by Edward Tabash
To Bash Or Not To Bash:
The Debate Secular Humanists Do Not Need
Some of us are bogging down in a debate over whether the promotion of secular humanism
should involve "bashing" religion, or whether we should only focus on presenting
humanism in a positive light. The answer is that both are necessary components of the
secular humanist message, depending on the individual circumstances of each encounter,
each audience, and each forum.
When speaking to college women, for instance, it may be necessary to show them examples
of the indefensible way that the bible denigrates women. A more watered-down presentation
may not sufficiently motivate such students seriously to re-examine conventional
assumptions about conventional religion. Helping today's university students become
indignant over the absurdities of religious dogma is an essential part of persuading them
to consider a secular alternative. If we don't start, very soon, to replenish our ranks
with young people, out future will be dim.
There is definitely a time and place to make religion look as ridiculous as it actually
is. There is also a time and place to emphasize the opportunities awaiting a person who
lives a life free of superstition. Overall, however, one cannot be done without the other.
We cannot just approach college students and members of the general public by preaching
the virtues of a life free from supernaturalism without giving examples of how and why
religious beliefs are absurd and divisive.
When we fear being accused of "religion bashing," we are buying into the trap
our opponents have set for us. Republicans can criticize the political philosophy of
Democrats and vice versa. Socialists and capitalists can criticize each other's basic
worldview. Religionists, however, have insidiously snuck into the public consciousness the
notion that religious doctrines deserve special insulation from criticism, ridicule, and
doubt. Religionists have poisoned the debate about religion by passing off this concept
that, from the outset, religious claims must be treated with a kinder and gentler type of
criticism than that leveled at other types of belief systems.
There is no rational basis for providing religious dogma with its own special exemption
from harsh criticism. We do secular humanism an immense disservice if we buy into the
mindset that criticism of religion has to be more muffled than criticism of other
ideologies. Religion is so entrenched in our society that its proponents have been able to
foist off onto popular culture the notion that religion always deserves kid glove
treatment. Because religion is so entrenched, in order to dislodge it, we have to use all
available tactics, including destroying the misconception that religious beliefs are
entitled to some special immunity from piercing criticism.
If we allow religionists to censor the words and arguments we use in our struggle to
educate society in favor of secularism, we are essentially letting the fox guard the
henhouse. Our society will never be receptive to a secular message so long as popular
culture considers criticism of religion to be out-of-bounds. Establishing the social
acceptability of ridiculing the absurdities of religious claims is an integral part of
gaining acceptance for secular humanism. The two cannot be artificially severed.
We cannot be intimidated into weakening our arguments whenever religionists accuse us
of "religion bashing." The Catholic church is expert at this bully/crybaby
syndrome. The church will attempt to use its claim of divine infallibility to cripple our
personal freedoms. Then, the moment we fight back by challenging the church's authority to
control our lives, the church accuses us of anti-Catholic bigotry. The forthright answer
is that as long as we do not try to deprive religious believers of their civil liberties,
as long as we do not attempt to criminalize their behavior - like they wish to do to us -
we are not subjecting them to persecution. The Catholic church, along with all the other
self-proclaimed real estate brokers of heaven, must be publicly told that hiding behind a
claim of speaking for god will not insulate them from criticism.
We thus need to end the pointless debate about whether to "bash" or not
"bash" religion in the process of promoting secular humanism. The opponents of
religious dogma should be able to attack and ridicule religious beliefs the same as
opponents of any other belief system can attack and ridicule that belief system.
Religious doctrines that venture forth onto society's battlefield of ideas should not
be entitled to armor that is thicker than that of any other combatant.
Edward Tabash is a lawyer in Beverly Hills, California. He chairs the Outreach
Committee of the Center for
Inquiry - West.
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