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In an article printed in the magazine Humanist in Canada, Randy Wicker, a gay atheist, writes that “militant atheists are unfortunately often like the religious harpies they hate.” His statement points to a wider truth: that individuals and groups at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum tend to have more in common with each other than with anyone in between. As an example, the former socialist governments of Eastern Europe were frequently just as repressive as right-wing dictatorships in other parts of the world. Wicker’s words also ring true in a more specific sense, in that militant atheists ironically do resemble their fanatically religious foes.

To the former group of militants belong a good number of contributors to Humanist in Canada as well as many members of Canada’s organized humanist movement. Disdaining Wicker’s “live and let live” attitude towards religion, they put themselves in the rather odd position of railing against something they don’t even believe exists.   While some of Humanist in Canada’s articles deal with issues such as the environment, others focus on attacking religion and describing its supposedly unhealthy influence in the world. The magazine moreover takes an aggressive “missionary position”: like religious fundamentalist publications such as Awake (the bulletin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), it seeks to draw outsiders into its fold.

Forcing one’s views

Although Humanist in Canada’s anti-religious tracts strike me, a practising Catholic, as offensive, I would defend the magazine’s right to publish them, just as I would oppose any censorship of Chick Publications, an anti-Catholic diatribe put out by a Christian fundamentalist group. A few humanists, however, have gone beyond the point of spouting insulting material and hinted at the possibility of forcing their views on the general population, which includes religious adherents in addition to non-believers unconnected to the humanist movement.

One such humanist is Wendell Watters, a psychiatrist and author of the book Deadly Doctrine. In Deadly Doctrine, which discusses the purported harmful effects of religion on individuals and on society as a whole, he suggests the government consider waging a campaign to protect children from the dangers of religion just as it has crusaded against tobacco and alcohol. Such a proposal is, to my mind, frightening and should be opposed not only by believers – particularly Christians, at whom Watters takes particular aim – but by anybody concerned about religious and other liberties.

The central point of Deadly Doctrine is that a religious upbringing harms children. By being raised in a faith, youngsters come to believe they are unworthy sinners dependent on an all-powerful God. It follows therefore that “children growing up in families relatively untainted by Christian notions of self-loathing will be more likely to develop self-esteem than children in a ‘good’ Christian home.” These negative consequences persist into adulthood, according to Watters. For example religion’s – especially Christianity’s – erotophobia supposedly makes men and women sexually dysfunctional. Deadly Doctrine also charges that church-going impairs family relations because it emphasizes the “human-to-God” bond over the “human-to-human” bond. Relgious belief ultimately hurts us all, Watters says, and thus the government should think about taking action against it.