Sunday, 11 March 2012


The following is the script from my latest video on YouTube, viewable here:

As the channel name suggests, my single driving belief is that, above all else, we (the people) must coexist. The single biggest divider of people is ideology, typified by, but by no means exclusively embodied by, religion. That said, religion is a choice (even if some have had that choice taken away from them). Politics is also a choice, often informed by religion, and it is this, along with the effects of religion on education (which also effects people’s politics) that makes religion so important to me.

Jonathan Wolfe Miller, the British Theatre and opera Director, said, “In some awful, strange, paradoxical way, atheists tend to take religion more seriously than the practitioners. ”I think it neither awful, nor strange, though certainly paradoxical. People’s religiousness has a very real effect on my life, and on humanity as a whole. As with any decision based on a false premise, even with faultless logic, the conclusion will necessarily be wrong. Bad decisions in politics and education absolutely impinge upon me… and everyone else… including those that support politics on religious grounds left wondering why their policies aren’t working.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire (effectively paraphrasing him), "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". I strongly believe that freedom of speech is an inalienable human right - anyone who holds to anything less is misanthropic. This is a sweeping generalisation, but as such generalisations go; I think it a supportable one.

My personal freedom is rooted in everyone else’s ‘freedom of speech’ (including the right to say nothing), and ‘freedom of thought’ (something that nowhere near enough people exercise). These are both rooted in, and contribute to, the fundamental right to be oneself to the best of one’s ability, but with rights come responsibilities, and everyone’s key responsibility is to accord everyone else these same rights.

We (meaning humanity as a whole) are only as free as the least free amongst us. The further we (as individuals) are from those unfortunates, the less it seems to effect us, but the greater our communication technologies the smaller the whole world is. The less distance there is between us and those least free (who are not allowed to be amongst us) the less able we are to ignore it.

We can no longer ignore certain countries that use a deadly mixture of politics and Islam to oppress women and homosexuals and those of other faiths, but likewise we can’t ignore that it is a noisome mix of politics and Christianity that is being used to demonise atheists, oppress homosexuals, and denigrate women who seek abortions in some of the (not-so) United States. To be clear it is not the religions themselves but the use of those religions that is principally at fault. Religion is a personal choice, not something that can be mandated by government. The terrible irony is that in the Islamist states the oppression of women, homosexuals and those of other faiths is what keeps them from expressing their masculinity, their heterosexuality and their unique Muslim identities. Likewise, the oppression of homosexuals, atheists and women who seek abortions in the US, is what curbs the individual expression of heterosexuality, religious thought and the oft-proclaimed “family values”. In a twist on the Marxist ideal: no nation that enslaves its own can, itself, be free.

To all of you not in those countries (and even some within those countries): the freedom to be a Muslim is being abused by these Islamist states, the freedom to be a Christian is being abused by the religious right in the US. With rare exception the freedom to be anything is predicated on the freedom of the opposite to exist. The one key exception to this is that, in order to have humanity, we must not allow inhumanity (and let me be clear, sometimes the difference between those two is not that clear – euthanasia, which I generally support, being a clear case in point).

So, my channel is dedicated to exploring how we go about this, how we get there. How we remove the divisiveness from religion so as to allow the very spirituality it seeks to illuminate. It is my belief that the only way we will get there is through communication of ideas, a genuine seeking to understand each other’s viewpoint, and this requires an openness of both mind and heart on all sides. Hence the name of my channel, CO-EXISTential, in order to coexist we must be open to accepting all existential beliefs (that are humane).

If you’re a subscriber of mine already (thank you very much), or if you’ve had a look at a few of my videos, you may wonder how my strongly atheistic perspective and occasional outright mockery of religion is congruent with all that I’ve said above. It’s a fair question. I observe the right for the religious to hold their opinion, but equally I reserve the right to think it foolish – goodness knows that very often the reverse is true. I would rather be considered foolish by a theist than have my right to that position questioned. I would, further, rather have my reason for my position questioned as, by rights, that would necessitate that person of faith having given a reason for their position.

I know that many will say that faith is the denial of reason – I think this as gross a generalisation as any that theists make about atheism. Someone self-identifying as a Muslim or a Christian is giving you no information as to the quality or basis of that faith, and atheists do need to recognise that. If someone does self-identify as being of a particular faith I am interested to find out why, for one simple reason: unquestioning faith is contrary to the basic human right (and need) of self-actualisation. If you are of a faith I will still disagree with you, but if you have put thought and effort into reaching that conclusion then I respect that.

To re-state a previously used quote slightly differently: "I disapprove of what you believe, but I will defend to the death your right to believe it". I respect the person, not the belief. I would further add the maxim of reciprocity (often called the golden rule): Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In combination these two ideals are a pretty good basis for any morality. If you’re really enlightened, however, you could go with the platinum rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them… but you can only do that by talking to them, and that’s what COEXISTential is about, having that discussion.

What I want to get from discussions, on or through this channel, is a diversity of perspectives – and a clearer understanding of why people with widely divergent beliefs hold to those beliefs. My eventual intent is to use this knowledge to frame logically and rationally valid arguments that an Atheist or Agnostic might agree with in a more emotionally satisfying way, such that a theist may be better able to understand the perspective. I say this because it seems clear to me that religion is usually an emotional decision that cannot be swayed by logic – just as the average skeptical or freethinking atheist has made a logical decision and is unlikely to be swayed by an emotive argument.

So that’s the main thrust of this channel. You will also see increasing amounts of psychology-based content, and the odd bit of lay-philosophical musing along the lines of the above. So let me finish with a question for those of a religious persuasion:How do you feel about the more extreme views of those that claim the same faith as you?

One World
One People