Why do atheists regard religion as having privileged status?

Religious believers are often persecuted and not allowed to practice their religion, as Christians in an Islamic country. Religious believers need to be protected from persecution and oppression. Churches need to have special status to insure this protection.

Posted: June 5th 2007

SmartLX www

The example given, and most other instances of persecution of believers, are cases of persecution by believers in another religion. Christians are persecuted in “Islamic countries” because Islam is so privileged that it has complete control. Muslims suffer similar persecution in some countries with a Christian majority.

If no religion had any special privileges or protection but standard human rights laws were enforced, then no religion could be persecuted without severe consequences for the aggressors, and far fewer people would try. Trying to protect religions from each other is a status-based arms race that only the religion which seizes political power can ever win.

Posted: November 21st 2007

See all questions answered by SmartLX


Whilst the privileged legal and financial status afforded to religious oganisations is undoubtedly cause for concern, this aspect of undue privilege is at least potentially susceptible to reasoned argument. However unlikely the possibility of eventual success, it is possible within a liberal democracy to present an argument for revoking these privileges with the aim of bringing religious institutions into line with secular organisations.

At the very least, we should reasonably expect such a discussion to be based on objective facts which adhere to reasonable standards of rational argument. However, there is a less obvious form of privilege afforded to religion which helps to ensure the continuation of all other privileges, and it is by far the most enduring and impenetrable. It is privileged position afforded to the holding of personal religious beliefs per se.

A common feature of most societies is that a person’s religious beliefs should enjoy the privilege of not being held to normal standards of evidence and reason. In itself, this is not controversial. I think that most atheists would agree that a person’s private thoughts about themselves and the world should be just that. Everyone should have the right to entertain whatever notions they wish, however silly they may be. And, provided that such thoughts demonstrate internal consistency and enable the individual to sustain a coherent view of the world, then people should be free to hold these thoughts without fear of having to answer for them to the thought police.

However, it is an unfortunate fact of modern life that those private thoughts which prosper unmolested under the ill-defined rubric of “religious beliefs” have a tendency to motivate people in a variety of very public ways, and when they do, there is an expectation that society should continue to extend respect to, and tolerate behaviour inspired by such beliefs.

It is thanks to this privilege of immunity from criticism that playwrites can expect have their work canceled – that film makers should be prepared to be dragged into court – or fear being murdered on the street – that artists should expect to have their work hidden from public view – and that impoverished people should expected to endure increased threats from disease – that authors can expect to live in fear of their life and governments are expected not to recognise their achievements.

It is the legitimising of this privilege that inspires politicians to sanction murder and others to raise money to pay for it and yet more politicians to apologise
for having been so insensitive as to have caused them to do so in the first place.

It is the privilege of immunity from criticism enjoyed by religious beliefs that makes all these blights on modern life possible. It is difficult to imagine any of these bellicose rants of offence, attacks on liberal freedoms and barbaric acts of violence and intimidation being tolerated were it not for the fact that in each incident the plaintiffs could confidently rely on the presupposition that the reasons for their ire will enjoy immunity from criticism. That, in fact, any criticism would merely qualify as further insult.

In every area of life we are all expected to have good reasons for the things we do and be ready to have our reasons subjected to rational scrutiny so that judgements might be made about our behaviour. And if our reasons are found wanting, then we can expect those judgements to be harsh. Unless of course, those reasons are religious in nature.

Posted: June 26th 2007

See all questions answered by MouthAlmighty

flagellant www

Atheists regard religion as having privileged status because the judgement is factually correct.

In addition to the respect granted to them, religions have both political and financial advantages in most countries. In the UK, for example, the Church of England is integral to the (unwritten) constitution. There are also blasphemy laws in England which notionally make it an offense to defame Christianity.

Over the last few years, there have been moves to democratise the upper chamber of the UK Parliament: the House of Lords. In this process, many hereditary peers were removed from the legislature; thus, the House of Lords is becoming more democratic. However, many of the bishops of the Anglican (or Episcopal) Church have seats in the Lords and there has been no recent attempt to reduce or, better still, eliminate this privilege.

Religions in the UK have tax advantages because they are charities. It is automatically presumed by current charity legislation that religions are ‘of public benefit’. Many other types of organisation, in seeking charitable status, with its concomitant tax advantages, are required to produce evidence of their public benefit. The National Secular Society, dedicated to ‘Challenging Religious Privilege’, is not, currently (22 June 2007), a charity. The same is true of many other UK organisations involved in improving the lot of others, if they have no explicitly religious rationale. This is clearly ridiculous.

Posted: June 26th 2007

See all questions answered by flagellant

John Sargeant www

One must emphasise the importance of secularism, which can be as important a political principle to a non-believer as to someone of faith.

Secularism allows people to have the freedom to hold what convictions they have, free from persecution or prejudice. It restrains governmental prejudice toward people for believing – or not believing – ideas which are a matter of faith or personal feeling.”

There is no need for religion having any more special status than political ideology, or economic thinking. In a civil society we should be able to debate and argue about all three of these things. The discussion should not end on the basis that “my religion is personal to me and you cannot criticise it”.

One example of special status to religion would be per’ah metsitsah which involves circumcising an infant, sucking off the foreskin with the mouth and then spitting the skin out. In New York city this practice led to several boys having genital herpes, two of whom died from it.

And did Mayor Bloomberg stepped in to prevent harm to children by such practice, where Jewish doctors were warning that this extreme Hasidic practice should be banned for health reasons?

He postponed the health care report because he wanted to make sure that the free exercise of religion was not infringed.

No society would tolerate such genital mutilation on an infant, male or female, unless such a foul practice was revered by religious tradition. The debate should not end because someone holds up the “respect” card in a religious discussion. These things need public debate.

Posted: June 6th 2007

See all questions answered by John Sargeant


Because religious people sometimes get offended when asked to justify their convictions, unlike having a debate about economic theories or political ideas, where it’s not taboo to question and discuss.

Atheists don’t believe that it’s healthy for a society to shut down discussion in some realms. This is especially the case where religious political leaders make public pronouncements about social issues (abortion, gay marriage, teen pregnancy, stem cell research, just wars, ordination of women, etc) based on “faith, scriptural authority or personal revelation”.

Religious ideas should be subject to the same scrutiny and empirical tests as any other ideas and live or die on their merits.

Yes, religious people should be able to practice their faiths in private without any one faith being banned over another. Constitutions should protect freedom of, and freedom from, religion.

Posted: June 6th 2007

See all questions answered by RTambree


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