#JeSuisCharlie — #JeSuisAhmed

We need to consider that there were Muslims killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. One was a police officer and the other a copy editor on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, named Mustapha Ourrad. Along with the trending hashtag of "#JeSuisCharlie", there's a "#JeSuisAhmed" to show that a Muslim died in the attack. There's also a "#JeSuisMustapha" but it's not getting as much love as the "#JeSuisAhmed" hashtag.

The point is that Muslims also kill Muslims, although #JeSuisAhmed is delivered with an explanation that a Muslim died trying to protect people who ridiculed his faith. Fair enough. If you want to get really technical, Muslims kill far more Muslims than they do Christians or Buddhists or any other religion. 

Predictably, many have also rushed to suggest that the gunmen weren't real Muslims or didn't really follow Islam or simply that religion had nothing to do with these horrific acts. Politics, they argue, is the real reason for the tragedy. Either that or plain old mental instability. The gunmen in Paris, terrorists as well, may have been motivated by political aims (and they might have been insane) but it would be foolish to ignore that at least part of their motivation was religious.  They shouted that they were avenging their prophet, Muhammad. They shouted "Allahu ackbar!" Religion, regardless of whether you agree with their interpretation or now, most definitely had something to do with their actions. 

Most people in the world, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else, are good people. If they weren't, the world would not work at all. At heart, we are a cooperative and moral species. It's a large part of what made it possible for us to survive as a species, and to achieve all that we have achieved. Despite all the ills of the world, we are still living in the best of times. We could still screw it up, but I believe that we're clever enough to get past all the dangers that face us, even now.

One of those dangers is religion, in all its forms. Not all religions are equally dangerous, of course, but they are all somewhat dangerous because they pay reverence to ignorance, blind obedience, fear, and a divisive intolerance of those who do not believe as you do. Religion tells us that others aren't worthy of being treated as equals, or friends, or family, because they don't believe as you do. Followed to the letter of their respective holy books, most religions lead to what happened in Paris, at the office of Charlie Hebdo. 

The comparison is sometimes made, between religion and astrology. Both involve some ritual and the belief that heavenly powers have something to say about how we live our lives, including what those gods want from us. Remember that when astrology was born, the stars and planets were thought to be gods. In the 21st century, there are still people who believe that being born under a specific star has some bearing on what will happen today or tomorrow and, by extension, how you should act. Despite all that, most people don't take astrology seriously enough to suggest it should be taught in school, that it should be a moral guide, or that we should define policy and law (social, moral, and ethical) along zodiac signs. It's hard to imagine someone walking into a newspaper office with guns blazing, shouting that Saturn has been avenged for the transgressions of those born under Aries the ram.

That's just crazy. So is religion. Seriously. Think about how nuts other people's religions sound to you. Then think about how nuts they think you are to believe what you believe. Once you start processing all that, you're getting close to understanding how non-believers see all of this. If you're a devout follower of your particular faith, you're just this far away from being an atheist. As the old joke goes, the only difference between a true believer and an atheist is one less god.

In reality, most people are hypocrites when it comes to their faiths, a fact I rather like about them. They pick and choose the bits they like, especially the ones that say you should be nice to other people and treat them as you'd like to be treated. That's awesome advice, but you don't need a Bible or Qu'ran to know that. You're part of a social, intrinsically moral species. It's in you to be good. 

People aren't good because of religion. They're good in spite of religion.

If I could talk to Ahmed or Mustapha, they'd probably agree with me on that; the first part of that statement at least. One was willing to defend people who made fun of what he believed in and the other was willing to work at the magazine.

Most of what's in these holy books is pretty damned awful. It's full of archaic and barbaric rules, not to mention page after page of justification for ancient genocides by the authors who saw themselves as the master race, chosen by god above all others. If you can ignore all that killing, rape, torture, and genocide, and concentrate on 'be nice to each other', it's all pretty good stuff. The fact that people can compartmentalize like that is interesting and pretty funny, really; worthy of a good cartoon, meme, or stand-up routine.

But religion, for the most part, is just plain dangerous, and it needs to be made fun of, and called out for its largely antisocial and anti-human content. Unfortunately, making fun of this rubbish can be a dangerous occupation, as the massacre in Paris demonstrates. But it must be done if we are to grow as a species. 

I'm not foolish enough to believe that religion will die out any time soon, though I honestly believe we would all be better without it. What I'm hoping, though, is that by examining religion, by scrutinizing it, by analysing it, and by ridiculing it as the people at Charlie Hebdo did, we will eventually enter a world where religion is seen in much the same way as most people see astrology today. 

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