I am beginning to feel bad about the steady stream of Western slurs and ridicule directed at faithful members of a noble religion observed by an estimated 1.6 billion individuals making up almost a quarter of the world’s population. Here’s an example that arrived in my inbox just before Halloween:
Perhaps I should feel guilty for thinking this is funny or for saying that it makes an important point, one which is too obvious to elaborate. Maybe Western liberals who condemn “Islamophobia” are right: Maybe we in the reality-based community should question our own sense of moral and intellectual superiority and accept that Muslims are autonomous individuals, independent thinkers who have adopted their fervent belief in Islam of their own free will after due consideration and without coercion. Look at it from a religious, free-will perspective: They have freely chosen, and continue to choose, to submit to the authority of the word of Allah in all aspects of their lives. (Please disregard the fact that virtually no one in, say, Saudi Arabia, or even Pakistan, is, say, a Roman Catholic or, say, a declared atheist or agnostic. That is most likely just a statistical anomaly. After all, I’m sure you’ll agree that the existence of free will is a given that trumps mere empirical data: we all know, both a priori and based on scripture, that there is such a thing as free will. End of discussion.)
So who are we to ridicule the individual choices of 1.6 billion people? Or for that matter the enlightened cultures that offer them such a wide array of lifestyle choices? If leaders of a great religion or a great Islamic nation prescribe the death penalty for apostasy or issue fatwas placing bounties on the heads of novelists, cartoonists and filmmakers in Western nations, who are we to judge them? That’s their culture, supported by the free, uncoerced choices of large majorities of individual citizens, and therefore all true liberals should respect it. And in the same spirit of tolerance, perhaps we should rethink our condemnation of honor killings, female genital mutilation, restrictions on women’s educational opportunities, requiring women to wear full-body sacks with eye slits, etc. Bottom line: We scientific skeptics/atheists/freethinkers should be more open-minded and desist from denunciations and ridicule. Lest we be accused of cultural bigotry or even the crime of Islamophobia, along with the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, et al.
I’m sure you’ll also agree that Americans would never impose their religious beliefs on anyone, as some Muslims are inclined to do. It’s understandable that they would have that impulse. After all, religion is a necessary force for virtue, and the lack of religion (agnosticism, atheism) does not have moral standing. That’s an a priori/scriptural truth, too.
But at this point, I’m still a confused atheist. Can someone straighten me out on all this? Start by explaining why I should respect religion? Or if not all religions, which one(s)? Oh yeah, and why?
In the meantime, I think I’ll continue, in the spirit of Perry Street Palace, to enjoy the mockery. Frankly, I laughed my ass off at the “Halloween Costumes.” But when I stopped laughing, I remembered it was not only funny, but tragic, just like this one, titled Breakthrough in Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia.