Words to Cultivate

Some Useful Vocabulary for Atheists, Freethinkers and other Critics of Religion

2016-05-04, Updated 2016-08-04

A list of terms which, I would suggest, could and should be used regularly—wherever they are appropriate of course—by atheists, freethinkers and critics of religion in general. Some of these expressions are neologisms, i. e. recently coined, while others are not new but have been under-utilised.

Sommaire en français Une petite liste de termes — à l’intention des athées, des libres penseurs et des critiques de religions en général — que je suggère pour usage courant. Quelques-uns sont des néologismes, c’est-à-dire récemment inventés, tandis que d’autres sont des termes existants mais sous-utilisés actuellement.

the irrational fear of atheism or of atheists. The suffix -phobia is indeed appropriate here because this fear is clearly unfounded and irrational, being based on the religious myth that one must believe in a fictional daddy-cop-dictator in the sky in order to behave ethically. (Contrast this with the dubious term Islamophobia which must be avoided for several reasons, in particular because fearing Islam is not necessarily irrational.) See also moralistic creationism below. This prejudice is extremely widespread. See: definition of atheophobia and Atheophobia, A Prejudice Thousands of Years Old.
basically a synonym of “religious belief.” Examples: — According to Christian mythology, Jesus was the son of “God.” — According to Muslim mythology, Mohammed was the last prophet of “God.”
ethno-religious determinism
the true meaning of the extremely loaded word “multiculturalism” (which long ago used to mean “cultural diversity” but has since evolved into a very tendentious—and anti-secular—ideology). Approximate synonym: religious essentialism
freedom of conscience
this includes both freedom of religion and freedom FROM religion (which in turn includes the freedom of apostasy, i.e. the freedom to leave a religion), as well as freedom of opinion and of thought. Freedom of conscience is fundamental, while the other freedoms are necessary consequences of it.
freedom of apostasy
a necessary consequence of freedom of conscience. If you do not recognise the right to apostasy, i.e. the right to leave a religion, then you are a religious bigot. There is neither freedom of religion nor freedom of conscience without the right to apostatize.
Belief in belief. Examples: — the silly idea that religious beliefs should be respected. — the essentialist notion (closely related to “multiculturalism”) that religious affiliation is somehow innate and immutable. See: definition of metabelief.
moralistic creationism
The belief that morality comes from “God,” whatever the hell that is. Moralistic creationism is the basis of classic atheophobia. See The Moralistic Foundations of Creationism and Theism As Hate Propaganda.
Attitude of unthinking, uncritical deference towards the religion of Islam, thus affording it preferential treatment compared to other religions such as Christianity.
A near-synonym of “Islamophilia” but stronger. Literally, the attitude of idolizing or worshipping Islam.
false obligation
Religious obligations are always false, that is, not in fact obligations, because any religious behaviour—such as attendance at religious events or wearing religious symbols or clothing—is either freely chosen, thus not obligatory, or imposed (i.e. coerced) by other humans, thus a form of abuse. A combination of the two situations is of course possible. See The Myth of Religious Obligations. Example: A woman who wears the niqab is either doing it freely, by choice, of her own free will, or she is being coerced by her relatives or community to do so (and is thus a victim of abuse because she is denied her freedom of conscience), or some combination of the two.

Next blog: Dubious Words

The Myth of Religious Obligations


There is no such thing as a religious “obligation” because religious belief is not an innate characteristic.

Sommaire en français Les soi-disant « obligations » religieuses n’existent pas, sauf dans le cas où la personne est la cible de coercition, c’est-à-dire victime d’abus. Mais en l’absence de coercition, le comportement religieux d’une personne (comme le port d’un signe par exemple) relève toujours de son choix personnel. Plusieurs croyants, dans le but d’obtenir un privilège ou un accommodement, veulent nous faire croire que leur pratique religieuse serait une « obligation », c’est-à-dire quelque chose d’inné, d’intime et d’immuable. Mais c’est un leurre, car c’est toujours un choix, le résultat d’avoir choisi d’adhérer à une tendance religieuse qui impose ce comportement. Cette prétention est une tentative d’élever la croyance au niveau d’un attribut inné comme la race ou l’orientation sexuelle. Nous ne devons pas, comme les multiculturalistes, nous laisser duper. Par une stratégie inverse, les homophobes religieux essaient de délégitimer les droits des gais en rabaissant l’homosexualité au niveau d’un simple choix. Comble de l’ironie, c’est la croyance qui n’est qu’un choix, tandis que l’orientation sexuelle est plutôt innée. Donc, le port d’un symbole religieux — qui a généralement une signification politique aussi — comme le voile islamiste (un symbole de misogynie et d’islamofascisme), ou le crucifix chrétien (aussi un symbole de fascisme), ou le turban sikh ne mérite pas davantage de déférence que tout autre choix vestimentaire ou toute question de mode. À lire aussi : Blogue LPA 015 : Obligations et choix

As explained in a previous article (AFT Blog #15: Obligations and Choices), there is no such thing as a religious “obligation,” except, of course, an obligation resulting from external coercion. To be precise, a person who participates in religious activities, or who has specific behaviours based on religious belief, or who wears religious symbols, is in one of two possible situations:

  1. the person freely chooses his or her religious behaviour; or
  2. the person is coerced into that behaviour.

In the second case, the person is a victim of abuse, and it is the secular state’s duty to help end that abuse, especially if the person involved is a minor. In the first case, where there is no coercion, the person always has a choice, because they can choose whether or not to respect the “obligations” of the religious tradition which they have chosen to adopt.

There are Muslims who drink alcohol, just as there are Catholics who have sexual relations whose goal is not procreation, even though they are thus disobeying core “obligations” of their respective religion. Countless other examples could be given. Among Muslims, the “obligation” for women to wear the veil is not even a core tenet, being promoted only by fundamentalist and Islamist tendencies. So a woman who freely chooses to wear the veil has chosen to follow a particular form of Islam, whether or not she is fully aware of the significance of her choice.


Sometimes, in order to get special treatment or privileges — or, in more familiar language, in order to obtain a “reasonable” accommodation — the religious believer will insist on the so-called “obligatory” nature of their religious practice or dress, as if they had no choice, as if their religious belief were something immutable, non-negotiable, as if their religion were like race or sexual orientation or some other innate characteristic. Some people — in particular, multiculturalists — will foolishly acquiesce without further reflection, saying “Oh, of course, you have an obligation to do that, no further questions asked.” That is why I say that multiculturalism should really be called ethnoreligious determinism because it treats religion as innate and unquestionable.

But secularists will say something like, “No, that is your personal choice, you may do it on your own time, but please refrain during working hours, especially if you work in the public service.” If the person in question is a Muslim, Islamists will then scream “Racists! How dare you impede their religious ‘freedom’!” where the word ‘freedom’ really means privilege (and no-one knows what ‘race’ they are referring to, but, no need, slander need not be precise). And the multiculturalists will cheer the Islamists along, enabling them, and working against secularism just as they did during the debate over the Quebec Charter of Secularism.


Consider for example the strategy of Christian fundamentalist homophobes in their efforts to de-legitimize gay rights. They oppose gay rights for religious reasons of course, because their bible and their entire worldview has a distorted view of gender and sexuality. The book of Leviticus in particular condemns homosexual behaviour. But in the arguments which Christian homophobes present to others who may not care what the bible says, they insist on the idea that homosexuality is just a personal choice and not an innate characteristic. Of course this is contradicted by both research and by the personal experience of countless people which indicate that sexual orientation must be largely innate and, among men at least, practically immutable. Given the intensity of social disapproval of homosexuality, especially in many more traditional societies (including our own not so long ago), it seems absurd that anyone would “choose” to be gay.

The irony is that even if these Christian fundamentalists were right and sexual orientation could be readily changed, it would not justify legal repression or discrimination against gays and lesbians based on Christian dogma because the bible would still be irrelevant. Nevertheless, if sexual orientation really were a matter of choice, that would tend to weaken the case for gay rights because it would move gayness from the status of an innate or static characteristic such as race or physical attributes or other hereditary factors into the realm of more fluid matters of choice such as fashion or tradition.

Now, returning to the issue of religious choices and obligations, we can readily understand what the religious are trying to do when they insist on the “obligatory” nature of their behaviour or dress. By pretending that such choices are not choices but rather compulsory, they are attempting to augment the legitimacy of those choices by elevating them to the status of something innate and immutable such as race. And if anyone dares to question that strategy, they will quite likely be met with accusations of “racism” as a further attempt to assert the innateness of religious behaviour.

We must not be duped. Religious belief is not innate. It may be difficult to change — after all, childhood indoctrination, which is the main vector for spreading belief, is very effective and tenacious — but it is not immutable. It can and does change.

It is indeed ironic, and rather amusing I think, that religious bigots attempt to deny gay rights by claiming that homosexuality is low on the innateness scale, when in reality it is religious belief which is “inferior” to sexual orientation on that scale!

So we must not be duped, and we must learn to say, “NO! Your religion is not some innate, intimate part of you that must be accommodated by others!” Religious practices are NOT on a par with, for example, the health needs of a handicapped person. They need not be accommodated. We must not fall into the multiculturalist trap of acquiescing to every whim (a.k.a. “obligation”) of the religious.

Bad Fashion Choices

The above considerations are very important when deciding how to deal with the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in state institutions. Religious symbols generally have a political meaning. The crucifix, for example, is usually a symbol of loyalty to some Christian church, often (but not necessarily) the Roman Catholic, or of fidelity to Christian values. Even if the crucifix has little meaning in the mind of the person wearing it, it will be perceived by others as significant.

The Islamist veil is considerably larger than most crucifixes worn as adornments, and its political significance is more obvious, especially if the veil covers the face completely as do the niqab and the burqa. So what does the Islamist veil mean? At least two things:

  • It is a symbol of female purity. It reflects the mentality that women are responsible for men’s sexuality. It indicates that women, especially Muslim women, who do NOT wear the veil are impure, and impure women, if sexually assaulted or raped, probably deserve what they get.
  • The veil is a flag of Islamofascism. Although not the only flag, it is the flag of choice for proselytizing non-Muslim societies because the women wearing the veil are themselves primary victims of the Islamist ideology whose symbol they wear. (In this context I am using the word “proselytizing” to refer not to the conversion of individuals, but rather to the gradual conversion of spaces and societies.) In that way, criticism of the veil can often be neutralized by playing on sympathy for the victims and hypocritically accusing critics of oppressing the wearers of the veil, when in reality it is the Islamists who are oppressing them. This is a rather clever strategy on their part.

The Islamist veil is loaded with very negative meaning — especially if worn by teachers or child-care workers who spend extended periods of time with children. It transmits a set of values incompatible with modern human rights and freedoms. Again, the woman wearing the veil may or may not herself be fully aware of the message she is transmitting.

To summarize, the Islamist veil is a symbol of misogyny and fascism. The Christian crucifix is also a symbol of fascism; after all, the Roman Catholic Church has generally been a faithful ally of fascist regimes in Europe and Latin America. That is why the crucifix must be removed from the wall of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Thus I repeat: We must not fall into the trap of accepting the myth that wearing a crucifix, veil or turban, etc., is somehow “obligatory” because it is supposedly the reflection of some innate characteristic of the bearer. On the contrary, it deserves no more deference than any other fashion choice. It can be removed.

Next blog: “Secularism Versus the Multicultis