Someone recently posted a link to this video on a local atheist email list I’m on, and it sparked quite the discussion. It’s not so much the video which did, but opinions of members sparked tangential discussions. Two comments that I found in my email box this morning I felt really required my responses. Below are the comments and my responses.
“Aggressive” can mean various things, positive or negative, but “intolerant”? How can that possibly be considered positive behavior?
We’re intolerant of murder, rape, child abuse, theft, and certainly discrimination based on such things as race, religion, gender, age and sexual orientation. Is that not a positive behavior? Essentially, we are and rightly should be intolerant of anything which causes harm. Now I’m of the opinion that indulging in religion is harmful, but like any vice such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs, it’s an individual’s right to harm themselves if they so choice, but when that indulgence harms or threatens to harm others, then we should be intolerant of that. We’re intolerant of drinking and driving. We’re intolerant of smoking in public places. We should also be intolerant of those who would deprive their children medical care and others a proper education due to religion use. We should be intolerant of religion used to block scientific research and denying certain Americans equal rights. We should be intolerant of religious use obstructing condom distribution not just here but in the Third World where AIDS is an epidemic.
It’s this false idea of intolerance as inappropriate to ever challenge or disparage an opinion regardless of its merits (or lack thereof) which is a growing problem in this country and the world. This is where cartoonists get censored, blasphemy laws appear, and other foolhardiness such as “teach the controversy” crap. No no, intolerance is certainly not inherently bad. There’s a time and place for it as an instrument of good.
I think this is what I’m trying to get at with the word “division.” An attack, even verbal or written ridicule, tends to make people shut down. They stop listening and start thinking about defending themselves or their view. This seems like an ineffective way to communicate to me and leaves people stuck in the “us” v. “them” kind of dynamic that can lead to violence.
There simply are positions which deserve to be attacked, as do the proponents of those positions. Also, we can’t ignore the fact that some proponents simply will not give up their positions regardless of how sweet and charming you are and how carefully you explain the deficiencies of their positions. Such people are not worthy of respect, nor are their positions worthy of respect if they’re deficient and especially if they’re harmful or potentially harmful to others. Now speaking of others, I feel that attacking ideas and their proponents aggressively in public is of value for the sake of others since if these harmful ideas and their proponents aren’t challenged, then they will continue to be unduly respected and these ideas adopted.
Religion has gained a special place in not just this country but the world, where it’s taboo to subject it or its proponents to the same level of criticism as we would for anything else. I find that wrong. I find it wrong to call objecting to it “intolerant” and I find that objecting to ideas and their proponents who advocate harm and division as somehow being divisive ridiculous.