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I've heard that in several countries, including Malay and Iran, being an atheist can get you a death sentence. All of these countries are Islamic countries.

Now, Islam itself is already pretty close to atheism, rejecting all gods but one (Allah). So it's legal to believe in Visnu, or Thor, or Zeus, but illegal to share similar beliefs with Muslims that none of those gods exist.

Why, then, do these laws exist? Do these countries hate atheists, and if so, why?

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    "So it's legal to believe in Visnu, or Thor, or Zeus" typically not: they generally only recognize the Abrahamic faiths (example: Iran). Also, "Islam itself is pretty close to atheism" is not going to go over well with Muslims, no matter how you qualify it. – Jared Smith Dec 21 '18 at 19:45
  • Basically, a muslim friends seem to be a bit hostile to atheists. He seems to be more okay to christians. That's the impression I am getting. Also you can get death penalty for being an atheist in Malaysia. I know that being a Hindu, is fine there. – user4951 Dec 21 '18 at 20:06
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    I think you are misreading the article. Most of the countries listed apply the same punishment for converting to another theist religion as for becoming an atheist. There isn't a prejudice against atheists, there is a prejudice against non-believers in a specific religion. (i.e. it is NOT legal to believe in Vishnu or Thor) – DJClayworth Dec 21 '18 at 21:32
  • If people don't believe in the religion you control then you can't control them. It's a typical power grab. Basically, I make rules so I stay in power and if you don't like those rules, you die. That way people behave the way I want them to. If you can codify those rules in a religion such that people's eternal fate is based on those rules then I'm not even the bad guy for killing people. "It was god's edict that they died, I was just fulfilling his directive." If you have people who don't agree, i.e. atheists, then they have to die or else my power will be undermined. – CramerTV Dec 21 '18 at 22:49
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    When a "country" runs like a tribe, tribalism rules, it has nothing to do with culture values or universal humanity values. – mootmoot Dec 24 '18 at 10:35
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The goal of an authoritarian state is to put fear into any citizen who doesn't fit the central ruler's mold. Therefore it makes sense to criminalize any behavior which goes outside the established norms, as this makes it easier to prosecute anyone who dares to oppose the established rule in any manner or form.

Authoritarian states thus frequently ban things like homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, atheism, 'uncovered' women, foreigners, new forms of music, alcohol, etc. Sometimes a religious book is used for justification, at other times the wisdom of the infallible dictator is used instead. Whatever works best to keep the local populace on a short leash for as long as possible.

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    And sometimes the reason "avoiding triggering anyone" is used for justification. – Sjoerd Dec 24 '18 at 1:05
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They are against atheism and also other religions too because according to interpretations of Islam this is casting doubt on Islam.

According to popular interpretations of Islam, Muslims are not free to change religion or become an atheist: denying Islam and thus becoming an apostate is traditionally punished by death for men and by life imprisonment for women.

The reason they might be slightly more offended at Atheists is that they are "considered a Muslim whose beliefs cast doubt on the Divine, and/or Qur'an". Other religions are still not fully accepted and in some countries, Atheism and other religions are punished equally. Believing in a different god seems less offensive to them than being considered a Muslim and casting doubt on their religion, which is why they are sometimes considered worse than believers of other religions, although mostly they dislike anyone equally who doubts their religion either by believing in a different god or denying their god.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists

  • That seems like an answer from islam stackexchange. I prefer politically scientific answers – user4951 Dec 22 '18 at 11:32
  • but good enough – user4951 Dec 22 '18 at 11:32
  • @user4951: I would be interested in an explanation of how it would be possible to form a scientific answer to this question. – jamesqf Dec 22 '18 at 19:07
  • @jamesqf yeah it's mostly for religious reasons, there's not really any scientific reason – Noah Cristino Dec 23 '18 at 18:32
  • @user4951 if this answers your question then please mark as an answer :) – Noah Cristino Dec 23 '18 at 18:33
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I've heard that in several countries, including Malay and Iran, being an atheist can get you a death sentence.

It's worth mentioning that (as far as I know) these laws are rarely applied, if at all.

All of these countries are Islamic countries.

This might be true nowadays, but from a historical perspective this was also true for christian countries in Europe, at least until the Middle Age.

More generally, laws to enforce a state religion have been in use in many countries. Some of them had laws to punish blasphemy until very recently, e.g. Ireland.

Now, Islam itself is already pretty close to atheism, rejecting all gods but one (Allah). So it's legal to believe in Visnu, or Thor, or Zeus, but illegal to share similar beliefs with Muslims that none of those gods exist.

This interpretation is completely wrong, Islam is not close to atheism at all.

Why, then, do these laws exist? Do these countries hate atheists, and if so, why?

"a country hating X" doesn't make any sense. It's a complex combination of historical, cultural and political factors, but to simplify:

  • modern democracies were not born this way. In Europe, laws separating church and state came from centuries of struggle and religious discrimination. Some countries still don't separate church and state completely, which can be seen as a remnant from the power that religion used to have.
  • the muslim countries are at a different stage of "democratic development" compared to western democracies. Some of them haven't been independent for a long time, and most of them don't have their national identity built around a history of struggles for democratic rights.
  • The education level plays a big role in both religious feeling (negatively) and desire for democratic rights (positively). Countries in which the population hasn't reached a high level of education yet (or only recently) simply didn't have enough time to evolve culturally.

[added] In a much broader perspective, there are lots of benefits for a society to accept religious freedom and to accept diversity (not only religious) in general. But it's a slow process which takes place over generations. One may also note that acting (or pretending to act) in the name of religion is often a cheap way to gain or maintain political power.

  • So basically, you are saying: Yes, they criminalize atheism, because they haven't entered modern times yet (where 'modern times' is defined as accepting atheism). – Sjoerd Dec 23 '18 at 12:22
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    No, this would be a misleading simplification because it considers only the religious angle. My point is that there are many other factors (some having nothing to do with religion) which affect the relation between state and religion in a society. Btw the concept of 'modern' is very subjective, for instance one could argue that countries which haven't abolished death penalty yet haven't 'entered modern times'. – Erwan Dec 23 '18 at 13:42

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