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Diversity of Distrations vs. More Important Discussions

The recent in-burst of in-rage within the Occupy movement has been making the rounds. The internet outlets of choice for any Occupiers have been inundated with long winded rants concerning “diversity of tactics” whether they be pro or con, the possible ramifications and moral implications of property damage, self defense and non-violent civil disobedience. Chris Hedges may have know or may not have know what kind of reaction he was going to stir up with his piece “The Cancer In Occupy,” but considering how long he’s been excelling at provoking a reaction of some kind from various groups and institutions, the best bet is that he had some idea of what he was about to do when he set out to write the piece. All of this is a useless distraction, and the movement has much more pressing business to attend to.

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The Extreme And The Alternative

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The above are both photos of men with deep religious conviction. There is a stark contrast in what they represent to us. Never the less, they both show men whose religious conviction drove them to action. Both contain symbols that inspired others to action. Both represent men and principles which we’re able to find a foundation for in The Bible. Today, we look back on the time this picture was taken, and we see in the first photo, a symbol of the most vile hatred, a thing which steals life. In the second we see a symbol of a deep, life affirming struggle for dignity.

It is unfortunate that in the teaching and study of history, it is almost inevitable that it seems as if the present is the product of destiny. Looking back on the events of the past, we see that they have lead us here, to today and it’s a forgivable mistake to think that it had to have happened exactly as it did, especially when it’s a history we are somewhat proud of. It only takes looking a bit further back in our history to see how wrong that idea is though. We don’t like to talk about it, and there are no monuments on the national mall to represent their struggle, but then again, there was no television in the days Native Americans were being exterminated here, under sets of reasoning not very different from those used by the men in the first photo. We don’t like to talk about that because it was treated as if it were destiny at the time, which in hindsight seems extremely arrogant, especially when it means exterminating upward of six million people. Had there been pictures of Native Americans, being slaughtered or entire villages purposely infected with some terrible disease, beaming into every home in the nation at the time, their fate may have been somewhat different.

In the time the above photos were taken, what they represented was a choice. Which of these ideals was one going to follow? Both were addressing a social issue in religious terms. Both were addressing an issue related to a group of people who were assigned “minority status” by the society they lived in. Both claimed that they were fighting for the dignity of their people and invoked the name of God and various Biblical passages as proof of their moral and spiritual righteousness.

Today, we face the same choice, yet again. Which of these philosophies do we choose to support? Do we choose to support a philosophy which has benefited from, and continued because we allow it to tell us what the ultimate meaning of humanity is, creating a chasm between ourselves and those we share society with? Will we instead decide to follow a philosophy which asks that we come together, affirm the dignity of our fellow human beings and the struggle from which it has emerged? It is a choice and it is each of ours to make.

Today, we face issues that may be different in their complexity and in their circumstance (though not all of them are really even that different circumstantially), but that base question rests between these two ideals. On the one hand, we have men and women who have spent near their entire lives and in aggregate billions of dollars in the attempt to convince us that those with whom we live are not fit to live amongst us or that their rights are by their existence, an infringement on our rights. At the time the photos at the top were taken, the new medium of television was an integral part of bringing the results of that philosophy into people’s living rooms. Today, it is quite possible for an individual who has already decided they believe many of their fellow human beings inferior (for any number of reasons) to go through an entire day having their choice affirmed and that philosophy served up in ever more zealous ways. They can go through the entire day, hearing it on the radio, come home and find it waiting on the television. The disastrous results of their decision do not have to invade their personal reality.
For everyone else, whether or not they have made a choice, we are being subjected to those results. Policy after policy is being based simply on these very same ideals. They are (as slavery was) often dressed up in economic and religious arguments, but at the end of the day, even those economic policies are at base, these same philosophies. We have seen this same question put to us continuously in the last twenty years about the rights of the LGBT community. Will we treat them as fellow human beings, as deserving of dignity as respect as we are or will we choose instead to treat them as lesser beings, who deserve none of our respect for dignity due to our innate superiority? This is the same question, again and again, and again.

There  has most recently been a hard fought battle related to the sanctity of the individuals right to decide their own medical needs and desires. It has been packaged by as an issue of religious freedom. To those claiming this an issue of religious freedom I would ask if they are as surely outraged by the New York Police Department’s surveillance and cataloging of mosque’s, Muslim college students and business’s across the entire Northeast? The right issue of religious freedom is among those that should never be specially enforced for any group, minority or majority. Yet, among so many currently using every second in front of a microphone or a camera to obsess about the principle of religious freedom, this wholesale state assault on the privacy of individuals founded only on their religious affiliation has been strangely absent from the critique. We have experienced no attack on religious freedom in the last two decades as focused and ferocious as that which has been leveraged against the Muslim community, and many of those now making an argument that their religious freedom trumps the freedom of the individual to make medical decisions with the council of their doctors. Instead of making the claim that religious freedom is a principle not based on the adherents choice in religion or that medical decisions are based upon the choice of the individual, they are asserting, through word and the action of legislation, that it is their freedom and their right to choose for other individuals, based on their choice of religion. They are and were among those move vocally opposing a Muslim community center being in New York at all when they realized it was a politically profitable position to take. They have also been among those who have most viciously slandered Islam as a whole, calling it a religion of violence, hatred and bent on world domination.

There can be absolutely no argument made that among the billion Muslim’s in the world, there are those who favor violence as the method of attempting to solve their grievances, whether those grievances are specifically religious or political. These men, and some women, have succeeded in provoking an already hostile and arrogant Western world into portraying them as savages. The problem being, we in the U.S. certainly have no particularly strong moral ground to stand on when it comes to the denunciation of savagery. Savagery of this same variety was visited directly on the original citizens, whose birthright the land this nation was founded on, the Native Americans. And the reality is, this circle of violence, of men bowing to the least human and humane methods through which to solve problems or temper their differences has served only in seeing to it that hundreds of thousands are dead, millions are without homes or the basic necessities for the foundation for a life which is full in it’s dignity, in both that given and received. These hateful, and ultimately self absorbed individuals have done little but cause their countrymen and their fellow human beings more suffering and death. Extremism in the Middle East, extremism in the West, and extremism of the “tolerance” of this extremity are all to blame. These have been wars created by extremists, none of whom believe in either religious freedom or believe in the basic dignity of the human being who doesn’t passively submit to their demands for religious, social, political, economic, racial and gender domination. They are people who do not understand that the increasing interconnected nature of the world has made their world view obsolete. Average Afghan’s have no more interest in holding dominion over average Americans than is true of the reverse.

We see now that this same psycho drama is playing out even in relation to questions of Iran’s nuclear program, and what should or can be done to prevent it. There can’t be an honest assessment of the entirety of the situation which comes to the conclusion that Iran having regular access to nuclear materials is something that is in any way going to improve any situation. It is a regime under the variety of extremism and zealotry that is yearning for greater power here in the United States. It is a regime which recognizes only it’s freedom to impose it’s will on the citizenry, and through it’s proxy’s, other nations including Israel and Pakistan. No honest assessment of the situation can suggest that it is beyond the realm of possibilities that material provided by an Iranian nuclear program will not, at the least, end up in a dirty bomb releasing a cloud of radioactive materials in the center of Tel Aviv. No sane person who believes in the dignity, health and rights of human beings can believe that is an acceptable situation.

Israel, for it’s part, has squandered much of the international communities good will as it has crept toward an extremist treatment of the Palestinians and Palestine as a whole. Israel’s current course, constantly threatening to take preemptive military measures against Iran while refusing to make any concessions to Palestinian requests, is adding nothing good. The moral quagmire surrounding Israel, it’s establishment and it’s right to exist has become an intellectual exercise on the part of almost all parties other than the Israeli’s who’ve lived their entire lives in a society consistently terrorized by bombings and murder, and the Palestinians who have been living with Israeli occupation since at least 1948. Because of the nature of the way it was established, it leaves no simple answer. Due to the inflexibility and extremism the European Jews faced when they were forced to flee to what was not yet the state of Israel, there are no morally sound grounds for any of the arguments that suggest Israel, as a state, should or should not exist. It is among the more catastrophically stupid, insane and immoral situations in the history of the modern world. No one is right, and everyone’s position is relatively understandable. For it’s part, the vocally anti-Israel segment of the American political spectrum is disingenuous, at best and deluded at worst. Should Americans have spent forty years living with the constant bombardment of their civil, social and private lives with bombs and bullets, we would be a nation that went collectively insane a very long time ago. We have suffered very few terrorist attacks in comparison, though 9/11 was an attack on the most horrible scale, we succeeded in losing any sense of our moral composition in the years that followed. Should Israel now take another step down that same road by preemptively striking another sovereign nation, they will succeed in doing something no one else could possibly do right now. Striking Iran preemptively, will only serve to take an Arab and Muslim world that is fracturing, in a very good way, and provide for it’s most extreme voices to once again glue together a nightmare of horrific enough weight that it will reverse the progress made there. Extremism can not exist in a society without fear and terror a a sufficiently frightening “other.”

That fracture happening now, between the people of the Middle East, and the extremist dictators and regimes which have oppressed them so long, presents diplomatic opportunities for both Israel and the West that haven’t been present for decades. There is a fact whose importance can’t be under estimated though. All of the people struggling against these repressive, violent regimes are being assaulted, shot, shelled and murdered with arms manufactured in the West, specifically, here in the United States. Regardless of the final result, should Egyptians win their freedom from all oppression, find their way to establishing some form of society and government which they believe to represent them, they are not going to forget that the shell casings from which the bullets that killed their family, friends and neighbors have been killed, were all stamped with “Made in the U.S.A.” The pictures of young people holding up tear gas canisters with that phrase painted on them are not soon going to leave the popular consciousness. The same can be said for Bahrain, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebannon and so on. There are people at the very center of mainstream American politics, today, saying that the United States should have backed the Mubarak regime, because it was historically friendly to us. They are saying essentially, that the fight Egyptians are waging for their own freedom is of less importance than the ultimate level of influence and superiority we “could have had” in the Middle East. Because it is somehow better to have influence through a violent, despotic regime than to have gained that influence through having demonstrated some degree of moral sense, and stopped supporting a vile dictator. They favor this above having a relationship between the people of Egypt and the people of the United States which says, “We stand for and support each others humanity, each others basic right to dignity and respect.” It is better, they believe, to have been the ally of a dictator who was responsible for mass oppression, than to finally, after too many years, take the side of people who are fighting for their own dignity. It is more than optimistic or naive to suggest these same people, supporting these brutal regimes, would have any different an attitude toward citizens of the United States who might attempt to assert their right to dignity and to govern their own lives. It is patently stupid and the result of willful ignorance at it’s worst. In this particular case, the Egyptian citizens are the one’s who are serving own their need for dignity and respect. Who among us at home may fall into that category now or at any point in the future and why would we be stupid to expect those who are willing to support brutal dictatorship to ever respect and respond to our calls for the same dignity and respect?

Should Israel go through with it’s threat to preemptively strike Iran in order to remove any possible nuclear capability they have, it will be yet another example of Western (overwhelmingly interpreted as the United States) manufactured weapons reigning down on Muslims, from what is seen as an oppressive regime. Whether or not one agrees with the idea that Israel is an oppressive regime doesn’t actually matter, because to the majority of the Middle East’s Muslim population, that is what Israel represents. Israel preemptively striking a sovereign nation could also serve to frighten the citizens of other Middle Eastern nations enough to create the kind of atmosphere where they end up seeking the kind of strength that is projected by the more extreme factions of Islam in the region. It’s should also not be forgotten that right now, one of Iran’s most steadfast allies, Syria, is in the midst of what has basically degenerated into a civil war. Should Iran be preemptively attacked, there’s no real way of understanding if that will propel them to intervene in that conflict in whatever way they can to prop up their primary ally. It is after all, Syria, who has been primarily responsible for insuring that Hamas has been armed with the capabilities to continue to antagonize Israel. The more time passes, the more it seems true that Israel has done itself no favors through retaliation against Lebanon. Though it was completely understandable at the time, in the larger picture, it is again a “Western power” reigning destruction down on Arabs and Muslims. It is also worth mentioning that for all of those criticizing Israel with a rather profound zeal, calling for it’s dissolution, none of them seem to be also offering up the idea that the United States dissolve itself and return the land on which it rests to those whom it waged genocide against.

By all accounts, the Iranian population are a sophisticated people, and it’s a country which is overwhelmingly young in its demographic. Israel, and the United States will be making a grave mistake in punishing this population for it’s leaders myopic world view. It’s worth it to remember that prior to Egypt and the Arab Spring, Iranians had taken to the streets in protest. They may have been poorly planned, and without a larger, long term strategy, but that is even more reason to believe waiting on the Iranian people to be ready to make their own move toward a real, strengthened opposition is the best strategy. Those who were among the organizers of those protests will have learned exactly how necessary a long term strategy is for success. And with the increasingly stringent sanctions taking their toll, unemployment will continue to rise (already a problem for Iranian youth) and pressure within Iran itself will continue to mount. That is to say, so long as the unifying experience of foreign invasion and attack remains absent from the equation. Few things are as good at unifying any population as the experience of foreign attackers blowing that populations infrastructure to hell.

Let’s also not forget that one of the most often referenced extremes in the Muslim world is that toward it’s women. The Bush administration attempted to trot out it’s humanitarian ideals in giving this reason for going to war in Afghanistan, and in the following decade, even as it’s become inevitably clear to the most ardent of interventionist “hawks” that the war in Afghanistan was begun, and largely executed with absolutely no discernible goals and is therefore an absolute mess, the most extreme of those interventionists have continued to pine for the safety of the female population of Afghanistan should the United States completely withdraw from the nation. There should be no doubt or miscommunication, the Taliban’s treatment of women was a horrific affront to anyone who believes in the right of the human being to dignity. It was a disgusting exemplification of what happens when one human being is allowed to act on the  belief in their right of ownership over another human being. the Taliban believe the men of a society have ownership over the women. All of this, again, given through religious foundations.

The problem with this line of reasoning resides directly in our own homes as well. The most chauvinistic of extremes in Muslim cultures views women as property that men can do with as they see fit. If the last few months are many indications that there are more than a few extremists here who believe no differently in principle, though cultural differences make them unable to take the same extremity of action. In Virginia’s General Assembly, a bill that proposed the state’s requirement of inserting an object into a woman’s vagina without regard to her consent, was disposed of only because there was a swift and well organized opposition to a degree that the extremists in that legislative body aren’t quite used to encountering. Regardless of the reasoning, should it be because she is attempting to get an abortion, an ice cream cone, a Jeep Cherokee or trying to understand what her reproductive choices are going to be in the future, the state requiring that a woman have a medically unnecessary object inserted into her vagina is based on the underlying assumption that she belongs either to the state (in this case, overwhelmingly male in it’s composition) or the men who are acting in what they believe are the state’s interests. Those interests are founded on religious arguments. One can not assume it is their right to require such a thing without first assuming the individual is theirs in propriety or that at least, the privilege of the decisions of medical necessity belong to them, which at the end of the day, is essentially the same thing as treating a human being as if they are an object that can be owned. If one can not have rely on the safety of their person, their body, from unnecessary invasion from the state, exactly what kind of unnecessary invasion from the state can they feel safe from? It is essentially saying that the woman in question does not have the right to the dignity of her own agency, and that without agency must have decisions relating to her well being made by those who do have agency. All of this, is of course, undertaken with “religious freedom” as it’s battle cry. The freedom of any individual, male or female, to not have their person invaded without medical necessity apparently falls behind that of these individuals to propel their religious beliefs on others or in this case, actually inside others. To say this is not extreme, physical invasion, mandated by the state, under religious terms is to be either dishonest or without a strong enough sense of one’s own agency to understand the degree of insult this is.

That degree of extremism, the degree to which one believes they are mandated by religion to have the right to an invade an others bodily integrity, is a few degrees shy from the basis upon which we see mutilation and murder of women happening in the other religions these very same people have decried as a danger. Bodily invasion in order to induce shame or guilt isn’t very many degrees removed from bodily disfigurement, and the many things that follow it. The agency of the individual over which this will is exercised must be disregarded, dismissed or must never have been taken into account as actually existing in equal to that of the individual attempting to exercise their will. She, over whom this will must be exercised, must of necessity, be a lesser being or (more frighteningly) the individual who is attempting to have their will done on the other, must be a sadist.

That kind of sadism is not something absent from the history of the United States either. We need look no further back than the Tuskegee Airmen to understand how pernicious this mentality can be. Americans who had volunteered to serve their country were experimented on without their consent, like lab rats. All of this, essentially because an extremist perspective had been too long tolerated, and the basis of that perspective was the superiority of one group to another, often given foundation in religious terms. There is also the lesser known, and equally shocking program of medical experiments committed on citizens of Guatemala without their knowledge or consent. We can continue to look back at medical history for any number of interesting results, especially in treatment of the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill to see that when a human being begins with being understood to lack agency, that it takes nothing at all for an extreme perspective to therefore impose their own will on them, and all too often that ends with the absolute disregard for dignity and humanity.

All of these examples of this variety of extremism, that has no respect for human dignity, much less for the dignity of the autonomy of the individual, may have threads of religious extremism, but this shouldn’t be mistaken to be the fault of religion. To say that religion is the force and the reason for this variety of religious zeal and extremism is to leave individual without responsibility and to take little account of the individuals autonomy. It is to suggest, at the least, that the individuals who have chosen to embrace and to propagate extremism of this variety have never been offered any variety of alternative. That, is patently, demonstratively false. The choice has been presented to them in a thousand different ways. It has been presented in various forms of secular humanism, an alternative most people of faith find hard to accept, understandably, as well as many different traditions of faith offering a very different path, no less religious, no less pious, but full of the respect for the dignity of humanity and the autonomy of the individual.

Those who have been playing the ass, braying about religious freedom while showing themselves to have none of the respect for human dignity that makes all of this freedom and all other freedoms possible (expressed in the Constitution as “We behold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happines” even as they were excluding large populations from those Rights, it represents a deeply profound ideal in contemporary context), have made a conscious choice at some point in their lives to follow or continue to follow this extremism. It can not be asserted that an adult, understood to be psychologically sound, here in the United States, could not at some point in their lives, encountered a tradition of deep religious faith that has more respect for human dignity than these varieties of extremism. No one can say that there isn’t a degree of cultural pressure in the varieties of extremism that proselytize for it, that the individual may not face exclusion from that community should they cease to espouse those beliefs, but to accept this as an excuse is to again suggest that the individual in the situation does not have or exercise autonomy. It is, a matter of responsibility, to put it in the terms these extreme groups favor. These are people who have abandoned any responsibility to act in an accountable fashion in the context of the larger community in which they exist. They are making a choice to be responsible only to an extremist doctrine and an extremist community that provides both confirmation and affirmation of it.

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We have today, in our public sphere, the person of Rick Santorum. He has become a near perfect amalgamation of a number of varieties of American extremism. Santorum is only an example though, as without the mass of hate filled hearts praying for his success, he would be the equivalent of a street corner preacher who is passed without thought by the overwhelming majority of pedestrians. The interview here contains an interesting and notable set of ideas. Santorum provides a commentary on a relatively famous speech by John F. Kennedy in which he proclaimed that the wall between church and state was absolute. Santorum has made the claim that this makes him want to vomit. What Santorum, as a Catholic, and someone who most assuredly knows the historical context of J.F.K’s speech, is not only being disingenuous, he’s being completely dishonest and is also demonstrating one of the most most horrifically terrifying qualities of this kind of extremism. The historical context for J.F.K’s comments are such that he was the first Catholic to have a very good shot at winning the presidency. At the time, he was facing the religious extremists of his own day, who had joined together in a strange cabal of hatred. Not only were there those who were using religion as an excuse to attempt to stop the Civil Rights movement, but there were also those that were horrified at the possibility of a Catholic in the White House. The combination of the two strains of unreasoned hatred were producing a narrative suggesting, essentially, that the Pope would be running the country, and because this was the period during which the country was experiencing a political realignment on race (which itself divided the nations Catholic community), that would also mean black people would be able to do terrible, horrible things… like vote, eat in restaurants white people were also eating in, go to public schools where there were also white children, and so on and so forth.

Santorum is Catholic. One can not grow up with a devout Catholic background in this country without being aware of the exact kind of religious prejudice J.F.K faced while running for office (having come from a family with a few devout Catholics, I assure you, they have not forgotten). J.F.K’s proclamation of the absolute wall between church and state was his defense against religious extremists attempting to keep him out of office based (so far as the religious aspect of their argument was concerned) on his being Catholic. Now, Santorum, running as a kind of Catholic Crusader for the 21st century is deriding the man whose decision to do so helped him win the presidency and as a result, has made it easier for Santorum to find his way onto the ballot in the national primary for one of the nation’s two major political primaries. Santorum is demonstrating the ability of extremists like this to attempt to outcast and destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with them at the very moment they’re making any particular argument. If there hadn’t been a J.F.K to be the first Catholic president, Santorum would be facing a degree of scrutiny about his religious beliefs that he may not have survived thus far, and it would specifically be coming from exactly the same extremist community he is now courting with these comments. Santorum, it seems, is willing to make a historically inaccurate and genuinely hateful statement about a man to whom he owes a debt of gratitude, in defense of his extremism. Again, in this context, why should any of us question the willingness of extremists like this to throw us to the wolves and disregard any call for a recognition of our dignity as human beings?

Santorum is also espousing the same variety of extreme view related to women, their rights to make their own decisions about their health, and economic views which aren’t far behind in the degree of extremism they exhibit. He is also among those most loudly trumpeting the idea that the United States should attack Iran, probably very soon. He is espousing that royal flush of American mainstream extremism, that no community other than his own has the right to the dignity and respect of the fullness of their humanity. Even those who may hold similar views, must at some point ask themselves at which point they may be on the other side of this kind of extremist thinking and willingness to degrade and dehumanize? Should one believe they are going to forever be able to be in complete, exact agreement with this kind of extremism, it’s history should be considered, and the number of times it has changed allegiance should be readily apparent. Their hatred may have one target today, but it may be amongst formerly allied communities tomorrow.

Santorum would essentially be a cartoon character if not for the fact that he is one of the front runners for the nomination of one of our major political parties. This is not to single out the Republicans, not to single out conservatives or to single out anyone who often finds themselves on what is popularly considered the political right in the United States. The average person who associates themselves with the American right is fundamentally interested in the question of the governments ability to inject itself into the individual’s ability to make decisions for themselves. This is a philosophically and morally decent question to ask, and many of them make both philosophically and morally sensible arguments related to that question. It is a good thing to have around, there should never be any doubt about that. They may be fairly religious as well, and may hold some of those views which the faith organization of their choice espouses. At the same time, they are no more interested in the government inserting itself in their lives on the basis of religion than they are having it insert itself for any other reason. Extremists like Santorum, Pat Robertson, Ken Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson’s protegé), Glenn Beck and so forth, have stolen the megaphone from American conservatism and are taking it down a dangerous path of extremist theocracy. This is not to demonize good people who have different opinions. Differing opinions should be valued and should be welcomed. Where that difference should be abruptly and forcefully confronted is when it demands it can and should be asserted on to others.

For those of us who actually believe in religious freedom as a principle, as opposed to a banner to hide our prejudices and hatred behind, we have made a choice as well. We have chosen to remain silent for what now looks to have been far too long. If you wonder why it is the more militant among wide array of people who can be considered part of the atheist community have begun to undertake a campaign of attacking religion as a whole, this is why. Tolerance is a virtue. Taken to an extreme it becomes apathy. This can no longer be the default setting for anyone who is interested in not having their lives, their governance and their society dominated by the varieties of extremism which have been outlined here. It is no longer tolerance. It is no longer in the best interests of a civil society to allow this kind of extremism to go unchallenged. For anyone who thinks this is an alarmist perspective, that somehow, someone, somewhere will come along and speak enough sense to put this insanity to rest, stop waiting. It will only be those people who believe in an actual religious freedom, for all, who will be able to expose this extremism.

This extremism is never going to be successfully battled and sent back to the dungeons of public acceptance, where it belongs, by making claims that religion has no place in contemporary society. Human beings are no more likely, in the foreseeable future, to abandon belief in religion than they are to abandon the idea of living in cities. Both have been a part of civilization since it began, neither is going anywhere soon, and this being a given, it is both ridiculous and wasteful to spend time making these claims and assumptions. It should also be noted that determining whether or not religion should be allowed, practiced or a part of society is, in principle, no different than the different varieties of expulsion these religious extremists call for. There is, contrary to what many of the more extreme religious instigators like to claim, a fundamental difference between the atheist asserting religion must be done away with and the religious zealot demanding all people bow to or be subjected to the dictates of their faith. One is asserting people should be free of the intellectual, emotional and psychological bonds of religion, and therefore, be allowed to look objectively at the choices they have and make. The other is asserting theirs is the only idea or ideal that should be acceptable. Though the sentiment may be coming from a much more respectful and respectable perspective when the atheist makes this claim, they are still denying one variety of choice in their equation, that of religious belief. In a society based on human respect, this shouldn’t be the case. The belief in a theology or a deity isn’t the base problem, it is the dressing draped over the rotting corpse of a society that has too long tolerated dehumanization.

In the end, the call to end religion from one part of what is a large and diverse atheist community, is essentially a reaction to that dehumanization, and it is that which should be addressed, fully, face to face. Tolerance does not have to mean that a person or that a society accepts the manipulation of their good will in having been tolerant, which is what has become the norm among these extremists. Like their calls to religious freedom, their chief antagonism toward a tolerant society has been to cry discrimination when confronted. Even as those who are religious are the majority, and the majority of the society exists in a way that favors their religious preferences, when confronted about this extremism, they have turned to decrying all of those who have stood firmly to say that tolerance can not mean tolerating discrimination, hate filled rhetoric (that has no basis in fact), and invective meant to dehumanize those of our brothers and sisters toward whom it is directed. That is not tolerance, it is apathy and it is enabling the destruction of that tolerance and the good that it does any society. It also serves to stall the further advance of making a society based on respect and dignity. It devolves into the false dichotomy that we now face, the extremists and the rest of us who would like to be able to get about our lives, in keeping with that respect and tolerance. It serves to keep a society, that like ours, is ever changing and evolving, from being able to take the correct steps to address those changes and the evolution that is inevitable. Instead, the changes come, the evolution happens, and because they are ignored in favor of attempting to keep these same extremists from denying a recognition of that basic respect and dignity, we are all left playing a collective game of catch up, trying to undo problems which could have been prevented with a sober and sane accounting of the facts. The ultimate result is that we are not having the debates and discussions which are actually necessary in order to be sure we are prepared for the inevitable future.

In a world that is more and more connected every single day, in which the actions of people on the other side of the world have more effect on our lives today than they ever have in the past, we must be laying the groundwork and building the infrastructure which will support the weight of that reality. Instead of having the discussion about why it is we are falling so far behind in seeing to it that every community in the nation has access to broadband internet, we are arguing women’s rights, the rights of the LGBT community, and essentially ignoring the problem of mass incarceration. This can not continue if we, as a society, expect to be able to be part of the kind of world community that is developing.  And in that world community, it is going to take a degree of tolerance and humility to be a vital, effective and positive actor. With the events surrounding Iran right now, we are seeing what the extremes of the ideologies of the twentieth century have produced. If we have any hope of avoiding the same mistakes, we must prepare for the world that is hurling toward us at an ever accelerated rate. We can not afford to continue to be mired down in the arguments of the nineteenth century in a twenty-first century world or we will be cast out from all of the benefits that it has in store.

We, who believe that it is possible to have a society which is based on and takes a real account of human dignity and respect, must no longer stand in our own separate communities. We must no longer stand alone. What has long been on the side of the extremists is that they have become glued together, speaking of one mind, speaking from the same invective filled script, spreading the terror of everyone who is not within ear shot as they go. It’s now time that we begin to speak together. It’s time now that we begin to stand together. It’s time now that we say, “We have tolerated extremism long enough. We have wrestled with our responsibilities to tolerance, to acceptance and to the right of those who would to spread their hatred. It’s time now to address those problems that have been neglected as a result, and to prepare for those the future will bring.”

This responsibility comes with an important understanding. Those who have come to espouse and push this kind of extremism are our kin, fellow citizens as much as those who have spent their lives working toward creating a world which is based on human respect and dignity. Extremism can no more be expelled from a society or the world than religion, atheism or culture. It would not be an effective or realistic goal. What is a realistic and effective goal is that the rest of us, who don’t believe in these hateful ideas, stand together as one people, and act with the dignity and respect we are fighting for. Extremism is defeated with further extremism. Nor is it defeated with anger and invective. It is defeated with the strength of a confident, proactive community which can communicate the values it most deeply believes in. Extremism is defeated by facing people who stand with straight backs, loving hearts, sharp minds and the clear statements of the truths they hold to be self evident. It is time that extremism is exposed for what it is, the terrified cries of people who have lost understanding and bearing in the world that exists. Defeating it means providing that understanding and the symbols that give real meaning.

This is going to mean we must stop waiting for the state, it’s chosen methods and the necessary changes that extremism makes impossible. This is to say, that if you are among those who have been the target of this extremism, you must begin to step away from the divisions which have historically existed in American society. We must no longer have women’s rights issues. Women’s rights issues must be all of our issues. We must no longer have immigrant issues. Immigrant issues must be all of our issues. Issues of the black community must be all of our issues. Issues of the LGBT community must be all of our issues. The issues of the middle class and the poor must be all of our issues. We must begin to see ourselves less as separate communities attempting to reach for the respect and dignity our communities deserve than we must begin to see that this struggle to achieve that recognition is never going to move forward so long as the extremist ideologues who have so long targeted our communities can turn to another community to attack in order to distract attention the second one of our communities begins to make advances. All of these issues are fundamentally related in their struggle for dignity and basic human respect. We must also extend the understanding of what this community to those across the globe who favor the struggle for dignity and respect instead of the struggle for domination and dictatorial control. Without doing so, the extremists among us will always be able to rile an unfounded fear of the other “out there,” and we will again be distracted by phantoms and tricks of rhetoric, instead of addressing the very real problems we have and which will be coming in the future. We are the first generation to live in a truly global community. That community is going to continue to grow closer and more intimate, and we have within us the capability to create a vision for the future that is compelling, respectful and dignified enough to be able to put the mistakes and problems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries behind us, if we are willing to address the extremists that prevent it now.

Another world is possible.

*The images contained here have all been included as a demonstration of the fact that there are varieties of this extremism that have been beaten back before, and also that in order to be able to confront them, they must be faced and looked at for what they are.