Religious Extremism a Great Advertisement for Atheism: Annie Laurie Gaylor

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

I wish religion would quit trying so hard to make atheism look good.

Religious extremists are doing such a good job of demonstrating the harm of dogma and religion all by themselves that there is really very little left for rationalists to do. Rev. Pat (take out Chavez”) Robertson calls down God’s wrath on the pro-evolution voters of Dover, Penn. Next he deems Ariel Sharon’s stroke an example of divine punishment.

The notorious Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., a one-man argument for atheism, switches from picketing the funerals of AIDS victims with his loathsome “God Hates Fag” signs, to demonstrating around the country at funerals for soldiers who have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars. Their deaths, you see, are “God’s punishment” for U.S. tolerance toward homosexuals. His ugly picket signs read: “Thank God for IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” “Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for Body Bags,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Phelps even protested at the memorial service for the 12 West Virginians who died in the Sago Mine!

Because of just this one religious fanatic (and his congregation, largely his extended family), midwest legislatures are now debating bans on protests at funerals, such as the bill passed recently by the Wisconsin legislature.

For doing what good cartoonists are supposed to do–equal-opportunity satirizing of orthodoxy–Muslims around the world are in a frenzy of protesting.

Furor has erupted in Europe and throughout the Muslim world over the relatively tame cartoons by Danes last fall on the subject of Islam or Muhammad. (Sample: suicide bombers line up in heaven as the gatekeeper cries: “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!”) The reprinting of the cartoon series by European newspapers in early February sparked the storming of the Danish embassy in Indonesia, the arson of the Danish Embassy in Lebanon, and the burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria, among other rampages. It has even resulted in the firings of news staff in France, Jordan and elsewhere. Cartoonists and editors “should have their hands cut off,” be “butchered” and “slaughtered,” according to some protesters.

It may be forbidden for practicing Muslims to depict Muhammad, but the rest of us still have free speech rights. These outraged Muslims ultimately seek censorship of critical views of religion (blasphemy laws couched as anti-hate speech). Whatever the smouldering resentments the cartoons have ignited, the reaction is deeply ironic. Widespread Muslim violence has stereotyped Islam far more effectively than a few cartoons.

Without religion, and without the unrelenting social pressure to kowtow to its dogma and demands, think of the problems our planet would be free of! How can anyone assess the number of religion-made problems, and look over these religion-bred fanatics in action, and not question the value of religion and blind faith in it?

That religion is the number-one instigator of war, divisiveness, and violence is so very obvious, yet so pointedly ignored. One has only to look at those claiming to know God’s will, to see religion’s harm. Most terrorists and instigators of political violence in the world today claim a pipeline to their deity, from the 9/11 suicide bombers to many warmongering (“God Bless America”) politicians. Uganda’s guerillas–who have slaughtered, raped and maimed tens of thousands, and abducted 25,000 children–call themselves the “Lord’s Resistance Army.” Is this a coincidence? What kind of advertisement is that for “the Lord”?

Personally, I would be happy if religion would quit trying so hard to make atheism look good. The world would be a lot safer.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and is editor of its newspaper, Freethought Today.

Freedom From Religion Foundation