Atheists Have the Right to Criticize Religion
OP - December 11, 2016, 07:35 PM
Wherever they are from in the world, people arrive at humanism in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is because some demand of social justice or human rights seems only to be met completely, without tension or contradiction, by humanist ethics. Sometimes it is because immersion in mythology and the classics, or philosophy or anthropology, lifts us above the fray of competing religions. Sometimes it is science, providing an alternative picture of the world, over, above, and better than religious conceptions. Often all this and more might be involved in someone's journey to humanism, but its clear from his writings where Avijit Roy fell on the spectrum. He had a clear-eyed, almost child-like enthusiasm and wonder at the world science reveals, as well as its rational methods and its speculative future.
But it must not be forgotten, either, that when the backlash against "atheist bloggers" began in earnest, with the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider and the attempted murder of Asif Mohiuddin in 2013, that Avijit Roy stepped up to the plate, to defend free expression and call for the protection of other bloggers' rights. He championed their cause and that of all the Mukto-mona and other freethinking, humanist and atheist writers, academics and activists who suddenly found themselves at hugely, horribly increased risk. He contacted and worked with us at IHEU that same year and he reached out to many other human rights groups besides. He was, I think, painfully aware how real the risk was, including to himself.
We must be careful to avoid, as some media and the government have sometimes failed to avoid, adopting the assumptions and language of the very people carrying out these murders. Islamists identify the bloggers they have killed "anti-Islamic" and "atheist", as if that is justification to kill them, as if criticising political forces and expressing non-religious views is inherently wrong. If media use "atheist" as if it is a self-evident explanation for their deaths, and Sheikh Hasina cites "hurting religious sentiments" as if it were a self-evident moral outrage, this only emboldens and legitimizes the forces of murder and oppression. We must affirm: yes we may write about our strong dissent from Islamism, yes we may write about our non-religious views, our atheist critique of religion, and more than that - like Avijit Roy - we will write about science, we will champion human rights, we will be enthused and inspiring and true. We will advocate our humanist values and ideas. We will defend and we will use our free expression. And no, we will not be told that we have done something wrong in speaking, in writing, in advocating our views.