AFT Blog # 46: To Be Anti-religious

What does it mean to be anti-religious?

Pierre-Réal Gosselin, 2014-07-15

The declaration of principles of the association Atheist Freethinkers asserts that:

We are anti-theist, anti-deist and anti-religious. We are convinced that the free expression of ideas is necessary. To criticize religions is not only a right, but a necessity. Of all supernatural or paranormal beliefs which infect human thought, the various theisms are among the most widespread and the most dangerous. We do not limit our criticism to fundamentalists or extremists. We also criticize religious tendencies considered “moderate” or “liberal”. All supernatural beliefs are irrational, whether they are considered “moderate” or “fundamentalist”. All forms of religion have in common moral arrogance, the arbitrary nature of their supernatural beliefs, and a pernicious attachment to religious authority and tradition at the expense of reason..

Note: For a clear and accurate understanding of what is being discussed here, we strongly suggest that the reader consult the definitions of the following terms: Theism[1], Deism[2], Religion[3].

So what does it mean to be anti-religious?

At first sight, to be anti-religious seems to mean excluding and repressing anything that involves religion or those who believe in or practice a religion. In fact this is not the case because for one thing the word means a personal stance, an inner awareness, a worldview with respect to religious phenomena. It results from a thorough analysis of the history of ideas and concepts linking humanity and nature.

Humans have always sought explanations for their misfortunes and sufferings instead of their happiness. Seeing themselves bound by nature and submitted to its vagaries, they build a romantic worldview which gives them a satisfactory view of the organization of the universe and their role within it. They imagine a world built according to their own social obligations. In order to tame the wrath of the elements governing that world, they force themselves to obey rites and obligations which they consider necessary. This is how the gods were born. The relationships of those gods with humans constitute the basis of religions. Since the first populations were small and spread sparsely over the planet, many gods and religions were created. The subsequent growth of those populations, their displacements and their mutual interactions created cultural shocks forcing the disappearance of pantheisms and polytheisms, paving the way for monotheisms. Currently the majority of the world’s population follows one of the three great monotheisms. Born from simplistic beliefs, religions refined their thought using philosophy and thus giving birth to theologies. Although better structured, theologies still keep old and arbitrary mythological elements. That is why they suffer from internal contradictions and are in direct conflict with, indeed in full opposition to, modern knowledge of nature.

For various emotional, cultural, environmental and social reasons, education and knowledge vary greatly among the world’s peoples. Not everyone has the same ability to confront religious allegations, to analyze their pretensions or to repudiate one’s religious milieu and face the ostracism and even the lethal threats that too often accompany it. Being insufficiently knowledgeable, the majority is kept in the dark, is easily recruited by the system and remains easily manipulated by religious authorities. Over time, religions have become fragmented as a result of internal crises or schisms. This has led to the birth of various new religions which are in fact merely variations on the original theme. Today there is a plethora of beliefs and religions which offer a variety of answers to the question of being.

The XVIth century marked a change in the evolution of ideas. The cause was a social revolution induced by intolerable suffering, inequalities and generalized corruption at all levels of power. This was a time when thinkers conceived of humanistic principles. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment gave rise to new thoughts on nature and on humanity. From them sprang the scientific method which now floods the world with an ever increasing compendium of knowledge. Now humanity has at its disposal all it needs to challenge past ideas and to realize that the religious paradigm is totally disconnected from reality.

Atheists now know beyond all reasonable doubt that the myths, beliefs, rituals, prohibitions and obligations upon which religions are founded are aberrant, absurd, abnormal, anachronistic, archaic and mind-crippling. And yet even today, nearly all of humanity still holds onto their errors. In this context, the atheist worldview is in a total opposition to religious, mythological, theocratic and supernatural thinking. It is in this sense that the atheist can be said to be anti-religious.

One of the fundamental principles of our society is freedom of thought which is protected by various human rights codes, even if some restrictions apply to particular subjects. All members of society have the same right to decide the behaviour and attitudes which they wish to adopt. All must agree to treat others with mutual respect; otherwise anarchy reigns. Those who adopt a particular worldview, whatever it might be, are free to submit to and obey the laws and rules of the system they have chosen. However those who have not adopted it cannot be subjected to those rules and laws which have no validity for them. Those rules and laws cannot in any way obligate or affect anyone who is outside such a system. Clearly, no one has the right to force his or her imperatives onto others.

In the case of religion, those who choose to obey rules based upon myths may disapprove of the actions or words of others because they consider them to be an infringement of those laws and thus subject to punishment. For example, blasphemy and sacrilege are perceived as reprehensible acts only by religious believers. As a reaction to such perceptions, no retaliation, no subsequent action based upon religious or mythic law must be allowed to infringe upon fundamental human rights. No one may encourage violence or hatred as this is behaviour that threatens public order. All behaviour must be in accordance with law and public order, meaning that it must respect persons and private property. No one may impose justice by himself or herself. And it is pure intellectual dishonesty to claim supernatural motives in order to justify such action. There is no justification whatsoever for inferring that criticism of religion or of mythology is a manifestation of discrimination, racism or xenophobia.

Summing up, to be anti-religious is not a defect or a fault, nor is it an infringement of the law, nor is it hatred or animosity. Rather, it is simply the expression of a different concept of being. It is to be consistent with knowledge of the world and aware that religions are errors of the past that must not be perpetuated. This worldview is totally in opposition to religious views so that it can be said that an atheist is necessarily anti-religious. And to proclaim it assertively in the public sphere is to use one’s freedom of thought and one’s freedom of expression publicly.

Thus, it is our goal to counter all that is religious and associated with religions, to do so firmly but without falling into the trap of dividing the world according to a binary vision of good and evil which invariably leads to intolerance and rejection of the other. We promote a principle of equity and fairness for all, that is to say that no person or group whatsoever should receive benefits based on religious premises. We want to ensure that the state and public institutions neither recognize any religious status nor assign any value to such status. It is our goal that at all times, in all places and at all occasions, decisions, actions and laws enacted by the state and applied in public institutions be entirely and exclusively based on principles which exclude religious considerations. We promote the principle that justice be applied equally to all without constraint or exception, based on these principles of equity and fairness. It is our desire to appeal to the intelligence of all, to educate people and to reverse the damage done by obscurantism through political action or through any other legitimate means.


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