Remember Bill Clinton's famous observation concerning what winds people's clocks when they vote? "It's the economy, stupid!" This little phrase came to mind this evening while encountering two small bits of news. First, the Guardian speculates that Jerusalem's forthcoming light rail company may offer several segregated carriages along gender lines to appease the city's strictest Haredi (ultra orthodox) Jews. Later, BBC's Newsnight ran a package exploring why women wear the niqab, including an interview which featured three highly radicalised young women in sinister-looking garb. Newsnight also interviewed a young Muslim woman wearing a hijab (headscarf) who explained how, at university, she likewise had become radicalised and wore the niqab to prove her Islamic credentials within the group she was involved with, but had since shifted away from this radicalised position.
Both instances are, of course, grist to the mill for some rather radical atheists who despise any expression whatsoever of faith. "Religion causes nothing but trouble" and "Religions are the cause of all conflict" are common slogans among such fundamentalist atheists (as opposed to the live-and-let-live variety), and indeed it is true to a degree (though often exaggerated) that some of history's most bitter conflicts and society's greatest cruelties have sometimes been partially religion-driven. Fundamentalist religion - whether Islamic, Jewish or Christian - has sometimes caused a great deal of trouble. To be sure, arguably some religions are more adversarial and driven by religious conquest than others, but even some who claim to be Evangelicals have, for example, targeted abortion clinics in the name of God.
But fundamentalist atheists who pin all the world's woes on faith are denying a central point here. The fact is, some of the highly radicalised, strongly fundamentalist, frothing-at-the-mouth atheists themselves are no different from the very religious fundamentalists they abhor, whether Richard Dawkins' hysterical charge of parents "indoctrinating" their children with faith (together with the tacit suggestion they ought to be stopped or their children taken from them), or the myriads of aggresive fundamentalist atheists driven by hatred of religion who go much, much further in their denunciations (check out the comments section after the odd religious comment or article in the online version of a newspaper like, say, the Guardian and you'll quickly see what I mean). Ironically, such people are no different from the very religionists they themselves condemn for their views.
Elsewhere, too, other special interest groups likewise condemn people for not holding to the views they consider "moral", "correct", "decent" or "normal", whether extreme climate change proponents, vegetarians, xenophobes, free-traders, socialists, capitalists, patriots, liberal elites, neighbourhood watch members and allotment growers, or whatever. There are, of course, moderate versions of all these positions (except possibly the latter two, where disputes have been known to get pretty serious :). But unfortunately, all human societal units are inevitably replete with radical, fundamentalist, we-know-best variety bigots. In short, those who want to tell others what to do.
In other words, such a mentality is far from limited to religion, and going back to where we started, "It's human nature, stupid!" Some people just can't help telling others what to do.