Thursday, January 30, 2014

Religious persecution

The great scientest, JBS Haldane (a man of atheistic leanings who respected other points of view) once said that

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

(Similar comments have also been attributed to Arthur Eddington)

Since we live in such a strange and complex Universe, it is a brave man, and probably a very foolish one, who imagines that he has such a good idea of how the universe works that he has the right to punish others for taking a different view, regardless of whether or not that view is based on a religion.

No scientific or theological position has completely clean hands where persecution of those who take a different view is concerned. Believers have persecuted atheists in theocratic countries, while atheists have persecuted believers in totalitarian societies such as the Soviet Union and China. Some adherents of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Bhuddism, and pretty well every other major religious view including atheism have at sometime or other been guilty of dreadful crimes against those who think differently.

This is all the more appalling because the most cursory study of what those religions actually stand for will usually throw up calls for compassion, mercy, forgiveness and other values completely incompatible with the persecution of sincerely believers in another faith or in none. I find it impossible to understand how anyone who had studied the bible could possibly have imagined that Jesus, who during his crucifiction prayed God to forgive those who were hammering nails through his hands and feet, who told his followers to love their enemies and forgive those who persecuted them, could possibly have approved of the Inquisition or the Crusades.

However, in this century the boot has been firmly on the other foot. Peter Popham wrote an excellent article yesterday in the Independent which you can read here called The war on Christianity in which he gave a very powerful but balanced and wide-ranging account of the worldwide problem of religious persecution, concluding that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world at the moment, particularly at the hands of extremist Islamic radicals. It is not a coincidence that Islam is itself the second most persecuted religion: as Popham correctly points out, one of the common consequences of persecution is a cycle of reprisals as each wave of atrocities provokes revenge aginst the community or followers of another religious view who the attacks are percieved as coming from. Needless to say it is nearly always the innocent, rather than the actual perpetrators of the previous outrage, who end up dead or maimed.

Much more needs to be done to defend the right of everyone to express and follow their own beliefs in every respect except when trampling on the rights of others. And yes, atheists and agnostics should be included on both sides of that equation. 

4 comments:

Jim said...

I dont tend to bother people for their faith (granted it baffles me why they have it to begin with, but I digress) though what you are indicating is the correct form of action, I am more than a little worried about what you are saying Much more needs to be done to defend the right of everyone to express and follow their own beliefs in every respect except when trampling on the rights of others
what do you mean by much more?
do you mean laws and legislation ant things?
please make this clear.
thanks Chris

Chris Whiteside said...

"Trampling on the rights of others" does not mean expressing a different view, it means murdering or injuring people, sacking them or making them homeless, or arresting them because of their views, so called "Honour Killings" and similar atrocities.

There is absolutely no need for new legislation in the UK - indeed, there was no need for the law on this subject passed by the last Labour government, the one which candidate Jamie Reed said on the hustings he thought was a bad proposed law but MP Jamie Reed then made his "Jedi" maiden speech supporting. The sort of behaviour I am saying we need to stop could always have been dealt with under the ordinary laws on murder, assault, incitement, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, etc and should be.


What I am saying we need is

1) effective action by the authorities in all countries to prosecute those who commit or organise violence against people who think differently, and

2) as much diplomatic pressure as we can reasonably exert to persuade governments which themselves do the persecuting that this makes them look like barbarians, whether it is an atheist regime like China persecuting all religious believers, a theocratic regime like Iran persecuting everyone except "true" believers, or any other actual or threatened atrocity such as Pakistan threatening to execute a mentally handicapped man for "blasphemy."

What I absolutely do not mean is any suggestion that believers have the right not to have their faith "insulted" by people merely expressing diffent views.

I strongly supported the "feel free to insult me" campaign which, interestingly, had support from BOTH atheist and Christian groups who support freedom of expression, including the right to criticise other points of view, and accept that implies the right to criticise their own.

Jim said...

OK, thanks Chris. In which case i do agree with your post. Thanks again for the clarification

Chris Whiteside said...

:-)