Since watching Richard Dawkins’ The Root of All Evil? I’ve noticed myself becoming less tolerant of religious beliefs. I really think that it’s time for rational thinkers to stand up and be counted. I’ve been discussing this with a few friends, but within my circle of friends that’s largely… er.. preaching to the converted. On the tube last night I was wondering what my next steps might be if I wanted to get really involved in the fight againt medievalism.
Sandmonkey, myself, and many others are doing something by blogging about reason and the pitfalls of blind faith. Is this enough? Are our words simply echoes in the small universe we call the blogosphere?
In a sense, it is helpful. As I mention in my first post on this blog, it’s important to have secular voices out here on the Internet, so that people questioning their faith have voices of reason to reassure them. I think it’s necessary, if we really want to see the Enlightenment through these many years later, to stop tolerating harmful nonsense.
I would guess that a majority of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and so on come from liberal backgrounds (I do not, though I’m much more liberal than I once was). As such, I would also guess that part of their liberal mindset includes tolerance, multiculturalism, and cultural relativism. I contend that, where religion and other ‘faith’ based beliefs are involved, tolerance should not, in a sense, be exercised. This is not to say that all tolerance is bad. Though I am an atheist, I do not hate or abuse religious people. A person’s choice to practice a religious faith is theirs to make. However, the tolerance that I will no longer exercise is to tacitly approve of their views when they come up in a harmful way, simply because they are religious. I do not assume that just because something is the norm in a culture, it is equally valid to a norm in another culture. I take as an illustrative example female circumcision, but other examples abound (can you name some?).
Since Buddhism is considered by some (not me) to be a religion, it’s mildly amusing to me that Buddhism comes to mind in this case. People sometimes accuse Buddhists of being selfish for focusing on their own minds and their own problems. They argue that time spent meditating would be better spent helping others through acts of charity. Buddhists (including me) might argue that their practice benefits those around them indirectly, but substantially, for someone with a clear mind is likely to act in accordance with the happiness of others and themselves. The investment a Buddhist makes in his or her mind is paid back to society by his or her attention to subsequent actions. This little influence, tagged on to each action, can have a large effect when integrated over time and large numbers of practitioners.
Similarly, I suggest that the largest contribution freethinkers can make toward a world of rationality is to practice rational behavior individually, and to deal with irrational nonsense in an appropriate (but hopefully not rude) way.
I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this, because it is the principle on which this blog was started, and is something that it think needs (a) brainstorming and (b) refinement.