As the new atheist movement has grown on the internet over the last two decades, religious people are increasingly referring to any criticisms of their religions as hate speech or bigotry. This has created a situation where the religious, especially in the West, have become unwitting allies of the cultural Left, as the religious are making a specific claim to moral relativism to shield themselves from criticism. Any criticism or critique of religion is bigotry because everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and you must “respect” those beliefs. I submit to you that religion should not be immune from criticism, and that it is extremely harmful when it is. So first let’s look at the definition of the word bigot, according to Merriam-Webster:
a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)
A key feature of a bigot is someone who strongly dislikes or hates a group that is different from them. Today, people (usually Social Justice Warriors on the internet) are conflating bigotry with any and all criticism of an idea or group of religious people. If we are not allowed to think and speak critically about any and all ideas, then we are truly lost as a society. There are big consequences for this attitude, especially as they relate to the principle of freedom of speech, and how important that is for living in a free society. Furthermore, describing criticism of religion as hate speech implies that this speech should be banned by the law and simply disallowed. This to me seems to be one of the worst consequences of adopting moral relativism and cultural subjectivity as the most important aspects of someone’s worldview, and is extremely harmful to freedom of speech, a founding principle of a free society. The notion that religion or other ideas can’t be criticized is also harmful to society in general.
Protecting unpopular or controversial speech is essential to protecting freedom of speech for everyone. Whether you like someone’s speech or not, as long as that speech does not incite violence or harm to another person, it is allowed. This principle in freedom of speech is essential to a free society. If people cannot speak openly and honestly about what they believe for fear of reprisal, then they are not truly free. The ability to criticize bad ideas and bad governments is essential to maintaining that freedom. The term hate speech itself implies that some speech should be banned, violating the principle of freedom of speech. Unpopular or controversial speech needs to be protected because it is the most likely to be attacked. When someone says something I don’t like, I should not have the ability to take away their freedom or their life for it.
Religions or ideologies that make claims about the supernatural, and then try to apply their beliefs to the law deserve criticism and scrutiny. If religion can’t be criticized it makes it that much easier for them to take control of the cultural narrative and apply their beliefs to the law in spite of dissenting opinions, which have been silenced. Any criticism is shouted down as bigotry or hate speech, and critical thinking goes out the window. I don’t want to live in a world where that is the case. I want to live in a world where there is a marketplace of ideas, with the best ideas rising to the top. If your ideology or religion cannot take criticism, then it doesn’t belong in that marketplace.
I believe that the primary reason all criticism is attacked in this way is because religion can’t take criticism, it is designed to be accepted uncritically by the populace and believed in with a strong emotional fervor. Attacking any criticism as bigotry or hate speech shuts down the criticism, deflects it, and short circuits critical thinking in the minds of many listeners. People who are taught that all beliefs are equal and that you must respect all beliefs are prevented from thinking critically about ideas. Beliefs don’t deserve respect or special treatment, they deserve analysis. Criticism of an idea or belief is not bigotry. It doesn’t necessarily imply hatred or dislike of a person, it simply means that I don’t agree with your idea and here’s why. I choose not to believe it because of the following reasons. That’s not bigotry, that’s not hate speech, that’s common sense. The bottom line is, if your beliefs can’t stand up to scrutiny and can’t handle criticism without shouting the critics down, or worse even resorting to violent retaliation, then your beliefs probably don’t deserve to be taken seriously.