When Religion Kills: The Cowardice of the Dogmatic

by Philosophy

As reported in the NY Times, Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger critical of religion, was murdered yesterday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, hacked to death by machete-wielding religious adherents. His wife was attacked as well and is currently in critical condition. If we are to follow in the footsteps of the current Pope, that bastion of progressive values championed by liberals ignorant of Catholic dogma, Roy got what was coming to him. Comparing criticism of religion with the cursing of one’s mother, an equivalency with playground childishness that is as ridiculous as it is inaccurate, he declared such usage of free speech as wrong and the person doing so should expect to be punched. That the Pope disavowed murder as an appropriate response is completely undone by this rationalized approval for violence.

In recent polling done by Pew Research (May-June of 2014), when asked to describe, by reference to temperature, how positive or negative a particular religious ideology is viewed, Americans scored atheism at 41 degrees, only one degree warmer than Muslims. Considering all the press concerning the possible rise of hate-crimes against Muslims, the lack of coverage concerning antipathy towards atheists seems to tacitly endorse the fact that such people deserve to be hated. This wanton disregard by leaders and social institutions shows the lie of their supposed dedication to making the world a better, more informed, place.

I write about religion. I have been and will continue to be critical of its social utility, the paucity of its ideas, and the absurdity of self-righteous claims that its adherents are inherently more capable of living moral lives. I have not received death threats. That experience is not something I aspire to have. I like to believe that were such an inevitable result of criticizing religion to happen, I would continue on, albeit with a greater concern for international travel. Thankfully I live in a nation where violence as an outgrowth of religious belief is considered hypocritical. Unfortunately, that social assumption blinds people to the reality of those who live day-to-day under the constant fear that daring to criticize will result in their death.

A moment before continuing, to clarify about religion. Not all religious ideologies are the same. Some, like certain interpretations of Buddhism, allow for and praise intellectual rigor and skeptical inquiry. While even there, a wall exists beyond which inquiry is discouraged, this is a far cry from dogmatic religions where subservience to authoritarian dictate is of the highest value. Christianity, Islam and orthodox Judaism are the largest examples of the latter. What sets them apart is the slavery of will and mind to Authority, where morality is not considered such by virtue of its relationship to relational reality, but by the decree of said Authority. In such a system, murder is not murder if done at the behest of Authority.

This abdication of skeptical inquiry and moral responsibility is why discussions of who are “true believers” is absurd. The murder of Avijit Roy, those killed at Charlie Hebdo, still others blown up by Christian terrorists and the countless others killed day after day in religious warfare throughout the world, are all done by those screaming allegiance to the fundamental dogmas of their stated religions. If such abject dedication and avowed belief have nothing to do with their actions, then the same must be said of a believers’ positive actions.

The fact is, religion of the dogmatic type has no Authority because there is no Deity, which means the “Authority” in question always comes down to the individual and group espousing their allegiance. This is why faith, as a means of justifying belief, ends up in practice being nothing more than a statement of personal desire. The adherence to that fictional authority is why it is so easy to utilize religious ideology for the purpose of murder and mayhem. That gap, that absence, must be filled by something else and self-righteous anger is rather impressively capable of overwhelming empathy and reason.

Liberals and conservatives alike will decry the actions of those responsible, trotting out the judgment of “cowardice” to describe the murderers. Such a judgment is one step too far. The cowardice is not in their behavior, it is in their previous abdication of moral and intellectual responsibility by adherence to religious dogmatism.

Sartre declared that “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” This is why some religious believers murder and others support equal rights. The capacity for murder, just as the capacity to do good, is not inherent within religion, it is indelible to human character. What dogmatic religion does is remove the possibility of reaching the good through the only principle possible: that of acknowledging the sanctity of life as itself. The road to destruction is not paved with good intentions, it is put down stone by stone through the refusal to humbly contemplate the uncertainty of our own existence.

Allegiance to a dogmatic authority, removing the need for such humble contemplation, is the original cowardice that breeds violence. It is the initial step towards separation of self from others, of making a world of ‘Us vs Them,’ where any questioning of that authority is to be inevitably met by violence in temperament and action. Our first move away from such a world…

…is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.

Writers such as Avijit Roy, like the rising tide of “nones” in religious polling, want this kind of world. Questioning and the criticism that results, whatever the focus of that inquiry is, should never be looked at as justifying the murder or harm of another.

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