An Atheist on Religious Freedom
It’s no secret that I’m an atheist; it’s just one facet of who I am. I’m not particularly bothered if you choose to have a religion; that’s your business and nothing to do with me. As an atheist, I just don’t believe in a god or follow a religion. I do talk about atheism and share thoughts on religion, but usually with like-minded people or people that have specifically asked me what I think. I generally don’t tell religious people, unsolicited, why I think they shouldn’t be religious. I don’t seek out religious people to criticise or dissect their beliefs. I don’t seek them out to list all the reasons I think they should abandon their faith.
I don’t do all of that for a few reasons.
- It’s largely pointless. If someone has a strong faith, nothing I say will change it. They need to question it themselves for it to change.
- I can’t speak for all atheists but generally, I don’t “recruit”. If someone wants to ask questions, they will.
- It’s not up to me to instruct people in what they should think and feel. That seems presumptuous and kinda rude.
There are plenty of people out there who will attack others based on their religious beliefs. The motivations might be pure; trying to help someone, trying to offer comfort, trying to help someone to see things differently to the way they that makes them feel bad. Often, though, the motivations are about winning an argument or showing superiority. Atheists attack religious people, unable to comprehend why someone would embrace a faith or desperate to make them see reason. (For the record, religious faith is not something I understand. I also recognise the fact that my understanding is not required.) Religious people, however, are no slouches when it comes to attacking people with different beliefs or no religion. Members of one religion will attack members of another, certain that their chosen faith is the “right” one. I’ve also seen atheist groups and pages that I follow repeatedly infiltrated by religious types who feel the need to let atheists know exactly what their religion has in store for us- hell and torture and generally a horrible eternity. And that’s just online. Out in the real world, people have killed and died for religion for centuries. I don’t want any part of that particular argument!
Even though I’m an atheist, I do defend anyone’s right to practice a religion. If you want to be a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim or whatever, I’m okay with that. That’s your choice. As long as your religious practice doesn’t give you license to harm or abuse, we should be able to get along, right? There are a handful of religious practices I strongly disagree with, for sure, but I’m talking in a general sense here. There’s no reason we can’t live side by side.
In the lead up to the election, like many others, I rolled my eyes at parties like the Christian Democrats and Family First, whose agendas were clearly steeped in extremely conservative, religious views.
There’s always a few, right? But then I read comments online from people who were desperate to give their votes to groups who aligned with their faiths and would legislate accordingly and instead of just rolling my eyes, I started to get pretty angry. Wanna know why?
I’m an atheist and yet, I don’t know how many times I’ve defended someone’s right to a religion. Muslim, Christian or otherwise. Even though I’ve come up against religious people who are extremely intolerant of those without faith, even though I’ve been told I’m going to hell more times that I can count, I still defend the right of other people to have a personal belief system. I speak up online and at work and at social occasions; whenever the topic comes up. Why? Because freedom of religion is part of the Constitution of Australia (Section 116 if you were wondering) and it comes down to common courtesy and respect for other people.
The other part of Section 116 says that the Commonwealth shouldn’t impose any religious observance on Australia. Yet, that is exactly what some people want. Looking at some laws and campaigns, it’s clear that a religious influence played a big part and that isn’t on- there needs to be some changes. We are supposed to be a secular democracy.
If you have a religion, you absolutely have the right to live the way your religion says you should. Your right, however, should not override mine to live without it. Removing religious influence from law doesn’t take away a religious person’s right to live how they choose, it just stops them from being able to force their beliefs on others.
In this secular democracy, my kid should be able to go to public school without being made to sing religious chants (Yep, that happened) or take part in prayers (still happens in many public schools). I should be free to walk into a bakery without someone screaming at me about hell (although I know this isn’t usual religious practice, it has happened to me). I should be able to relax at home without religious people knocking on my door to sell me on their faith. My friends and family in same sex relationships should be free to get married. Any woman should be able to access safe abortion should she need to.
Your religion is your personal choice. I will always defend your right to make that choice, always. And I am far from the only atheist-type who will do so. All I ask is that you understand that when you try to make your religious convictions enforceable on the rest of us who have a different faith or no religion, you are taking away our rights to choose. And that is not freedom.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.