Friday, 10 February 2012


I'm sure you've seen it, it's everywhere: the COEXIST bumper sticker with the letters made of religious symbols.  The message is simple: we should all get along regardless of what we believe.  It's a nice sentiment, and certainly peaceful coexistence among people is a laudable goal. But coexistence of religions is a condescending idea based on willful ignorance. 
You see, the message is that religions should tolerate or even respect one another.  But - at least for the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - tolerating other faiths is contrary to their scriptures and their theology.  So what the coexist crowd is asking is for religious people to put the secular notion of religious freedom and religious tolerance over and above "god's law".  To anyone who takes their religion seriously, that's a very condescending position.
Christ commanded that Christians go and preach to all nations.  He never said anything about respecting other people's beliefs, and especially not the pagans (such as Wiccans, whose symbol is included in the bumper sticker.)  The New Testament is full of nasty things about pagans.  The Jewish scriptures quite clearly state that anyone who believes in other gods should be stoned to death, and specifically singles out witches (like the Wiccans, and those use astrology and the like - New Agers, for example).  Islam commands the beheading of "infidels," and making war against those of other faiths  I can't speak for the Taoists, since I find what little I know about Taoism fairly baffling from my Western frame of reference, yet I do know that its teachings are anathema to the monotheistic religions.

One case in point is this version of the sticker which has Christian commentary added to it and demonstrates that religion's attitide towards the others (well, one version of Christianity, anyway). Note how it directs criticism at the others and then concludes with the blatantly false "Christianity is who this is directed at, but Christianity poses no threat to others."

Granted, in secular nations, most of the adherents of these and other faiths have, in fact, either placed such commands below the comparatively new secular principles of religious tolerance and mutual respect.  Why?  Well, they are perhaps ignorant of the teachings of their own religions.  I know from experience that this kind of ignorance is widespread among Christians.  Perhaps they have bought into the idea that religion is something private - another secular idea that no religion actually promotes in its scriptures.  Some have become ashamed of the intolerant elements of their faith and have discarded them from either their personal beliefs or the teachings of their particular denomination or sect (though they rarely if ever remove these hateful passages from their scriptures.  They still carry around books filled with hate-speech.). Looking at Christianity in particular, as a former devout Christian, I find the idea of keeping quiet to be stupid, anti-Christian, and selfish.  If you truly believe that the fate of people's eternal souls hangs in the balance and you just keep quiet and not try to convert everyone you meet, then not only are you disobeying the commands of Jesus, but you are being extremely selfish.  If someone was taking poison, I wouldn't sit back and be quiet in the name of tolerance and respect, I would stop them from drinking the poison!  If a Christian truly believed people would go to hell without the salvation of Christ, shouldn't they be trying to save everyone, all the time?  Christ and his apostles certainly seemed to think so, but many modern Christians find the idea of evangelizing to be downright distasteful and will actually criticize other Christians who engage in it!

Orthodox Jews will follow many of their laws so closely that they won't even flick a light switch on the sabbath, yet none of them seem to follow god's commands to stone those Jews who work on the Sabbath.  In fact, I cannot recall any news stories at all about Jews enforcing any of the many, many commands of Yahweh that involve stoning people or hacking off hands, or how to own and beat slaves.

Islam, being the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, and still being the majority religion in many countries and even forming theocratic governments, is the only one of the three that still actively practices (or at least does not condemn) the statements in its scriptures that command violence against those of different faiths, or those of its own who disobey or who attempt to leave.  In nations where Islam is a minority, they have generally accepted the secular doctrine of coexistence.

There are other variations on this sticker that have symbols for Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.  However, none that I have seen ever include atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Odd, isn't it?

Aside from the hypocrisy of the religious believing in the secular doctrine of coexistence, tolerance and respect, there are reasons why the non-religious should take issue with this generic promotion of all faiths as equally good.  Even if they aren't shoving it in people's faces, the magical thinking and belief in supernatural, accepting things on faith etc. have enormous detrimental impacts on society as a whole.   Our society seems to put in a protective box, shielded from criticism, anything that someone believes as long as they put it in the category of personal conviction or religion.  Look around and you will see everywhere people believing whatever they like based on nothing more than how it makes them feel.  We are teaching people that you need not look critically at the truthfulness of anything.  As long as you call it religion, it's all good.  We are teaching people that gullibility and irrationality are virtues, that completely contradictory beliefs can be compatible and equally relevant.  This leaves people open to manipulation and fraud in all areas of their life, and greatly impedes rational discussion and the advancement of society.

Religion is a main source of conflict now as it has been throughout history.  Even in secular nations where "coexist" is almost a state doctrine, we still see the religious trying to impose their values on others such as their attempts to include creationism in classrooms, quash gay-rights, restrict and de-fund important scientific research, and elect religious politicians who will subject everyone to their faith-based social agendas.

As long as religions continue to indoctrinate children, they harm society. The young have religion taught to them as children - they never choose it themselves.  Even if they switch to a different one later, most wouldn't do so if they didn't already have a foundation of magical thinking taught to them in childhood, and the continued societal acceptance of religion as inherently good for it's own sake.  People raised to value skepticism and rationality rarely later choose religion or other forms of magical thinking as a means of finding meaning in their lives.    

On a person to person basis, the idea of coexisting peacefully is most certainly a wonderful thing. People should learn to live peacefully. But promoting that by promoting religion, and then asking these mutually exclusive theologies that condemn each other to get along, is a bit like encouraging racism in a mixed race society.


  1. "There are other variations on this sticker that have symbols for Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions. However, none that I have seen ever include atheists, agnostics and humanists. Odd, isn't it?"

    Are there even symbols for atheists, agnostics and humanists? Let's say the script A is the atheist symbol. What about the other two?

  2. The A in the circle is the most commonly used atheist one. Agnosticism - not sure. A question mark, I think. Humanism has the little flat person

  3. I am what some call a 'pagan' - but we support gay rights. I think people should go back to their people's original pagan beliefs ('Pagan' is a racist term, by the way).