This post and its comments got me thinking, as did reading Pharyngula lately.
God that story about Richard Dawkins and the movie Expelled was hilarious. So, you can probably tell I’m not real big on Christianity. Rather bitter, actually. But I know, despite not being able to comprehend, that there are people who find a way to reconcile Christianity with serious human rights. I don’t mean just “it’s fun to submit to your husband so it’s not bad, and he’s supposed to love you so no worries”, I mean actual feminist, pro-LGBTQ Christians. I’m glad to have them on my side, that being the human rights side. Or to be on their side rather, since most of them probably got there first. If they’re not going to deny people their rights, I don’t see any reason for me to oppose them. I can disagree with them, but as long as we all believe in the right to freedom of religion, that’s not a problem.
I haven’t actually done my research on this, but I can imagine that people like this exist in all religions. And if that’s possible, then I see no reason to oppose any religion per se. That’s handy, because I do want to fall into that freedom of religion camp.
But what about the people who interpret a religion as against certain human rights, and still follow it? Well, I still don’t have the right to tell them what to believe, nor would I have much of a leg to stand on in trying to prove that I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s one thing to prove that evolution works; keep working on that. It’s another to prove that there is no God. And it’s even another to prove that one moral code is better than another. I know what seems plausible to me, what seems right to me (to a point, anyway), but I can’t tell people that just because something is really unlikely, they can’t believe it. You can believe in anything you can think up, really.
But I can push for the separation of religion and state so that they can’t enforce their anti-human rights beliefs on other people. That depends, of course, on getting the state to protect human rights in the first place, which so far we haven’t fully accomplished. But we can keep working on that, and we can say no when any religion wants to enact state laws that violate human rights. That will include saying no to laws that would privilege one religion over another or force people to practice something that is specifically religious, because of the religious freedom right.
Problems come in when people interpret their religion as not just being against a certain right, but as being against the separation of religion and state itself. Actually, I think even when they are just against a certain right you could get legal issues. Like if a religion said, you have to sacrifice a human every year or you will go to hell. That would be problematic, because the law won’t allow it. The religious people can say, we won’t make anyone else do human sacrifices, we’ll just do them among ourselves, voluntarily. But the state would still see a murder. Or at best, a suicide. I guess they’d probably get away with it if they could prove that the sacrificed person sacrificed themselves all on their own, and the sacrifice was always “successful.” I don’t know why I’m trying to figure out how to get away with human sacrifice. Ok. So.
1. You have a problem when the religion says “you have to do x” and x is against the law.
2. You have a problem when the religion says “you cannot do y” and y is obligatory under the law.
3. You have a problem when the religion says “you have to found your state on this religion.” Gentler but still problematic versions of this would include the concept that you have to get others to adopt and live by your morality. If Christians would read the Bible they probably wouldn’t think this, but a lot of them don’t and do think that God made it their business to get other people to act Christian, by legal force if necessary.
So what do we do in those circumstances? Do we say, sorry believers, rules is rules? Or do we say, well, as long as it’s really suicide…? Or do we say, ok, anyone who belongs to this religion gets special laws just for them? Do we go so far as to set them up in their own state?
Problem with letting them self-govern by their religion to any degree: groups of religious people try to get each other to conform to what they see as the rules of the religion. And I think that freedom of religion is a constant right, not a choice you get to make freely once and then it’s over. And I think kids have the right to change the religion they’ve grown up in. So let’s say we have this happy group of Flying Spaghetti Monster worshipers. And then one of them becomes an atheist, or a Christian, or a Buddhist. Or just interprets FSMism in a new way. The old FSM laws are no longer fair to her or him, the community is not friendly to the conversion. That’s a vote for no religion in laws.
Another problem, though, is that I’m Western, and when you’re Western it’s hard to know sometimes if your way really just makes a lot of sense and is built on reason and rationality, or if it’s just another cultural belief like any other cultural belief and saying it’s better than other cultural beliefs is imperialistic. I guess that’s why we need to think through all these scenarios rather than just assuming we’re right. And it’s essential to listen to other people from other cultures. But it’s tricky because you want to be supportive and open-minded, but then sometimes you really do think you’re right. Separation of religion and state is one of those issues for me, I mean that’s how I felt reading the comments about Sharia in the link to Feministe.
Where I do draw the line is at the kind of atheism-on-the-offense I see every once in a while. It’s rare, no matter what the Christians say. But it’s there. I understand, given all the crap atheists have to put up with. Like I said, I’m bitter, and I assume many of them are too. But professors preaching atheism instead of teaching science (science does not include religion, but does not necessarily preclude religion…like I said, you can always think up some way to make them both work, implausible as it may be) is not a good idea. First, ethically, because of freedom of religion. Christianity should not be taught in public classrooms, for sure. But nor should we tell people to leave their religion in public classrooms. If they want to believe that literally, the earth they’re standing on is only a few thousand years old, without any special loopholes to allow science to be right, ok, they’re going to have to at least get over it enough to write down the correct answer on a test. But there’s no need to tell them religion is stupid. Second, pragmatically, because then the over-defensiveness of Christian fundamentalists has some basis. They won’t stop even if they have zero basis for saying this stuff, but making them even a little bit right is counterproductive if we want moderates to help us work towards the separation of religion and state. If separation becomes seen as pushing atheism, it won’t happen. Third, again ethically, because that’s the same thing I won’t stand for from Christians.
Here’s what I mean by that: I’ve mentioned that sometimes real conflicts can arise between religions and the philosophy of separation. But sometimes, people could follow their religion and support separation, but they still don’t. Take gay marriage. This is a classic example (or will be when it’s old enough to be classic) of getting all huffy about something that has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. If gay people get married, heterosexual marriage stock does not go down. Heterosexual marriages will not collapse due to the vibrations that homosexual wedding ceremonies will send into the air. Churches will not be required to give homosexual couples their blessing. THE STATE (which the Christians that like to pretend to be persecuted know is not God’s representative on earth, although the Christians who like to mix the American flag with the cross might take some convincing) will recognize homosexual marriages, the same as it recognizes Jewish and Muslim and yes, even atheist marriages. Those marriages are not blessed by the Christian worldview, because Christian couples are supposed to be bound by the Christian God (although I’m sure there are Christians who disagree, but generally not the ones who are starkly anti-gay). And yet Christians don’t make a fuss about atheists being allowed to get legally married.* Nor should they care if gay people get married, because it’s just none of their business. They may disagree with it, they may not like it, they may feel uncomfortable knowing it’s happening, it may make them sad, but that doesn’t give them the right to infringe on other people’s rights.
The same applies to atheists who don’t like the fact that other people believe in things they think are ridiculous and even stunting to intellectual growth. If it gets in the way of an atheist doing his or her job, that’s different. You shouldn’t have to teach non-science in science class. But you don’t need to attack religion in an invasive way. I mean clearly I attack the Bible, but I acknowledge that people can come up with all kinds of ways of believing implausible things because none of us has a rule book that tells you what kind of arguments are allowed in religion. I think the “well God is bigger than our logic so even though sometimes I use logic to understand religion, when my logic is applicable but leads to an answer I don’t like I just assume it’s a case where God made it impossible for me to understand” argument is a really annoying cop-out, but I can’t prove that it’s wrong, and I don’t need to. I can just not believe it and other people can believe what they want and as long as they don’t try to get me back in the kitchen based on it, we’re ok. I won’t deny that I disagree with a lot of people on religion, and we can debate our different beliefs, but nothing should be hanging on the outcome of that debate. I mean maybe for Christians there will always be someone’s salvation in the balance, but for me, a religious debate would just be a way to pass the time, a way to think deeply, not something I need to do because it’s an affront to me that people who disagree with me exist. (Not to be confused with the times when they try to violate human rights; then it is an affront.)
*Brainstorming the differences between accepted atheist marriages and unaccepted gay marriages: 1) the former is already accepted in our culture. Christians often ignore things that conflict with the technicalities of the faith but would be impossible to change in today’s society or that are already so normalized in their culture that they assume it’s fine/take it for granted. 2) gay marriages don’t create a male-female hierarchy. 3) related, gay marriages don’t get people pregnant (except they do sometimes, but many Christians think that’s even worse; can’t win sometimes). 4) gay marriages necessarily separate sex from procreation; but to be realistic, so do most atheist marriages in places where contraception is available. 5) acceptance of gay marriage would further acceptance of homosexuality, period, which would make many conservative men insecure. this isn’t a good excuse for them either, because atheist marriages presumably show acceptance of atheism, of marriage outside of God’s covenant, and they should think atheism is equally if not more threatening than eroded gender roles.
In sum, I think their issue with gay marriage is a mix between just picking on who they can get away with picking on and regular old separate-the-genders-and-conquer-the-feminine patriarchy. I don’t mean to claim homophobia as a feminist issue as if feminism is the momma of the movements or anything, I just think homophobia and sexism are both the results of the same phenomenon whereby people want men and women to be considered opposites (oppressing those who don’t conform to gender roles, denying the existence of the intersex), from birth till death because God made them that way (oppressing transsexuals), and then want those opposites to pair up (oppressing those who don’t conform to heterosexuality), and want those pairs to form a hierarchy in which the man rules and the woman has babies (oppressing women, and men in a way too, and children too, actually; not to mention the slaves that used to be included in this happy home). Check Genesis 3 regarding “the man rules and the woman has babies.”
So I’ve written a way too long post and all I’ve really concluded is that if someone wants to do something you disagree with without infringing on other’s rights, you should leave them alone. Sorry I didn’t put that sentence at the beginning so you could’ve saved yourself some time.
PS – I had written church instead of religion in the phrase the separation of church and state, but I decided that the excuse “that’s just how people say it” wouldn’t convince me if the argument was about the generic he (although it kinda would if it was about the generic guys, but anyway) so I decided to change it. I trust you know what I mean.