This week the National Secular Society newsletter linked to an interview with the author of a book about how difficult it is to leave a religion. The main topic of the conversation was how it is ok to criticise religious ideology, but wrong to criticise the people who follow the religion. The author Ali Rizvi, an atheist, says there are a lot of problematic things in scripture, but this doesn’t mean that the people who are religious may be “demonised”.
…there’s a big difference between criticizing ideas and demonizing human beings.
He says that in the debate people should distinguish between challenging the ideas and demonising humans.
…religion; it’s a set of beliefs, a bunch of ideas in a book. It’s not human.
I have read his book and recommend it, but I do not agree with Rizvi on this; it seems an impossible distinction to make. Religions don’t exist on their own. They are completely man-made. Without the people there would be no religion. Without anthroposophists there would be no Steiner schools and colleges where karma is king, no kindergartens to attract young parents in to the cult, no biodynamic butchering of dead animals, no anthro-therapists ripping off unsuspecting “clients” at public expense, and no Steiner communities where measles outbreaks are normal.
Rizvi’s is a popular message at the moment. By this rule, it is ok to criticise anthroposophy, but bigoted to criticise anthroposophists. Sneering and snarling at political opponents has become accepted as part of life, but to disapprove of religious people is taboo, and using the extreme word “demonise” helps to stifle the debate. The definition of demonise is “to portray as wicked and threatening”. Wicked is not a word I would pick to describe most religious people, but they are certainly posing a threat by not being open and honest in their dealings with the public.
Is it wicked to conceal the truth? It depends on the outcome.
Commenters here have sometimes been very angry with critics for seeming to lump everyone associated with Steiner together but this is not what we do. It’s easy to get drawn in to Steiner education, and also biodynamics, without knowing anything about anthroposophy, and there are a lot of innocent victims. According to the Stroud free school team, Steiner schools have nothing to do with Steiner! You have to do your research to realise that Steiner is a religion complete with its own rules, rituals and shunning techniques, with a defence mechanism almost on a par with that of Scientology.
So it’s perfectly possible to get involved, become part of the Steiner community, and even defend it, without understanding the creed or how it works, until you or your children become the victims. These people I do not blame, because they are not the anthroposophists.
Rizvi makes the point that some believers have no choice but to be a follower, and that is a sad and inescapable fact in some parts of the world. But here in Stroud, those who know all about anthroposophy – Richard House, Aonghus Gordon at Ruskin Mill, the Jarman family, all the therapists and care workers who read books on “occult science” and “higher worlds”, who join in the rituals, and understand the doublespeak – you deserve the criticism. You should be open about your beliefs and practices. You ask for public money so you must be accountable.
There are more questions being asked about Steiner now by the authorities and curious parents than there were before the free school application, which is where this project began. Anthroposophists have their right of reply here as long as they are reasonably polite and not abusive, and they have often exercised it.
What is so wrong with criticising people who harm others through their religion? It is the only way we will put an end to much of the cruelty and suffering in the world.
I agree with the point made in the interview that it would be wrong to single out the followers of one religion as inferior to those of another, but as regular readers here will know, I have a problem with them all, and tackle issues with each as they arise.
A word from Rizvi, that could have been written with Steiner in mind;
Sure, the scriptures … have inspired a lot of people to do good things, but they have also inspired a lot of people to do bad things as well.
The bad things Steiner people have done are becoming well documented now, and we must continue to challenge people on their beliefs.