Young Freethought is a new blog restricted – with exceptions – mainly to the 16–21 age range, and promises to be a lively and challenging journal of articles and comments from young freethinkers.
One of its founders is Michael Campbell, who made Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and several other seminal works, aware of Young Freethought, and Dawkins has responded with some kind words.
It is all too easy for debates about the role of religion to become inward-looking and academic [writes Dawkins to Campbell], but it really does matter. Every day, all across the world, millions of our fellow humans are diminished by religion: religion that may force them to mutilate their children, cover their hair or faces, stay silent when they have so much more to say than those who suppress them, surrender control over their reproduction, donate money they cannot afford, obey and submit to their inferiors, deny reality, forgo education, close their minds, reject proper medical care, suffer needlessly, be burdened by pointless guilt, and live with the spectre of eternal torment. Every day, religion works to recruit more victims, among the young, the sick, the poor and dispossessed, the old: anyone who is weak and vulnerable is a legitimate target in religion’s eyes.
Of course, in any civilised society people must be free to believe whatever they want, but this doesn’t mean those beliefs should be automatically shielded from challenge just because they are religious, and it certainly doesn’t mean they should be enshrined in law or promulgated by the state. It doesn’t mean that the state should abet churches and mosques and temples in trying to convert young minds in schools. It doesn’t mean that young people should be divided from one another throughout their all-important school lives purely because their parents happen to follow different creeds. It doesn’t mean we should allow our state broadcaster to perpetuate the myth that you need religion to be good. It doesn’t mean that the minority of people who are actively religious should have privileged access to our lawmakers, their opinions sought out by policy makers, their bishops sit, as of right, in the House of Lords, their representatives automatically packing government committees or Royal Commissions with an ethical brief. It doesn’t mean that our hard-pressed NHS should squander money paying chaplains out of its already over-stretched budgets. It doesn’t mean that schools should be obliged to force pupils into daily acts of worship.
Every major battle for the advancement of human rights has been won in the teeth of fierce religious opposition: whether it’s the abolition of slavery, equality for women or gays, freedom of speech, the abolition of the blasphemy law, the right of a woman to control her own fertility, or the right of the terminally ill to choose to end their suffering with dignity and medical assistance.
So, this really matters – in the real world and not just in internet chatrooms. Of course we must leave people in peace to practise religion if they so choose. But the rest of us must be left in peace to live our lives without it. The religious want more and more influence over government policy and, if they succeed, our society will be the poorer: less tolerant, less equal, less just, less educated, less rational. These issues should matter to all of us, but young people are the ones who should care most of all. You will inherit the societies that current governments leave behind. This is your future we are talking about, and the kind of society you want to live in.
If you want – and what decent person wouldn’t? – to live with the best Enlightenment values, live free and tolerant and committed to knowledge and education and reason, then you must speak up and let your voices be heard.
This is why I welcome this blog so wholeheartedly. You will shape our society’s future, and it is exhilarating to see you preparing to do so.
So well done, YF.