Now Playing: One Day More from Les Miserables (one more day all on my own, one more day with him not caring, what a life I might have known but he never saw me there)
When I first embraced atheism it brought an incredible element of freedom into my life. I could not be the feminist, the LGBT ally, the sex-positive activist, the person and woman that I am without atheism. All the great libraries of the world threw their doors open to me, a thousand schools of thought let me take the stage. Every day is this beautiful dance of science and art, of the known and the unknown, the poetry of life with all the stumbles and stutters and crossed out words of growing up.
But with freedom comes responsibility, and that responsibility taught me the kind of tolerance and humility that a child could not know. When there are no excuses to hide behind, no books to wave in peoples faces, no saints to quote and no Gods to invoke, you cannot help but become kinder, more tolerant, more reasonable.
Because, say an atheist did say something, things that religious people say and have said in the past. Say I said something sexist, or racist, or homophobic. All the world is at liberty to condemn me for it, and rightly so. Who am I to say which race is better than the other? Who am I to say that I can get married but others cannot? Who am I to decide that others must live their lives exactly as I live mine? Who am I to say 'this is how things should be...but not for some people'? Who is anyone to say such things?
As a writer I know how words can hurt people. Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you is the biggest lie ever told in the history of the world. It is the power of words, the power to do incredible good and unspeakable evil, that gives writers so much power. It is why we write, to be perfectly honest. I've used this power more or less shamelessly on my blog - I know exactly who reads this, and I know everyone knows exactly who all the unnamed people are. I know that words can hurt. A lifetime of bullying has taught me this. I also know that silence, the unwillingness to speak out for people who have no voice, hurts just as badly. These things that I have learnt as a writer, as someone just beginning to find the courage to speak out, as someone who sometimes had no voice and no say, has made me decide to dedicate my life to speaking out - for myself, and for others.
I will speak out against any religion that suppresses, discriminates and abuses. It is all the more abdominable that these atrocities are done in the name of God. Religion is not immunity - religion is not a shield you can hide behind as you hurl misery and insults at the less fortunate. Religion is not liberty to speak hate and violence against people different to you, and then deflect all consequences with a book. Religion is not an excuse for being anything less than human, and for failing to show every person who walks this earth the respect they deserve. I will never excuse you.
It is not an attack on religious freedom to say that anyone can get married. It is not an attack on religious freedom to say that women are equal to men, and we deserve to live our lives in diversity without fear of abuse or discrimination. It is not an attack on religion to state the truth - the truth being that religion is a major tool of oppression worldwide.
I believe very strongly in religious freedom. It is through religious freedom that I am free to be an atheist - a privilege I do not take lightly. In many countries around the world, even now, I could be executed, thrown in jail or have my rights reduced just because I am an atheist. But religious freedom is only about you, about your personal decisions. It is the right to worship and to label yourself without fear of discrimination. It is your right to believe whatever you believe and to apply those beliefs to your own life. It is not the right to attack people because their point of view is different to yours. The right of religious freedom does not mean you have the right to interfere in others' right to religious freedom.
It is also extremely ignorant to say that, in countries like Afghanistan where Islam is used extensively as a tool of fear and violence that the oppression is from politics, not religion. Australia is extremely lucky to have a secular government; in many parts of the world religion and politics are more or less one and the same. Crimes like heresy and apostasy still exist, with harsh punishment for religious offences. Sharia law is still used in legal courts, even for people who are not Muslim, and many laws in non-Muslim countries are based in religious ideology, such as Ireland's extremely strict abortion laws. In parts of the world where religion and law is one and the same and the law is violent and corrupt and the cause of so much pain and suffering, religion cannot be excused from responsibility.
I will always support your right to believe in whatever you like, even though I know you won't return the favour. But I will never let you get away with using religion against the people I have dedicated my life to giving voice to. I'll speak out, even if that means speaking out against you, and your religion.