Why Freedom of Expression is Important

A personal message from Atheist Republic founder, Armin Navabi: When I was a young Muslim in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I became terrified of hell. I spent years trying to find a way to avoid going there. But what terrified me even more, was the thought of my mother going to hell because she did not pray five times a day like good Muslims were supposed to. In our school, we were taught that if a boy dies before the age 15 (or a girl before the age of 9), he would enter heaven no matter what. In my mind, it was clear what I should do and was surprised no one else took advantage of this obvious loophole. I jumped out the window at my school in an attempt to kill myself and enter heaven; I failed. I broke my wrist, both legs, and my back, and I ended up in wheelchair for seven months. After my failed attempt, and seeing what it did to my mother, I decided to just try to be a good Muslim. I became very religious and begged my parents to pray on a daily basis.
I started studying Islam in greater detail; the more I studied, the more questions I had and the more confused I got. I started questioning God’s judgment to send people to hell simply because they picked the wrong religion, and then I felt guilty for questioning God. But then, I convinced myself that studying the nature of God couldn’t be a bad thing. I decided to study religions other than Islam, even ancient, dead ones, to see what was so evil about them that the adherents should deserve eternal damnation.
The more I learned, the more it seemed possible that the whole thing could be a man-made concept. I was terrified about even letting that thought enter my mind. But it did. And I couldn’t take it back. I could feel the doors of hell opening right in front of me. I could feel God looking right into my thoughts. I could feel his disappointment. I felt like I let my best friend, my protector, my creator, down. I felt so ungrateful and even evil. But once the doubt started, I couldn’t stop it anymore. I kept thinking about the idea of religion being man-made and the more I did, the stronger my doubt got.
Eventually I decided that I needed to face all of it head-on. I knew God was real and there must be proof. I thought if I could find the proof, my faith would be stronger than ever. I started my hunt for evidence, or any logical reasoning for the existence of God, but I couldn’t find any. I grew desperate. I started praying, begging God to show me anything. A sign, a message, anything. My prayers were never answered.
By age 18, I had lost all my faith in God. I felt cheated, betrayed, fooled. I had sacrificed so much (almost my life) for a fairytale. I knew no one else who doubted God. Sometimes, I felt that maybe there was something wrong with my head. I thought, “Am I really that arrogant to think that I have discovered something that no one I knew had realized?” I wanted to let more people know about my lack of belief and the thought process that had led me to that conclusion.
I was becoming exceedingly lonely being an atheist in an Islamic country so I started a community about this topic on Orkut (a social media website that was popular in some countries before Facebook). I was surprised to see so many people joining the community and discussing the topic. I was so excited to find others like me. The idea of God not existing didn’t seem so crazy anymore. I wanted to reach out to more people, find more atheists, and discuss God and religion with anyone who was interested; more than that, I wanted people to see atheism as a legitimate option. It seemed unfair that people weren’t given a chance to choose.
I didn’t set out to convince people that God doesn’t exist, my aim was to let them know about the many people who didn’t believe in God, providing an invitation for them to explore such ideas if they were interested. But more than that, I wanted to create more communities for atheists like me, and make them feel less lonely and ashamed. I wanted them to know that not only are there others like them, but that there are people out there willing to listen, support and guide them. So, in 2011, I started a page on Facebook and later, a private Facebook group, for atheists who prefer discussing topics in private.
Since then, we developed a website with a blog, news, and resources, and grown a management team of over 150 people from all around the world. The Facebook page has grown to more than 1.2 million fans, and the private group is one of the most active private atheist communities online.
Atheist Republic is a growing community of godless heathens who share views and ideas, help one another express their atheism, support one another, and discuss news, books and other atheist expressions. We give every atheist a chance to share their views with the community or raise awareness about those things which matter to them.
Atheist Republic is a reflection of the views and ideas of its community as a whole. That’s why it’s called a republic. The entire community, all our Facebook fans, all of the people who engage with AR through the website, all direct the course of the community.
It’s clear that atheists care. A lot of atheists want to find a way to help, to make a difference. Those who wish to be more involved can join the management team. The members of the Atheist Republic team have the opportunity to express themselves through images, blogs, news articles, newsletters and other resources.
The barriers of communication are breaking down, and our new more transparent world is becoming a much more difficult environment for religion to spread. More and more people are being exposed to the fact that many atheists are moral, see true beauty in the world and lead rich, meaningful lives.
The future of Atheist Republic is bright. We have ideas for offline events and groups, making it easy for our community to plan and organize through the website. We want to continue to add resources to the website and have plans in place for adding more poetry and visual art. We would like to create videos and a podcast to reach an even wider audience with more information and resources, and we have plans for Arabic and Spanish versions of our site. We are excited and hope you will continue to journey with us.
Moving forward, what do you think Atheist Republic should be about? What’s important to you? Reply to this email to share your thoughts. We might add your ideas to the website. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.

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@Patrick, I agree that Freedom of Expression is important. Do you object to this statement? How would you integrate the goals of free expression with rule of kindness?

Hi Dr Swamidass

Indoctrination of children is the most difficult aspect to deal with. For consenting adults in private, religious belief seems utterly harmless. For Armin Navabi, it was nearly fatal.

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I agree, which is why kindness is so important. It is not enough to be right. We also have to be trusted.

This is a quote from a woman who left Westboro. If you care about children like her, value kindness as much as you value free expression.

This I agree with very much. We need to protect those visiting or posting from Muslim countries.

Agree. Please note that Charles Miller and I are now friends. ( I hope Charles would agree that this is a true statement). We had the rockiest of starts but each of us really tried to understand our similarities rather our differences. We can much more easily discuss subjects where we know a priori that we are not going to agree. That a priori knowledge of our differences makes the ensuing discussion much more valuable and enjoyable.

Agree. Let’s try to be friends that might disagree. The most valuable thing about Peaceful Science is the diversity of views.

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I do indeed. That’s why I advocate true secularism. Where belief or lack of belief is not a stigma or something that could get you executed for heresy or apostasy.

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Hi Josh,

Thank you for your statement. It’s welcome. However, it still falls short of assuaging my concerns.

I’ll have much more to say later, but for now let me express a point of agreement. You write:

One way kindness is valued is placing safety as a very high concern. For example, we do not allow people to share the private information [of] atheists in muslim countries. Such expression would put people at real risk, and we censor such efforts.

I agree wholeheartedly with this policy, and evidently so does Patrick. I sincerely hope that no one here – atheist or theist – disagrees with it. There is a similar policy against outing people at The Skeptical Zone. The rule there holds not only that the offending comment is censored, but that the person posting it is permanently banned. And not just out of safety concerns, but also because of other possible repercussions – for example, the economic risk of having one’s views and beliefs exposed to the eyes of a disapproving employer.

P.S. I notice that the “How Keiths Left the LCMS” thread is still locked. Is that intentional?

We will continue to be very aggressive in protecting the safety of people here. I want to give a couple other examples that may be even more common among our group.

First, imagine a professor from Bob Jones University that wants to engage with us on the forum. If his name or even his affiliation were known, there could be severe repercussions. Just conversing with us could put his livelihood at risk. In this case, he may come here with a pseudonym and dodge questions about his precise situation. In the interest of his safety, we allow anonymity, and do not pressure him to unmask himself.

Second, imagine a pastor in a denomination with rigid views, who nonetheless decides to participate here with his real name. This pastor, however, does not agree with the denominations current position, or interprets them in an unexpected way. Once again, laying this out clearly on a public forum, accessible by search engines, could put his professional livelihood at risk. Moreover, he will be much more sensitive about the precise wording of what he can and cannot say. We want to protect his safety so he can participate as best he can, without fear of reprisal.

Third, imagine a scientist at a secular institution, that holds personal views privately that are not accepted in mainstream science. Once again, we protect the right to privacy in these cases, and will at time disallow personally invasive questions.

In some situations, we might even institute special rules for threads to enable dialogue. For us, freedom of expression is merely the first and necessary step. The real goal is dialogue. Moreover, dialogue must be protected, by protecting the safety of those involved.

It was looked because it was getting a bit repetitive and I wasn’t able to help get it back on track. It seems like conversation has strayed from the original topic any ways. If you’d like me to reopen it I can.

Yes, I’d like you to reopen it. I’d also like you to restore the many comments that were censored.

I don’t understand why you feel the need to close threads. Threads tend to die out on their own, but if someone has a new insight and wants to post it on an old but relevant thread, why prevent them? If a newcomer comes to PeacefulScience, reads through a bunch of threads, including old ones, and wants to add his or her thoughts to one that piques their interest, why not let them?

You seem to be having trouble with this “open discussion” concept, Josh. :slight_smile:

Yes I do. I have a full time job, and this is just my personal site. So yes, I do have trouble managing an open forum. I needed everyone to self-police and orient newcomers to our values. In general, if I do not answer a question immediately, refrain from launching into assaults directed at me. Maybe, you know, just maybe I am actually too busy right then with my scientific work.

Okay. I’ll do what I can.

Every discussion takes place within a context. As long as you feel you’re contributing positively to that context, go for it. That does, however, mean trying as hard to understand, support, and offer the benefit of the doubt to others as you’ll hope they’ll do for you. Excuse me if I’ve only just stated the obvious. Glad you’re getting a resolution to the affront you experienced.

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In general we do not close threads. Thought that might change soon, so that threads auto-close after a defined period after last comment.

Sometimes, however, the content is a bit explosive (this case is not one), so we want to prevent any comment bombs later one. Other times, the content is highly significant, and we want to keep it short and sweet for people to get the point.

@keiths, even on closed threads, you can click the “date” of any comment, then click the “new topic” button to reopen the discussion.

You’re asking for special treatment. All of us have competing demands on our time; some more than others. When we post comments, we do so with the full intention and knowledge that they will be immediately visible. There is no reason for others to wait. They should feel free to respond right away if they choose, even if the commenter to whom they are responding is busy elsewhere.

The nice thing about blogs is that comments are fossilized (when they aren’t being censored, that is :slight_smile: ). You might be busy elsewhere, but when you return to PeacefulScience, you will see the responses that came in during your absence, and you can answer them at that point.

Why expect special treatment?

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That applies to everyone. A consistent patten of launching into assaults for delayed responses from anyone is going to be a problem.

You are my guest here. I’m happy to have you, and I’ll even tolerate rudeness from you. If you think the rules are unfair, we can discuss them and maybe improve them. This, however, is not your house. It is a good to be at least minimally respectful of your host.

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I’m not talking about “assaults for delayed responses.” I’m talking about how you objected when others presumed to discuss one of your comments in your absence.

It happened on the LCMS thread; I’ll see if I can find the relevant comments now that you’ve reopened the thread.

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That’s fine. You can discuss me when I’m gone.

Keep in mind your critiques are not credible when it’s not clear you even understand what is being said. Instead of arguing a case from the beginning, may be ask for clarification from others.

It ought to be clear, by now, that your cry of “censorship” was met with an adequate explanation, has been rectified, and that the only one entitled to the unquestioned right of remaining published here is our host, as we are all guests. I have, on occasion, risked his ire to get a point across. Josh has always been eminently reasonable.

I agree, and that’s what I strive to do. The biggest difference, perhaps, is that I don’t expect (or even want) kid-glove treatment from others. If you want to respond to my comments in my absence, go for it. If you want to say unkind things about me, feel free. If someone wants to accuse me of dishonesty, or fear, or being a Satan worshipper, that’s all fine with me. All I ask for is the freedom to respond.

I really, really, like open discussion, and I don’t need or want the help of censorship.

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I also advocate for government neutrality on religion and atheism. I also am saddened the danger faced by atheists in some countries.

@AlanFox welcome to the forum. Peace.