Lately, a theistic tactic has been to accuse doubters of bigotry or intolerance of religious people. This is in response to challenges by nonbelievers to the factual basis of religious belief. Back in February, I made this post for www.democraticunderground.com, a liberal message board, in response to that oft repeated claim. I'm posting it here for anyone who is interested.

"Whenever I try to discuss the objective facts of religion, I usually make a few points, read a few points, make a few more, then get labeled a bigot or a "hater" (whatever that means) and the other person stomps away.

"Please explain to me how this is not just an adult version of taking ones ball and going home (minus the ball, of course, since this tactic will not shut me up).

"My criticisms of religion are based on facts (yes, you may feel free to dispute them) and not on prejudices. I am sufficiently well versed in religion and in history to know what I am talking about even if I am not ready to produce a doctoral thesis on the subject. (I have to mention this invariable someone will say I am speaking out of ignorance--not true.) They are directed at IDEAS and not PEOPLE. I do not hate or even disrespect people for being Jews, Hindus, Muslims or even Christians. Nevertheless, I have no respect for any of those sets of ideas. Now, I do hate religious people who do something horrible because of their religion. (On a side note, as a non-Christian, I am perfectly free to hate what I find hateful and to judge the difference between what is good and what is bad.) This is because of the tragedy of the unnecessary and wholly avoidable harm it causes. I do not impugn all Mormons because your church hates gays. I do not blame all Muslims for 9/11. Nevertheless, ignoring the religious causes of many of the world's evils (no, not all of them) is simply dishonest and counter-productive.

"And that is another thing. At best I can only PRETEND to respect those ideas. The idea of pretending to respect and then calling that pretense respect is a purely religious practice to avoid the "sin" of doubt. I know I don't respect them and pretending or trying to do is would be an exercise in dishonesty and self-deception. So why should I SAY I respect those ideas? I know there is no god, so that would be a lie.

"So why am I free to say conservatism is nothing more than institutional selfishness? What makes Creationism fair game? How come I can openly disagree with any idea about anything? Why am I free to say CONSERVATIVE religious ideas are barbaric and ignorant and have bad consequences? But as soon as I say a LIBERAL believer is wrong in his or her opinion about god or that believing those wrong things have negative consequences, suddenly I'm being a "hater?"

"Bigotry and prejudice mean judging PEOPLE (not ideas) based on ignorance or demonstrably false ideas. Rejection of IDEAS themselves cannot be the basis for bigotry. By throwing down the bigot card, you are admitting that 1. your ideas are indefensible and 2. you are an intellectual coward who refuses even to consider any criticism. The only reason people are able to be religious is because of this insulating bubble of unquestioning deference. In short, you are judging ME by YOUR religious standards. And that is religious bigotry.

"If you are perfectly free to spread your religion, and you are and many do, then I am perfectly free to say and to try to persuade others that you are wrong. I have no special duty to shut up. I find that liberal believers retreat behind a blind of mutual acceptance. I say "blind" because it assumes the impossible, that all religious views are valid (except mine, evidently) while refusing to see the impossibility of that. That, I suppose, is the real basis of your objection. You all cannot keep reassuring each other of your mutual acceptance once you realize that AT most only one religion can be right. Admitting that puts you back at square one with the conservative who take it for granted that everyone ELSE is going to hell. Well, I think believers are wrong as a point of fact, I think believing things that are demonstrably false causes people to act in harmful ways with the best of intentions. So, I am going to try to change the minds of as many of you as I can. Rationality is like a ratchet. A person cannot make himself or herself believe in fairy tales once s/he knows the truth. So once someone is comfortable questioning religion, it is highly unlikely she will ever believe again. I think you all know this and that is why you are so quick with the bigot card."

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The people I was running into on liberal, political message boards were not Biblical literalists. They support equality for women, gay marriage, teaching evolution and stem cell research. They were basically saying that anyone who rejects their view of respect for all religion (which necessarily excludes respect for skepticism) is a bigot in the same way that the Nazi hatred of Jews was bigotry.

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