Friday, 4 July 2014

Freedom Of Expression, Opinion, And Religion: Why Secularism Makes Sense For People Of Faith

As a Christian, I often get annoyed when I see articles, memes, and other items denigrating my faith. "So you hear voices," crow some. "Your invisible friend told you so," scoffs another. It scares me a bit because they're insinuating that to be a person of faith is to be, not to put too fine a point on it, a nutter.

When they honestly believe that, our freedom is at risk. Aimed at anyone else for any other reason, this casual abuse would be called out as discriminatory, but because it's trendy, I've seen even Pirates go along with it. Don't. Because my personal freedom guarantees yours. But those of us who complain about being ridiculed in some circles need to remember that while it currently seems like it's open season on us, secularism isn't to blame for the dogmatic atheism that is poisoning our social and political discourse. We are.

Paranoid authoritarians have poisoned the well

You'll often see me rant against authoritarianism because I've recognised that freedom for me means freedom for you, and vice versa. Remember when religion ruled the roost? You had to go to church and pay taxes to the church or risk being fined and imprisoned. One of the key reasons we have religious freedom today is the American Revolution, which is due to be celebrated tomorrow as Independence Day.

Neither establish nor prohibit

The First Amendment has been copied and pasted into Western cultures across the board and while some of us have state churches, we have the right to believe in what we want to and to practice our faith unhindered. Let's take a closer look at it:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - Wikipedia

The dogmatic atheists — you know the ones I mean — they want to ban Christmas and get religious symbols removed from public places, etc., — are very keen on the first clause, i.e. not establishing religion, but they forget that the free exercise thereof is the next one along.

Tolerance is a key Pirate value

As a moderate member of a minority sect, I fear fundamentalism because it clashes with Christian values of love and acceptance and demands adherence to arbitrarily enforced rules based on interpretations of the Bible that leave no room for compassion. The trouble with the dogmatists is that they lump us all together and if we complain, they accuse us of using the No True Scotsman logical fallacy. The Pirate Party is not yet in a position in which we can afford to lose friends and alienate people, so we need to remember that tolerance for one group should extend to all.

Militancy and the culture wars

America is politically polarised, mostly because there are only two parties, if you believe the press. These parties have neatly organised themselves into a Red Corner (conservative) and Blue Corner (liberal). Sweeping generalisations that are widely accepted as correct include allegations of militant dogmatic ban-crossroads-because-cross-sounds-religious atheism from the Republicans about the Democrats and overbearing all-your-wombz-are-belong-to-ur-boss law-making from the Democrats about the Republicans.

The fact that I can easily find stories on t'internet to back up contentions from either side is the problem. Add to that the fact that both parties are implicated in the surveillance scandal and both of them are corporatists to the core and you find yourself wondering why Americans don't just give up and vote for other parties instead. Well they would if they weren't afraid that the one they consider the worst would get in if they did because they'd be in a small minority if they voted third party.

Will the real winners please stand up?

Whenever I hear religious Americans whine about how they're being persecuted because people are slagging them off in the press or trying to get things banned (First Amendment bans the prohibition of the free exercise thereof, so suck it, militant bullies!) I find myself having to remind them that they are the ones calling the shots in most states. The War on Women is progressing nicely, thanks to the recent decision of the US Supreme Court, which says that corporations are people, my friend, and their religious freedom must not be infringed upon.

The big whinge there was about payments for womens' healthcare that included contraception. This is but a step on the slippery slope to abortion, they believe, so must needs be excised from any healthcare plan they provided for their women workers. The trouble is, it pretty much says you're obliged to accept your boss's religious beliefs as a condition of employment. Getting contraception outside of the framework of the ACA may well prove to be burdensome and expensive for those women unlucky enough to find that their desire to limit the size of their families invites discrimination from their employers.

Should religious people be forced to pay for healthcare options they don't like? 

That's a slippery slope I'd rather not tread on. What if a Jehovah's Witness boss refuses to pay for a healthcare scheme that might provide blood transfusions or blood products to his or her employees?

What if a Christian Scientist decides that if violates his or her conscience to pay for medical treatment since they believe that only prayer is truly effective and that illness is symptomatic of a lack of faith? That the Supreme Court didn't consider the existence of belief system outside of the Fundamentalist Protestant/Catholic alliance that is currently running their country (for the most part) demonstrates an alarming ignorance... or the possibility that the right wing justices are hoping to completely undermine the ACA by rendering it unfit for purpose. As I told someone earlier today, I've never seen a better case made for socialised medicine than the Hobby Lobby one.

The Pirate position

Freedom of religion was intended to allow you to believe whatever you wanted. It was never intended to legitimize people behaving like assholes against fellow humans and claiming they have a governmentally-backed right to behave like assholes without consequences, because of some weird opinion they hold.

And that's why militant/dogmatic atheists are having a field day, kids! Because some religious people are afraid that they're losing influence over the rest of us so they're imposing their wills on us because they believe they have a moral imperative to do so.

Freedom of expression and opinion needs to be enshrined in law so that religion is not elevated to special status. If religious people can't play nicely with their toys privileges, they can't have them. This will guarantee that I can be a Christian, Steve can be an atheist, Anisa can be a Muslim, Lakshmi can be a Hindu, Janice can be a Pastafarian, and Mike can be a Kopimist in a state that lets us be who and what we want to be.

Rick Falkvinge is right. Let's get rid of the special privilege afforded religion and ring-fence tolerance across the board. If we don't, there's no guarantee as to whether or not we'll be fully beholden to a state-backed religion. Again.

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