Saturday, 28 September 2013

Religion And The History of Censorship

The recent phenomenon of the mass blocking campaign on Twitter and the various attempts to shut down blogs and websites is just another manifestation of the fear of dissent and debate that has always gripped religions. It tells us a great deal about the honesty and integrity of those who promote religion and who are desperate to suppress criticism. It tells us they know they will lose the argument in a free and open debate. It tells us they know they are pushing a lie and that their greatest fear is that they will be rumbled. It tells us their agenda is not what they claim and that they are too ashamed to tell us what it is.

One might expect a belief founded on good, established and unarguable evidence and principles of logical deduction would be confident enough in its methodology and basic philosophy to not only tolerate and allow dissent and argument but to positively welcome it, confident that it can win all arguments and dispel all doubts by good, honest argument and a dispassionate examination of evidence. One might also expect such a belief to be prepared to reassess, adapt and change whenever new evidence is found.

This, after all, is the proven methodology of scientific debate. No scientist worthy of the respect of his/her peers would present a paper to an audience of fellow scientists and then refuse to answer questions and demand that doubters be removed from the auditorium and even prohibited from practicing science. No scientist would publish a paper in a journal and demand the editor refuse to publish any papers which weren't in full agreement with it.

In fact, we would be fairly sure that seeking to suppress dissent and discourage discussion would betray a distinct lack of confidence. We might well suspect some low skulduggery or dishonest dealings; a deliberate attempt to mislead, probably in support of some secretive vested interest or in pursuit of a hidden agenda.

So, because all religions claim to know the truth with complete confidence, shouldn't we expect them all to welcome dissent and debate, confident that their beliefs are going to be strengthened by the ease with which doubt can be dispelled and misunderstandings or misinterpretations can be corrected?

Only if you are naive in the extreme.

Even the slightest contact with religion will show you that the last thing they will tolerate is doubt and disbelief. If you want to lose a religious friend, tell them you think their religion is wrong and another is right. Better still, tell them you think all religions are delusions and that only atheism makes any sense when the evidence, or lack of it, is examined objectively, honestly and dispassionately. Every atheist in the closet will tell you it's their religious friends' reactions they fear most.

No religion in the history of religion has ever tolerated dissent when it has had the power to prohibit it. They have all been keen on religious freedom when they were small minorities but that support is always inversely proportional to their strength in society. When they have gained absolute power, dissent is the first thing to be banned and no measure is considered too extreme to enforce it, as the long bloody history of religious persecutions, massacres and genocides shows. When the printing press was invented their first reaction was to control it and proscribe any printed matter which questioned religious dogma and especially religious authority and privilege.

Religious censorship is a form of censorship where freedom of expression is controlled or limited using religious authority or on the basis of the teachings of the religion. This form of censorship has a long history and is practiced in many societies and by many religions. Examples include the Edict of Compiègne, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books) and the condemnation of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.77

The antics of religious fundamentalists and creationist frauds on Twitter is the equivalent of shouting, "Shut up! Shut up! La la la la la! Can't hear you!". Like frightened rabbits caught in the glare of headlights they've panicked and resorted to the only method they know - suppression and censorship, imagining that questions go away and arguments are won by ignoring them. And in so doing they've drawn attention to themselves, to the dishonesty of their faith and and to their own awareness of its fraud and vacuosity.

They have shown the world they know their faith is a lie and is used as an excuse for attitudes and behaviour which would otherwise be unacceptable in a decent society not conditioned to think of piety as something to be admired and of faith as a virtue.

But don't treat these frightened little rabbits as a joke, laughable and pitiable though their antics might be and how cowardly and socially inept they might be as individuals. The real lesson here is what these inadequate little people would do to other people in real life if only they had the power. The great challenge of the growing atheist movement is to make sure that we will never ever make the mistake of finding out. As it is the worst they can do is to sit in their rooms cowering in fear at what the next unanswerable question might be, what challenge they will need to run away from next, how much longer a pretence of piety is going to work as an excuse, and fantasising about what they would like to do to the person who had the temerity to stand up to them.

It's better they stay that way and hopefully never realise that their behaviour on the Internet is probably the biggest single cause of the recent phenomenal growth in atheism.

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