“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass (American activist for the abolition of slavery)
It’s sometimes said (by Richard Dawkins, among others) that organizing atheists is akin to herding cats. We’re often denigrated as people with no purpose; just a bunch of anti-religious individuals who aren’t really in favor of anything.
Today, humanists are achieving victories in some countries against laws inspired by religious doctrine in the areas of women’s rights and homosexual activities and marriage. Meanwhile, in the areas of abortion and reproductive rights, the current status is mixed, with many rights being further restricted in America, while a number of other countries are making positive progress. Transgender rights hopefully will not be far behind.
But there are other areas in which the religious have rights that should be unacceptable in a civilized society that values equal rights for all its citizens. It’s time to fight over these preferential rights.
If we are to survive and combat oppression by the religious majorities, we need to have concrete goals and agendas for effecting real change in our society.
How do we start on accomplishing these objectives? By organizing and getting active. It’s not easy to change a nation’s laws, but recent changes by some countries in how they treat homosexuals should give us hope that our fight for equal rights will also ultimately prove successful.
Outlaw Circumcision – Why do we allow people to mutilate the bodies of their children? This is little short of being allowed to sell them, and it’s worse than beating them, because mutilation never heals. There is no good argument in favor of circumcision. (if you dispute this, please check out my earlier blog on the subject or the excellent Islamic web site.
If you think it is done for cleanliness, then just teach the child to wash. We don’t cut off people’s hands because they might use them instead of toilet paper. If it’s to prevent a future problem, then we should be taking out every child’s appendix and tonsils and maybe even the prostate gland for men, as those are magnitudes higher in terms of potential danger to a human being. But we don’t do this. While religion may condone it, let’s not forget what else religion has condoned: stoning, genocide, slavery, rapists, disfigurement, and the sale of daughters. We have shown that we are better than that, and those religious-sanctioned brutalities have gone by the way in most societies. The physical mutilation of children should also go into the dustbin of history. It’s a barbaric disgrace to human rights and should be outlawed.
No Exemptions for Kosher and Halal Animal Slaughter – If you tell me that this is somehow more humane, then you probably have never seen animals commercially being killed. Just think about it for a second. The whole reason for this ritual slaughter is to keep the animal alive as long as possible so that the blood drains out of the meat while the animal is still conscious. This all stems from a taboo about blood (they have taboos that relate to menstrual blood too). That is the purpose. Some apologist websites will claim that after the throat is slit the animal is then rendered immediately unconscious, but there is no monitoring of this and they do not acknowledge any standards for this practice. Also, they are supposed to say a prayer at the time of slaughter, so it depends on how fast they can talk I suppose.
When an animal is dead, the heart stops, and the blood doesn’t flow. (It does drain a little, but there is no pressure behind it.) Frankly, all slaughter is brutal, and the people consistently doing it necessarily have to be numbed to the pain and terror of the animal in order to do their jobs.
There is no “good” way to handle this, but I would contend that those who slaughter animals on private farms and in hunting are usually much better at handling animals humanely than those in commercial slaughterhouses, perhaps in part because the latter group usually has more regard for the animals since they slaughter animals less frequently. Those commercial operations that are required to render the animal unconscious before killing it are far more humane than traditional Kosher or Halal slaughters.
We routinely protect animals from undue pain and cruelty, but for religion we make an exception. It’s time to stop this. As with other activities impacting animals that are now considered to be crimes, we need to bring the standards of the religious up to the rest of us when it comes to their cultural morals. Kosher and Halal slaughter should be outlawed as the inarguably cruel practice that it is (and this was recently done in Denmark). This form of slaughter is not allowed in many countries, except for religious reasons. The exemption must go.
Terminate Legal Religious Requirements – In many states and also in other countries, there are legal requirements that holders of political office must possess, like believing in a god, sometimes even of a certain religion. In courts, people are required to swear on religious tomes, as if lightning actually strikes every party guilty of perjury. It’s an outdated superstitious practice. You might as well swear on a prostitute’s ass, which would at least be a more enjoyable tactile experience than having your hand on a book–and it would be just as effective.
These laws need to be revoked. All citizens should be allowed to hold any elected or government-sponsored office. So yes, if there is a State Church as there are in some countries, an atheist should be qualified to hold the office of chief pontiff or whatever the relevant office is, if he or she knows enough about the religion. Actual belief should not be a qualification; knowledge of the subject alone should suffice. All these laws were designed to exclude “undesirable” people from the political realm. That is not acceptable in a republic or a democracy where all persons are considered to have equal rights in the society. It’s high time we abandoned these blatantly prejudicial laws and the superstitious practice of swearing on items that have no proven efficacy in either compelling honesty or in punishing liars.
Extend Religious Exemptions to All People – At present, in the US Army you can wear a beard and a funny hat of your choice, if it’s because of your religious practice. Well, if it’s good enough for those guys, why not anybody? If I want to wear a derby instead of a turban (Sikh) or a yarmulke (Jew) why not? And the same goes for beards and hair length. If it’s fine for some soldiers to have these privileges because of religion, why not extend them to everyone? The same goes for any exemption from established dress codes given to any persons for religious reasons.
Also, there is the issue of the conscientious objector. If you want to get out of military service because you are morally opposed to killing people, why is this only provable in some countries if you are a member of a specific religious cult? In the US, the definition of “Conscientious Objection” used to be: “A firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief” (DOD 1300.6) (see more here). But DOD 1300.6 appears to have been suspended. I haven’t been able to find the new definition, so if you know it please let me know.
In any event, why can’t it be a matter of personal conscious? Exceptions for the religious should be extended to all people, or to none. Just because someone does not attend religious services doesn’t mean that his/her moral conviction is of a lesser personal imperative.
Schools Should Be Free of Religious Indoctrination – We all know about the problems many schools have with educating students about science and technology that contradicts their parents’ pre-industrial, primitive, religious beliefs about the physical world. We allow this in public schools in many countries. In America it is allowed in private schools that receive government support, and in charter schools that take money from the government given to parents to use at the school of their choice. The US also allows it through home schooling programs. As was recently shown in a case in Louisiana, many American public schools still take an active role in promoting a religion, despite this practice having been repeatedly shown to be at odds with the US Constitution.
Your government, if it is committed to economic growth, has a vested interest in having a well-educated workforce, capable of understanding modern science and engaging in current technical exploitation of processes in geology, biology, virology, DNA research, etc. They can only do this if they have an understanding of the world and current scientific processes that are acknowledged as the current standards. Forcing the indoctrination of supernatural elements in place of tested scientific understanding is tantamount to intellectual suicide for a modern society and dooms generations of children to the dregs of the job markets.
Restrict Religious Tax Exemptions – Exemption of religious orders from government taxation has a long history. It may have been one of the decisive factors in the creation of the Anglican Church in England. The destruction of the Order of the Knights Templar may also have been related to its economic strength.
Entities with religious tax exemptions have grown significantly in the US and in a number of other countries, but few have the kind of breadth of exemptions for “tax exempt” religious operations like the US. A starting point would be to allow religious “tax exempt” organizations to continue to receive donations (made freely and without any value being given in return) on a tax-free basis. But all income derived from property holdings (the Catholic Church is widely rumored to be the largest landholder in the Philippines, for example), investments and especially from operating businesses (including things like bingo games, and the sale of books and DVDs) should be taxed. At a second stage, services should be taxed as well, like fees charged for weddings, baptisms, exorcisms, faith healings, funerals and any other religious service “sold” to members.
Special exemptions can be made for orphanages, soup kitchens, and other organizations that spend their revenue (say with a 90% hurdle) on free benefits for any person (i.e. benefits cannot be limited to members of the religious organization). Also, persons holding religious office should be taxed the same as ordinary citizens, whereas now there are often things like parsonage benefits (the right to live in a house for free without paying rent) that are explicitly made tax-exempt in some countries and US states.
Monetary Support – Many countries provide cash funding to religious institutions, either directly or indirectly, like financing preservation of crumbling religious buildings. I also include any payments made to support any monarchy or nobility that the country recognizes (for reasons I have previously explained). All these payments are made to the detriment of non-believers, and the funds could be better used to reduce sovereign debt, sponsor libraries, upgrade educational facilities, fund college grants for underprivileged children, etc. Society derives no real measurable benefit from a monarchy or a religion. The prayers of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his flock during WWII did not stop the German bombs from falling on London. Prayers do not aid a country in any way. People do not come to visit a country because of some monarch they will never see. And monarchs are not the vessels of sovereignty for the people of any nation. No person should be deemed at birth entitled to government benefits merely by reason of their parentage.
How do we start? By organizing and getting active. It’s not easy to change a nation’s laws, but recent changes by some countries in how they treat homosexuals should give us hope that our fight for equal rights will also ultimately prove successful.