Sam Harris has done it again. In a recent article titled Gods Dupes he writes that when one holds that a certain subject (in this case, religion) is to be respected, one cannot help but inadvertently give cover to those who are further down the line than oneself.
All we have to do to understand this is ask ourselves a simple question. What is meant when someone of any religious stripe be it liberal Christianity or agnostic Atheism states that ‘religious beliefs/books should be respected’? It seems to me that we are not talking about respecting one another’s right to believe but are in fact talking about respecting the belief itself.
Take the “Mills Incident” as an example. He ripped out a page of the Bible and used it to pick up dog poo. Another atheist on YouTube took a Bible and a Book of Mormon, soaked them with lighter fluid and set both on fire. Both were and continue to be used as examples of ‘extremist atheists’. But why is this?
It’s pretty simple. The Bible and other such books are holy books that millions, if not billions, of people hold in high esteem (aka: respect) even if they have never read the books being ‘disrespected’. Unlike Harry Potter, these holy books are the reasons that Christian Dominionists have blatantly stated that the biblical injunctions against homosexuality and adultery should be enacted as capital offenses in the United States. They are the reasons that two Sudanese women have been recently sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. They are the reasons that women and young girls in America are forced into plural marriages and the reason why the young men in those groups are forced from the only homes they know.
Thus when we form a circle around the holy books and the beliefs they inspire, we, inadvertently perhaps, put the real extremists right in the center of our collective protection. It’s an endless circle. Those who reject the vicious side of their books and those who think a book is by default something to be respected may not be directly responsible for the actions of the haters and the bigots, but here’s the thing.
We can’t respect the belief that homosexuality is an abominations because a book says so and deny that we’re in any way responsible for the killing of homosexuals per the orders of those books. We are – no matter how much we don’t like it or how upset we get over it.
And as long as we keep insisting that those books and the beliefs they inspire are to be respected, we will remain in this endless loop of religion inspired violence.