(Rowan Atkinson is most notably recognized for his role as Mr. Bean, but for those of you who are still unfamiliar with the actor on your part, you would perhaps know him better for his voice-over role as Zazu in The Lion King. )
[Rowan] Atkinson is a very articulate and intelligent man, so I want to bring this up as a sort of debate. It is a controversial topic, however, I mean no offense.
[Atkinson commenting in 2004 on Britain's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill] To criticize a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticize their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticize ideas, any ideas- even if they are sincerely held beliefs- is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticize and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed.
I believe that we should all respect one another's religion because no matter what sort of beliefs we hold or practice, we all believe in God- whether it is the same God or not, however, Mr. Atkinson has made a very clear and, I dare say, an excellent point.
It is becoming more and more popular to argue that there is something fundamentally inappropriate and/or intolerant about criticizing religion and religious beliefs. It sometimes seems as of no serious and/or pointed criticisms are permitted against what people believe if those beliefs are part of religion- regardless of how bigoted or nasty those beliefs are.
People can level very pointed and even vicious criticisms against a movie or a play without any censure whatsoever; on the contrary, they will often be praised for their 'wit'. It's just like what Rowan said. A law which attempts to say you can criticize and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed.
Similarily pointed criticisms against a political or social idealogy are also readily accepted as part of public debate. If anything even remotely similar is said about religion and religious beliefs, however, and the critic will quickly be tarred as intolerant, bigoted, anti-religious, anti- Christian, and/or anything else which apologists for religious privilege can come up with. So, yes, if you venture the same ideas about religion as you did on the behalf of a play, a book, or a movie- - it's a big deal. It's no longer praised as 'wit'; you are just bashed down for being anti-anything-religious.
In God's Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong, S. T. Joshi explains that one tactic in this defense of religion is to portray membership in a religious community as if it were akin to belonging to a racial minority:
In some senses it appears that religious belief is now regarded as somehow equilvalent to racial identity, so that it becomes a kind of ''religious racism'' for anyone outside of a given religion to criticize it. The history of actual race prejudice is certainly such that one would do almost anything to avoid repeating its errors and injustices. But even the most cursory examination of this analogy of religion to race shows it to be fatally flawed.
... One surely cannot plausibly maintain that one is ''born'' with a specific religious outlook as one is presumably born into a given racial or ethnic group... There is no intellectual factor involved in one's race (that is, one does not choose to belong to a given race by a conscious intellectual decision), whereas there are numerous intellectual factors involved in the choice of one's religion.
So, what Joshi is saying is that we cannot choose our race but we can choose our religion. Well, religion is nothing like race, at least not in contexts like this, so while it may be wrong to attack someone's race that is no basis for arguing that there is anything wrong with attacking a religion. So, if religion cannot be portrayed as something for which criticism is morally objectionable, perhaps it can be portrayed as a mere ''preference'', something over which disagreement is pointless, after all.
However, we shouldn't neccessarily ''attack'' one's religious beliefs- I'm not saying that. We should hold respect for what everyone believes in.
Haven't we learned anything from the Protestant Prosecution in England during the early reign of Queen Elizabeth I?
In Elizabeth: The Golden Age , during the later years of Elizabeth's reign in Protestant Enlgand, every Catholic is seen as a potential threat or a potential assassin, due to the fact that Mary Queen of Scots is a Catholic Queen, and Catholics are accused of following her and siding with her in order to overthrow Elizabeth. Her ministers try to persuade Elizabeth of the seriousness of the situation by saying that they speak openly of Mary Stewart as Queen of England in waiting- - as Elizabeth is aging in years and has no child, the throne will pass to her next of kin, her cousin Mary. They even say that ''she is the poison at the heart of England'' and that ''the poison must be cut out''.
Elizabeth: You'd have me make a martyr of her. What is her crime?
Minister: Treachery, ma'am. All Catholics are traitors! Their loyalty is to Mary Stewart.
Elizabeth: How many Catholics are there in England, sir?
Minister: Immense numbers, majesty!
Minister: We believe half the nation clings to the old superstitions.
Elizabeth: What would you have me do? Cut out half the people of England?
Minister: We must act, majesty. Our inaction is taken to be weakness.
Elizabeth: If any of my people break the law, they will be punished. Until that day, I wish them to be let alone... I will not punish my people for their beliefs. Only for their deeds.
I have to agree with Elizabeth. People should not be punished nor criticized for their beliefs. However, we have every right to share our ideas, lest should we judge them. Judging ideas and sharing ideas are entirely two separate things- so what's to argue about?