How many times have you watched a debate between an atheist and a theist, and heard this line in response to the atheist’s logical and rational criticism of the theist’s argument?
“Why can’t you atheists just respect our beliefs and stop criticising?”
Aside from being a cop-out to wriggle out of having to answer to the criticism, it’s a double standard – when a theist asks an atheist a question that we don’t know the answer to, and won’t make up a feel-good answer to because we’re honest enough to admit that we don’t have all the answers, the theist’s usual response goes something like this:
“Ha! You can’t answer that, can you? You lose!”
Theists like to assume that atheists think they have all the answers, and when atheists admit they don’t because, well, we can’t know everything theists will claim victory. Yet when they are given a criticism that they can’t answer, they tell atheists to “respect their beliefs” and to “stop criticising their belief”. Well I’m sorry, but it’s not our fault you have holes in your argument that you can’t answer for. Don’t want your beliefs criticised? Don’t have irrational beliefs. At the very least, keep your beliefs personal.
There is of course a dangerous side to the line “respect my beliefs”. It is particularly prominent today in the case of Islam, where any rational criticism of its claims is labelled “islamophobia” and in Muslim theocratic states such criticism can be punishable by death. Just this year, four atheists in Bangladesh have been hacked to death for the “crime” of blogging. In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after writing about free speech in his blog. His lawyer was also imprisoned. There was the Charlie Hebdo massacre. And the list goes on.
The notion that religion is above criticism has been around for thousands of years. Back in the days of Christian theocracy, declaring a state of unbelief in God would be a death sentence. We cannot be sure of the true beliefs of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who was openly critical of Christianity and supported the separation of church and state while claiming a deistic belief in a higher power, as coming out as an atheist (which he may or may not have been) would have been a fatal mistake.
Wonder why the time where Christians ruled was called the Dark Ages?
Imagine what the world would be like now if it had not been for the secularists opposing religious rule, often at the cost of their lives. Imagine a world where we were still performing exorcisms to treat mental illness, where instead of hospitals there were faith healers praying on you to treat your cancer, where you would have to agree with everything the state religion claims or face a death penalty, where slavery was still permitted “because the Bible says so”, where women were still treated as property, where human and animal sacrifice still took place to bring back the sun after it has set.
Do you still want to say that religious law should trump state law in order to “respect your beliefs”?
Strangely enough, 57% of Americans are in favour of making Christianity the state religion and making the USA a theocratic country. So what happens if you are an American citizen and you are Muslim? Hindu? Any other faith? Atheist? The “wrong” denomination of Christianity? If you want a glimpse of what it might be like, look no further than Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia. Even if you are Muslim, you are still in trouble if you are the “wrong kind” of Muslim. For someone of another faith or no faith at all, it is much, much, worse. You certainly cannot make your views known. There is no such thing as “freedom of religion” or “freedom of speech” in such a society. Is that really what you want for America, the “land of the free”?
If you want your right to believe whatever you choose to be protected, it has been proven time and time again that keeping religion out of government is the best solution. Separation of church and state is as much about protecting your freedom to believe as it is about protecting people of other religions to believe what they want, and nonbelievers to lack religious belief. If you still don’t support separation of religion and government, go spend a bit of time in Iran.