Extreme atheism

During my recent visit to Thailand I went to visit Wat Pho, the biggest and
oldest temple in the country’s capital, Bangkok. Our tour guide was a very
knowledgeable and nice lady named Mimi, who did a very good job walking us
through all of the magnificent areas of this sacred Buddhist temple.

After the tour, as we were driving to another part of the city, I bombarded our
guide with dozens of questions, some of which were about all the tourists she
meets and the general habits or characteristics of tourists from different
nations. Much of what she said was expected, except for this one thing that I
did not see coming at all. Mimi said that one of the things that drives her
crazy is when western tourists show no respect for the holiness of the places
she takes them!

She explained that while many Arabs and Muslims refuse to go into the temples,
those who actually go understand the meaning of ‘holiness.’ She added that even
though they don’t believe in Buddha as a God, they show respect to the belief
Thai people have in him. That is because they understand what it means to insult
a holy symbol for a believer. Many ‘westerners’ on the other hand are sarcastic
about the whole thing and don’t seem to understand “why it is disrespectful to
point legs at Buddha,” as Mimi puts it.

At that moment I started to make associations between this behavior and all the
insults that were directed towards symbols of Islam from ‘westerners.’ I used to
think that Muslims were the only ones who suffered from this disrespect. After I
spoke to Mimi though, it seems this pattern of inconsideration for the concept
of holiness in modern western atheism is annoying many people on the planet.

For me, the most vivid example of this extremism was apparent in a claim made by
a man in Denmark. He said that because freedom of expression is sacred to his
point of view he is allowed to insult the sacred symbols of other people!

This is extremism at its best because it dehumanizes others. It is based on the
mentality that ‘I am more important than you and what I think and believe in is
more important than what you think or believe.’ Just because this belief does
not fall under any religion does not automatically exclude it from being an
extremist point of view. Secularism and atheism are belief systems and like any
belief system they can have their own extremists as well.

In this new village that is our planet, where all the nations live side by side
like neighbors, it is becoming increasingly important that the western world
become more considerate of people’s beliefs and religions. People in Europe and
the US need to know that atheism is an exception to the rule. Simply because
they don’t have a holy thing does not entitle them to insult the holy things of
other people.

Refusing to respect people’s holy beliefs is like smoking on a bus full of
passengers and saying “this is what I want to do, deal with it.” I believe
western nations should know better because there will be other extremists from
other parts of the world that will be willing to do just that, and the result
will not be pleasant for anyone.
© Kuwait Times 2010

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