“Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. God is mighty and wise.” – Quran 4:56
Imagine for a second if the above passage was written by a World leader, and instead of “those that deny our revelations“, it was “Muslims…“. Quite rightly we would call it out for the violent bigotry, the dehumanising nature of its narrative. And yet, strangely, some seem to argue that as long as it’s religious, it isn’t bigoted, and thus isn’t a problem at all.
An early task in my university days was to explain to the group how we identify ourselves made up of our beliefs, our gender, our ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, or any other form of identification we may assume for ourselves. I included ‘atheist‘ in my identification. A weird identifier given that it relies solely on denying something that isn’t there. For that, I’m also a-unicornist. But the latter has no real-world affects, whilst the former absolutely does – an important distinction as we shall see. A religious guy in our group told me he’d like to hear my perspective on the World – a welcome discussion and one that continued for the next three years – but that he “couldn’t endorse your lifestyle“.
Around the same time that a man who had never met me told me he “couldn’t endorse my lifestyle“, Mehdi Hasan was giving a talk to the Al Khoei Islamic Centre, in which he states of others he’s never met:
“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”
– And this is the problem of religious doctrines. It influences mentalities and behaviour. It casts non-believers as inferior, with believers the superior. It influences moderates & Islamists alike. Whilst Mehdi dehumanises us, a member of Malay Islamist group ISMA told me:
“I am better than you because I believe in Allah. You simply do not believe in Him. Need another reason?”
Around three years after Mehdi expressed some shockingly dehumanising views – based solely on religious dogma – about non-believers, Alexander Aan in Indonesia was being stripped of his job, beaten by religious thugs, and imprisoned for expressing his atheism online.
The point is, religious bigotry is the bedrock for a supremacist narrative that feeds policy. Once you dehumanise a section of the population, withdrawing their basic rights becomes easy. According to a report on the treatment of non-believers across the World, by The International Humanist & Ethical Union:
“12 countries in Africa, 9 in Asia, and 10 in the Middle East, were given the worst rating for committing “Grave Violations”. Some of these governments were found to openly incite hatred against atheists, or authorities which systematically fail to prosecute violent crimes against atheists.
Furthermore, in 12 of the worst-offending states, religious authorities can put atheists to death for the crime of “apostasy” (i.e. leaving religion; in all cases the religion was Islam).”
– It kills to be a non-believer in a society dominated by religion. And yet, if you highlight the real-world affects of bigotry inherent to religious texts, your concerns are dismissed:
– So what if billions of people believe a doctrine that includes you having no intelligence, and deserving of nothing but setting on fire for eternity. So what if that religion has control over the lives of others. So what if it the divisive, supremacist nature of it is taught to children? It is as if beginning a dangerously discriminatory sentence with “God says….” negates whatever follows.
The fact is, person A not believing a religion to be true, does not suddenly mean the religion is not promoting bigoted ideas to those who do believe it to be true.
So “why do you care about hell if you’re an atheist?”
– Because whether hell exists or not is irrelevant, the behaviour of those who believe it does is exceptionally cruel.