Freud was not first to have affirmed that Judaism’s invention of monotheism was the origin of religious intolerance, which until then was, as he wrote, “unknown in Antiquity”. The affirmation has been corrected by, among others, the psychoanalyst Gérard Haddad : “It is not monotheism which leads to intolerance but the will to impose it as a universal faith.” (“Dans la Main Droite de Dieu. Psychanalyse du Fanatisme”, Premier Parallèle, 2015, p.116). Christianity’s founder decreed that His doctrine must be “preached to every creature”. Seven centuries later, Islam claimed to be the Ultimate Revelation for all mankind. The history of the three monotheisms could almost make us nostalgic for the good old days of polytheism, when no religion claimed to be the one true faith. That claim has led to a long history not only of theological conflict but even wars between rival religions.
Many have, in recent centuries, and in particular the 20th, come to learn to live with and tolerate people of religious persuasions different from their own. The anti-Protestantism of my childhood has given way to ecumenism, the Council of Churches and even to increasing indifference to any religious belief and practice. Anti-semitism, dedicated to the destruction not only of Jewish culture and religion but of the Jewish people, is widely recognized as a pernicious aberration that led to the Holocaust. Islam, which for most of us was a largely unknown, irrelevant religion practised in far-away countries, has in recent times become very much present in our own, and in its radical, fanatical expression, identified as an intolerance which seeks to destroy all other religions and force their members to convert or to be executed : an intolerable intolerance.
In our own lifetime we have experienced the before and after of 9/11. Since then, the relative tranquillity and mutual tolerance between religious faiths to which we had become accustomed, is increasingly giving way to an irrational islamophobia embracing moderate as well as radical versions of Islam.
How does atheism fit into this picture ? We, of course, are the arch-enemies of Daech, but so are all faith-stances except wahhabism and salafism. Atheists continue to be a thorn in the side of all religions, but no religion except Radical Islam practises more than intellectual intolerance of our atheism. Many atheists ignore religion and prefer to find better things to do with their lives than attack it. Some of us, however, are militant in our opposition to religions. Our (non-violent) intolerance is coupled with a certain frustration : why can’t they recognize that their religion is the irrational product of credulity ? Non-atheists are equally frustrated that we refuse to accept the “evidence” for the existence of God, the “validity” of divine revelation, and the “reality” of the soul and an afterlife. (Believers on the Brink, at least, have begun to have doubts.) Both theirs and ours are examples of tolerable intolerance. Whence my personal adaptation of the “Serenity Prayer” :
“God (or whatever), give me the guts to denounce radical religious intolerable intolerance, the creativity to convince and convert BOTBs whose intolerance is tolerable, and the wisdom to recognize the difference.”
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