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The Atheist's Task

Fifteen high school students gunned down in a crazed act of revenge. A homosexual man brutally beaten and killed. An African-American man tied to a vehicle and drug down the road. What do all these events have in common, aside from the terrifying violence involved? They were all caused by intolerance....atheism as a philosophy bars no one

I can hear you asking yourselves - what has this got to do with atheism? One very simple point: atheists and other freethinkers may be the only group of people in the world able to practice complete and utter tolerance of other races, creeds, etc. as a part of our philosophy. Nearly all religions have intolerance and hatred built into them as a matter of course. Christianity teaches that homosexuality is immoral, and that interracial couples are sinning, and that practitioners of all other religions face the eternal fires of hell, just to give a few examples.

Allow me to pose a question: What is atheism if we are unable to accept and tolerate the world as it exists? Here is another one: What does atheism offer to make the world a better place? The answer to the second is the solution to the first. Tolerance allows us to rise above religious hatreds and fears, just as it allows us to rise above racial hatred and homophobia.

Now, understand, my purpose here is not to disparage religion or the religious. I know that whatever a religion may have within its texts, quite often the people who practice are decent, kind people. It is, however, true that atheism as a philosophy bars no one. It does not discriminate against anyone, and it does not teach hatred of anyone. Having said that, it follows that upon the atheist falls an immense responsibility. An atheist's duty to his/her society is to lead it into tolerance. To show society, by example, that it is possible to like and respect anyone, regardless of their heritage or their ideas.

There is only one obstacle to this ideal, and that is within the atheists themselves. Many, perhaps most, atheists have very strong feelings concerning religion. This is commendable in that it prompts us to take a long and hard look at the psychology and sociology of each religion. It also, however, often leads to intense feelings of contempt, pity, even hatred for religions and their followers. And while we all can sympathize with these reactions, we must agree that they do not promote tolerance. In fact, the effect is generally the opposite.

Religion is. That is a simple fact. Even if we did wish to rid the world of it, I do not believe that this would be possible. The general run of humanity succumbs to the wishful thinking that is religion. We must accept this desire to believe. We must respect their faith where it is real, and tolerate their actions where it is not.

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