Often you see the question come up, usually by a religious believer, of why atheists challenge other people’s beliefs. Shouldn’t we all be tolerant and just leave each other alone? I think you’ll find most atheists would be fairly happy with that state of affairs (it’s called secularism). That’s not to say they will be completely satisfied but at that point, where religion becomes a private matter, there will probably be far fewer clashes. I would still think they are wrong but I also think they should be free to believe what they will. Why, then, aren’t we at that point? Simply put it’s because religion is still so ingrained in society and shown such deference that it’s impossible to get away from it. It’s so tightly woven into society that at times it’s probably not even noticed.
There are small things that you can’t get away from as an atheist. That could be that religious organisations are offered exemption from taxes despite not being nearly as charitable as you might think. We all share a national anthem but it was originally a hymn and contains multiple references to god and prayer. These are small things but they are still there. It is why it isn’t yet possible to be separated from others’ religious beliefs.
Sometimes religious beliefs are explicitly imposed on others and they are punished for holding a different opinion. This happened in South Africa to one teacher who dared to teach her class about evolution, a scientific theory that has strong support from almost every branch of science that there is, was fired. My letter to the papers about it can be read here. This even happens to people that express differing views outside of their job. One teacher in the US wrote a blog entry where he stated that he supported gay marriage. He was fired for holding an opinion.
Sometimes you are unlucky enough to go to a Catholic hospital, in an emergency you don’t get to choose where you go, where their religious beliefs are imposed on you even to the point of your avoidable death. If you believe something shouldn’t be done to you then fine, have it your way, but don’t force that on someone that doesn’t share your belief. The worst part is those stories will become more common as the Catholic church is apparently taking over more and more hospitals in the US and denying medical treatment that they don’t agree with.
These kind of stories keep occurring and I’ve brought them up from time to time on this blog. I wish we could just ignore religion and leave it as a private affair. I know many people who are religious but they don’t push it on me and I don’t confront them about it. It would be great if it were that way with everyone but it isn’t. Religion is given a special place in society and it’s rules are regularly applied to those that are not part of it. It’s currently unavoidable and calls to leave the religious alone are attempting to impose, whether knowingly or not, an unfair double standard. It’s not possible for us to just let the religious be until we are afforded the same courtesy.