The Best Defence Is To Take Offence

Question from Rieno:
Many Christians express views about many aspects of life. In addition, they also express their honest beliefs in their deity and even preach it. Atheists also express their views on many aspects of life (morality, politics, science, faith, etc.)

Why is it that when Christians express themselves, it is deemed acceptable, but when atheist express themselves it is considered offensive? I, personally, have been called a blasphemer once just by saying “I don’t believe in god”.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you very much in advance.

Answer by SmartLX:
This unequal treatment of views springs from an intrinsic asymmetry between believers and non-believers. This asymmetry is genuine, and the reason for the outrage is sometimes clear, but that doesn’t truly justify it.

Religion is claimed by many to be the sole source of their morals, comfort and/or reason for being. If you question some people’s faith, you are ostensibly shaking the very foundations of their lives; no wonder they take it personally.

This can be taken to extremes, as you’ve already discovered. Recently a bus company refused to run an ad with a one-word message: “Atheists.” It was deemed controversial to do nothing more than alert the public to the existence of people who don’t believe in gods. There are people, the ad says to believers, who think you are wrong.

By way of contrast, atheists usually protest religious advertising either because their own advertising has been refused or because the religious message is effectively delivered by a secular state authority. Aside from these practical concerns, why don’t atheists take as much personal offence from the topic as believers? Because atheism is not an equivalent source of morals or purpose. Atheists source these essential parts of life from other places (I briefly delved into this here), so when their position on the existence of gods is challenged they do not feel that their entire worldview is under attack.

The important thing to get across to believers, though of course it’s not easy, is that the targets of criticism are religions themselves, not their adherents. Religion really is under attack, in a sense, but believers aren’t. The statement that one’s religion is false implies merely that one is wrong, not that one is stupid, insane, wicked or deceitful. If more believers understood this, organisations as the Catholic League would look a lot sillier with their persecution complexes on show.

6 thoughts on “The Best Defence Is To Take Offence”

  1. Do you think this is really an accurate representation of modern-day atheism? I appreciate your stance – thank you! I am a Christian who disagrees with, yet supports your right to believe the way you want to.

    The biggest names in atheism, such as Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, etc. repeatedly ridicule, mock, and encourage harsh treatment of those who believe in God. People are repeatedly called stupid for even opening for discussion whether or not evolution can answer all of life’s questions. Every day we hear about someone suing someone because they are offended by a religious reference posted somewhere in public – in the U.S., we are not guaranteed freedom FROM religion, but freedom OF religion. Just like I shouldn’t be offended by the word ATHEIST on the side of a bus, you shouldn’t be offended by the ten commandments on display. These are just a couple of examples.

    I speak up for what I believe because I believe it to be true, and if it is, it affects all of us. If I believe that decisions we make today affect where we will spend eternity, whether in a very good place or a very bad place (this is a simplification), then what kind of person would I be if I didn’t share with you what I thought the right answer was?

  2. By the way, Rieno, I am sorry that someone treated you like that. That is not the proper Christian stance, and they shouldn’t have done that. Not everyone who labels themselves “Christian” is actually living like it, and even those who are can be jerks sometimes (myself included).

  3. Hi sk.

    Dawkins and the rest do not say that all religious people are stupid, but rather point out the stupid aspects of religion. Dawkins has said some nasty things about young-earth creationists, even in his last book on evolution, but this goes beyond religion; YECs reject the sum total of knowledge and evidence in Dawkins’ chosen field in favour of what appears to him to be an outlandish myth. Other than that, I would welcome any examples of atheists disparaging theists for no other reason than being theists, so we might discuss them.

    In your country you are in fact guaranteed a measure of freedom from religion, in the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” One legal ramification of this is that neither the government nor any state-owned entities (such as courts and schools) may endorse any religion. It’s not a question of offence; the display of Biblical proclamations and prayers on public property by public employees is unconstitutional and should not be allowed. In twenty years, if Muslims had massively outbred Christians and had become the majority, would you be content to see the Quran at the courthouse door? I doubt it.

    This doesn’t stop private citizens from praying or even preaching on these same properties, which they are still free to do if they respect the local rules.

    1. ummm
      The constitution does not state that you cannot endorse a religion or belief. It says you cant make laws about them.
      What you are saying is that the fourth verse of our NATIONAL ANTHEM is unconstitutional… Is that really what you are saying?
      And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

      1. Robbie, there’s plenty of history regarding this point in the Wikipedia entry on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and further details in this example article about a legal battle over the Ten Commandments in a courthouse. Free exercise of religion is just fine, but not on behalf of the government in any way that makes it look to a “reasonable observer” (actual legal term) that the government is sponsoring or promoting a religion. Whatever specific examples you’re thinking of, consider them in that light.

        “In God We Trust” has only survived legal challenges either on technicalities like the standing of the challenger (see Michael Newdow) or because of arguments that it has LOST all significant religious meaning through repetition. You can either claim it’s a religious endorsement or you can argue to keep it on government property and material, but not both without deliberately challenging the Constitution.

      2. Robbie – In legal terms passing a law in support of a particular religion IS endorsing the religion.

        No government entity, or any entity funded by the government (like a school or library) can promote or endorse or (inject your favorite synonym of endorse here) any religion.

        Having “In God We Trust” is in some people’s minds unconstitutional, although I don’t think anyone will ever come up with a valid explanation of how that verbage on money is infringing on their First Amendment rights. it shouldn’t be there, but it is, and has become a tradition more than anything…

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