There comes a time in every long-term relationship when certain subjects, normally taboo, are broached. It can be an awkward conversation, filled with missteps, pauses, and miscues. In the end these are very often the most important conversations that you can have with another individual because they are the very ones that drive into the heart of what makes a given person tick. Religion is obviously a topic that many wish would never be brought up in a public or personal setting, but given the importance it holds in the world at large, I believe that it absolutely must be.
I was sitting at a bar with a friend who, while an atheist, believes the endeavor we are undertaking here at [37G] to be misguided, if not fundamentally flawed. I was curious how someone who shares such a defining (lack of) belief could be so far on the other side of this issue, and this led to a discussion as to why atheism and antitheism have to be pushed into the public consciousness. The short answer is this:
The consequences of any fundamental belief are so myriad that to overlook those consequences is self-destructive to anyone who does not share them.
This might sound hyperbolic, but as a minority 'living amongst the enemy' I can assure you that what goes on in the heads of my fellow human beings is a large concern of mine. This is not to be mistaken for the desire to force a change in those beliefs. As dangerous as I think they can be, there is no right I can claim that would give me the authority to outlaw beliefs contradictory to my own. That is not the same as saying that I should not and can not force someone to confront those beliefs and the possible outcomes tied to them.
Case in point: after the riots in the Middle East there has been renewed discussion about the push for anti-blasphemy laws but many countries. The prospect of such laws being enacted in the United States is a truly terrifying one, especially as my atheism is likely to find me on the receiving end of such legal devices every time I voice my godless opinions regarding religion. The idea that one can land in jail for belonging to a different religious tradition is outlandish, within the context of the West, but the simple fact is that many, if not most, people in the world live in areas where expressing disdain for, or voicing criticism of religion can have dire consequences.
This is why we have to be willing to have the awkward conversations. Are they potentially uncomfortable? Absolutely. Can they lead to anger, vitriol and frustration? Of course they can, and often might; at least, in the short run. But I take the view that any friend worth having is one you should be able to push, and be pushed by, and it is only through discussions like this that free thinkers can ever hope to secure our position in the world as equal citizens with truly equal social standing. It is up to those who want change to be the change. If we, collectively, are unable to force the religious around us to acknowledge our disparate worldview then how can we hope to ever make our position more secure?
For someone who is religious, anti-blasphemy laws might sound like a reasonable idea. This need not be in a predatory manner, but those who disagree must be willing to stand tall and point out just how bad such a move would be. And not just for us, but for everyone. Ideas like this are fundamentally flawed insofar as they only work for those in the majority, those with power. Theocracy might sound like a lovely idea to some, but who is to say the theocracy will always be yours? It is only through free discourse, made possible by unfettered speech, that we can all be safe from those who would disagree with us. So again, I say, force the conversation. The impact of religious beliefs are too widely spread and too deeply ingrained to disappear overnight. The onus is on us to demonstrate the importance of the discussion and to facilitate it, as equals, with those with whom we disagree on such important things.