out some citizens’ conceptions of the sacred for official protection is guilty of a gross failure of equal treatment. This principle of equality is supported by recent developments in international human rights law. Last summer the United Nations Human Rights Committee commented that laws restricting blasphemy are inherently discriminatory because they give to traditional believers a legal protection that is not available to the religiously heterodox or secular.The same inequality can be found in the criminalization of “hatred” and “enmity” towards a religion. The problem is not confined to Indonesia but can be found in most of the hate speech statutes throughout secular democratic Europe. Article 226b of the Danish Penal Code, for instance, singles out for protection—among other categories—groups of people who “on account of their faith” are threatened, insult or degraded. It does not single out people—regardless of their affiliation—on account of their convictions of conscience

Know Thy Enmity

The most principled motivation for hate speech laws can be found in the principle of equal respect for citizens. And yet, in the final analysis the principle of equality undermines their legitimacy. What is morally objectionable about hate speech is its attack on the standing of a group of citizens, a denial or denigration of their entitlement to equal concern and respect. Laws against group insult or group defamation, as Jeremy Waldron maintains, are intended to protect vulnerable minorities by exhibiting the state’s commitment to their equal dignity and equal standing in the face of bigots. Surely we all have a duty to work towards a society in which all citizens enjoy equal standing. The difficult question is what the state legitimately may do to promote this end.If the state is to intervene on behalf of the reputation and standing of “Muslims,” or any other faith community, it must first decide on whose behalf it is intervening. It must lend its official approval to some idea of what counts as a “real” or “authentic” member of such groups. Were Aan’s expressions hateful or abusive towards Muslims? That depends on whether we assume that a Muslim is by definition one who believes in the moral perfection of the Prophet. Without this assumption, talk of Muhammad’s sexual indiscretions cannot be construed as inherently insulting to “Muslims.”As the American constitutional scholar Robert Post has argued, the identities of such communities are not scientific facts but social categories that are open to moral contestation and re-negotiation. It would not do to take a poll of all of the self-identified members of the group to determine what they believe. For some will believe it, and others will not.The question now becomes, which of the various understandings of the identity is most genuine, authentic, or warranted. And that question is not subject to a statistical proof. It is a normative question. Typically it is the most vulnerable or marginalized within the community who have the most urgent stake in contesting and re-negotiating the meaning of the identity. In a just society, such questions are not to be decided by the state but are to be left to individuals to work out in the public and cultural space.Clashes over blasphemy and so-called religious hatred are not about free speech versus belief, or atheism versus faith. They are about equal treatment for all persons of conscience. As with attempts to stop blasphemy, a state that attempts to use the force of law to stop defamation or insult of religious groups must select certain identities for protection to the exclusion of other identities. The very same value that underlies the protection of the traditionally religious believer—equal respect for freedom of conscience—also underlies the protection of the secularist and atheist alongside the heterodox, dissident believer. As goes Alexander Aan, so go we all.

Emphasis Mine.


Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?

From: AlterNet

By: Greta Christina

Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?

We try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We try to persuade people that their ideas about science, politics, philosophy, art, medicine, and more, are wrong: that they’re harmful, ridiculous, repulsive, or simply mistaken. But when it comes to religion, trying to persuade people out of their ideas is somehow seen as horribly rude at best, invasive and bigoted and intolerant at worst. Why? Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve been writing about atheism for about six years now. In those six years, I’ve asked this question more times and not once have I gotten a satisfying answer. In fact, only once do I recall getting any answer at all. Besides that one exception, what I’ve gotten in response has been crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing by. I’ve been ignored, I’ve had the subject changed, I’ve had people get personally nasty, I’ve had people abandon the conversation altogether. But only once have I ever gotten any kind of actual answer. And that answer sucked. (I’ll get to it in a bit.) I’ve heard lots of people tell me, at length and with great passion, that trying to persuade people out of their religion is bad and wrong and mean… but I haven’t seen a single real argument explaining why this is such a terrible thing to do with religion, and yet is somehow perfectly okay to do with all other ideas.

So I want to get to the heart of this matter. Why should religion be treated differently from all other kinds of ideas? Why shouldn’t we criticize it, and make fun of it, and try to persuade people out of it, the way we do with every other kind of idea?

In a free society, in the marketplace of ideas, we try to persuade people out of ideas all the time. We criticize ideas we disagree with; we question ideas we find puzzling; we excoriate ideas we find repugnant; we make fun of ideas we think are silly. And we think this is acceptable. In fact, we think it’s positively good. We think this is how good ideas rise to the surface, and bad ideas get filtered out. We might have issues with exactly how this persuasion is carried out: is it done politely or rudely, reasonably or hysterically, did you really have to bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But the basic idea of trying to convince other people that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong… this is not controversial.

Except when it comes to religion.


Religion is an idea about the world. Thousands of different ideas, really, but with one basic idea at the core of them all: the idea of the supernatural. Religion is the hypothesis that the world is the way that it is, entirely or in part, because of supernatural beings or forces acting on the natural world. It’s an idea about how the world works — every bit as much as the germ theory of disease, or the theory that matter is made up of atoms, or the wacky notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

And religion is a very specific kind of idea about the world. Religion is a truth claim. It’s not a subjective matter of personal experience or opinion, like, “I’m a one-woman man,” or “Harry Potter is better than Lord of the Rings.” It is a statement about what is and is not literally true in the non-subjective world.

So if we think it’s a mistaken idea, why shouldn’t we try to convince other people of that?

We do this with every other kind of truth claim. If people think that disease is caused by demonic possession, or that global climate change is a hoax, or that deregulating the financial industry will lead to a robustly healthy economy for all levels of society — and we think these people are wrong — we try to change their minds. Why should religion be any different?

Now, of course, religion is more than just an idea. People build communities, personal identities, support systems, coping mechanisms, entire life philosophies, around their religious beliefs.

But people build identities around other ideas, too. People have intense political identities, for instance: people are often deeply attached to their identity as a progressive, a Republican or a libertarian. People build communities around these ideas, and support systems, and coping mechanisms, and life philosophies. And we still think it’s entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also the case that letting go of religious beliefs can be upsetting, even traumatic. In the short term anyway. Most atheists say that they’re happy to have let go of their religion… but many do go through a short period of trauma while they’re letting go.

But it can be upsetting, and even traumatic, to let go of all kinds of ideas. It can be upsetting and traumatic to learn that the clothes and chocolate and electronics you’re buying are made by slave labor; that the food you’re feeding your children is bad for them; that you have unconscious racist or sexist attitudes; that driving your car is contributing to global climate change and the possible permanent destruction of the environment.

And yet we still think it’s valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas if we think they’re wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

Yes, there’s a tremendous diversity of religious ideas — a diversity that makes up a large part of our complex cultural tapestry. But we have a tremendous diversity of ideas about politics, too… and about science, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and more. When we look at our history, our complex cultural tapestry has included alchemy, and Jim Crow laws, and preventing women from voting, and curing the “disease” of masturbation, and treating yellow fever epidemics by shooting cannonballs into the air. The world is better off without those ideas. We still have a rich cultural tapestry of diverse lifestyles and worldviews without them. And we still think it was entirely valid, and even positively worthwhile, to try to change people’s minds about these ideas when we thought they were wrong.

Why should religion be any different?

It’s also true that persuading people out of their religion is often seen as proselytizing or evangelizing. Proselytizing or evangelizing about religion has a bad reputation. And there are good reasons for that. Religious evangelists have an ugly history of fearmongering, deception, outright lying, applying economic pressure, using law or force or even violence, to “persuade” people out of their religious beliefs. Not to mention the little matter of knocking on people’s doors at eight o’clock on Saturday morning. It’s no wonder people are resistant to it.

But if that’s not what atheists are advocating? If we’re not advocating any sort of force or coercion, or even any sort of pressure apart from the mild social pressure created by people not wanting to look foolish by hanging onto bad ideas? If what we’re advocating is writing blog posts, writing magazine articles, writing books, wearing T-shirts, putting up billboards, getting into conversations with our friends and families, getting into debates on Facebook? If what we’re advocating is getting our atheist ideas more widely disseminated and understood, and creating atheist communities so people who share our ideas feel safer expressing them? If what we’re advocating is essentially standing up and saying, “The emperor has no clothes” — and offering the best evidence and arguments we can for the emperor’s nakedness?

What is so terrible about that? We do that with every other kind of idea. Why shouldn’t we do it with religion?

Why should religion be any different?

And it’s certainly true that, throughout history, many attempts to “persuade” people out of their religion have resulted in persecution — or have provided the rationalization for it. Human beings have an ugly, bloody, terrible history of persecuting each other over religious differences: anti-Catholic hostility in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Muslim hostility in much of Europe today, the Crusades, the Holocaust… the list goes on. And religious persecution often goes hand-in-hand with classism, jingoistic nationalism, ethnic hatreds, and racism — rendering it even uglier. A lot of people can only see persuading people out of religion in this context of persecution, and are horrified by it. And while I disagree with their ultimate analysis, I can certainly understand their horror.

But religion isn’t the only idea whose adherents have historically been targeted with persecution. Political ideas certainly have been. To take an obvious example: Look at Communism. People who thought Communism was a good idea had their lives utterly destroyed. Even if they weren’t actually trying to overthrow the government. Even if all they were doing was writing, or creating art, or gassing on in cafes with their friends. Even if they weren’t really Communists. McCarthyism and other Red scares destroyed the lives of countless people who were simply suspected of being Communists. And like religious persecution, anti-Communist fervor has often been closely tied with nationalism, ethnic hostilities, and more. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, for instance, were often feared and despised as “dirty Commies,” with the political hostility becoming inextricably tangled with the xenophobic nationalism, and each form of hostility feeding the other.

Does that mean we shouldn’t criticize Communism? Does that mean that, if we think Communism isn’t a particularly good system for structuring an economy, we should just keep our mouths shut?

When we criticize religion — just as when we criticize any other kind of idea — we do need to make sure that criticism of the idea doesn’t turn into persecution of its adherents. We need to draw a careful line between criticizing ideas and marginalizing people. We need to remember that people who disagree with us are still people, deserving of basic compassion and respect.

But we need to draw that line with every kind of idea. Political, scientific, artistic ideas — all of them. And we don’t exempt any other kind of idea from criticism, just because that kind of idea has often been targeted with persecution.

Why should religion be any different?

Why should religion be treated any differently from any other kind of idea about the world? Why, alone among all other ideas, should it be protected from criticism, questions, mockery when it’s ridiculous, excoriation when it’s appalling? Why, alone among all other ideas, should we not try to persuade people out of it if we think it’s mistaken?

Why should religion be the exception?

I’ve asked this question more times than I can remember. And I’ve only ever gotten one straight answer. In one argument on Facebook (which was ages ago, so unfortunately I can’t find it and link to it), the person I was debating argued that religious debates and disagreements have a bad history. All too often, they’ve led to hostility, hatred, tribalism, bigotry, even violence and wars. Therefore, he argued, it was best to just avoid debates about the topic altogether.

You know what? He’s right. When it comes to the divisiveness of religion, he’s totally right.

And that’s an argument for my side — not his.

I completely agree with his basic assessment. Religion does tend to be more divisive than other topics. It’s a point Daniel Dennet made in his book, Breaking the Spell: In a weird but very real psychological paradox, people tend to defend ideas more ferociously when we don’t have very good evidence supporting them.

Look at it this way. If people come over the hill and tell us that the sky is orange, we can clearly see that the sky is blue… so we can easily shrug off their ridiculous idea, and we don’t feel a powerful need to defend our own perception. But if people come over the hill and tell us that God comes in three parts, one of whom is named Jesus, and this three-in-one god really wants us not to eat meat on Fridays — and we think there is no god but Allah, and he really wants us to never eat pork or draw pictures of real things — we don’t have any way to settle the disagreement. The only evidence supporting our belief is, “My parents tell me,” My religious leader tells me,” “My holy book tells me,” or “I feel it in my heart.” And if we care about our belief — if it’s not some random trivial opinion, if it’s central to our personal and social identity — we have a powerful tendency to double down, to entrench ourselves more deeply and more passionately in our belief. We can’t have a rational, evidence-based debate about the matter. The only way to defend our own belief is with bigotry, tribalism, and violence.

But if religious differences really are more likely to lead to bigotry, tribalism, violence, etc.… doesn’t that show what a bad idea it is? If the ideas of religion are so poorly rooted in reality that there’s no way to resolve differences other than forming battle lines and screaming or shooting across them… doesn’t that strongly suggest that this is a truly crappy idea, and humanity should let go of it? Doesn’t that suggest that persuading people out of it is a really good thing to do?

So yeah. This wasn’t such a great answer. But at least it was an answer. At least it wasn’t a changing of the topic, a moving of the goalposts, a deterioration into personal insult, a complete abandonment of the conversation altogether. Every other time that I’ve asked, “Why should religion, alone among all other kinds of ideas, be free from attempts to persuade people out of it?” I’ve been met with what was essentially silence.

I’ve gotten tremendous hostility over the years for my attempts to persuade people out of religion. I’ve been called a racist and a cultural imperialist, trying to stamp out the beautiful tapestry of human diversity and make everyone in the world exactly like me. I’ve been called a fascist, have been compared to Stalin and Glenn Beck. My atheist activism has beencompared to the genocide of the Native Americans. I’ve even been called “evil in one of its purest forms” — as have many other atheist writers; I’m hardly the only target of this. All this, for trying to persuade people that their idea is mistaken, and our idea is correct. The atheism itself gets hostile opposition as well, of course: it gets called immoral, amoral, hopeless, meaningless, joyless, and more. But the very idea of presuming to engage in this debate — the very idea of putting religion on one side of a chessboard and atheism on the other, and seeing which one gets check-mated — is regularly treated as a bigoted and intolerant violation of the basic principles of human discourse.

And yet when I ask why — why it’s okay to persuade people out of other ideas but not this one, why religion alone should be exempt from the vigorous criticism that every other idea is expected to stand up to, why religion alone should get a free ride in the marketplace of ideas (and a free ride in an armored car at that), why religion should be the sole exception — I’ve only ever gotten one crappy answer, one time.

Does anyone have a better answer?

Or any answer at all?

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

Emphasis Mine