Bowing to pressure from Islamic zealots, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution which bans religious defamation:
“The non-binding resolution is a cosmetically modified version of similar resolutions that have long been condemned by human rights groups and yet have continued to pass at both the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Ostensibly intended to promote “social harmony” and religious tolerance, the resolutions call on governments to ban speech considered offensive to some religious believers.”
Two weeks ago I applauded Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for speaking out against the ban on religious defamations, pointing out that criticism of religion is not merely a right but a duty for all those who aspire to a world based on the scientific principles of free thinking and critical analysis. It is truly disappointing to see representatives from such a significant plurality of nations reinforcing the ancient taboo of religious criticism. Indeed, such restrictions on expression hearken back to a pre-science era when all humans were blindly subjected to the whim of allegedly infallible religious leaders – who often simultaneously wielded great political power.
Why is religious criticism considered off limits for so many? If I critique the lunacy of any given religion, I stand the risk of being accused of a hate crime, of perpetuating prejudice and bigotry. But such accusations have no basis in reality. Religious belief is not to be considered in the same light as race or sexual orientation. The latter are predetermined by genes and beyond one’s ability to control, while the former is a choice – albeit a “choice” which is made for most religious adherents when religious indoctrination begins at an early age. Still, the possibility exists – through critical thinking and careful analysis of the evidence – to shirk one’s religion, while it is utterly impossible (for the present, at least – the biotech revolution is rapidly approaching) to alter one’s race or sexual orientation. So while it is intolerably bigoted to criticize someone on the basis of his/her sexual orientation, it is unclear why critiquing one’s religion should also be considered in such unfavorable terms.
If we look at the evidence, we realize that religious beliefs have caused untold suffering in the world. The most basic foundation of the world’s major religions negates the best qualities of being human: namely, submission to an authoritative power which far surpasses anything humankind could ever hope to accomplish or become. And most major religions build on this innately malevolent basis with still more arbitrary beliefs and rules which only serve to further pervert the fragile human psyche. Restrictions on diet, sexual activity and expression all contribute to enslave the spirit of man, nullifying the senses of wonder and satisfaction that are inherent parts of being alive.
But the greatest tragedy of religion is that it subjugates the uniquely human tendency to examine the world in a critical light, to think freely and creatively while seeking to understand all through careful reasoning and scientific analysis. Religion teaches humankind to be subservient, to deny our singular capacity for abstract thought and rationality, to accept the universe on the faith that an omnipotent being – far more powerful and knowledgeable than we could ever hope to be – has already settled everything. And this disenfranchisement of the most fundamental of all human traits denies the very essence of what it means to be human.
It is inexplicable why the Western world continues to support bans on religious defamation. While clearly imperfect on many levels, in terms of outgrowing the bonds of religious belief Western nations are far more advanced – excluding the United States and its sizable fundamentalist Christian faction, of course. The United Nations is intended to promote global human rights and ensure that gross injustices are remedied whenever possible. For the UN to condone the continued protection of primitive superstition from rational inquiry is utterly unthinkable, and should be openly challenged by anyone who adheres to the nobler human qualities of logic and rationality.