Can you imagine that in the wake of racially-motivated killings staging events aimed as celebrating the ideology that fed those killings? This instead of condemning the beliefs that motivated the violence? There’s a lot of that sort of thing going on around the country, only these events are celebrating the ideology that feeds religious-motivated killings. The events masquerade under the guise of promoting “religious tolerance,” falsely drawing an equivalency between ideology and skin color – when the real comparison is between religion and racism.  

It is well worth remembering that, unlike skin color, which persons are born with, religion is an exclusive ideology and a practice that is taught to persons, typically without their consent. Like fascism, nationalism, and racism, religion is a system of myths and rituals the purpose and function of which is to either divide people into the groups “us” and “them” or force everybody under irrational doctrine. Moreover, as we have seen, like other systems of an exclusive character, religion has inflicted and continues to inflict great harm upon human populations.

Examples of benevolence notwithstanding, the harmful behavior of the institution of religion as a whole and of a significant proportion of its adherents tells us that there is reason we should neither accept nor tolerate religious belief and practice in the same way we accept and tolerate skin color. It is not irrational for a person to question the motives and judgment of those who are adherents to a particular ideology. How did we allow this idea to shape our response to the problems religion causes?

If parents, believing that prayer will save their children from a life-threatening illness, fail to take their child to a physician, do we ignore the fact that their belief in supernatural forces played a crucial role in their actions? Such beliefs are not benevolent. Likewise, if two brothers blow up a crowd of people at a sporting event because they believe their god commands it, must we ignore the self-evident fact that their belief in supernatural forces played a role in their actions? We do so at our peril. 

Religion, like other exclusive ideologies and practices, is a serious threat to the freedom and safety of people. If we want to reduce the likelihood that persons will do terrible things to other people, then we need to push religion to the dark corners of society in the same way that we have taught people to reject fascism and racism. To be sure, we are still fighting the good fight against these other hateful ideologies, but the problem is much less severe and, crucially, nobody celebrates these ideologies. 

A bigot is somebody who expresses intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself. Religious bigotry is the expression or practice of intolerance towards those who hold different religious opinions from oneself. Atheists don’t hold religious opinions, therefore the intolerance of the religious opinions of others is not an example of religious bigotry. In fact, atheism isn’t an opinion at all, but rather the absence of opinion, and rigidly adhering to ones commitment to not believe in the unbelievable is not the same thing as rigidly adhering to one’s zealous commitment to a given belief. Atheists can’t be bigots. Anti-theism is opposition to theological wickedness. 

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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