As a semi-vocal atheist I tend to post links, articles and stories about some of the horrible things that happen in religious circles to a variety of online social sites. On those sites I have contact with both believers and non-believers. Most of the time the discussion around the posts is quite interesting and in many ways positive, but not all of the time.
One of the most frequent comments that I get from believers who are attempting to defend their religion is:
Those people [in said article/story] are not true <Catholics/Christians/Muslims/etc>. Those of us who are would never do <horrendous act in the name of said religion/deity>.
I think ...
I would like to make clear my reasons for these views in the hope that believers will start being more vocal and actively speaking out against people who are part of the same religion.
Despite your claim, you are in fact no different to those people you are attempting to distance yourself from. It is simply not a sound enough argument to say that those in your church are not of the same mould. From the perspective of the outsider you are all the same. I believe that this perception is spot on. You are the same, the only difference between you is that one chooses to be more extreme in their interpretation of the religious doctrine, while the other does not. This is not a big enough difference to allow for a complete separation.
It's still the same religion. The same doctrine. The same bullshit. Just because you don't (yet) follow it and live it to the same extent as the extremists it doesn't mean you get a free ticket to non-scrutiny. Nor does it mean that your religion is good, true or should be taken seriously by those of us who don't share your belief. It's not a get-out-jail-free card. If you took this stance and applied it to something outside of religion, you'd come to the same conclusion.
Passively separating yourself from your follow believers by stating they're different to you doesn't do you or your religion any favours. If anything, implying that your religion isn't united makes it even more difficult to take seriously.
Believers who associate themselves with religions -- particularly those often known to be bigoted and violent -- hardly ever speak up about it. People all over the world suffer unmentionable horror as a result of extremists pursuing their religious views, yet a large percentage of those associated with that religion remain silent. They don't speak out against it. They don't publicly denounce it. They avoid talking about it. They let it lie despite knowing that other people are doing awful things in the name of their faith. They keep their heads firmly in the sand. The only time any form of derision is directed towards these actions is when someone else (usually a non-believer) indicates some form of distaste in a public forum, resulting in the believers turning defensive.
To those believers I say this is simply not good enough. It is clear that your reaction is due to you feeling embarrassed at the association and that you have kicked into damage-control mode. If you don't agree with what is being done in the name of your very own religion then stand up and do something about it. Those of you who follow the same faith are in a much stronger position to prevent the extremists than those of different faiths, let alone those with no faith at all. Sitting idle and letting this kind of behaviour continue does nothing to further the position of religion (quite the opposite in fact) and only serves to make you and people like you appear as apathetic morons with no moral grounding. It's yet another example of you choosing the parts of your religion that you're willing to live by, and ignoring those that are actually important.
If I were to hear of or see a non-believer or agnostic performing any act that I consider to be immoral I would not sit quietly and watch things unfold. I would not dismiss the issue by stating "that person isn't a true atheist". I would be actively denouncing their actions. I would be posting publicly at the shame that I would feel that someone who is a free-thinker could act in such a manner. I would do this immediately after finding out about it. I certainly wouldn't wait for a religious zealot to attack atheism before I took action. I would make a point that the actions of the individual are not inline with my moral views and that I stand behind anyone who denounces the acts as well.
Just because you live your life as a religious serf it doesn't mean you should also be a serf to others who share your beliefs. Stop hiding behind your religious shroud. Stand up and be heard. Demonstrate to people that you refuse to condone these actions.
If enough of you do it, who knows what kind of impact it could have? Your brethren may even listen ...