In a recent lecture, Owen Jones, who described himself as a ‘socialist humanist’ and an ‘atheist’, drew attention to his objection to ‘aggressive atheism’. He defined aggressive atheism as that form of atheism that treats religious belief and believers with contempt. Jones said, “Yet while I am an atheist, I don’t have contempt for the religious. There is an aggressive form of atheism that simplistically reduces the world’s many problems to religious belief and treats believers and belief – however moderate – with contempt.” I have been pondering over this statement since I finished listening to his lecture. I have tried relating it to situations in many parts of the world where aggressive theism and religion rages.
Jones went on to argue that the manifestation of ‘aggressive atheism’ was not conducive to the realisation of a peaceful and harmonious society and could only lead to extremism. Well, I guess that Jones may have made this statement bearing in mind the British society. Even at that, I find his position ambiguous and misleading.
Treating Religion with Contempt
For me, Jones conflated so many issues in his efforts to denounce and discredit aggressive atheism. The fact is that there are religious expressions which do not deserve respect. There are religious teachings that should be treated with contempt whether one is an aggressive atheist or not. These are religious notions that are either false or immoral. Many religious beliefs show disdain for facts and evidence. In addition, there are certain categories of religious believers that should be treated with scorn and disdain. These believers should be so treated not because of who they are as human beings, but because of what they do, i.e. evil; because of what they peddle, i.e. falsehoods, and because what they commit, i.e. atrocities!
Take for instance the religious belief in blasphemy which is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world today. Should one treat such an obscene article of faith with respect? I mean, many religions consider it a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment to commit an act or expression that insults or shows disrespect for a god or anything deemed “sacred”.
Now think about this: how does one determine what/who is insulting a god or a religion? Today we have many religions that people profess across the world. These faiths lay competing claims to god and sacredness. In actual fact, these religions are competing claims of insult and disrespect because their teachings conflict and contradict each other in many respects. In fact, how can anyone talk about disrespecting a god? Is it not absurd that a spirit can be respected or disrespected?
Religions Are Mutually Blasphemous
Even without aggressive atheism or the tendency of a category of atheists to mock or ridicule religious beliefs, it is virtually impossible to achieve a harmonious religiously pluralistic society where religious belief in blasphemy actively applies because religions are mutually blasphemous. The religions of today were the blasphemies of yesterday!
Every religious believer is a blasphemer because the teaching of one religion mocks the doctrines of other faiths. In fact, what one religion deems sacred, another treats as profane. Islamic religious doctrines mock Christian beliefs and vice versa. Both Christian and Islamic preachers ridicule Africans indigenous religious claims in the cause of their evangelism.
So if I may ask: How can there be respect for freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression in societies where the religious belief in blasphemy applies? How can the human rights of believers and non-believers be equally guaranteed in a society that reckons with the outrageous idea that gods or religions could be insulted and those who disrespect these gods and faiths should be executed?
So, the religious belief in blasphemy is a recipe for oppression, chaos, anarchy and bloodletting. If you are in doubt, take a look at countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Jordan, where blaspheming against Islam is a crime under the law. Religious (Muslim) believers often take the law into their hands. They have murdered persons who are accused of blasphemy. Their allies are trying to extend the law to the west and to the entire world. They are campaigning to make criticism of Islam or what they call islamophobia a crime.
Personally, I have nothing but scorn for any religion that treats human life, dignity and freedom with contempt. Religious absurdities that motivate believers to commit atrocities are undeserving of respect by human beings. Any religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or the indigenous faith, that sanctions death for blasphemers is evil and unworthy of humanity. Satire and criticism should be used to highlight their mistaken ideas and twisted moralities
Religious believers who murder blasphemers and apostates are vicious entities. Using satire to expose the absurdity of what they represent is a moral duty to humanity. Religious believers who support that persons who cartoon Prophet Muhammad or that those who burn or desecrate the Quran be killed should be treated with uttermost disdain because their beliefs constitute real threats and dangers to the realisation of an open, tolerant and progressive society.
I want to reiterate that religions that treat human life, freedom, truth, fact and evidence with contempt deserve nothing but disparagement. Such religious beliefs should be ridiculed and excoriated out of existence. To be specific, all the Mullahs and Muslims who were behind the latest blasphemy attacks in Pakistan that led to the brutal murder of a university student, Mashal, are a shame to humanity. The brand of Islam that they represent will forever dwell in infamy.
If that makes me an “aggressive atheist”, so be it.
Leo is a blogger, human-rights advocate and a Humanist from Nigeria.