Thursday, August 18, 2016

Insofar As a Government Bans Peaceful Observance of Religion, It Doesn't Respect Any Right to Be an Atheist

Stuart K. Hayashi

 To the degree that a government bans the peaceful observance of a religion, it does not respect anyone's right to be an atheist.

To say that, upon reflection and meditation, you have decided upon atheism, requires that you possessed and possess the freedom to mull over this and examine every option. 

If you live in a society where you can be any religion or have no religion, then you have the ability to weigh your options. You can study Hinduism and judge whether or not you believe in it. But let's suppose that the government outlawed any belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, etc. -- you could not even talk about it and weigh them. If that was the case, how would you truly know you are an atheist? If the State forbade you from believing in Buddhism or studying it, you would not know for certain that you disagree with Buddhism. By contrast, if you are free to observe any religion you want peaceably, and free to study all the religions, and then you judge that you disbelieve all religions, then you know your atheism is genuine. Most people who proclaim, as adults, to be atheist, reached such a point because they lived their lives for years under a specific religion and, reflecting upon their experiences, ascertained that continuing to believe in religion was not really doing it for them. You are fully free to be come to grips with your atheism no more than to the extent that you are fully free to believe in a deity.

Therefore, for you to have had the freedom to reject Hinduism, for instance, you would have needed the legal option to believe in Hinduism. It would have meant that you could hold any beliefs in your head -- including religious beliefs -- without fear of violent reprisal. 
If you do not have the option to be anything other than an atheist, then you are deprived of the capacity to "try on" a religion to judge if it fits you.  You are denied the opportunity to go through sorts of experiences that would help you decide upon and proclaim your atheism by your own free will.

Hence, only in a nation where you are free to accept or reject any religion openly and peaceably, are you free to be an atheist. A nation that forbids you the freedom to nonviolent religious worship, forbids you the capacity for the deliberation that would result in your knowing yourself to be a full-fledged atheist.