It is troubling to see how some folks are turning the tragedies of Paris and Beirut into a platform to oppose religion in all stripes and forms. I want to be very clear here. These tragedies are not the result of one particular religion or of having a religion, or of religions in general. These tragedies are the result of malevolent people who have warped their own religions in their human pursuits of power, domination, fear, misunderstanding, and foulness, and the human needs to avoid scarcity of resources and to eliminate physical, mental, and emotional insecurities.
One does not judge whether or not Hamlet is a good play by watching only a bad parody of it, and that’s what religious-based terrorists have—a bad parody of their own religion which they have modified to suit their own human needs.
So, please, pray for Paris, pray for Beirut, pray all you wish to and all you need to; and take steps as you wish to or need to beyond prayer in political venues or community service or whatever. Or don’t pray—that’s ok too. Or sit on your keister while you watch endless episodes of sitcoms on Netflix because there is so much horror all around that you need a mental vacation from it all. Or do all of the above, or none of the above. Whatever. But do what you do not because some people who are promoting an extremist version of atheism are telling you that you do more harm than good by praying. You’re not doing harm by praying.
The wholesale boycotting of religions is a form of thought-policing which robs people of interaction with their deities, robs people of their identities, and robs people of their relationships with the world around them. If terrorists who misuse religion are seeking to control others and bend them to their will through violence and force…extremist atheistic boycotts of religion do the same thing but go about it in a different, less apparently violent way. Atheistic religion-shaming is a thing, and accusing people of doing more harm than good by praying or by having a religion is a very bad thing to do. Accusing religious people of being stupid, foolish, immature, socially irresponsible, and superstitious in a bid to shame them out of their religions, their religious identities, and their relationships is a foul thing to do. And boycotting all religions everywhere by claiming all religions are the problem just because of some violent whack-jobs’ parody of a religion, is just bad logic.
If religious terrorists would use violence to end all religion but their own bad parody of a religion, there are some (not all, but some!) atheists who use other coercive tactics to end all religions ever. It’s a hell of a thing to use fear as a tactic to get you to bow to the terrorists who warp religion to suit their human needs, but it’s also a hell of a thing to use grief, or fear, or shame as a tactics to get you to give up your relationship with a deity or deities.The problem worsens when people, having succumbed to these pressures, think that their religion is something to be embarrassed about, or when they’ve accidentally absorbed and unconsciously perpetuate atheism as a form of “non-bias” (atheism is not the absence of bias!), or the flawed ideas of religion being “stupid, foolish, immature, and socially irresponsible,” or the flat-out wrong ideas that “ ‘religion’ is the cause of much violence in the world.” In an effort of comforting one another, people keep wanting to sing John Lennon’s song Imagine without actually thinking about the lyrics and seeing them for what they are: not a daydream song of idealism and peace even if it was intended as such. It is instead a nightmare dirge of the erasure of diversity and identity. Comfort is a real and needed thing in times of trauma, but comfort based unknowingly on erasure only makes things worse. And comfort is not necessarily the same thing as healing.
Religions didn’t get us into “this mess.” Religions themselves–or philosophies, or ideologies including some forms of atheism–are not the problem, and thus boycotting religions (or other philosophies or ideologies) does not solve the problem. Willful misuse of religions–and willful misuse of atheism–combined with violence, fear, or coercive tactics is the problem. For some people, atheist or non-atheist, to claim that “All religions are wrong and we will only have peace when we get rid of all religions. Look what religions did to people in Paris, Beirut, New York! 9-11! People are dying! Don’t you care? If you care you must get rid of all religions because religion is the problem!” is the kind of bad logic and coercion at a moment of extreme emotional vulnerability which leads to knee-jerk actions of erasure. That’s not ok. Indeed, that’s flat-out abusive whether or not the person who says it “means well” or not, and that’s something that should be defended against and spoken out against.
(As for atheism, there is a difference between simply not having a religion versus the active erasure of other religions, ideologies and philosophies. Not believing in any religion or deity is a person’s choice and others can defend that person’s right not to believe without having to agree with the ideology in order to defend those basic rights. But, when matters venture into the territory of erasing others’ religions—that’s where things are not ok. A religious and/or theistic person can still defend other people’s basic human rights, while speaking up and refusing to allow an atheist or any person just parroting atheistic sentiments which they may not have thought all the way through, to erase his religion. Fighting for others’ basic rights while protecting your own rights are not mutually exclusive activities. A person can indeed do both if she is so inclined.)
So, please think before repeating or forwarding memes spouting “don’t pray for Paris” or Beirut, think before parroting “religions are evil and violent,” think before singing Imagine as a song of comfort and hope, and think before trying to comfort people in this manner. It’s hard to think when we’re staggering from horror, and fear, and insecurity, but this is the very thing we must do. These are not mantras which will bring peace; and the constant, even well-meaning, repeating of them does more damage to an already unstable matter. Erasure of diversity is not a celebration of it, and it is not a road to healing.