Why the debate matters

It comes up frequently enough, aren’t the same old religious debates just tired and boring? Since most of the “New Atheist” arguments were developed in the Enlightenment to counter medieval Christian theology, it is easy to depict the debate as repetitive. And I have to somewhat agree, the answers to questions about God, creation and morality seem to be well established by modern science and philosophy. So the question that remains is: Why do hundreds of people routinely turn up to existence of God debates?

One answer lays in these are called the “big questions” for a reason. And while some may have determined their personal answers, they are still worth continual questioning and reconsidering. As many of the religious so frequently claim, our immortal souls may hang in the balance.

But for each of us who are willing to reconsider our personal answers, there are still many more that have already decided theirs and are ready to murder those who claim different answers. Others are not so absolute in their convictions, but are still so righteous that they believe that they have the justification to force their views on others.

The first example is a recent incident involving an 11-year old girl in a New Mexico public school who tripped, scraped her nose and loosened two teeth. Her teacher, a pinnacle of regressive bigotry, decided that her parents did not need to hear about this incident, nor did the girl need to see the school nurse. It was because of the teacher’s religious objections to the fact that this girl had two mothers that something so reprehensible to occur. This persecution is further evidenced by the fact that after the girl had submitted an assignment earlier in the semester, that described her parent’s summer wedding, the teacher called it disgusting and tore it apart in front of her.

In another case, Swedish artist Lars Vilks has received death threats for drawing Mohammed’s head on body of a dog. He was recently head-butted by extremists while giving a talk at Uppsala University. This happened for the sake of a crude, poorly-drawn sketch.

But we do not need to look to the American South to see such prejudice. Right here in Vancouver a popular music teacher at Little Flower Academy, a partially-public funded Catholic school, was denied maternity leave and essentially fired due to the fact that when she went home she was greeted by her loving wife.

So the real reason that it is worth debating these “dead horse” issues is that they continue to fuel religious fundamentalists who want to reshape our progressive society into a God-fearing theocracy. Dawkins’ recent success has more to do with his willingness to expose religion as a detrimental sacred cow than the originality of his arguments.

This negative effect is most obvious in the recent scandals in the Catholic Church. While pedophiles can gain access to children through a variety of means, such as sports teams or elementary schools, most organizations stand up for the victims and make efforts to prosecute the perpetrators for their heinous crimes. However, it takes an organization that believes it has divine providence, like the Catholic Church, to systematically shuffle pedophiles between congregations, swear victims to secrecy, deny the charges, and finally blame the victims for crimes of their priests.

Religion far too often creates a structure that favours blind devotion to doctrine and authoritarians. The hope for humanists is to demonstrate that a positive and fulfilling life can be lead without the need for uncritical adherence to scriptures. When people stop thinking, they have a great capacity for evil.

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