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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.

  1. Bill Sowka
    October 13, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Amen!! Glad someone finally said it and said it so well. Sadly, I think some of the apologist behavior also comes from the “brand” agnostics and athiests have somehow aquired. A brand that labels them as being “evil”, “radicals”, “fringe”. There is movement to help change this brand. Specifically, the bright movement.


    The movement’s three major aims are:

    1. Promote the civic understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
    2. Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
    3. Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such individuals.

  2. Bill Sowka
    October 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Oh, and while I’m still inspired by your writing, let me also thank you for pointing some blame on liberals who have an unfettered embrace with multiculturalism regardless of the absurdity or the moral corruption. I hated liberalism for years because of this and still believe that this lack of intellectual integrity is to blame for our cultural decline-and the inability of liberals to gain a foothold into mainstream America.

    Two books speak to this. One, Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason and Rob Reimen’s The Nobility of Spirit, A Forgotten Ideal. Riemen’s premise is that intellectuals have a responsibility to speak out on cultural atrocities and advocate for the truth. Thank you Mr. Iodine for having the nobility of spirit to do so.

  3. Anon
    October 13, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    In cases such as pedophilia, murder, and rape, it is clear that moral relativism and religious tolerance have there limits. Unfortunately your own smug superiority has blinded you into throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is true rational atheism better reasoned out than most organized religion? Yes. Is it 100% objective, though? No. One million times no. Why? Nothing is 100% objective. Try all you want, but at the end of the day, you still have to make a personal subjective call when it comes to morality. Thus your personal morality is a belief system all its own. Thus by imposing your morality (no matter how scientifically-based) on one other organism you are only marginally better than the very religion you are trying to decry. In a cosmic sense, your one potential iota of moral superiority is unnoticeable. By declaring religion, or even its toleration to be immoral, you are committing the very “sin” you are decrying. Don’t feel bad, though; nobody can avoid hypocrisy the minute morality is brought up. It is the curse of society and humanity. I just choose to be smug about my tolerance rather than smug about my dogma. I’m no better than you, but at least I can see that my answer is no better.

  4. Bill Sowka
    October 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

    But organized religion does not equal morality, and the judgment of it, based on scientific principles, is, therefore, not subjective. Drawing conclusions and making judgments on the morality of actions condoned by, imposed upon, or carried out by a religious organization may be subjectively biased, but subjectivity does not mean that judgments shouldn’t be made and opinions shouldn’t be stated. If the risk of doing so is the notice of an iota of moral superiority, then so be it-I’d rather be true to my beliefs by defending them, rather than hiding under the cloak of multiculturalism. A war of cultures is not a bad thing and the question of relative morality should not stand its way.

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