Monday, May 12, 2008

Non-believers must not be silenced to save the feelings of the faithful

Editorial by Terry Sanderson, NSS Newsline, 9th May 2008

Non-believers must not be silenced to save the feelings of the faithful

Lord Lamont, speaking in parliament the other day said:

"Part of the tension between Islam and the West is not a clash of religions, but a clash between belief and unbelief.
We simply do [not] understand or appreciate how deep, how embedded or how strong is religion in many parts of the world. Not so long ago, a friend of mine and Member of the other place [House of Commons] told me how he went to the Middle East and rather fancied himself as someone who could talk to people of extreme views there. He met someone from the spectrum of political Islam and they did not get on very well. After a while, the Muslim on the other side of the table said,
'Well, we are not agreeing politically, but there is one thing we have in common: we believe in the same God', to which my friend replied, 'I do not believe in God at all'.
That is the not the way in which this dialogue can proceed constructively. We have an aggressive secularism in the West which is deeply antipathetic to people in other parts of the world."

I had to read this deeply intolerant statement twice to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. The implications of what Norman Lamont is saying are shocking.

He seems to suggest that if you don't have religious beliefs it is somehow rude or counterproductive to say so. It is this kind of stupid thinking that allows religious people to get away with murder (sometimes quite literally).
Under no circumstances — Normal Lamont seems to be saying — try to make clear that you don't support the sometimes grotesque beliefs of the faithful.

Admittedly when in Rome (or the Middle East) you should be diplomatic and try not to upset your host, but that does not give your host the right to force you into pretending to subscribe to beliefs that you do not have.

If we are to inhabit the world together, religious and non-religious people alike, then tolerance has to be a two-way process. It cannot be unquestioning respect for religion and automatic disrespect for those who cannot bring themselves to believe.

Lord Lamont's statement should be disregarded by everyone, whether they have a religion or not. Non-believers have as much right to be honest about where they are coming from as have believers. Non-belief is a legitimate and defensible standpoint that should not be yielded to satisfy intolerant religious believers.

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