Moralism and Religious Intolerance

Atheists are often accused of arrogance and prejudice against religions. Sentences like “Each to their own”, “What is the problem with believing in God?”, “Religion is personal” are always used to defend religion. In this text I explain the cause to my opposing religion and how, in some cases, the mere existence of religious persons may have negative consequences to the construction of a just and equalitarian society.

The belief alone in gods and immortality is a personal issue which in principle doesn’t affect the life of other people. In most cases, however, this belief goes hand in hand with other more complex standpoints which might involve ethical questions and generate conflicts between people who don’t share the same beliefs.

“I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”
Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects

In Brazil, millions of people are subject to a sole set of laws. Brazil calls itself a secular state with religious freedom, but many of these laws are influenced by Christianity or, in other words, all other religions are forced to follow Christian ethics. This is the “religious freedom” of the Brazilian “secular state”.

And it happens all over the world: If abortion is wrong according to Christian belief, don’t abort. If suicide and euthanasia are wrong according to Christian belief, don’t kill yourselves. If contraceptives are wrong, don’t use them. If certain sexual practices, homosexuality, gambling, drugs, prostitution or any other behavior is wrong according to Christian dogma, don’t practice them. It’s not that I defend or encourage all these practices, and I do understand that the restriction of certain liberties isn’t always enforced for religious reasons, but too often they are. And even when I agree with a restriction, it is really frustrating to see them being defended on religious grounds. It can be really detrimental to an honest, secular debate about the dangers of radical liberalism. In any case, the result is that members of the dominant religion have the freedom to follow their ethics and traditions (guaranteed by the state). Non-Religious don’t enjoy the same freedom.

A healthy modern society should base their laws on reasonable and solid foundations like the human rights, not on millennia old peasant traditions. The laws of the state should protect victims of criminal acts, not tell somebody what they should or shouldn’t do with their own life if this doesn’t harm anybody. This attitude of the state is moralist and too often follows religious values, with which not everybody is obliged to agree.

Moral values based on tradition and religious dogmas are a universal problem. In the USA, seven doctors who legally performed abortions were assassinated by radical pro-life religious groups, who also vandalized, bombed and set fire to abortion clinics. Disabled people don’t have the right to end their own lives. Scientific progress is delayed because of polemics caused by religious issues, such as in the case of research on stem cells. Homosexuals don’t have the right to a legal marriage and in some places are even executed. Pre-marital sex in Iran is punished with 100 lashes and adultery with stoning.

The higher the number of religious and intolerant people in the world, the bigger the influence of religious moralism and principles in the state and the more unjust the world for those who don’t practice this religion. A world with secular moral values and laws based on freedom and equality, where each citizen has the right to do whatever they want with their life as long as it doesn’t hinder other to exercise the same rights would be just for religious and non-religious people alike.

Religious people could go on with their lives and their religious practices without being bothered by this, while the non-religious wouldn’t be punished for their supposedly “immoral” acts even though there were no victims. Apart from this, other factors, such as the religious view on life, could lead to distorted moral values, based on dogmas and superstitions, without any scientific basis, and any law based on these values would favor one belief system over the other, which is unjust and contradicts the principles of a secular state.

This problem could be solved by diminishing this selfish and dictatorial line of thought on the side of many religious people, who are not satisfied simply by living with their traditions but want to impose their lifestyle on the whole of society. However, this tyrannical view is an intrinsic part of many religions, mainly the Abrahamic ones (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), just as the blind conviction that their unfounded beliefs are the true ones (most religions). Of course, religion has evolved and some of the most brutal traditions and intolerant teachings are largely ignored or “reinterpreted”. But still the moral progress is slower in the religious community, as I have defended, so why stay tied to this weight? And what rational arguments could I possibly have to convince them that “OK, Jesus died for our sins, but no, gay marriage isn’t wrong and that this is a bad interpretation”? There is no rational argument. So I either stay out of the debate or stick to the argument that neither is the case. If religious people learn to evolve faster, great. Until then, I’ll support every movement that promotes education based on reason over faith, on skepticism and critical thought.

Many people who critique religion talk about tithe, money-hungry Evangelical churches, and how religion in some cases can be damaging to the believers themselves. I won’t touch upon this subject. I think everybody has the right to do whatever they want with their life. I don’t have anything against people’s beliefs per se, only against the negative consequences usually brought for all the others who don’t share their convictions.

– Translated on Apr 28, 2014
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Ariel Pontes
Secular-humanist, web developer, occasional blogger. Interested in philosophy, science, tech, internet, free culture, social change, etc.