2008-03-31

False Tolerance

Freedom of expression is today informally limited by a false sense of tolerance widespread in our culture. Many people are reluctant to express their thoughts critical of religion out of fear of offending someone. Self-censorship thus silences many who would otherwise contribute to the public discussion of religion and its place in our society that is so badly needed. In light of this lamentable situation, I would like to encourage my readers to assert your right to express your opinion and disregard any attempt to invoke an imaginary right not to be offended in order to prevent you from speaking your mind.

As for me, I refuse to recognize anyone's claim to a right to be automatically respected. If you don't want anyone to criticize your religion, then you should defend it rationally and show why the detractors are wrong. If you can't do this, you should abandon your beliefs as indefensible or humbly accept the criticism. Demanding that someone else respect your faith and refrain from criticizing it, however, is not an acceptable response. You have the right to promote your opinions and I have the right to promote mine. You have the right to criticize my opinions and I have the right to criticize yours. Any respect in the marketplace of ideas must be earned and not arbitrarily granted. If one's beliefs don't hold up under scrutiny, then they simply they aren't worthy of respect. Religion doesn't receive any immunity from criticism merely because of its importance in some people's lives, especially since its effects are far from uniformly benign. It's in fact far more disrespectful to insulate others from your ideas, assuming their justifications for the beliefs or their feelings are so fragile that you must protect them from the hard truth like little children.

I want to be clear that the above applies only to public society and not to private society. The latter has a totally different set of standards regarding politeness and access. If you fail to respect the beliefs of the company you keep by attacking or mocking them, then you cannot expect that company to continue welcoming you. They have the right to exclude you from their homes for whatever reason they deem appropriate, just as you have the right to exclude them from yours. In the world of public discourse, however, no one should be excluded. Anyone should be able to express their opinions by making speeches, writing books, publishing websites, distributing pamphlets, organizing rallies, singing songs, creating paintings or sculptures, producing films or television programs, and no one should attempt to silence them by labeling them intolerant, fundamentalist or militant for simply expressing criticism of the ideas of others. Attacking an intolerant ideology is a service to, not against, tolerance.

I'm very thankful that I myself was able to find books and websites critical of my former religion when I undertook my investigation several years ago. If those authors had chosen to censor themselves, I wouldn't have found the necessary resources to escape the mental prison of irrational faith. Think of how many more people could bask in the light of reason if only they had more opportunities to join the conversation and think for themselves.

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1 comment:

jeber said...

I agree, and posted a similar sentiment from A C Grayling on my blog (http://radicalatheist.com/?p=14).

We are not intolerant simply because we withhold respect from notions that don't deserve it. Religion cannot withstand skeptical and critical examination. There is no prohibition against questioning religion. If religion cannot defend itself logically and sensibly, that's an issue for the religious to deal with.