Witch-burning is out of fashion in the West these days. Fortunately. But the religious intolerance that caused it is still with us, and it’s getting more strident. And in other parts of the world, religion is responsible for shameful acts of mutilation and murder on a daily basis. The Internet has given voice to some whose opinions, frankly, should never have a public platform, and ‘multiculturalism’ that shameful abrogation of the moral values of our secular society, makes it increasingly difficult for anyone to express legitimate criticism of some of the nasty ideas put forward by people of religion under the disguise of ‘faith’.
I am lucky to have been brought into a world where secularisation was ascendant. In every way, the light of science seemed to have the darkness of superstition in retreat. Even those Christians I knew, did not suggest that the Bible was literally true, or the exact transcription of the words of a supernatural deity. For them, religion was a cultural practice and spiritual guide, or so it appeared. In any case the free and educated society that my generation argued and worked so hard for, surely would, in the end, render the very idea of formal religion obsolete.
When I first heard that there was a resurgence of the Christian right-wing, and that this might threaten those freedoms, which is now, I suppose, over thirty years ago, I refused to believe it. Surely no-one could seriously attempt to challenge Evolution, or the age of the planet, any more than they could counter Pythagoras’ Theorem or contend that the Earth is flat, could they? How depressingly wrong I was.
For decades, despite all the evidence, I believed that religious intolerance and sectarian violence were the result of political and social conflicts, rather than matters of faith itself. I believed that an improvement of living and educational standards would see the development of democratic, secular and tolerant, but most of all peaceful societies which recognised that faith was private, and everyone had a right to believe whatever they liked, as long as they harmed no-one and upheld the right of everyone else to do the same.
I now invite you to read the following comments, harvested from Facebook and all written by self-professed Christians:
“i say kill them all (atheists) and let them see for themselves that there is God”
“Shoot them. Shoot to kill.” (again, the target was atheists.)
“To ALL ATHEIEST DIE AN GO TO HELL HAHA IF I COULD ID SHOOT ALL OF YOU IN THE HEAD WITH A 12GUAGE” (sic)
“I love Jesus, and the cross and if you dont, I hope someone rapes you!” This was from a woman–so much for the gentler sex; and to follow up, her next statement was:”atheists, I hope God kills them all.”
“They’re atheists so it won’t matter if you kill them.”
These are the same Christians whose right to their beliefs I have always spoken up for, whom I have never once discriminated against because of their religion; yet they would, simply, kill me, because I am an atheist and so ‘it won’t matter’. At last I begin to understand how a Jew must have felt in pre-war Germany, and I can no longer pretend that Christianity is just a nice thing that nice people do on Sundays because it makes them feel good.
Nor can I pretend that at its heart, Christianity does not contain the same malignant intolerance that we recognise within radical Islam. On one side these cults may fly before them the dove of peace, but that is just the side they like to make public, and underneath it, one would have to be blind not to realise that many Christians are as intolerant as the most rabid ayatollah of Islam.
Despite that, I do recognise that not all Christians think like the most evil amongst them, in the same way that not all Muslims are suicide bombers: the problem is, that just as it is rare to find a Muslim actually condemning Islamic terrorists, I hear no clamour of voices from Christians condemning those who threaten to kill, rape and torture me, just because I don’t share their belief in a fiction that they cannot prove. The very opposite is true, and the worldwide web is now awash with ill-informed, anti-atheist bigotry and hatred.
You might argue that these are internet voices that may be safely ignored, but if the internet is blamed for helping spread the wickedness of radical Islam, which would impose the consummate evil of Sharia on the world, then in what way can it be blameless in its spread of this hateful Christian bigotry? Today this vile and infamous defamy spewing from the internet, and what tomorrow, if it is allowed to continue unchallenged? The mob at the door, the brick through the window, the tarring and feathering and then what–atheists hanging from lamp-posts? For all of these atrocities and more have been carried out by the Christian right, just in the last hundred years.
The only difference now is that today’s Christian Fascists are not Catholic but Protestant, and their roots lie in the same version of the cult whose actions fifty years ago inspired the song ‘Strange Fruit’–which describes the bodies of lynched black people hanging from trees in the southern United States; the very same place from which this new poison oozes.
The resurgent right-wing Christian bigotry from the bible-belt heartland of the United States, is spreading its message of hatred and intolerance all over the world. We forget, now, that only eighty years ago the Ku Klux Klan had hundreds of thousands of members and millions of supporters; that it controlled politics in many American States. Its obscenity rose not because people turned a blind eye to it, its vile pronouncements, and its even more foul behaviour, but because, despite their later denials, they sympathised with its message: white, Christian, Protestant. The very same vicious, bigoted people as were behind the Klan are once again on the march; now they are called ‘fundamentalist Christians’ but their principal targets are the usual ones of the religious right– liberal thinkers, atheists, homosexuals and women. If history serves to teach, then we know exactly what to expect of them.
Within the ranks of fundamentalist Christianity a group has arisen which actively seeks the end of the world, believing that they will escape and be ‘raptured’ up to Heaven. This claptrap would be utterly laughable were it not for the fact that the last President of the United States, one George W. Bush, is quite openly a believer in it, as are many other senior American politicians, and leaders of business and the media.
Apart from the massive egotism implicit in their position, that they are right and everyone else wrong, right wing Christians are a major force behind climate-change revisionism in the United States. Since the US remains the world’s greatest polluter, these Christians, who, in embracing the so-called ‘end times’, see no reason to cut back on the profligacy that is killing the planet and instead do everything they possibly could to sabotage attempts to rescue it, are a threat to us all; to us, to our children and to our children’s children.
In the light of this menace, I suppose the doctrine of ‘creationism’ seems a small matter; at least until you recognise the size of the pyramid of lies and deliberate misinformation that it is based on, anyway.
The twentieth century taught us that the powers of evil will manifest and grow when people tolerate them, and it is long since time, I fear, to decide which side of the fence we stand on. I have always tried to be as tolerant of belief as I could, and have only asked that believers be as tolerant of my lack of it. But when I see literal death threats, when I see religious bigots openly try to bring about the ‘end times’, when I see them propose to stuff my children’s heads full of absolute nonsense on the grounds that it will not challenge a fictional Bronze Age text, I know that this is a one-sided bargain.
In the secular haven that was Europe, and in particular in the United Kingdom, we have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. Even the rise of militant Islam has not, it seems, provoked us to take matters seriously, and, apparently because of some politically-correct taboo against challenging issues of faith, horrific cruelties like the circumcision of both male and female infants go unchallenged. We abrogate these children’s human rights when we allow their parents to mutilate them in this way. We would never under any circumstances permit such a practice for say, cosmetic reasons, irrespective of the desires of the parents: the children would be taken into protective care and the parents locked up. And this is exactly what should be happening, but it is not, because we are afraid of upsetting ‘people of faith’. But why should we be afraid? These practices are abominable no matter who does the cutting of innocent flesh, which fictional deity they follow, or what their ‘culture’ is.
Evangelical fundamentalist Christianity is an evil and intolerant monster that intends, just as militant Islam would, to use the very rights and liberties that we and our forebears fought and died for, to destroy them and replace them with ‘God’s Law’. We know what that means, intolerance of all dissent. Once, we railed against the Soviet Communist Party, and I was raised believing that the right to free speech was the most important right we in the West had. To defend this right, we built armies and nuclear arsenals and told our children that the one thing that was worth dying for, was that freedom of speech.
Yet do we speak out now, when we still can? For the menace is not some faraway evil empire, armed with enough weaponry to completely obliterate us, but an empire of evil that is being preached from pulpit and mosque in our very own towns and cities.
Do we identify this menace for what it is? Do we condemn the fundamentalist Christians when they try to sneak their outright lies of creationism into the classroom, when they praise the end-times or threaten death to atheists? Do we unambiguously condemn imams who make their women cover their faces in public, or who threaten death to those who mock their ‘prophet’? No indeed, and instead, we even seek to stifle those who would condemn them and their despicable ideas and behaviour.
We are not allowed even to challenge those who challenge us, the debate is ended before it is begun, because this is a matter of ‘faith’ but this must change. Religion, no matter whose, is a legitimate target for criticism, mockery and satire. I don’t believe that witch-burning, public stonings and beheadings, and the other contemptible abuses of humanity that are ever the sanction of religion against its critics will return to Europe; but that will only be because we speak out against it.