I’m having trouble with this article in Religious Dispatches, by Austin Dacey, representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and author of “The Future of Blasphemy: Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights.”
In it he uses the plight of one Alexander Aan, imprisoned in Indonesia for the crime of “inciting hatred or enmity of a religious group, and under the country’s blasphemy provision, Article 156a, which criminalizes “hostility, hatred or contempt” and “disgracing” of a religion. Article 156a also prohibits attempts to persuade others to leave their religion and embrace atheism.”
A reminder, Indonesia’s Constitution stipulates that every person believe in a supreme being. Can you imagine being atheist and visiting Indonesia and what would happen should you have a couple of beers and get into a conversation in the wrong bar? Say goodbye to the return portion of your air fare!
For me the cognitive dissonance comes from statements like:
“In the West…The public debate is about how to balance freedom of speech with respect for religious belief.”
Dacey contrasts his view of the Western framing of the issue with that of predominantly Muslim Indonesia this way:
“Here the value at stake is not just freedom of speech, but freedom of conscience. The real contest is not between atheists and believers, but between those who affirm the equality of all persons of conscience and those who deny it.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. On both the West and Indonesia. There is no need to respect religious beliefs! To paraphrase someone, perhaps Hitchens, those with ridiculous ideas should be treated as such. Freedom of conscience is a veiled way of giving the religious the right to slap back at any perceived insult.
Then he puts atheism and religion on the same moral level:
“From a moral perspective, there is an important symmetry between the attitude of the believer who reserves special reverence for a deity, saint, or prophet, and the attitude of the secularist who asserts that every person is equally holy.”
He’s treating atheists and atheism as just equal to a religion, just another dogma lookin’ for respect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Atheism leads to humanism, though I admit one can get there from other vectors, but religion is full of the exact opposite of humanism.
Anywhere religion holds sway over a majority of the citizenry, and especially where religion is baked in to the government is a bad, dangerous place to be, for this is where only those with the facts on their side are persecuted. Respect for religion is the worst answer to the problems of the world and for the ability of every person to think for themselves and express their ideas.