Secularism and the requirements of democracy

Let’s get secular. That’s a recent blog post of mine, in which I argue that only a secular nation can have a true and free democracy, including freedom of religion and equal rights. I argued that the way to normalize atheism is—in addition to showing theists that atheists are normal people—to truly achieve secularism, so that one group’s intolerant ideals aren’t pushed on everyone. Since then, I’ve found both support and opposition (and have written two follow-up blog posts—“Chauvinistic defense of country and faith” and “You gotta have faith”—with more incoming), but it seems people of the latter kind haven’t actually read my blog post; either that, or they read it through the lens of their religious beliefs.

I argued with a Christian author called Armond Ray Erickson. Judging from his profile picture, he is much older than me—an old man, in fact. And yet, during our conversation, I got the distinct impression that it was the other way around—that he was but a child, immature in the way he reasoned and argued, with insults rather than logic and misrepresentations rather than counterarguments.

He responded to a tweet in which I wrote we must normalize atheism because democracy is not spelled as theocracy. He wrote that if the majority wants a theocracy, then it is also a democracy. He also changed a meme I’d made to strengthen his point; he called atheism abnormal, which is exactly what is wrong with the Christian right in America and elsewhere. Well, it’s one of many things wrong with the Christian right.

Can a democracy be a theocracy?

Can a democracy be a theocracy? Can a theocracy be free? A theocracy is a society in which a god and all the unchanging rules of said god must be obeyed by everyone, no matter how ridiculous or unreasonable the belief and its rules are. A democracy is free and equal. I’ve argued that a democracy is not just about majority rule, but also human rights, equality, and freedom, none of which are found in a theocracy; even if the majority were to vote that a minority should be used as slaves, it would be undemocratic to do so.

An atheist argued with me, saying a democracy is only about the majority. I agree that this is the basic definition, but, like all things, it has evolved; a democracy is neither free nor democratic if not all people have the same rights, regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Only a crude democracy goes by majority rule alone; human rights and equality are far more important for a democracy to work.

If a democracy is only about majority rule, it will not be a free nation, as can be seen in America, where minority groups like LGBT are discriminated by many, even though major advances have been made recently. If the majority decides everything and they want a theocracy, then that choice may, in a sense, be democratic. But a theocracy is, like religion, about unchanging and ancient rules by an unchanging and ancient god; that doesn’t seem very democratic. In fact, a theocracy is not just about religious law, but about a certain interpretation of religious law; this means that even most theists will be oppressed under the rule of theocracy.

But a democracy is also about equal rights. If you don’t agree with that, you must at least agree that a truly free society must have equal rights, even if you use an ancient definition of democracy that simply is about what the majority wants. In that case, the argument I made that a democracy must be secular can just be transferred to the argument that a free and thus good nation must be secular. One finds neither equality nor freedom in a theocracy.

Should freedom from religion be enforced?

Armond wrote that a democracy can only represent the will of most of a society and that freedom from religion can’t be enforced. I responded that I never said freedom from religion should be enforced, but is a part of freedom of religion. In retrospect, whether freedom from religion should be enforced or not depends on what is meant.

If he meant that people shouldn’t be forced to disbelieve, then I agree with him. Belief or disbelief cannot and should not be enforced. Belief is not something that one can will oneself or be forced into; belief is a subconscious process of being convinced by arguments or indoctrination. One may also have a subconscious will to believe one thing over another, which will affect one’s objectivity and belief, but one cannot choose to one day believe two plus two is five.

Furthermore, it would infringe on human rights if one were forced to either believe in a certain way or not allowed to believe in a certain way. This is not just about being forced to be religious, but being forced not to be religious. Forced to pretend would be a better expression, as one cannot start to believe or disbelieve just because someone says you must.

However, if Armond meant that freedom from religion can’t be enforced in the form of church-state separation, then I wholeheartedly disagree. The state should be free from religion; it shouldn’t favor one religion over another and has to be objective. Say what you will about tolerating different beliefs, but in school, only what might be considered fact should be taught. In policy making, only what may be considered fact can be considered. Not all beliefs and theories are equal; science is about empirical evidence and religion is only about blind faith. Which would you say weighs heavier?

The state cannot favor one religion, even if said religion is that of the majority. There is a simple reason for this: the religion doesn’t need to be forced on everyone for the majority to keep enjoying it, and if it were enforced, those who do not hold said belief would lead miserable lives; their freedoms would be infringed. And even though Christianity is the majority belief in America, one cannot truly speak of Christians as one group; there are many denominations within Christianity, and all Christians don’t share the same political ideals. The same can be said about Muslims, Jews, or any religious group. One cannot speak of all theists as one group with the same political ideals, just like one cannot speak of all atheists as one group.

I wrote to Armond that a democracy must be secular to be unbiased and to even be a democracy, for it cannot favor one religion over another. However, what must be favored is what we know; we know evolution is true and we know climate change is happening. To place science and reason over religion and blind faith is not intolerant or wrong, but necessary for humanity. We don’t know which religion is true, if any, and it’s not difficult to find logical arguments to be used against them.

Don't conflate secularism and atheism

One thing I see regularly is that people, even atheists, conflate secularism and atheism. Armond may have conflated secularism and atheism when he said freedom from religion can’t be enforced. But secularism doesn’t mean atheism is forced on anyone; it just means church-state separation.

An atheist confused my stating in “Let’s get secular” that we must normalize atheism with my wanting to enforce atheism, and suggested that I should push for secularism, not atheism. I will write more on my conversation with him in another blog post, but let me summarize my thoughts: In “Let’s get secular”, I wrote about normalizing atheism in the sense that we need to spread information about atheism and get people to know that atheists are normal people, not abnormal freaks and bad people. I basically wrote that atheists deserve equality and we must be secularized for this to happen. This is where the confusion arose; I didn’t mean we must normalize atheism to become secular; I meant we must become secular to normalize atheism, for a secular nation is the only kind that can achieve equality for all.

Secularism is not about atheism, per se, but a lack of religion. Secularism isn’t to be feared, even by theists; it’s good for everyone, as narrow beliefs will not be forced on anyone. A secular nation does not seek to enforce atheism as the only belief that’s allowed; it seeks to enforce freedom of religion, so that everyone can believe or disbelieve what they wish.

Granted, there have been secular nations that have been tyrannical to say the least. But there are two things that must be said about this: First, I’m not saying a secular nation is automatically a good one, but it has the chance to be so, unlike a religious nation; second, the secular nations that have been less than free have had the dogmatic totalitarianism one can also find in religion.

Government, the greatest of all parents

Armond wrote that the value of a democracy is not determined by the lack of bias by the majority rules. He said it’s about their “toleration of diversity.” I wrote that equality and freedom are two of the most important aspects of a democracy and that the government can’t play favorites or push beliefs. To this, Armond responded, “Like any good parents, ‘Government’ should reward those who earn favor, and constrain those who ‘earn’ disfavor.”

To say the least, it was one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. I wrote that one cannot violate human rights of minorities that haven’t “earned one’s favor.” All humans should be equal, regardless of gender, race, and sexual preference. It is, indeed, disgusting, the thought that one must earn the favor of ignorant, right-wing Christians to even deserve human rights. It’s confusing, really, considering right-wingers are irrationally fearful of “big government” taking their rights. Of course, they think rights are God-given…

Furthermore, it is sick to think that one should have favorites amongst their children and reward those who earn favor and constrain those who don’t. I don’t understand how anyone who has had children can think like this. As long as your children don’t go out to rape and murder, parents should support them whatever dreams and aspirations they may have. The same goes for the government; as long as one doesn’t hurt anyone, one should be free to live as one wishes.

What's more fun than a straw man and ad hominem?

Before I go on to write about some bigoted things Armond wrote, let me first say this. He seems to have removed the tweet, but he wondered what countries do place equality over majority rule and claimed I was being intolerant toward him and other Christians. I answered that the Nordic countries, like Sweden, are extremely secular, free, and equal nations. I also said arguing against ideologies, like religion, isn’t prejudice.

Armond answered that arguing (he used quotations around “arguing”) by using “ignorantly bigoted, anti-religious meme lies, epitomizes PREJUDICE and INTOLERANCE.” I wrote that arguing against ignorant mass delusion isn’t intolerance, but that oppressing minority groups like LGBT on religious grounds is. Armond wrote that arguing (again, with quotations) by considering all religion to be mass delusion epitomizes prejudice and intolerance. I found this to be a very peculiar line of argumentation.

Considering religion mass delusion is first of all not my argument; it is the position for which I argue—that religion is factually and often morally incorrect, yet is still believed by the masses. To consider it intolerant that one thinks a belief is fundamentally wrong, with nothing to support it, thus making it a delusion of the masses, is hypocritical and not a counterargument. Calling religion mass delusion is to say that one thinks blind faith is incorrect, just like other people think other beliefs are wrong. By Armond’s logic, he is prejudiced and intolerant, too, by thinking atheists and other theists are wrong.

Furthermore, this marked the spot when Armond stopped to respond to my arguments and counterarguments with his own, to instead just claim that my arguments are wrong and intolerant, spew his own bigoted propaganda about things like LGBT, and prove what a hypocrite he is.

For example, he said atheists just use “ignorantly bigoted, anti-religious meme lies”, but he does not actually give a reason as to why these memes would be lies or even incorrect. To point it out, to both theists and atheists claiming that everyone with whom they disagree tells lies, lying and being wrong are not the same. if one knows one is wrong or thinks one is wrong, even if one is right, one lies; a lie can be true, but something that’s incorrect cannot be correct.

In response to my saying that by his own logic, he would be prejudiced and intolerant for thinking atheists and other theists are wrong, Armond wrote that his “ability to prove certain points of theology are wrong does not require bigoted hatred toward those religionists.” This is very stupid and hypocritical. First of all, he claims that his specific variant of Christianity is correct and all others are incorrect, even though there’s nothing to support Christianity at all, let alone his version of it. Second, he implies that when atheists argue against religion, it is intolerant, but when a religious person argues against other religions, it is rational. That’s quite the double standard.

I’d like to say that I have no bigoted hatred toward theists, at all. I like plenty of theists, including my Christian girlfriend. I do not, however, agree with their beliefs and will argue against them. I told Armond this, and he said I was having a “public temper tantrum” and that it’s not a “good debate strategy—especially when you don’t know what you’re hating.” Instead of trying to argue against me, he resorted to saying I was hateful and was having a tantrum. I pointed out that I wasn’t hateful or angry; Armond’s arguments were nothing more than straw men and ad hominem.

Armond continued by saying I had “exposed” enough of myself for one day, and he gave me an award for most useful idiot, further proving that he does not belong in an adult conversation. Sarcastically, I said it was a great way to address my arguments and that he’s definitely shown that he’s not an ignorant bigot. He agreed that it was a good way to address what I said and that he’s shown he’s not an ignorant bigot (we’ll soon take a look at the ignorant bigotry he tweeted).

I asked him if avoiding what I say is to address it. He said I’ve already received the award I deserve for my contributions and that I shouldn’t push it. This was a very weak attempt at moving the spotlight from him to me. I wrote, “Oh, no! A person on Twitter is threatening to call me an idiot, after he’s spewed propaganda and straw men at me! Someone save me!” I then continued, “Seriously, though: you avoid my saying that you avoid what I say by avoiding it.” To avoid tough questions seems to be the standard strategy for most religious apologists, both amateurs and the “professionals” they mimic.

The tolerance of religion

In response to my saying one cannot violate human rights of minorities that haven’t “earned one’s favor”, Armond wrote, “Some do nothing useful to deserve ‘Government’ benefits. Many take them anyway—especially those in Government.” Now that’s some mighty fine right-wing propaganda. It’s also very Christ-like to NOT help people in need, right? He did not respond to this (standard strategy); ignoring arguments makes it easier to keep being wrong.

It is very typical of conservatives to be afraid of the welfare state, because obviously socialism is the most evil thing ever. To hell with helping people in need! We can take a look at Sweden, which has social benefits; politically, we’re a social democracy, which is a blend of socialism and capitalism and what one usually refers to when speaking of socialism (so not actually socialism, per se). Sweden is a free and secular nation, with hard workers, equality, and a strong middle class. America is a supposedly free and secular nation, with widespread inequality, a lower class, a comparatively weak middle class, and a much too powerful upper class that controls all those beneath them.

Conservatives keep insisting that poor people can escape poverty without any help in a ruthless, capitalist system that barely even has a minimum wage. This clearly does NOT work; the American dream is an illusion. It is also not very Christian to NOT help feed the hungry, give to the poor, and cure the sick. There may be some who abuse the system and lead lazy lives and don’t contribute; most people, however, don’t want to live on welfare, but require help to make for themselves a stable, middle-class life.

At any rate, also in response to my saying one cannot violate human rights of minorities that haven’t “earned one’s favor”, Armond wrote that theology supports favoring decent gays with marital benefits. It’s nice to see a right-wing Christian accept gay marriage… sort of. But “decent gays” implies that others are for some reason indecent and don’t deserve equal rights. Equality is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if one thinks someone is indecent; one cannot take away their rights because of it.

Armond said only decent gays want to be married anyway, and wrote, “Indecently expose yourself—like in a ‘Gay Pride Parade’—and see how many think you deserve ‘equal rights’.” First, marching for equal rights is not indecent. Second, I dislike how he used quotation around “Gay Pride Parade” and “equal rights”, as if those two concepts should not exist. Third, saying “see how many think you deserve ‘equal rights’” if you indecently expose yourself is a horrible thing to say.

Armond said that I apparently am not familiar with the reputations of the “marchers” (his quotes), and he linked to Google, where there were pictures of people parading. They were dressed provocatively and almost naked. Armond’s argument was that most LGBT are indecent and thus don’t deserve equal rights. Apparently, because they aren’t appropriately clothed according to him, he can assume they don’t want to get married, anyway, so it’s okay for him to take their rights.

I wrote to Armond that the people in the pictures were wearing suits, but that even if they were naked, they’d still be human and deserve HUMAN rights, like equality. I also asked if he’s ever been to the beach, where there are lots of half-naked and even naked people, whose rights he can take away. He said he doesn’t have a problem with “naturism”, as long as everyone is equally unclothed. Armond has no problem with near nudity as long as it’s not in a march for equality he does not want, and the near nudity makes him want to limit those people’s rights.

Normalize the abnormal belief system of atheism

Armond later tweeted, “To ‘normalize’ the abnormal belief system of atheism, everyone is now required to lack belief in all gods.” He used a meme I’d made, which says “Let’s get secular & normalize atheism, because that’s what a democracy craves,” and he added notes like secularism is non-spiritual and irreligious, as if that’s criticism. He added quotations around the word normalize and defined atheism as disbelief in all gods, which is the only thing he got right during our entire encounter.

He wrote that getting secular and normalizing atheism (which, if he actually read my original blog post, has nothing to do with forcing atheism on anyone) is not what an American democracy does craves, but is what “atheistic communist dictators have craved when they’ve decided to force ‘utopian’ secular atheism on ‘the people’ who usually desire to be controlled only by their self-chosen religious beliefs.”

Now, there’s much to say about this. First of all, I argue in my blog post “Killed because of atheism?” that it’s the dogmatic doctrine of communistic dictatorships, not unlike the dogmatic doctrine of religion, that is to blame for all the bad various dictatorships have done. Atheism has no dogma or doctrine, and can thus not be responsible for anything. Atheism can be part of an ideology, but it’s not an ideology itself. Saying atheism is to blame for what secular, totalitarian nations have done is like saying a-UFO-ism is to blame for the same. If a totalitarian government decides to kill all those who believe in UFOs, disbelief in UFOs is not to blame.

Secondly, “the people” does not exist; all persons in any nation don’t agree on everything. Americans are not one group with the same political ideals. And the problem with saying “the people usually desire to be controlled only by their self-chosen religious beliefs” is that not everyone wants to be controlled by someone else’s self-chosen religious beliefs. As I’ve argued in “Let’s get secular” and this blog post, one cannot force beliefs on others; equality is necessary for a free nation.

Thirdly, secular atheism is redundant, mostly. Sure, one can be an atheist and still belong to a religion (just not a god-based religion), but this is not very common usage of the concept of atheism. And my argument about secularism and normalizing atheism had nothing to do with forcing atheism on anyone, so Armond misrepresents my views, rather than try to argue against them.

Fourthly, the only reason Armond and other right-wing Christians argue as they do is because they are part of a majority group. If, or rather when, Christians become a minority group, like they are in Sweden, their tune would sound very different. In fact, they may use the same kind of arguments I use; they may say that equal rights are important, so that they can pray to whichever god they wish.

Lastly, using America as an example of how great and free a nation can be is not very smart. America is great in many ways and has done good things aplenty, but it is far from a perfect and free nation and one shouldn’t ignore the bad America has done, both domestically and internationally. I’d rather live in secular, socialistic, and free Sweden than Christian, ultra-capitalistic, and unequal America.

This blog post is not an argument for atheism, but I do find it hilarious that Armond called atheism an abnormal belief system. It’s the rejection of theistic belief systems, not a belief system itself. The fact that it is abnormal to disbelieve in magic says something about humanity: For all that we have achieved, we’ve not come far enough.

Conclusion

I’ve shown in this blog post that Armond is childish and bigoted in the way he acts, ignorant and intolerant in the way he thinks, and just another right-wing theist trying to push his fairy tale on people who don’t want them. He accuses atheists of parroting ignorant and intolerant memes, which is true in some cases. But at the same time, he cannot refute the many logical arguments against his religion and so he uses ad hominem and straw-man arguments, while spewing right-wing propaganda about minorities like LGBT. He cannot refute arguments against his beliefs, so he calls atheists intolerant parrots instead.

This Christian’s intolerance is a testament to why, indeed, secularism is necessary for equality. This Christian’s ignorance is a testament to why secularism is necessary for humanity to progress. This Christian’s ignorant bigotry is why we must become secularized and why there’s a hashtag to normalize atheism. We can only respect beliefs to a point, but then comes the point where they make no logical sense and have nothing to empirically prove them. How can we then let these beliefs dictate how we lead our lives, how we educate our children, and what we make of this world?