AFT Blog # 39: 50 Shades

Fifty Shades of Grey

Jaque Parisien, 2013-01-05

The reference to the erotic novel by E. L. James is not gratuitous although it has nothing to do directly with the subject of this blog. Nevertheless, the eye-catching reference to shades of grey is well suited for the few remarks I am about to make. I feel the need to criticize what seems to me to be a contradiction and also to reiterate what characterizes and distinguishes our association, especially for those of you who have heard me extol its virtues and who might read this blog.

Several groups have emerged on social networks. LPA-AFT was there before the announcement of Bill 60, with the creation of a Facebook group for friends of the association. Some time thereafter, at about the same time as Bill 60 was proposed, we launched our official Facebook page, Lpa-Aft. However, I had the opportunity recently to talk with directors of other pro-Charter Facebook groups and I admit I felt some discomfort, a malaise which – and I must clarify this – had nothing to do with any form of self-censorship or reluctance to express harsh criticism of “Islamo-fascism.” On the contrary, one of the group administrators pointed out that a group member had made remarks which were hateful, racist and xenophobic, going so far as to call for violence against “those” bearded men and veiled women. This was the first time I had read such comments. It was not long before they were unanimously condemned and exclusion of the individual was envisaged. While at first glance some may argue that the Charter exacerbates racist or xenophobic sentiments, could we not consider seriously the idea that these “excesses,” rare as they are, constitute a clumsy outlet for extreme frustration resulting from the implementation of so-called “reasonable” accommodations? If this hypothesis has any merit in your opinion, then the adoption of the Charter becomes all the more imperative, because it will “contain” this overflow of frustration while strengthening state neutrality in religious matters, thereby curbing the “ambitions” of various religious factions, whether they be Islamists, Christians or Jews.

What surprised me however about this incident – and this is perhaps a somewhat biased personal view – was some people’s inability to exercise even a small degree of critical thinking in regard to Christianity. I cannot see the point of denouncing Islamic fundamentalism while holding up our Christian history and traditions and the habits they have ingrained in us as if they were bathed in innocence and purity. At any rate, if we turn our attention towards our southern neighbours, we must admit that there prevails in that country a protean Christianity which leads to variants and imitators even among newcomers to our country. Evangelism, Adventism, Baptism, Mormonism, and the worst of all in my opinion, creationism, all these various tendencies share a common goal: an unconditional submission to the “truths” allegedly revealed by crazed prophets of a by-gone era. Some would argue that they represent a minority, of course, but statistically speaking could we not say the same of the proponents of radical Islam? Can we concede that Muslims are not a monolithic block? Of course, we must at all costs put a brake on Islamic fundamentalism. I do not minimize the risks involved nor the faults of its supporters who, in many countries, support the criminalization of blasphemy, limitations on freedom of expression and implementation of Sharia law. They call for holy war and do not hide their hegemonic intentions. We can all agree that these means and goals deserve our categorical rejection and condemnation. Hence, again, the absolute necessity of a Charter of secularism in our country now, however imperfect it may be.

The reason I joined our association was that its manifesto perfectly met my expectations in this regard, advocating philosophical materialism on the one hand and opposing all monotheisms on the other hand. I emphasize the word “all” as explained above. Furthermore, I recognized the need to affirm my atheism, without embarrassment or inhibition, and to promote the benefits of intellectual and personal empowerment through major advances in science, thus rendering obsolete the need for transcendence and a moral foundation which religions have filled for so long. Indeed, we can now replace them with another kind of transcendence or wonder, thanks to the stunning pictures we now have of infinite space for example, and with a humanistic ethics, to put it succinctly.

Moreover, scientists are the first to admit the limits of their knowledge in the sense that they may never find the answers to all questions. They willingly accept that their hypotheses may be criticized or contradicted, giving birth to new theories which will be widely accepted until they too may be revised and enriched. Darwin’s theory is a perfect example. However, it is difficult to criticize that which we blindly accept: such is the problem which religion poses. The scientific approach is quite the opposite: a scientific theory is by definition open to criticism and that is why science progresses. Religions are immobile and fixed in an archaic past and that is why they stagnate. This flexibility, this scientific openness to intellectual evolution, is reflected in our manifesto: “all knowledge is incomplete and subject to revision.” In my view, atheism is rooted in this fertile soil. Seen in this light, atheism is dressed in grey, so to speak, being neither black nor white, but a sort of dialectic, leading to an atheistic humanism, always in search of knowledge, justice and wonder, but combative, resistant to any attack on freedom and, above all, open to new discoveries; an atheistic humanism capable of strongly criticizing magical thinking in all its forms while remaining tolerant of individuals and their personal choices.

Ultimately, this metaphor of grey as the colour of our cause has several nuances. But I like the idea of a dialectic, because it symbolizes the opposite of fundamentalism. There is no us and them, no good against evil, no such reductionist generalizations. We can say with little risk of error that the various monotheisms, in particular religious fundamentalism, are the source of numerous conflicts in the world. At the same time we can also recognize that believers themselves are all too often the first victims of these conflicts.


  • Atheist Manifesto,
    Declaration of principles of the association Atheist Freethinkers (AFT)

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