In a nutshell:
Atheism is basically a philosophical stance. Why would holders of a philosophical stance become militant toward their opponents? ,
Photo source: Telegraph
As an atheist, I looked forward to reading Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. I have read most of the philosophical books written about atheism, which are relatively scarce; but an atheist book for the broad public is even a rarer occasion.
While reading, I couldn't understand why Dawkins was dedicating most of his book to the attempt to prove atheism is true. Why would he be so keen on convincing his opponents that he's right? Why should he care about other people having delusions, if these delusions do not hurt either him or them?
The answer, of course, has to do with the fact that some of these delusions ARE harmful, to theists and to atheists alike. We all know that religious fanaticism is capable of leading people to do terrible things. However, we also know that atheists may just as well be capable of doing terrible things. I don't accept the accusation that religion is to be blamed for most of the human-inflicted evil in the world.
When I say that religion causes "harm", therefore, I have something else in mind. I am thinking about the prejudice against atheists, which causes many non-atheists to have wrong ideas about what atheism is and what it implies. I am also thinking, on the other hand, on many religious – but not fanatic – people, who have to follow a very strict code of behaviour determined by their fanatic leaders. I also have in mind a specific incident I just witnessed in LinkedIn, when a discussion I brought up about atheism quickly deteriorated, to my horror, to reciprocal personal insults between an atheist and a Muslim.
Why this hatred? Why are there so many prejudiced ideas held by each party about members of the other(s)? I do believe the root of this evil has to do with the fact that theism – all strands included – is a prescription, while atheism is a description. Atheism tries to explain the world; it is about facts. It doesn't necessarily affect the way the atheist chooses to lead his or her life. Theism, on the other hand, usually requires following a whole set of commands. The worst part is that these commands usually affect also people who don't wish to have any part in it; specifically, atheists.
Many theists sincerely don't understand this last claim. How do atheists suffer from the existence of theism? Does it really hurt them that others see the world differently?! The answer, of course, is quite different, and even changes from country to country. In some, like Iran, the question is irrelevant: it is quite obvious that over atheists simply cannot survive there. In others, like the United States and Israel, the question definitely arises, and the answer is that atheists DO have inferior rights in these places. In the United States, for instance, abortion is considered a religious issue; in Israel, marriage is, and the same is true for many other central issues in these and other countries.
How can this entanglement be unraveled? Surely, not easily; but I believe the first step would be for each side to realize that:
a. People who think differently from oneself are still unique. Theists do not form a homogenous group, nor do atheists, agnostics, or holders of any other theory.
b. Whatever is right for me, may not be right for others.
c. This is mainly relevant to religious parties: the less religion intervenes in the lives of people who don't wish it to, the less antagonism they would feel towards it. Reducing militantism on the part of atheists (those who exhibit it in the first place, and those who may do so in the future) is dependent on minimizing religion's foothold in their lives. In other words: the freedom FROM religion is just as crucial as the freedom OF religion. ,