The second Comment of the Day, also on the same post, comes from frequent COTD author Extradimensional Cephalopod. His topic is religious freedom. Here it is…
Human logic is so warped by truisms. Why are we discussing the competition between religious freedom and the principle of respecting others? Once we strip away the artificial distinction between religious beliefs and any other beliefs, everything becomes more obvious.
It makes no sense at all to say that people are free to believe whatever they want but that they should not impose those beliefs on others in public. Society is built on a foundation of mutual beliefs, beliefs about the best obligations we can all impose on ourselves on behalf of each other. Fundamental disagreements or paradigm mismatches about ethics and rights cannot be ignored, because they disrupt the fabric of society itself. (No, gay marriage in itself doesn’t disrupt the fabric of society; the fact that only a small percentage of the population can discuss it respectfully and intelligently indicates the fabric has been looking for an excuse to unravel.)
“Religious freedom” is an excuse to avoid difficult conversations and careful thought, and just sweep the differences under the rug. The only reason that’s possible is because (most) people decided they would prefer to ignore each other rather than kill each other, but that doesn’t make the underlying misunderstandings go away. They show up in politics because the law of the land is the only place where people have no alternative but to deal with each other’s beliefs about right and wrong (or leave the country). If we face our disagreements head on, but with the goal of learning, there is no reason “tolerance” needs to last forever.
I would never tell a person who believes that gay marriage is an offense against a magical energy being that they should keep that belief to themselves, any more than I would ask it of someone who believes that evolution is a more accurate and useful concept than creationism. People who keep beliefs to themselves rarely get the opportunity to learn they’re wrong. Of course, people who never shut up about their beliefs and listen to alternatives never learn either. Ideas should be sent out into the world to stand on their own. Most of them will be torn to shreds, and that’s good. The ideas that don’t survive weren’t useful, at least not by themselves.
There is no way to defend religion as a concept, let alone its exercise, because religion is an arbitrary collection of descriptive and normative beliefs with a lot of people who consider them somehow existentially important. Religion in general cannot be defended ethically or legally, because its beliefs could say literally anything. Any such defense would merely be an excuse to completely ignore skepticism and critical thinking in the name of… somehow being morally superior in a way that critical thinking and skepticism… somehow prevents. However, most (but not all) religions allow critical thinking in ways that don’t threaten their tenets, because the ones that don’t are even more horribly crippled due to their intellectual bankruptcy. Few complain because few know how to think critically, or value the practice.
On the whole, religion seems to be strictly worse than secular humanism, especially ethically. The only reasons it survives are that so many people are unwilling or unable to seriously consider that it might be wrong, and the persistence of the condescending idea that people and the country somehow can’t function without it. Those were the same means by which slavery survived so long. Like slavery, religions run the gamut from cruel and barbaric to gilded cages, but unfortunately, prisoners of the mind take more than laws to emancipate.
Mind you, I don’t believe in persecuting people for what they believe. There is no reason to use intellectually bankrupt methods to fight intellectual bankruptcy, and many reasons not to. It is, however, unethical to allow willful ignorance to exempt people from the law and from ethical principles. Religion is never an excuse for anything. Because religious people tend to be in the majority, they can get away with being the naked emperor demanding that everyone admire his clothes. While the law cannot and should not make thoughts illegal, that doesn’t mean those thoughts have any truth to them. It certainly doesn’t mean that laws have to ignore evidence and consistency; we couldn’t have safety laws if we didn’t have evidence of what is safe. You aren’t obligated to believe anything in particular, but you are obligated to question your beliefs.
Any religious people (particularly monotheists) who are offended by my words, I encourage you to attempt to convince me that energy beings exist that fit the impossible descriptions you ascribe to them, and that any ethical truth can depend on the existence of an energy being. For you to give up on convincing me of what you consider to be the truth would be a serious insult to my sincere desire and ability to identify truth, or perhaps a self-indictment of your understanding of your own “deeply held beliefs”. So, then, will you shun learning about ideas you’ve pre-judged to be wrong, living with the fact that you didn’t have enough faith to put your beliefs to the test or enough goodwill to share them with a sincere seeker of truth, or will you risk transforming into a better person the current you would not recognize?
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