By Naima Washington
When I’m seeking clear political analysis, I don’t depend on others (particularly politicians and/or celebrities) to help me to understand what is going on, but recently I listened with a great deal of annoyance as Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, et al. expressed their dismay about a film made in the US which supposedly insults Mohammed. Both Whoopi and Barbara agreed that the people (Americans) shouldn’t ‘insult other people’s deities,’ (Mohammed). Apparently, being well-informed isn’t necessary in order to have access to millions of television viewers five days a week. In spite of those two uninformed defenders of Islam, the fact is that no Muslim would dare refer to Mohammed as a deity. Neither would a Muslim refer to Jesus as a deity; a prophet, but certainly not God, even if over one billion Christians claim that Jesus is God, which once again demonstrates that ‘respect’ for the religious views of others isn’t a two-way street! Whoopi and Barbara may be surprised to learn that many theists are certain that they are required or otherwise directed by their deities to ‘insult’ rather than respect the deities and beliefs of others. After all, those other beliefs are false, offensive, and displeasing to their own true god! Free thought, free speech, and free inquiry have no place among the great religions of the world.
The pastor in Florida would be the first to say that he has no duty to respect the false beliefs of others and that his deity instructs him to condemn/insult/offend all other believers including Muslims. Our Constitution gives him the right to condemn/insult/offend other points of view. But, according to author and publisher H.L. Mencken, “The meaning of religious freedom…is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion.…even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities…to argue for them…to teach them to his children…provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force…he has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred…”
In the 21st century, what we continue to see are many theists—religious authorities as well as individuals—demanding the right to practice their religions, to be free from government control, and to be immune from public opinion as well. Some theists also think that they have the right to not only argue for their religious beliefs but to also inflict them on others by force as well as to persecute those who disagree with them along with those who may be insufficiently devout. That’s a lot of power to wield over other human beings! Religious terrorism (whether carried out by individuals, religious establishments and/or state-sponsored armies) is always directed not at false beliefs and/or false gods, but towards people: women and children; members of rival religious groups; journalists, artists, and musicians whose works fails to support the views of the religious terrorists; etc.
I hope Whoopi and Barbara use their television platform to relentlessly condemn religious terrorism whether foreign or homegrown. I hope that they will condemn terrorists who burn any private home as well as a house of worship. I hope that they will demand justice for women anywhere in the world who demand their human rights only to be kidnapped, raped, and murdered. And I also hope that they will condemn the growing numbers of innocent people who are arbitrarily persecuted by religious terrorists, such as the young non-Muslim girl who was imprisoned after being falsely accused of destroying pages of the Koran. Whether they are in the East or West, religious terrorists aren’t interested in those who believe in so-called higher powers (those who are ‘spiritual, centered, or at one with Nature, in-tune with the cosmos,’ etc. Religious terrorists) just like state-sponsored terrorists (although they may be one and the same) are only interested in unquestioned obedience to the deity and beliefs that they espouse.
The world continues to become an even more dangerous place when those who ought to know better cannot bring themselves to condemn mob violence simply because it is wrapped in religious dogma. At the same time, all too often, the hungry, unemployed, and oppressed citizens who lack social, economic, and political empowerment can be coerced to take to the streets as their political rulers encourage them to direct their rage at external forces. These frustrated citizens can also be encouraged to take out their pent-up anger on the nonbelievers, tourists, foreigners, and heretics within their borders while their incompetent, corrupt, and oppressive rulers go unchallenged. At the end of the day, after the fires have burned out, when the streets are littered with bodies and all that remains is the wreckage of another city or town, there is still hunger, unemployment, poverty, and oppression along with perennial economic, social, and political disenfranchisement. Furthermore, at the end of the day, those who have created, profited from, and/or maintained the status quo remain in power.
We continue to be assured that acts of religious terrorism do not represent the sacred essence of the great religions of the world. After every social upheaval, murder and atrocity we continue to hear from nearly every quarter that these senseless acts are the work of a small, insignificant minority. When there are bloodlettings, stonings, bombings of women’s clinics, schools, and private homes; brutal beatings; gang rapes; kidnappings and murders, where are those who represent the true sacred essence of these great religions of the world? Why can’t the civilized majority of religious adherents, those who supposedly represent peaceful religious beliefs, take to the airwaves to issue unambiguous condemnations of those calling for blood? Why aren’t they demanding justice for those who have been wronged? Why don’t those who claim to represent the truly compassionate side of religious belief fill the streets and sidewalks of towns and cities by the millions? Why aren’t their voices drowning out the voices of those who are calling for blood? If they supposedly outnumber this tiny minority, why hasn’t this religious silent majority taken center stage and faced-down that tiny, vocal, murderous minority once and for all?
Most theists seem to insist on only believing in those deities which are utterly incapable of defending themselves! Their gods always seem to need the efforts of human beings to think, speak, and act on behalf of their gods. There is a wall poster which says, “Don’t make me come down there!” Supposedly, this threat is issued by a god who is unhappy with the behavior of human beings. Considering all of the injustice, inhumanity, and suffering that is endured by people and often inflicted in the names of the gods, I can’t help but wonder as to just what it would take to make a god come down here. What does it take to make him come down here and end all of the confusion about his existence; all of the misunderstandings about exactly what, if anything, he could possibly want from human beings. What is it that needs to be done in order for him to come down here and defend himself against those who have dared to disobey, insult or disrespect him; what does it take to get him to do his own raping, killing, and otherwise clean up his own mess? I don’t particularly care if someone believes in one god, many gods, or no gods. That’s not my business. But, I’d like to see human beings step back and leave to the gods all of those monumental tasks which can only be accomplished by the gods.
Human beings can begin to perfect their own work, and we can begin by addressing the threat of global annihilation by dismantling all weapons of mass destruction in our own backyards. The cost of only storing them is outrageous and is money that can be used to the benefit as opposed to the destruction of human beings. We can take on the task of preventing and curing many more illnesses; ensuring that no one ever has to beg for food. Access to food must become not only a universal human right but all people must actually have access to food. We need to make sure that everyone has access to clean water and gets to live in a sanitary environment. We must address both local and global environmental issues. We can house the homeless, renew infrastructures, and create mass transportation systems. We can build more schools and provide quality education; build more hospitals, playgrounds, parks and recreational centers; support the arts; build more theatres and concert halls. We can aim high by addressing alcohol and drug addiction; mental illness; and see to it that the end of life is dignified and compassionate for everyone. We can aim to assure that every woman, man, and child is free from acts of domestic, religious, and/or state-sponsored violence.
Until and unless the human race begins to address the problems that we face it is guaranteed that the theists of the world who claim to be the righteous representatives of peaceful deities will continue to expect and accept all of the privileges and well as the immunity that comes with religious belief just as these privileges and immunity will continued to be exercised by their so-called less tolerant, more devote, and ultimately more violent co-believers. But it is up to human beings, and not the gods to create civilizations worthy of the name.
Naima Washington is on the board of the Washington Area Secular Humanists and publishes the D.C. Atheist Advocate.