People become anti-theist for a reason. Through observation and experience, atheists sometimes cease being merely non-believers and take it upon themselves to criticize and condemn religion, particularly religious practices. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’ve been atheist all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I started to understand precisely how dangerous religion can be. It took — what I call — a fringe sect of Christianity to bring out the anti-theism in me.
When I was 15 I dated a non-believing girl (I’m not sure if she’s atheist). Her mother was fairly strict. She belonged to the local Kingdom Hall — the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. In order to spend Sundays together, the mother demanded that I dress up, pull my long hair back, go to “church,” and sit for an hour bored out of my fucking mind. It was a small sacrifice to be able to see my girlfriend. But I observed several instances of personal and social harm at the hands of an oppressive religion.
The first occurred weeks after our first date. An unmarried couple was disfellowed (ex-communicated) for having sex out of wedlock. This was a couple deeply devoted to the Jehovah’s Witness religion. They had dedicated their lives to it. They owned up to their “mistake”* and wanted the church to forgive them and help them move forward. Instead, the church — without a second thought — cast them out as social pariahs. Instead of providing for this couple’s spiritual needs, the church made a lesson out of them: Don’t break our rules!
*Sex out of wedlock is not a mistake. It’s a social necessity.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses church also has a strict ban on smoking. Since 1973 the church has either refused to baptize smokers, or they will actively disfellow smokers. This in itself is not a terrible thing. I think it’s a stupid rule to have, but it’s not as harmful as the above example of harm. What really got to me was on Good Friday — the most important holiday to the JWs, and the biggest day of the year for church attendance — the JWs installed ash trays outside the door of the Kingdom Hall. In other words, smoking is a major sin in their religion, large enough to remove you from god’s good grace. But they don’t mind smokers coming to the church on Good Friday because that’s their biggest payday! And trust me; it’s a small religion. They can use all the money they can get. Hypocrisy.
The church actively tried to remove me by continuing to make it more difficult to attend. The first time I came wearing a polo t-shirt and slacks. I was relatively underdressed, but these were my nicest clothes. They told me I needed to wear a shirt and tie. So I went shopping and next time I came wearing a shirt and tie. Then they told me I needed to wear a full suit. I told them I would not do that. They told me to cut my hair. I told them no. My girlfriend’s mother was starting to feel social pressure, so she hid us from the church. We were finally able to spend our Sundays together without first spending an hour learning about how Jesus wasn’t really god.
These experiences were not only sufficient to make me criticize the Kingdom Hall, they were also more than sufficient to turn me from an atheist into an anti-theist. This compelled me to begin criticizing all aspects of any religion that I felt were unjust, idiotic, or cruel. And from my experience, no religion is immune from being unjust, idiotic, and cruel.**
**The religions associated with Wiccan beliefs might not necessarily be unjust or cruel, but they can be idiotic.
I think it’s safe to say that any group or assembly of people will entail some cruelty and idiocy at some point–given enough time and power. There are certainly groups of atheists that I’ve observed (on the internet, at least) which say some straight up hateful, character attacking things about other groups. The real question is “does a group’s cruelty or idiocy come directly from the tenets which unite them?”
For christians, it would have to be the teachings of Jesus that encourage such behavior (to which, I disagree with you). Jesus teaches grace, love, and truth, not “disfellowshipping.” In other words, when being confronted with the cruelty/idiocy of a particular theistic denomination, the question is not necessarily what their actions are, but whether or not their actions are consistent with the teachings.
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The behaviour of one relatively small group of individuals doesn’t to me seem to be sufficient grounds to assume all groups that are somewhat similar behave in the same way. Such behaviour as you have described can also occur in sports clubs, political parties, and in fact in any grouping of two or more people. It has nothing specifically to do with religion or belief in a deity. Being human is the only requirement I suspect.
I never once indicated I think all religious groups act according to the JWs. Instead I said I was already an atheist and took it upon myself to look into other religions, but found evil in all of them. Indeed, the Catholic church and the Orthodox Jewish sect are probably the 10 times worse than the JWs. Only Sunni Islam beats out those thugs.
I didn’t mean to imply that all religious groups act according to the JWs. There may even be congregations of JWs that would have done what you thought would be the right thing to do.
In my view theism isn’t dangerous or evil. it’s what is done with it that can make it so. But the same can also be said of capitalism, socialism and nationalism as well (along with many other “isms”).