Guest Post: Religious Apologists and their Role in Oppression
Many activists today hate their own societies so much that they defend barbaric customs typical to religious cultures because they feel guilty recognising the ethical superiority of secularism. There’s a disturbing trend amongst these activists to label themselves progressives, when more accurate labels would be “religious apologists” and “religious pluralists.”
These are people—including “atheists,” agnostics, and theists of all kinds—who argue that religious faiths are reasonable and defensible, and that all religions are equally valid. They’re usually only concerned with defending human rights when they personally feel oppressed, or when they believe their own societies oppress others.
However, as religious cultures violate the human rights of millions of people, apologists and theists defend these crimes with the two-faced shield of normative relativism and argue that we have no right to judge other cultures. More specifically, apologists argue that we have no right to judge religions in general, even though religions themselves claim superiority over all others.
Many theists have thus invented an imaginary right to not be mocked or criticised for their ridiculous beliefs, claiming that religion serves the interests of the abject, impoverished and despairing. However, theism only serves to empower despots. In fact, theism itself is so fundamentally authoritarian that it threatens our most basic rights to life, liberty, and security of person.
Disgusted by imperialism and xenophobic rednecks, apologists fancy themselves anti-nationalists and resort to normative relativism to make sense of the differences between Western culture and those of the “colonised.” Such apologists are most commonly young college students or recent graduates, and they typically have developed their relativist philosophy as a means of rebelling against the bigotry of their parents or other people they have come to hate.
Combined with the questionable ideal of multiculturalism—i.e. diversity for diversity’s sake—these apologists have resorted to an unreasonable tolerance that compels them to defend all sorts of dysfunctional cultures despite the overwhelming evidence that they are harmful, barbaric and incompatible with our own.
For example, Daniel Bragança recently argued that the West has “the right, and often the duty to point out when certain cultures are increasing suffering and failing to respect the human rights of others.” Bragança criticised Afghanistan’s culture for its ingrained paedophilia: Afghan men regularly keep underage boys as lovers and status symbols because misogynist Islamic principles require women to be covered from head to toe. However, as clearly wrong and ill-conceived this practice is, Bragança was met with a chorus of apologists—some atheist, some agnostic, and some theist—who claimed that his criticism of Afghan culture was radical and misguided. Seriously? Is it seriously radical to point out that sexual molestation and misogyny is wrong no matter where it happens? Is it radical then to not mutilate a child’s genitals? Is it radical to believe that you shouldn’t rape kids, kill people you dislike, or pretend to know things that you don’t?
There’s an inherent irony in using relativism to defend theism and its by-products because religions themselves are straightforwardly objectivist: to the religious, right and wrong are matters of divine authority, and are not susceptible to the whims of forward-thinking philosophers like the Founding Fathers or Enlightenment thinkers. Christian theists proclaim their absolutist objectivism on a regular basis: “Homosexuality is an abomination!” “Premarital sex is a sin!” “Nobody reaches God except through Christ Jesus!” But as soon as a secular thinker applies reason and scientific inquiry to religion, theists and their apologists claim critical immunity: “If it’s right for us or them, who are you to judge?”
“We have a right to not be mocked or offended,” the religious say, as was the case with Muslims in response to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons controversy of 2005, or with Christians in response to any sort of social progress in the United States. Luckily for the West, we know how to define human rights: they are are legal, social or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement which apply to all humans. Human rights are conceived entirely within an egalitarian context—all people have equal rights and should be treated as equals in certain respects—and the only atmosphere that is conducive to these human rights is one that is free and democratic. Anything that threatens that atmosphere, such as the moral dictatorship of theism, threatens human rights in general. Thus, anything that requires the curtailing of freedom and democracy—such as “a right to not be mocked or offended”—cannot possibly qualify as a human right. Nonetheless, religious apologists argue that religion does the weak and the disenfranchised some sort of good that atheists should acknowledge and respect.
In a speech dubbed “The Tyranny of a Callous God,” Christopher Hitchens asks what it means to believe:
[T]hat there is a divinely supervising father […], that there is someone who knows, and watches and cares. What does it mean to believe that? I think it has two very disagreeable implications. One is that we are subjected all the time to a permanent, unending, ’round-the-clock surveillance that begins at least when we’re born, some would say before, and doesn’t even quit when we die. There’s no privacy, there’s no freedom, there’s nothing you do that isn’t watched over, and that you can be convicted of thought crime. You are already guilty, because we know you at least were going to think about it. This is an absolute definition of unfreedom—it’s what Orwell means when he says that all totalitarianism is essentially theocratic. Is this for the weak? No, it postulates a hideous strength, to borrow a C.S. Lewis term, a horrible, unchallengeable despotism that could never be voted out or overthrown or transcended. [Theism] is not the small voice of compassion—it’s the utter arrogance of absolute power.
It’s a mistake to separate the cultural authoritarianism of religion—the dogma that morality is a product of divine authority—and political authoritarianism, as Kevin Carson explains in his recent article:
Cultural authoritarianism—such as occurs in the family, church and workplace—tends to exist in a mutually reinforcing relationship with political authoritarianism. Authoritarianism isn’t easily compartmentalized. People who are in the habit of unquestioning obedience to authority in a major part of their lives, and have their freedom of judgment subordinated to the will of others, are unlikely to fight very vigorously for their personal liberties against the claimed authority of the state.
In a world where religion is accessory to oppression, to shield it from criticism and mockery is to forsake the lives of the millions oppressed, and to pervert the very idea of a human right. That’s why I confidently criticise, mock and offend the sensibilities of theists and their apologists. I can’t help that they get offended because of their childish, backward insecurities and medieval morality. Their true discomfort, though they won’t admit it, is with my belief in universal human rights and with my adherence to reason. In some cases, they’re offended by reason itself, and in the words of Jonathan Swift, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”
This is why I support Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. It’s why I support charging and trying the Pope and members of the Catholic Church for the child abuses they have committed, concealed and denied. It is why I oppose arranged marriages and criticise other cultural practises that violate human rights. It’s why I argue with the supposed “liberals” who defend such barbaric customs. Theism—religious faith, by any other name—opposes freedom itself.
And thus, I reject God.
Thomas Iodine is a political writer from New England living in California. The views expressed above are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Daniel Bragança.