Note from the Publisher: Can we overcome intolerance?

joe-WEBby Joe Courter

What follows is not meant to offend anyone, or anyone’s belief system, but I have reached a point where I need to say it. The topic is religion, and in particular, religious intolerance. It could have been a number of things to set me off on this, as I have a lifetime of being an atheist/humanist. My skepticism began early when I was told little kids my age in Africa who never heard of this “all knowing” God would go to hell when they died, simply because they, well hadn’t heard. That did not compute. Then seeing my Protestant neighbors eat meat on Fridays and skip church in the summer while we couldn’t as Catholics—that made no sense either. And on and on…

But what got me was Iraq 2013 and the continued killing in the aftermath of the war the U.S. launched. Before the U.S. invaded, Iraq, though saddled by an authoritarian strongman, was a highly functioning society, Sunni and Shia co-existed, intermarried, lived in mixed neighborhoods. By regional standards it was way ahead on education and women’s rights. The aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed sectarian killing, and it was one day, one report, that just made me scream. “ENOUGH!! It is madness!”

But oh it runs deep in the human animal, that tribalistic desire to divide into “we” and “they,” and nothing greases the skids on intolerance like fundamentalist religion You would think we humans, with all our science and knowledge, could move beyond it to a deeper understanding and perspective, but old ways die hard.

I went to a talk by Kathleen Deegan of the Florida Museum of Natural History, on Ponce De León and his world of the early 1500s in Spain and the New World. Spain had just driven out the Moslems after centuries of occupation, and I asked her if the repression and dehumanization of the native people over here might have its roots in racism rooted in the occupation. She said no. It wasn’t race; it was religion. It was “adopt our religion or die,” basically.

So now here in 2013, we have rampant oppression against women, against the LGBT community, justified by religious dogma. We have denial of evolution. We have religiously justified wars and terrorism. As a non-believer, I just want to request some sanity. Is that too much to ask? Yet I know my voice won’t go far. We atheists are seen as quite unpopular and untrustworthy according to surveys.

Don’t get me wrong. I think religious belief can be a great asset for many people in terms of inner peace, social justice, and joyous cultural rituals. My personal belief is that we humans have an inherited predisposition to adopt belief systems as a core paradigm around which we make sense of the world, much as we have a inherited capacity for language acquisition. It would be evolutionarily advantageous. And now, here in the 21st Century, with all the problems we face; can’t we all just get along?

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