Atheism: The Paradox Between Liberty and Tolerance


Some years ago while on a walking pilgrimage through Ontario I stopped in a small city. I had walked hundreds of miles to get there and hadn’t spoken to more than a person or two in three days. Unwary of where anything was in the city, I approached a man and his son at a nearby park. I asked him for directions to the city center. He supplied me with some directions and I said, “Thanks, God bless you my friend.”

He replied curtly, “I don’t believe in God.”

Taken aback, I decided it needed no further comment and departed. This man’s reply represents something I’ve been trying to put my finger on for some time. If we observe the conversation closely we can see the deeper underlying messages. By outright stating that he didn’t believe in God when I wished him to be blessed, he was not making a unbiased statement in response to a question. He made a verbal attack on my beliefs. When someone wishes me a happy Hanukkah, I do not turn around and slap away their well wishing and tell them their belief is wrong. No, I accept their gift with an open heart and say thank you. I seek to understand the true intent of the statement.

I realise this man does not represent all atheists, but he does represent a recurring pattern in our society: atheism advocating intolerance, in the name of “tolerance”.

Some groups, in the name of atheism, are wielding lawsuits in order to push around schools. Most schools, lacking adequate funding for lengthy legal battles, are incapable of fighting back and thus crumble under the pressure.

One such example was when a school was forced to remove a painting of a shepherd with his sheep from it’s walls due to legal action. Please help me understand something: how does an innocuous painting of a shepherd and his sheep, if God does not exist, pose such a threat to these apparently deeply threatened atheists?

Another recent example is how the American Humanist Association closed down a schools Christmas box drive because of its affiliation with a religious group. Again, using the threat of legal action, the school was forced to give in, not having the funds to fight back, and the box drive was canceled. There has been no reports of the atheists filling the gap and supplying the toys and school supplies to the children who will now receive nothing. Merry Christmas.

Such lawsuits are on par with Russia’s draconian laws enacted towards homosexuality.

They are acts of intolerance, plain and simple. Some groups of atheists are beginning to rival extreme fundamentalist Christians in the propagation of their beliefs. Much like these Christian groups, the atheists’ proselytization is coming at the cost of tolerance and respect. You need only hear a reference to “fairies in the garden” or other popular atheistic rhetoric to know what I mean. There is a tone in such language that is unavoidable and intentional: your beliefs are stupid and irrational. This is tolerance?

Just as the man I met in the park completely missed my intention to wish him well, so these atheists are missing the point altogether. If atheists want the freedom to express their beliefs “outside of their homes”, then it behooves them to start respecting the rights of believers to express their beliefs. Catholicism represents and defends religious freedom. It recognizes the fact that in order to ensure human freedom, religious freedom is necessary. To allow such freedoms means to allow public display, education, and celebration of religious practices and belief. Catholics work to ensure the freedom of believers and non-believers alike, atheists included.

Outfits like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are dogmatic institutions with the goal of eradicating religion. The battlefront today is our schools, but they won’t stop there. Here’s a direct quote from their “winter solstice sign”: “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds”. This was written by a softened, compassionate heart? The statement lacks insight, maturity, and respect. It shows no indication of a person who is “enlightened” or overflowing with kindness. For a foundation that represents free thought, they seem to have closed their minds to particular subjects.

True tolerance is always filled with respect.

Underlying all tolerance needs to be a deep love for the other. If any Christian hates or rejects someone because they choose a homosexual lifestyle, then they have failed in tolerance. Likewise, anyone who attacks or belittles someone with religious belief, have failed to be tolerant. Neither side of this struggle is without error. If life giving dialogue is going to exist, then both sides need to analyze their usage of language and their motives. Without respect we will only slide deeper into childish ravings and bullying tactics.

Good Shepherd painting:

Winter Solstice Sign:

Christmas Drive Closed:


  1. I have had the experience of meeting moderate and fundamentalists in every religion. Atheism is finding its way in the culture and just like any religion…and I think they are a religion, they are finding their ground through what is perceived as harshness, intolerance and sarcasm. As they grow secure in themselves and how they answer the big questions for themselves, the kind of man you met on your journey will be the accident and not the norm.

    • Thanks for your comment Jennifer, glad to know you could read the article. 😀

      I hope you are right, that is what I’d like to see. As I’m sure you’ll agree, no person’s journey to maturity in their beliefs should ever come at the cost of the freedom of another. We are all guilty of going too far in the journey of becoming grounded in our beliefs, but some atheist groups have made intolerance their goal and mandate, not just an accidental occurrence on an otherwise good path.

      This may just reflect the growth spurts of atheism, but I do not think that’s the case. Look at Christianity. Even after 2000 years you still have fundamentalist groups and also many fundamentalist individuals within non-fundamentalist sects.

      I don’t believe we will ever live in a time when one religion or another is perfectly seated and accepted within society, thus insecurity is a inevitable struggle of every person’s life, regardless of what they believe.

      I guess my point is that intolerance resulting from such insecurity, though it is understandable as you pointed out very well, it should never be condoned and encouraged like it is among many atheist circles.

      I always enjoy reading your comments, thanks Jennifer.


  2. “Most schools, lacking adequate funding for lengthy legal battles, are incapable of fighting back and thus crumble under the pressure.”

    Also, those schools know they will lose those legal battles. Because the things they are doing are illegal.

    It’s not about offense, tolerance or a feeling of threat. It’s about the law and the Constitution. Christians don’t get to ignore it just because they’re Christians.

    • If law is the basis of morality, then what happens when laws are corrupt? What happens when laws are used improperly or in the wrong context from their original intention?

      If you found a law completely contrary to everything you held as right and good, such as in Nazi Germany, would you still obey those laws and defend them?

      Just because something has gone through the courts, doesn’t make it right.

  3. Dear Not a Scientist,

    I think it is good that state and religion separate. Religion needs to be taught at home and the temple, synagogue or church and not at school. If a family wishes to reinforce their religion, they can send the children to a school run by their religion or home school.

  4. PS…and I say this because even though I spent most of my time in a Catholic school, my values came from my father and mother and aunts and uncles. I do not remember any teaching or wise counsel from any teachers…but I do remember the counsel from my parents and extended family.

  5. Dear Adam,

    If you look at the early Christian church which enforced the Christian religion on the people’s through Constantine the Emperor…one would say that Christianity did not have its roots in tolerance, but only after 2000 years some groups are beginning to show more tolerance for others who do not hold the same beliefs. If you were gay or transgender or divorced, you would not experience tolerance in most Christian churches.

    • Jennifer,

      I don’t think it’s fair to say “atheism is based on intolerance” any more than it’s fair to say “Christianity is based on intolerance”. Neither is completely one or the other. The early Catholic church, much the same as the modern day one, is filled with both people who get it right, and people who don’t, and all the multitudes in-between.

      We cannot look back into history and judge their actions with today’s standards; society was an extremely different place, communication was different, ideals and how to achieve them were different, the importance and understanding of religion within a society was different, etc.

      There was intolerance, and there was mutual respect and love. Not just one or the other.

      Which highlights my point that atheism will have intolerance as a part of it, just as Christianity will, for it’s entire lifespan. When it exists in either, we must act against it.

      Hope this clarifies!


  6. Maybe his son was molested by a priest and he is just pissed off at Catholics. He could just be an asshole, who knows….

  7. Dear berry

    That sounds kinda angry..

    .And if that man’s child was molested by a priest…or perhaps his child died…or wife left him and he became bitter … Perhaps Adam was the exact right person to cross his path…


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