It is past time we rethink freedom of religion: Father Abraham (part two)

abraham-sacrificing-isaac

Let’s take a moment to look at the featured image. There is a naked, preteen boy on a pile of stones, being held down by an old man. The man’s left hand is gripping the boy’s face, forcing it down onto the stone. In his right hand is a sharp knife just inches away from the boy’s exposed neck. The old man’s right wrist is being grasped by a much younger looking man who is pointing in the opposite direction. The old man is listening intently to the younger man, but looks decidedly confused. The expression on the boy’s face is abject terror. This picture depicts one of the most important and sacred scenes in all the bible. It is the penultimate moment before Abraham murders his only legitimate son like a goat on an alter, in blind obedience to the Most High.

The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is one of the keystone stories of the Judao-Christian faith. For Christians, it foreshadows the sacrifice God will make of his only son. It also demonstrates the kind of faith expected of God’s followers. Only blind, unquestioning faith will do. Here lies the problem with religious freedom. Freedom can never be decoupled from reason. Where there are no speed limits, the speed one drives is not just dictated by physics and the desire to live, but by reason. Freedom of speech can only be understood and properly exercised by reasonable people. The right to bear arms is also dependent on reason, and reason-based limitations. Religious freedom, however, is completely divorced from reason. That makes it untenable.

Reason, freedom, and religion

Allow me to reiterate this key point: Where there is no reason, there can be no freedom! People who are insane still have rights, but no freedom. Depending on the danger they pose to themselves and their society, they may be physically restricted by restraints, masks, etc. People who are insane, by definition, do not have the ability to reason. That is only slightly different from the person who can reason, but chronically demonstrates poor judgment. If a sane person shows poor enough judgement often enough, they will find their freedoms restricted. There can be no freedom without reason.

Religion presents itself as a worldview that rises above the petty concerns of human reason. One does not come to religious faith by reason, but despite reason. There is no reasonable boundary to what religion can be. Satanism is a legitimate religion because there is no way reason can be used to distinguish it from mainstream Christianity. If you accept one as a legitimate religion, then you have to accept the other. It is not as if one makes logical sense and the other does not. Both require blind obedience to invisible gods. Under both would-be masters of the universe, the vast majority of people end up suffering in Hell.

Because religion is not regulated by reason, anything at all can be religion. Dancing with poisonous snakes on your head can be the basis of a religion just as legitimate as orthodox Christianity. The worship of house cats can be the basis of religion. A conviction that the earth is flat might also be a religion. Your religion could be based on the love of serial killers and the hatred of minorities. You might have a religion based on a cosmology that it is turtles all the way down. While there is freedom to believe any unreasonable thing, there is not freedom to practice any unreasonable thing. Freedom of religion has become code for, “I can do anything I want just as long as it can be called religion”. Freedom of religion has become a behavioral blank check. That cannot stand!

The ultimate blank check

Not even a blank check is without limits. The purpose of a blank check is to offer payment for a product or service with an unspecified price. Let’s say you drop your dog off at a vet. You tell them that someone else will be picking up the dog, but that you want to pay right now. Since no one is entirely sure what services will be needed until the dog is examined, you leave the vet with a blank check to be filled out after the price is determined. The amount is limited by the actual cost of services rendered. Even if the vet was unscrupulous, he cannot write the check for more than the amount that is in the bank.

The blank check written to religion has no such limits. Any behavior on which the law and society frowns, can be legitimized as long as it can be framed as religion. Do you want to throw your baby into a volcano or tie him to a pile of rock, cut his throat, and bleed him out like a sacrificial goat? You’re barking mad! …unless god told you to — in which case, you are covered by religion. Did you want to have sex with you neighbor’s three 14 year-old daughters? Pervert! What’s that you say? God told you to? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Religion. Do you want to teach your kids to be science deniers and magical thinkers? What the heck is wrong with you? Oh, right. Religion.

It is the same blank check that allows parents to get away with allowing their children to die from very curable illnesses. Their religion says to take the mater to a church official rather than a doctor. It is the same blank check that transformed biblical war criminals such as Moses and David into heroes. Their god told them to do those awful things to those babies and little girls. Make it a genocide and you’ve got the makings of an epic song. Add the will of a god to any atrocity and you’ve got a morality tale fit for little children.

The religious blank check is even more insidious than that. It keeps us from exercising critical judgement on an action. At the very least, it greatly retards the process. The moral judgement of religious people is suspect at best, non-existent at worst. Christians are taught morality by fiat. They memorize moral laws by rote. They develop static lists of rights and wrongs. For them, the only reason a thing is right or wrong is that their God declared it to be so. What they do not develop is a sense of moral judgment. Since they never learn why things are right and wrong, they are always reduced to asking what Jesus would do, or what God’s word has to say about that particular thing.

Ask a Christian about the morality of targeting noncombatant civilians in war. Some percentage of them might suggest that it is wrong, but they would be hard pressed to tell you why. You see, all of the war heroes of the Hebrew scriptures did just that at the command of their war god, Jehovah. It was not only okay to target civilians, but required. They have rationalized that since God no longer operates in that manner, civilians are no longer to be targeted. There is no timeless and universal principal on which they can draw. All they can say is that it was God’s will then but not now. They can never say that the God of the bible demanded immoral acts from his followers. The act is not immoral. It is just right or wrong depending on how their god feels about it at the time.

The same goes for laws concerning homosexuality and adultery. The god of the bible assigned the death penalty to both acts. Growing up, it always seemed to be that God was quite a bit more disgusted with homosexuality than garden variety adultery. His followers definitely took the cue. We saw plenty of adultery, however you define it. A person repents and moves on. Homosexuality was a very different matter. It was not only sin, but obscene, like child pornography. More than a sin, it was an abomination. the only thing that made it different from other sins was the way we perceived God’s attitude on the matter.

In my case, the situation was even worse. I knew in my heart that the filthy sodomizers deserved nothing less than the bad death God had originally condemned them to. God wanted them dead. Who were lawmakers to want anything different? But God would not be thwarted. That is clearly why he invented AIDS which we once knew as GRID: gay related immune disease. God was carrying out his judgement in the modern age. Death to the fags! God is not mocked! That is really what I believed. I am now covered in shame for ever holding such a belief. I thought I was being faithful to my god. I was only able to think differently when I was able to let go of a desire to please such a god. Once I developed a moral compass of my own, I realized that true North was in the opposite direction from the god of the bible.

It gets worse. I felt the exact same way about abortion doctors. Whenever I heard about a bombing at an abortion clinic, my inner heart leapt with glee. Another baby murderer got what was coming to him or her. Although God did not have anything to say about abortion, and the fate of abortionists, I had extrapolated that it had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of homosexuality. To be clear, I am just as much against abortion today as I was then. The pro life position does not require crazy fundamentalism. I just no longer want  murder to replace reasoned debate.

There is a fine line between wishing a class of people dead, and giving aid and comfort to those who carry out those wishes. There is an even finer line between that and carrying out those wishes yourself. I thought terrorism against abortionists was a righteous cause. So did the people who actually carried out acts of violence. That is the kind of person you get when moral judgement is replaced with a rigid set of moral laws. Religion short-circuits our ability to develop moral judgement.

Speaking as one of them, we don’t see the atrocities in the same way as other people. We don’t feel the full measure of empathy. Our sense of right and wrong is out of balance. Carrying around a secret hatred of gays seemed downright civil to me since the real penalty was death. Speaking of the “real” penalty, the ultimate punishment for the vast majority of people who ever lived was an eternity in flaming Hell. Just how much empathy was it right for me to have for a person who was condemned to a life of torment for their wickedness. God’s enemies were my enemies. How could I think of them any other way?

That is why conservative social programs are always ultimately focused on saving souls rather than lives. No matter what we say, we just don’t care about the dehumanizing squaller that is the living condition of much of the world’s population. If we have no chance of saving their souls, there is little meaningful value in saving their lives, or changing their living conditions.

Do you know why Christians favor corporal punishment? The god of the bible says that children should be beaten, and prescribes the way to do it. But it is much worse than that. In the back of our minds, those of us who are really knowledgable about scripture know that God ordered truly disobedient children to be dragged to the edge of the city and put to death. If we beat the living hell out of our disobedient children and they can still breathe after we’re done, then they were shown mercy, not abuse. Such is the moral judgement of one who counts “spare the rod, spoil the child” as the last word on child rearing. The type of person I was raised to be should never have a blank check of freedom.

This is not a theocracy

Attention: This is not a theocracy! People who call for religious freedom like to pretend that they are living in a theocracy. They’re not! God is not on the throne of this country. There is no throne. The president is in the White House, and we don’t give him all that much respect. Congress makes laws. The courts ratify them. God has no power or place in the law making machinery of America. Get over it! Right and wrong is ultimately decided in this country by we, the people. If it turns out we don’t like the laws we made, we fire our lawmakers and hire new ones. At no point in the process is a bible consulted.

In this country, we don’t give a damn about what the bible says about abortion or gays in the military. We do not pay respects to disembodied voices or angels from Heaven. If God came down to Washington D.C. in person to express his will, he would have to call his representative. Without a visitor’s badge, he will not even be allowed entrance into the halls of power. If we elected God to congress, he would still only be worth a single vote. We do not live in a theocracy!

No one gives a damn about what your god told you to do. That has no legal bearing. It is a blank check for nothing, serving as legal tender nowhere. Even if God tells you to do something good, it simply doesn’t matter. You can’t build a house for a poor person without licenses and approvals from the government. You can’t give a person a job without the government checking credentials and regulating the process. Calling yourself a missionary does not get you past my No Trespassing sign.

To be clear, I have no problem with individuals practicing their private faith. If you want to smear your face with steaming fresh cow dung five times a day while facing West, and declaring your undying love for John Wayne, knock yourself out. That’s not religious freedom; that’s just freedom. Religious freedom should not entitle you to any privilege not given to me under plain, old, generic freedom. Religious freedom is not a special dispensation of freedom. It is simply a guarantee of freedom regardless of your personal religion. Religious freedom is another way of saying that we will not withhold freedom based on your religion. It is the same as nondiscrimination laws for minorities or women. It does not give those groups more freedom. It just secures the same freedoms allotted to all.

Black freedom does not give me special dispensation to blast loud music and form violent drug gangs. Female freedom does not give women the right to change a baby’s diaper in the dining area of a public restaurant. And religious freedom does not give Christian parents the right to withhold necessary medical treatment and education from their children. In the end, there is only one kind of freedom. It is just called “freedom”. Putting qualifiers on it implies additional freedom to the qualified group not available to others. If that is your idea of religious freedom, you should try to find a theocracy. America is not God’s country. The bible is not the constitution.

Conclusion: liberty and justice for all

Forget about religious freedom. I care about liberty and justice for all: the SAME liberties and justice, not different sets for different groups. No person should be denied a fair mortgage rate because they self-identify as Muslim. I will fight against any such discrimination. However, no Muslim should get a better interest rate because their religion restricts the amount of interest they can pay for property. Religion is being used by people to carve out a special set of rights and freedoms that make them exceptions to the rules of society in general.

If your company has a dress code of long, black pants and a long-sleeve white shirt with no jewelry, that should be the code for everyone. If your religion forbids you (a woman) from wearing pants, that does not give you the right to show up in a skirt or dress. Your employer should not have to make an exception for you. The same is true if your religion requires you to wear symbolic jewelry. Either your religion must be flexible enough to allow you to coexist in the real world with infidels, or you should have to find another job: one without dress codes.

If an employer must make an exception for religion, then he can have no rules at all. If you can wear a skirt instead of pants, I should be able to wear green instead of black. Why should your religious taboo be more important than my since of style? If you can wear your cross, on what basis should I be forbidden to wear a Satanic symbol? I can’t think of any. And why should the exceptions stop there? If your religion requires that you take five breaks for prayer time, why should I be limited to two breaks a day? If your religion keeps you from serving wine as a waiter, why can’t I also opt out of serving shellfish or slaughtered animals? Liberty for religion offers justice for none. That must change.

Justice for all means that everybody is equal under the law. It does not mean that different groups get to make up their own rules based on their superstitions and sensitivities. No one should have to care about the rules and sensitivities of your cult. The moment someone has to care is the moment it is no longer a personal and private faith. Once it becomes a public faith, then it is subject to public debate, public morality, and public regulation.

David Johnson

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