Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Deconstructing Religion: Why Relentless Criticism of Religion is Imperative

Earlier today, Sec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reaffirmed the US stance in opposition to bans on religious defamation:

“Some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive. We do not agree. The United States joins with all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech. But we do not support the banning of that speech.”

Now, I have never particularly been an admirer of Clinton. Her initial support of the Iraq War was enough to demonstrate that she was either gullible or dishonest – and quite possibly both. Furthermore, her campaign platform during the 2008 primaries was a bit too hawkish for my taste, as demonstrated by her insistence that “all options were on the table” with Iran – a nation which poses no threat to anyone. But on certain occasions she says precisely what needs to be said – succinctly, intelligently, and from a genuine liberal perspective. Today was one of those occasions.

I find the notion of freedom of religion to be somewhat quaint, albeit in a rather perverted way. Certainly, people should be free to believe whatever they desire. If a person wishes to believe in a giant monkey who breathes fire and lives behind the sun, that is undoubtedly their right. I won’t interfere.  But in a culture that professes the utmost admiration to the principles of rationality and scientific inquiry, it is not necessarily a right we should be emphasizing, let alone expending energy to defend. Instead, we should voraciously and vociferously defend our right to the freedom of expression, which includes the right to question everything and anything, exercising the uniquely human traits of critical thinking and logical analysis.

The right to criticize religion is an irrevocable aspect of the right to free speech. The United States claims in principle to support this right, and it was reassuring to hear Sec. Clinton reaffirm the Obama administration’s support of that today. There is a very real movement towards theocracy in our country, or at least a growing coalition of elected officials who claim to be divinely inspired. Whether their religious beliefs are but a ploy to be elected is irrelevant; once in office, they will generally do whatever it takes to stay there.

In our society, it is generally acceptable to critique Islam but not Christianity. The exception to this rule is, of course, when Muslims threaten to retaliate violently, as the South Park debacle earlier this year amply demonstrated. In fact, it is interesting to note that in an article about the freedom to criticize religion, Islam is the only religion that is mentioned by name. Perhaps the very prospect of defaming fanatical Christians – such as those blowing up abortion clinics and forcing the teaching of “creationism” in our schools – was a bit too controversial for Yahoo!’s rather bland spectrum of acceptable topics.

In most Islamic cultures critiquing Islam is not merely taboo, but a mortal sin. In Saudi Arabia, the crime for apostasy is public beheading, which seems likely to discourage most people from overtly questioning Islam in any form. From a purely humanitarian point of view, it is readily apparent that opposition to religion is a necessary component in the struggle for universal recognition of basic human rights. The 25 million residents of Saudi Arabia are literal slaves to a 1,400-year-old belief system that began when an illiterate pedophile stumbled into a cave and began hallucinating. The situation is hardly better in Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan or a handful of other Islamic nations. And if the fundamentalist Christians in the United States had their way, we too would be subjected to the yoke of outrageous, millennia-old superstitions.

So while Clinton’s affirmation of US support of the right to criticize religion is positive, it is not enough. In the continual struggle for global human rights, ongoing aggressive criticism of religion in all its forms is not merely optional, but pivotal.

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6 responses to “Deconstructing Religion: Why Relentless Criticism of Religion is Imperative

  1. Pastor Curt November 18, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. It is sad that it is sometimes used to express views that are so hurtful to so many.

    Criticism of religion can result in a closer examination of one’s beliefs. It is appropriate to recognize what is good about one’s faith… and what is bad. Criticism can help to remove those aspects of faith that are hurtful. That can actually help to strengthen religious faith.

    Religion can play a very important role in human life. For example; it can provide a foundation for morality, a sense of purpose, a source of strength and comfort, and a sense of belonging. In addition, many people are motivated by their faith to assist others in times of need. It is true that religion has caused much evil, but it has also inspired much good.

    • Andrew November 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      Religion provides nothing beneficial that cannot be obtained through other means. Using religion as a basis for morality and/or a sense of purpose is wholly unnecessarily, and in many cases downright detrimental.

      Consider Christianity’s doctrine if “original sin.” How is this considered a “source of strength and comfort”? How does it provide a “sense of purpose,” other than convincing people that they are innately flawed and will ultimately face eternal damnation at the hands of their “loving” god?

      Furthermore, would you care to elaborate on your comment that “criticism can help to remove those aspects of faith that are hurtful”? You seem to be implying that religious adherents can pick and choose the passages from their ancient texts, ignoring those elements which offend their sensibilities. But if the Bible is the infallible word of god, how can you assert that some segments of it are to be “removed” / ignored?

  2. Pastor Curt November 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I acknowledge that it is possible to find other grounds for morality. I will further acknowledge that some moral codes inspired by religion are awful. Yet, it is still true, that for many, religion has provided the grounds for a solid moral stance.

    My denomination does not teach the doctrine of original sin. We do believe that all have sinned. Are you perfect? Do you know anyone who has never made a mistake? Excluding Jesus, I don’t. Comfort comes from the knowledge of forgiveness. Strength comes from the promise of Christ to be with us always. Purpose comes with the knowledge that God desires to work through us to do his work.

    Scripture needs to be understood first in the original context. Then attempts are made to apply the message to contemporary life. Sometimes those efforts fall short and need to be re-evaluated. I do not cast out scriptures, but I do reject some interpretations and applications. It is in this context that criticism of religion can truly be good. This would apply to the question of morality as well. That is one of the reasons why I engage in dialogue with someone who obviously disagrees with me. It will cause me to more closely examine my beliefs, to hold to that which is good, and let go that which is bad.

    • Andrew November 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

      I will concede that your particular brand of Christianity seems far more tolerant and accepting than most others. Such open-mindedness among Christians is an exceedingly rare phenomenon. I applaud you for your willingness to apply, at least to a limited extent, critical thinking skills to your religious beliefs.

      I doubt we will reach much more of an agreement than this. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Pastor Curt November 22, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Our primary disagreement probably lies in our metaphysical presuppositions. I believe that ultimate reality is both material and non-material. I imagine that you are a devout materialist. The moment we accept the reality of something outside of our own thoughts we are taking a leap of faith. I simply place my faith in something other than you. It works well for me and for many others.

    I also suspect that your negative religious experiences in life have far outweighed the positive. My experience is different.

    Thank you for maintaining a civil approach to my comments. I do appreciate it.

  4. Pingback: UN Condones Religious Fanaticism, Negates Fundamental Human Rights « Failed Empire

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