Anthony Grayling, an atheist philosopher, writes that “It is time to demand of believers that they take their personal choices and preferences in these non-rational and too often dangerous matters into the private sphere, like their sexual proclivities. Everyone is free to believe what they want, providing they do not bother (or coerce, or kill) others . . . it is time to demand and apply a right for the rest of us to non-interference by religious persons and organizations – a right to be free of proselytisation and the efforts of self-selected minority groups to impose their own choice of morality and practice on those who do not share their outlook” (1).
This is a deeply problematic statement for several good, obvious reasons. Firstly, Grayling, by holding to a double standard, clearly believes that he has the right to advance his views because he claims to know the truth. Who says? Myself, and many billions of other people in the world, claim to know the truth that clearly does not sit well with Grayling’s atheistic beliefs. Since we disagree, why should his view trump my Christian one, or the Hindu’s, or the Buddhist’s, or the Muslims? If we believe that we know the truth then why can’t we be free to share it with others too (which is what Grayling thinks that he can do albeit clearly holding to a double standard)?
I also take issue with his strawman accusation that my Christian belief is a “non-rational preference.” That is simply an assertion that has been asserted without evidence and thus can be dismissed. However, Grayling in his process of advocating the view that “Everyone is free to believe what they want, providing they do not bother (or coerce, or kill) others” is essentially doing two things:
- He is disturbing religious believers by writing polemic against their beliefs (something that I wouldn’t deny atheists, or anyone else, to do. It makes life interesting & I support freedom of expression), and
- Advocating his own opinion here which essentially entails the coercing of religious believers.
What Grayling’s position seems to suggest is that people should be free to hold whatever beliefs they like, without fear of coercion, just as long as they don’t believe that their religious beliefs should accompany them into the public square; in which case they should be coerced not to do so. Now, if we were to hold Grayling by his own standard then he shouldn’t be free to believe as he does since he commits the very thing that he forbids religious people to do. Grayling also clearly defies his very own definition of intolerance; which he defines as:
“an intolerant person [who] wishes others to live as he thinks they ought and… seeks to impose his practices and beliefs upon them” (2).
This is exactly what Grayling is; the definition matches him to a tee. Firstly, he clearly wishes that “others to live as he thinks they ought,” and he also obviously imposes “his practices and beliefs upon them.” In other words, Grayling is being irrational and discriminatory. If atheists like him choose to write public polemics (as in his book ‘Against All Gods’) it seems only fair that the public are afforded the opportunity to reply.
Finally, that Grayling says that we need to “return religious commitment to the private sphere” is problematic. This is because many religious beliefs are essentially public orientated. Christianity, for instance, is by nature a missionary religion and a religion that takes serving others seriously. As a result such beliefs cannot be relegated to the private sphere. To essentially ban the public proclamation of the gospel message would essentially be to ban Christianity as a whole. Unfortunately, for Grayling we don’t live in North Korea.
1. Grayling, A. 2007. Against All Gods. p. 16.
2. Grayling, A. 2001. The Meaning of Things. p. 7.