Bringing together non-believers
I have been accused numerous times of mocking religious faith on social media. In fact many Kenyan Christians are furious at what they call “intolerance” on the part of atheists like me who are critical of religion, religious beliefs, and theism. These Christians insist that we are being intolerant and rather than criticizing or mocking religion, we should become more tolerant of religion. And surprise, there are atheists who are of a similar opinion too. I have been called a militant atheist, and some have even asked me why I ‘hate god’ so much. This sounds at first like a reasonable argument, but if you are to look at the definition of the word tolerance, you may not agree with those who call me tolerant.
Tolerance is not a simple concept which either is or is not present; instead, it’s a complex concept with a spectrum of possible attitudes. It is thus not only possible for a person to be “tolerant” of some idea, thing, or even person in one way yet not another, but it is in fact the norm. While it might be reasonable to expect tolerance in one sense, it’s not necessarily reasonable to also expect tolerance in another.
It’s not reasonable to insist that atheists “respect” religion and religious beliefs unless we are suppressing their religion. And this is not what we are doing. We never stop Christians from praying and worshipping their God. Unfortunately, the sort of “respect” often demanded is more along the lines of high esteem, admiration, and even deference.
It’s not reasonable to expect atheists to be “indulgent” (humoring, catering to whims, yield to) of religion and religious beliefs they consider false. It’s also not reasonable to expect atheists to “lack opposition” to religion and religious beliefs. To see just how absurd that would be, imagine demanding that the opposition CORD be more “indulgent” of JUBILEE PARTY or that JUBILEE PARTY “lack opposition” to CORD. Does that make any sense? Does anyone expect something like that to happen? Of course not.
Such “tolerance” isn’t expected in other religious contexts, either. Jews aren’t expected to “lack opposition” to Christian claims that Jesus was the Messiah. Christians aren’t expected to be “indulgent” of Islam. No one is expected to “respect” Osama bin Laden’s religious beliefs. Few if any people raise any objections to such situations. Why? Because beliefs, ideas, and opinions don’t deserve automatic tolerance except in the last two senses.
French-Arab novelist Amin Maalouf wrote that “traditions deserve respect only insofar as they are respectable.” The same can be said for all ideas, beliefs, and opinions and the basic principle can be expressed thus: they do not “deserve” tolerance in the sense of being indulged, not being opposed, and being respected, unless they earn that sort of tolerance.
I find it very curious how often Christians demand tolerance of their religion even as so many Christians refuse to demonstrate the same sort of tolerance towards others. Some Christians argue that because Jesus made an exclusive claim to truth, they are obliged to not be “indulgent” or “respectful” of falsehoods. For me, the claim that Jesus is the son of God is simply not true. It is ridiculous.
This, then, seems to be the position which atheists are in. They are obliged to be “tolerant”
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