"My only wish is ... to transform friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, devotees of prayer into devotees of work, candidates for the hereafter into students of the world, Christians, who by their own admission, are 'half animal, half angel' into persons, into whole persons." - Ludwig Feuerbach

Freethinkers are often asked, "Why do you spend so much time arguing about religion when you don't believe in it?". Here are two answers:


1. Many freethinkers believe that some religions are inherently harmful to humanity, and that just as believers have a right to express their views on religion, freethinkers have a right, and sometimes even a moral responsibility, to let their views be heard. Here are some examples of how religion is harmful: Religion often encourages bigotry, hatred and intolerance; it often prevents rational discussion of important issues such as abortion and euthanasia; it has inspired many wars and continues to make peace very difficult to achieve in such places as Northern Ireland and the Middle East; it often inspires religious zealots to commit acts of terrorism; it often tends to destroy its believers' sense of personal responsibility; and it is often mentally and emotionally unhealthy. Of course, religion is not all bad, but we still have an obligation to speak out against the aspects of religion that are harmful.

"Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific cooperation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion." - Bertrand Russell


2. Sometimes freethinkers are compelled to speak out in order to protect themselves from aggressive religionists. Here in the USA, there is a small but politically powerful group of religiously bigoted theists who are trying to use the power of the government to force nontheists and theists of different religions to follow the dictates of their superstition. Not only do they want to secure special rights for themselves, but they want to make sure that religious minorities and other groups, such as homosexuals, don't get the legal protection that everyone in this country is entitled to have. As a blatant example of this religious bigotry, consider the following quote from a US president:

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." - George Bush, Sr.

Freethinkers have a responsibility to speak out against these bigots.

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the reason i speak out isn't to change the world.. because anything i say has been said and probably a whole lot more eloquently (as you've done)

the reason i speak out is much smaller... she stands about 3 feet off the ground.. :)

I tend to think of case one as "evangelical atheism" and it can become anti-theistic at times.  Tone is important when preaching the real good news though.  Even though we can be angry about such things, it's sometimes not wise to show that anger.

Case two is where a little bit of obvious anger is understandable by the crowd we are trying to win onto our side, we are claiming to be aggressed upon.

PS don't get me wrong--anger is justified.  I am saying that showing it may not always be wise.

Who gets to define 'harmful to humanity?' And what is their criteria? If everything is material, there is no such a thing as "harmful." There is only "is."

Harmful means injurious to your life.  In order to keep on living you must take action to sustain your life.  Religion often prevents this or makes you take the wrong actions.

Harm DOES exist in a purely natural world; I can't quite see how you can assume that it doesn't.  Do you think it only exists in some ethereal plane?  Or are you over-tight on your definition of "material"?

I suspect you are religious?

It's not about who gets to 'define' 'harmful to humanity' it is the impact of any given definition on any particular group. Something that exists 'materially' cannot be harmed...please explain.

[edit]

Lawrence Krauss reminded me.

I cannot cite the words.

  1. SUBMIT!
  2. ON YOUR KNEES! An almost indefensible posture, you will not fight back;
  3. HEADS DOWN! Eyes closed, gaze averted you will not meet the masters eye;
  4. PRESENT YOUR SHACKLED HANDS!
  5. THE HAND OF GOD IS PUNISHMENT!
  6. OBEY! OBEY!, OBEY!...

I easily imagine the priests, mullahs and minions walking the 'line'.

I bother because I despise the oppressors and love the oppressed.

I cry for revolution

get off your knees

imagined shackles leave behind

and stare them in the eye 

THEY HAVE NO FUCKIN' RIGHT!

+1

If noGod had meant for us to spend time kneeling in prayer he wouldn't have given us feet.

Correction, it was Dan Baker...h/t Chrys Stevenson

All very good points. When theists ask on Answers why atheists bother to talk about religion when they don't believe in gods (as if lack of belief equals lack of concern) I paste this.

Its different for each religion but if we take Christianity we have
the long and bloody history of the inquisition and crusades and the
more recent troubles in Northern Ireland and the horrors happening
right now amongst African communities where children are tortured to
death for being witches or being possessed. In America there are so
many fundamentalists who truly believe their god will torture all
non-christians for eternity but worship him anyway. That's the same
mentality which allowed Germans to turn a blind eye to the
concentration camps and there are millions of people with that
mentality in the most powerful country in the world! In my own
country, England, we have christian teaching in schools - my own
daughter was told at 5 that god drowned nearly everyone, turned rivers
into blood and killed all the first born sons, that he still exists
and should actually be worshipped despite this. We also have 26
bishops in the House of Lords.

I blogged on this topic today.  I gave 10 reasons why I feel the need to speak out.  You can read them at http://reason-being.com/index.php/2012/04/16/cant-you-atheists-keep...  The basic gist of it is that I cannot sit by quietly while religions are threatening to many parts of our society.  Great discussion---It is a topic that is well worth the attention that it is receiving.

Russell was brilliant in his clarity and directness as a writer. He could untangle the knots of religious idiocy with a rarely matched intellectual honesty. The following is an example from a 1927 lecture:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. The whole conception of god is derived from the Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages.

A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

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