The Devil's Due: A Look at the Growing Hostility Towards Traditional Religionists
I was on Facebook the other day when I saw a post from a friend about a Muslim who wore both her hijab and a bike helmet while biking. When I glanced briefly through the post, it seemed to have inspired a heated conversation with one of the commenters who called her god, ‘imaginary’, though he thought it was ok to believe in it.
He also commented on how such beliefs fail when pitted against the rational and science of modern Western education, and that if the people in conflicted areas that involved religion could get to this point, then religion would not be needed. In essence, people would just ‘know better’, because you know, science.
A debate over how the conversation between religionist and atheist should proceed.
A Rising Current of Hostility
This is an argument I have been coming across more so lately as the world struggles between the pull of religious values that it knows, and the knowledge of science which has ushered in so much prosperity(in some places). At first, I thought that this was just your typical atheism vs. god arguments: arguments I tend to ignore. However I am starting to think it is becoming something more.
The Arab news channel, Al Jazeera did a special where they interviewed a Western atheist scientist, Lawrence Krauss and Greg Epstein, a Humanist Chaplin to talk about religion’s ability to coexist with atheism. At first the vibe tried to go for common ground of agreeing to disagree and so on. Then, it got tenser when the scientist began inferring that religious beliefs were overall foolish and that those who follow them to violent extremes were morons.
The rest of the panel seems to take offense to this because of the perceived, blatant disrespect he was showing religious followers as a whole, rather than a radical few. Not because of his beliefs, but because they thought the scientist considered his belief in science and education above the beliefs of religion. Further comments on the Youtube posting for that conversation suggested the same thing. That if religious people, Muslims in this case, could learn what Western society has learned that it would remove the need for religion and thus a major drive for conflict. All this in spite of the fact that developing countries that were increasing their education were becoming more religious and not less.
The problem that is starting to arise is that the debate is now changing from one of disagreeing on theological and philosophical points, to turning into tool of judgment and perhaps borderline-prejudice towards those who hold their faith sacred. This perception is often reflected in polls taken where many Westerners view their Middle Eastern and religious Western counterparts as the main obstacle to bettering people’s lives and education.
More than that, this increase in passive aggressive hostility can probably be more attributed to the rise in terrorism from violent, radical Muslim groups across the world, as well as conservative Christianity’s influence in local politics that seem to go against reason.
A Failure to Communicate
What proponents of ‘education replacing religion’ fail to understand is the context in which their education is wrapped up in. As the commenter on Facebook expressed, it was Western education that would free these people from the violence of religious radicals and social evolution. He, like others, may be innocent in his assertion, but for people coming from a cultural context where most interactions with the West have been anything but benign, this doorway to freedom is already held in suspicion.
A case in point is with Feminism. This is one of the obstacles it has encountered cross culturally. Women in more traditional societies do like working, being able to drive, having the ability to make their own choices, and be respected as human beings. However, they do not disassociate that from their values or beliefs. Many in fact feel that their faith strengthens that position. And even in the West, many women have railed against feminism because it is seen not as equality but as substitute of values. Even Malala Yousafzai, the famous Pakistani woman who was shot while standing up for Pakistani women’s’ rights to get an education, was at first hesitant about the subject.
So while it may be small potatoes to us, cultural and historical affiliation with education goes along way to peoples’ willingness to embrace it. And even if they do, it definitely doesn’t mean that they will allow it replace that which they were raised in.
Becoming the Dragon You Fight
Though they maybe fringe elements, the fact is that many religious groups of varying degrees of extremity are getting a louder and more aggressive voice and its upsetting the rest of us. There’s no need to consider your ‘imaginary friend’ when that friend seems to be legitimizing getting people killed or opposing human rights. On the surface, this is understandable. Many people across the world today enjoy the new opportunities and freedoms afforded to us via science and technology. We don’t want that jeopardized or taken away again, regressing back to an era of prejudice, ignorance, and fear that kept us back for so long.
That’s the song and dance we tell ourselves at least: the world has sucked for so long because people didn’t know any better and believed in a beings that can’t even be seen, touched, or heard from unless another human is involved. While many factoids of this position are true, it’s not the whole truth. If anything, this attitude plays into an ignorance all its own by not wanting to get the whole truth.
The other side if the coin is that faith and religion have played instrumental roles in how people saw themselves in the universe, as well as helping to increase science and knowledge. My religion professor in college phrased it best when he said that people struggling to survive from one day to the next would go crazy if they thought that their struggles were the results of random processes. The lack of substance and meaning, even in the horrible things, would have meant that their own lives have no purpose at all. They were nothing but the animals they harvested and domesticated, to live and die in a world that would forget about their existence.
Science was advanced throughout the world during the time of the Muslim empires from the 7th centuries to the infamous Crusades when knowledge of spices, technology, and medicine passed through them to Europe from the East. And if had not been for Christian monks who lived during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Europe would not have remembered their history at all since there was no one to translate and preserve the knowledge of ancient times. The Red Cross were created by religious groups in response to treat the wounded of war.
Some atheists are aware of this affect that religion has had and have offered up their own alternatives to the purpose of life, through natural means. One phrase I have heard often is, “we are all made of stars.” referring to the fact that elements from supernovas are a key ingredient in the formation of star systems and life. However meaningful this alternative is though, it still lacks a presence and a will. There is no substance or soul and it becomes an empty, but fascinating cliché, “hey it isn’t cool that we’re made of star dust?”
Despite many peoples' praise of a less-religious society, according to this report, it is actually on the rise
Beliefs should be called out where they have been used for extreme violence and held back human progress. It is only right in order to do justice to the victims from it. But this doesn’t mean that their accomplishments should be erased away as well. After all, Hitler based a large portion of his persecution of the Jews, Slavs, Gay, and the mentally handicapped populations on scientific reasoning that they were genetically inferior. Still, I have yet to hear of anyone seriously suggesting that we should abandon science and reason.
If people who have no faith continue to belittle the traditions that other people hold dear, then they will further isolate them from the national and global conversation that needs to happen: how do we as a species balance the equality of the pursuit of faith and the pursuit of personal freedoms?
When we isolate ourselves from each other, we won’t get to know each other and other sources will fill in the knowledge gap. This in turn will breed prejudice on both sides, with neither wanting to acknowledge the accomplishments and concerns of the other. And most importantly, both traditional religious and secular humanist/atheists will no longer remain silent while the other tries to advance its agendas. And thus social and global conflict will only be further extended through our own willful ignorance.