|Chapter 3. Who acts like they are right?
A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets. Arthur Clarke
A useful perspective on the difference between atheism and religion is found by
looking at how each group treats its members who quit. Religionists act like a crime
syndicate when members quit. Religionists have a special term for those who quit--
apostates. “Apostate” is not a term people apply to themselves, it is a term insiders
use to label outsiders. The reaction ranges from shunning the apostate, to murder.
Religious scriptures provide stiff penalties for quitting. They are a carryover from a
time when religion and government freely mixed. Some theocracies maintain the strict
penalties to this day.
The Muslim approach to apostasy remains truest to its scriptures. The Koran says,
“They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected Faith, and thus that you all
become equal[,] like one another. So take not . . . protectors or friends from them, till
they emigrate in the Way of Allah. . . . But if they turn back from Islam, take hold of
them and kill them wherever you find them.”
The Website Jihad Watch, quoting a paper by scholar Ibn Warraq, notes that only two
countries, Sudan and Mauritania, specifically criminalize apostasy:
determined by the tribunal. If he persists in his apostasy and was not recently converted
to Islam, he will be put to death. [In Mauritania,] . . . all Muslims guilty of apostasy,
either spoken or by overt action will be asked to repent during a period of three days. If
he does not repent during this period, he is condemned to death as an apostate, and his
belongings confiscated by the State Treasury. This applies equally to women.
The absence of mention of apostasy in the penal codes of some Islamic countries in
no way implies that a Muslim is free to leave his religion. For example, despite the
promise of “freedom of religion” in Afghanistan’s Constitution, in 2006 an Afghan man
who left Islam faced the death penalty. After pressure from the occupying forces of the
U.S., Germany, Italy and Canada, he was released and granted asylum in Italy.
Americans almost faced the specter of a country they occupied and financed executing
a man who converted to Christianity.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan punish apostates, but under a
religious code, not a criminal code. Informal enforcement of religious rules against
apostasy is perhaps the greatest danger. Even in the United States, Muslim apostates
fear for their lives. As Ibn Warraq puts it, the spread of Islam has been through jihad,
“a divine institution, enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam[, where]
Muslims must strive, fight, and kill in the name of God.”
If followers of the Judeo-Christian creeds think their scriptures are more tolerant than
the Koran, they are wrong. The Old Testament of the Bible, which applies to both
Jews and Christians, provides:
friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that
neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near
or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show
him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death.
Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the
people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your
God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Even in the New Testament, the number one Christian hero, Jesus Christ, is recorded
saying, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring
them here and kill them in front of me.”
The Bible seems to acknowledge the existence of atheists, although not very politely.
A passage used to justify discrimination against atheists reads, “The fool says in his
heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who
Jews and Christians seem to have abandoned the apostate death penalties in their
scriptures, but that does not mean they are kind and understanding to apostates.
Altemeyer and Hunsberger studied students who converted from religion to atheism
and vice versa. Only the students who departed religion reported significant bad
reactions. The majority of apostates studied felt their apostasy had cost them a “great
deal,” particularly in their relationship with their parents, but also with other relatives. In
contrast, atheists who became believers were “hard pressed to find ways in which they
had suffered from their turn to religion.” In fact, most of them could not think of any cost
There is no atheist scripture specifying death for those who leave atheism. There are
no atheist scriptures whatsoever. Departing atheism and adopting religion might result
in a raised eyebrow from an atheist friend, but there is no systematic ostracism, no
banishment from the community and certainly no death penalty. Atheists hold no strong
animosity toward religionists. We decline to give religion unearned respect, but we
wish to help to open the religionists’ eyes to a truth they refuse to see, and that
requires contact. In my experience, when I speak to religionists about atheism they
often want to cover their ears and run away, not the other way around.
Religionists condemn atheists as evil. Religionists claim atheists are neither patriots
nor citizens. Religionists even isolate or kill their members who choose an atheist
viewpoint. Atheists respond by inviting religionists to engage in rational dialogue.
Atheists take little or no action when an atheist adopts religion. Who acts like they are
right? Not religionists who ostracize or kill members who leave their fold and act
threatened, frightened, and in no way like people who posses a great truth. Rather
atheists, who do not punish members for leaving, are the ones who act like they are
right. So who are these atheists? The next chapter provides some answers.
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