By Richard E. Wackrow | 18 August 2017
I’ll wager that nearly all of us have seen the “COEXIST” bumper sticker that touts religious tolerance, respect, multiculturalism and the like. And I’ll likewise wager that those who display it haven’t considered the fundamental shortcomings of this naive attempt at instilling peace and love in the righteous.
In what follows, I will show that by its very nature religious belief precludes peace and love — and that the term religious tolerance is a true oxymoron.
To begin, let’s consider the symbolism of the COEXIST design:
The C is an adapted version of the common symbol for Islam. The O is the familiar peace symbol. The E is a combination of the symbols for male and female, signifying equal rights for all people regardless of sex or sexual orientation. The X is the Star of David. The I is dotted with the Wiccan symbol, a pentangle in a circle. The S is adapted from the Confucian symbol for yin and yang. And the T, actually a cross, signifies a religion inspired by the alleged crucifixion of you know who.
Other variations expand on the notion of religious tolerance. For example, the “Tolerance: Believe In It Bumper Sticker is a variation on the coexist design and has a Christian cross, a peace sign, a Native American Indian pipe, the male and female symbols, [Anasazi Indian] Kokopelli, Jewish Star, Baha’i 9 Pointed Star; Islamic Star and Crescent; Einstein’s formula e=mc2.”
If you’re an atheist, secular humanist, skeptic, freethinker or other such nonbeliever, I’m sure you’ve noticed that neither of these coexist-themed designs (nor others I have found) have an atheist symbol (commonly an A with a circle around it) or a humanist symbol (a stylized H) — either of which could have been easily worked into a more inclusive design. (The generic e=mc2, though it vaguely implies rationalism, doesn’t count.)
One can interpret this absence of an atheist or humanist symbol as an acknowledgement that:
- religious people need to be told to tolerate each other (true enough);
- nonbelievers are not entitled to respect or tolerance (true, from the point of view of the righteous); or,
- the designers of “COEXIST” decided that atheists needn’t be included in the club because they have no dogma that dictates who they should hate (see number 1).
The best way to sort out this quandary is to consult the scriptures.
From the Quran, 4:91-93:
[Take nonbelievers] and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant. … He who hath killed a believer by mistake must set free a believing slave, and pay the blood money to the family of the slain. … If [the victim] be of a people hostile unto you, and he is a believer, then [you must] set free a believing slave. … Who so slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is hell for ever. Allah is wroth against him and He hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom.
Note the carefully worded protocols that apply when one has killed a fellow Muslim by mistake. They make me wonder how the families of the innocent Muslim victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are being compensated by the devout successors of Osama bin Laden. And in other Muslim countries — where the innocent victims of regular suicide bombings are too numerous to count — Islam has to be running up quite a tab.
From the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 17:2-5:
If there be found among you … man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded. … Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing … and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
And finally, from the New Testament, Jesus says in Luke 19:27:
But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me.
I’ll bet when he returns, the Prince of Peace won’t have a COEXIST bumper sticker displayed on the ass of his donkey.
One has to conclude, based on their holy books, that true believers do not inherently mean well. In fact, it’s the other way around. And conversely, we also have to conclude that nominally religious folks who actually are tolerant of those practicing other religions are not true believers — and are making up their theology as they go along, retrofitting it to their behavior.
But there’s more: In light of the scriptures, if you are a practitioner of one of these religions on the bumper sticker — at least a monotheistic one — its message is both heretical (because it implies that yours is not really the one true religion) and blasphemous (because it implies that each of the others is not the one true religion).
So should nonbelievers be offended by the fact that COEXIST and similar designs don’t have atheism or humanism symbols? While touting peaceful coexistence is a good strategy for selling such feel-good products to the religiously naive, the stickers’ ultimate message is that the religious should overcome their propensity to kill each other off. And after the above exercise, I’m thankful that the “coexisters” have left us nonbelievers out of their club.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Richard E. Wackrow is the author of Beginner’s Guide to Blasphemy.
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