I wrote this is in as opinion piece for the UCT newspaper – here it is in its entirety
The UCT Atheist & Agnostic Society could not have chosen a better time to come into fruition. We have Errol Naidoo to thank for reason’s proliferation into UCT. Naidoo and his army – who claim to know the mind of an ineffable deity – raised a cloud of anger, hatred and vitriol, aimed at Sax Appeal and UCT because of a recent “offensive” article. It seems ironic that Naidoo positioned himself on the periphery to an Islamic response: Christians, he says, unlike Islamists, would not resort to violence. Strange then that Max Price reports that staff at UCT did in fact receive death-threats.
The AAS was not fond of the Sax Appeal article, but we certainly will defend the editors’ right to publish whatever they like. This is the basis for the freedom of speech: I have the right to say and mock whatever I like (as long as there is no incitement to violence or squandering of liberty), and you have the same right to mock my view. We do not amount to hurting or threatening each other. Reason dictates that on the strength of the idea alone, it is able to stand up to counter-arguments: It is a sign of weakness, not strength, when adherents to a particular idea or belief raise voices against counter-arguments, demanding we “respect” their idea on the basis of “feelings” alone.
And if the religious are going to claim freedom of speech, which is underpinned by reciprocity, they should surely be aware of the offense to atheists. Imagine, if nonbelievers used offence as a legitimate means of argument, as the faithful do.
After going through rehashed theistic arguments, Taryn Hodgon, in the last VARSITY, says: “[atheists] continue in their blasphemy, SEXUAL IMMORALITY AND DRUNKENNESS.” She then, helpfully, informs us that we must abandon sin. That is very offensive to atheists. I know many atheists who don’t care about religion, aren’t “getting any”, and hate alcohol. This generalisation is unhelpful since by “immoral” she means “goes against her particular brand of Christianity”. Presumably she eats pork or drinks wine – which, by Islam’s model, is immoral. But would this make her change her stance to make another group feel happy? HL Mencken correctly defined puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Such is the case here.
Someone called Lugisani Nefale says “those loose Atheist believers” (which translates as “those loose non-believing believers” – an oxymoron) “are running wild on campus”. What on earth does this mean? Nefalalso says “atheism is a form of faith”. Presumably this is meant to be an insult, but that means he is insulting himself twice:
1. “Faith” used as an insult shows he views it just as we do. Namely as something silly.
2. He means that those of us who do not believe in his god have a faith. Fine, but that means that his nonbelief in Tezcatlipoca, Quetzquoatl, and Thor are 3 faiths. But this is madness. If the very disbelief in faith is a faith, the dialogue stops.
Instead let it begin: Let those religious societies explain to us why their amazing deity can not handle insults from a talking ape (It can’t be because he is sensitive, since in Deuteronomy he demands we kill a woman on her wedding night if she is not a virgin).
The AAS will defend blasphemy, a human right, and those who speak against religion. That does not mean we disrespect people. Respecting people repudiates respecting their ideas, as my friend Johann Hari says: “I respect you too much as human being to respect your stupid ideas.” Ideas and people are not the same, and it is the religious failing to understand this that results in so much hatred. Let us sit openly, in a friendly manner, and discuss these IDEAS critically and freely. We urge all societies to help us to arrange forthcoming discussions which highlight key areas and highlight why freedom of speech matters to everyone regardless of beliefs.
Remember, humans have rights – NOT their ideas.
For the next installement see this.