Is secular democracy possible where diversity isn't tolerable?

How do you "eradicate" religion without eradicating the religious?

How do you "eradicate" spirituality without eradicating the spiritual?

13 thoughts on “Questions for Angry Atheists

  1. I think the real issue is one of being able to relate to difference. The Western mindset ofen operates in terms of duality – right vs left, religious vs secular, science vs religion etc. It is a strange paradox that the Western concept of tolerance is so narrowly defined in terms of secularism and therefore automatically on the other side of the fence to religion.
    To be fair, religion has a pretty poor record when it comes to tolerance. But this is more a reflection of human failure to apply core religious values. After all, if god is love then we need to practice love. And if, as Jesus says, we don’t get any brownie points for loving the people who are just like us then we need to start practicing loving the people who are different and whom we disagree with.
    The problem with angry atheists is that they are (a) so convinced of their own rightness that they don’t listen, and (b) terrified of the intolerant religious fanatic of their imaginations. We can’t do much about the first, but we might be able to do something about the second.

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  2. Well, as more of a holist myself I wouldn’t define the west as universally dualistic but I agree that popular conceptions of “tollerance” can be very ironically intollerant when it comes to some of these issues.
    What I find annoying, amusing and above all, ironic, are atheist charges that religion breeds intollerance and war and persecution when some of the most genocidal regimes in all history have been atheist, and that furthermore, that we can’t tollerate religion if we want to create a tollerant society. Huh? I find myself scratching my head at the irrational reasoning of many of these so-called “rationalists”. Even more amusing is when they get fixated on notions that disproving Christianity will some how kill off religion. Hello! We live in a pluralistic society!
    I get the impression that many of these newer breed of militant atheist long for the simpler days when it was just a polemical argument between two positions. Pluralism is proving just as problematic to them as is to Christians. And just as fundamentalist Christians emerged from Christianity we are now seeing fundamentalist Atheists emerge from atheism. In a funny kind of way they seem to want a strong fundamentalist Christianity to fight against. It gives them purpose. Contending with society in all its pluralism is something that, from my conversations with some, seems too paradigm shifting to contemplate.

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  3. Secular democracy is indeed not possible where diversity isn’t tolerable. Though the anti-religious attitudes of so called “angry” atheists are taken to the extreme, it is true that a Christian or a Muslim, if true to the word of his or her religion, must be intolerant of the alleged “heretics”. It is a wonder how a religious person could proclaim to respect and care about the rights of others during the short life on this earth when they would believe that others will suffer under an eternity punishment in some sort of hell/purgatory. Therefore it must follow that these two major religions cannot be a part of secular democracy if that democracy is to be truly secular. Where religion inflicts on secular rights, as the Bible and the Koran would advocate, they are intolerable not because of their diversity but because of their intolerance of religious diversity.
    Religion and/or spirituality itself need not be eradicated so long as the secular rights of others are in no threat of being infringed upon. Sadly, such a threat does exist in most of the major religions of our past and present.

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  4. Anders, I don’t quite follow your logic there. You seem to be acknowledging secular democracy is impossible where diversity isn’t tolerable or the one hand, then saying Christianity and Islam can’t be tolerated by secular democracies on the other. That seems self contradictory to me.

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  5. Matt: Well, a structured society with laws and such cannot be “tolerable” of everything. In fact any moral or legal system requires some level of “intolerance”. So, yes, reality cannot be entirely free of self-contradiction at times. But please do not try to refute the fact that the separation of religion and state is a necessity in a secular democracy. The very definition of secular is “of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred” (see dictionary.com). It seems your alleged “secular” democracy is at least no less self-contradictory than you claim I was.
    Also, I’d like to point out that any democracy, or government of popular majority rule, cannot be truly secular if the religion is involved because those voters will make decisions with their faith in mind, decisions that will become governable law. Note how in America gay rights, private stem cell research rights, and abortion rights, are all disallowed because and only because of the religiosity of the popular majority. I see this as a religious infringement of secular matters, denying the rights of others on a strictly intolerant basis. Is it not the very intolerance of the beliefs of others, which you proclaim to be against when directed towards your own beliefs, that steal the secular rights of the people through the intolerance of religion?
    Anyways, I do not mean to offend you in any way. Thanks for letting me share my ideas, and I’d love if you’d continue this discussion by responding.

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  6. No offense taken. I think this is an important discussion.
    And I think would clarify matters a great deal if we could move beyond discussion of religion vs irreligion to speak of a plurality of worldviews. Everyone has a worldview, whether they be religious of irreligious. Some worldviews incorporate a personal God, some incorporate a plurality of gods, some have no God as such but speak of a sacred dimension to reality, some deny the sacred altogether. And even of those worldviews that are properly irreligious there are multiple forms.
    A truly secular democracy is one that doesn’t pick winners. A system that requires its populous accept ideological atheism is just as much a threat to secular democracy as a Christian or Islamic theocracy.
    But it strikes me you are preferencing a particular option here, more than I would myself. I am wondering if you see the ironies in that.
    You see I am a Christian that whole heatedly embraces the separation of church and state. I think the conflation of church and state which happened under Christendom not only compromised the state, it also compromised the church. Christianity should be adopted on a voluntary basis or not at all; anything else threatens the integrity of the gospel. And following from that I wholeheartedly embrace a democratic system that does not preference any winners, but that extends to non preferencing of irreligious ideologies as much as religious theologies. That is truly democratic.
    But separation of church and state does not preclude my religious values having an influence on my politics. It is rediculous in my mind to suggest a persons worldview should not impact on their political views. I would not expect an atheist’s worldview to not impact his political views. I don’t see how Christians could be expected to behave any different.
    But beyond that, even if you disagree with me, what would you do about it? Would you campaign for Christians to be excluded from voting, from participating in the democratic process? Just because they refuse to give up their faith?

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  7. Or to put that more succinctly, what I am trying to establish is whether you are truly for democracy, and we just have some worldview differences to work through, or whether I should more accurately understood your position as an argument for atheocracy over theocracy.
    While you claim to be representing the former, you sound like you are representing the latter.
    For me the key issue is, would you advocate voting be denied to anyone? Does your position that “two major religions cannot be a part of secular democracy” extend to that.

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  8. Of course I would not force anything in the way of religion or “irreligion” on anyone, as this is a key tenet of my logic.
    But once again, theoretically, you cannot speak of a truly secular government of true democratic rule with true religion in the picture.
    I do not even feel that I need to defend this conclusion any further, as I know that you will probably need to counter my atheistic logic no matter how reasonable it might be, and I will probably have to refute no matter how reasonable your response, seeing as it is rare that either side in any debate will concede to the other’s reasoning. Anyhow, here I go…I’ll give you all the logic I can muster. Read it all carefully. You’ll need to defend yourself well if you care for my chances of avoiding an eternity of an afterlife in the fires of your hell.
    Would you accept the notion that theoretical democracy, whether or not America’s current system implements it, means that the power of government lies directly in the hands of the popular majority, and therefore reflects the will of the most common citizen in any electing societal body?
    I will presume you would roughly accept this definition. Therefore, would it not follow that whatever the beliefs of the common citizen, no matter how extreme, biased, selfish, greedy, crude, inhumane, or religiously-motivated, would naturally become governable law? Take slavery for example. If the half of the country thought it no breach of morality, whether because of ethnocentrism, religiocentrism, nationalism, or any other delusional form of irrational egotism, then this was deemed to be law, and therefore thought to know and to keep justice.
    If the pope or televangelists at any point in the future wanted to amp up their propaganda campaign against gays and lesbians so as to provoke some sort of modern crusade-esque holocaust, is it not possible that people would be convinced and vote in their cute little democracies according to the words of their god’s holiest minions?
    Can you really say that slavery or another holocaust is secular? Perhaps it was “of the state,” but was it not motivated by ignorance, injustice, and intolerance akin to that which is espoused all throughout the Bible, the Koran, and the other segregating, intolerant manifestos that religion provides us?
    How can a society simultaneously be both religious and politically correct? For instance, is it not a sin for a true Christian to allow some children in public schools to not pray and not be converted? Are you not condemning them to your hell by not forcing them with state mandate to become a good Christian and avoid hell? Why give anyone of another faith a halfway decent time on earth when this eighty years of peace is infinitesimal when compared to the eternity that your best buddy God, being the jerk that his own words say he is in the Bible, will go ahead an let their eternal souls be fucked forever and ever and ever and ever and ever?
    Can the state, which you admit should without a doubt be separate from religion, really listen at any of to the opinions of the voters, if those voters truly believe that earth doesn’t matter and that whatever they do they’ll go to heaven if they pretend and trick themselves into thinking they have true faith?
    Whatever, man. I’m not writing so well today. Thanks for being willing to listen to my heathen self. The world needs more halfway reasonable people as you seem to be.

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  9. But to answer your question, I think that true secular democracy is only possible once religion is abandoned. I think that liberal humanistic atheists like myself need to continue to discuss these topics with others until religion dissolves. Until then, the constitutions and the bills of rights around the world will hopefully prevent any disasters, and no votes need to be confiscated from anyone. If there is threat of a disaster, then I do admit that some action would need be taken, but rebellion for revolution is not usually bad…for example, I’m assuming your a-okay with that one liberal revolution that America once had against Britain, which the conservatives of the day would have thought wrong.
    Anyhow, eventually, no religion is the only hope for lasting peace in this world. In a secular, humanistic democracy, theocracy just won’t cut it (it’ll only cut heads off). So if anyone is actually for a true secular democracy, then they must prefer “atheocracy” over theocracy as I would.

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  10. You say “true secular democracy is only possible once religion is abandoned” but it seems to me that (1) you are confusing secularity with atheism, that (2) what you are advocating would more accurately be called “atheistic democracy” than “secular democracy” even though the two are not self exclusive, that (3) such an atheist democracy as you propose is pie in the sky anyway, as atheism has never captured more than a fraction of the popular imagination in countries where freedom of belief reigns, and (4) we are back to the issue of how could state atheocracy ever be better than state theocracy when both would need to be achieved by the same methods.
    Atheocracy and theocracy are EQUALLY contrary to democracy because both REQUIRE a degree of totalitarianism, both REQUIRE that beliefs be controlled, because where beliefs are free you will always have diversity.
    The only nations on earth which have instituted atheism in the way you speak of have been amongst the most violent in all world history. I fail to see how that is a more enlightened path. Far from being “the only hope for lasting peace” the record has shown its done an even worse job.
    The proof of the warlike nature of atheocracy is contained in your own admission that violent revolution is sometimes necessary.
    As for the American Revolution, I am an Aussie, and we prefer to kick the Brit’s ass in cricket over resorting to violence. Hah! But to be serious, I really don’t have an opinion on the American Revolution as it’s not particularly significant to our history here in Australia, our relationship with Britain was always rather different.

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  11. Out of curiosity, Matt, where is this connection between ultra-violence and atheism? I just prefer evidence linked to phrases proclaimed as fact before I take them seriously. Thanks.

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  12. I think you are misconstruing the point D.C. To the charge that religion is inherently violent I am saying, show me an irreligious nation that has done better. My actual contention is that violence is endemic within human societies, irrespective of whether they are religious or irreligious, all are fallen. Yes the world has seen inquisitors, but its also see Stalins and Maos. So where is your evidence that it is otherwise? The onus is on you to prove you are serious.

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