Once I realized that religion is man made, it didn’t take me very long to make the connection that starting a new cult all by yourself is much harder than it is to usurp an existing one. First you pretend to be part of the cult, rise through the ranks, and then slowly add your own rules to it. Thus you see christianity born out of the teachings of a jew hippie, and islam born out of the teachings of a warlord married to a christian (may have been born a christian himself). In that sense, Ben Affleck and the assorted "liberals" are right - the old testament is just as violent as the Quran. But that gives us, the disbelievers, scant comfort.
Perhaps it was the wine, but I have never felt as despondent at our future as I did after reading the way almost all of the media in US, UK and India, have succumbed to this ideologically driven islamic terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. Some liberal voices have performed admirable mental gymnastics to find reasons not to support the victims unequivocally. The silver lining: there were more voices of condemnation from the muslim majority countries than in the past. But, most of them, invariably came with the riders: “those cartoons were offensive” etc. The people who juxtapose “offense” while condemning these murders are in effect asking for legal retribution, new-age blasphemy laws. In other words, they don't mind the coercion, just that they don’t have the stomach to do it themselves..
The “chilling effect” that makes star appearances if a Dinanath Batra were to even approach the courts, suddenly goes next door, to check up on something. Meanwhile, we won’t write or draw something that might be offensive to some muslims, because it doesn’t stand up to (our totally ad-hoc) editorial standards, and not because we are scared witless, at the possibility of being hunted down by jihadis. The few that made a show and dance of putting up some of the benign cartoons, to pat themselves on the backs, have had to pull them down, for hurting sensibilities (in India).
I wonder if history will remember us as the generation that had the potential to rid religion from the public sphere altogether; but in stead chose to be irrational in asking, and answering the uncomfortable moral and social questions, heralding a second dark age. Or perhaps, the only history to survive will report that we heralded a great revolution and mended our ways to reach the one true God!
Free speech is a non-existent concept in most of the theocratic states anyway. State censorship is passe, critical thought and expression is being hindered in the name of “sensitivity” in the secular, liberal democracies. Atheism or agnosticism in the world religions is not enough if there isn’t an unfettered free expression and the willingness to examine critically, and understand existing ideologies. All it takes is for one generation to internalize these lazy equivalences without critical examination, and the next one will give up its freedoms most willingly and embrace the alluring simple (and most certainly simplistic) explanations offered by religion. So, what is the end game ?
There are people working to reform Islam from within the totalitarian regimes that pass for islamic states. Perhaps reformation of islam will take the same path that Christianity did, and I hope that a majority can be convinced that Quran isn’t literally the word of god, or at the very least, that, it need not be the "perfection personified". Perhaps, we can sit this one out! Oh, what wishful thinking! Unfortunately, we are like the bell in a temple - the pious prove their devotion to their fellows by how hard they hit us. But, if we can somehow manage to survive and preserve our freedoms, and cultures until this plays out within the muslim world, we might yet avoid a second dark age. The question is how?