I remember back in 2010 I believe that a group of conservative Christians in Oklahoma tried to make Sharia Law illegal within their state. I can't remember if it passed but that is besides the point. I think those of us who are atheists can already see the irony here. A group of conservative Christians trying to block certain faith based ideas of another religion all while enjoying the freedoms of tax exempt status and trying to make Creationism taught in our public schools. But what gives them the right to say their system is better? Why do they get special preference?
Another example was and maybe still is a hotly contested issue, the mosque or Islamic center being built near the WTC site in New York. It was a very unpopular idea in Conservative circles while Democrats and Liberals were more split. In the Christian worldview, from what I could tell, it was abhorrent and sacrilegious. The 9/11 site was to be treated as hollowed ground and no damned Muslim was allowed even though people of the Islamic faith had also died and not just in the planes. If it was a Jewish center no one would have said a word and same goes if it was a Christian church. Just because it was Islamic terrorists that flew planes into the WTC, does that give them no right to build a mosque? Even if it is near the 9/11 site?
I think you can begin to see the pattern forming here but I will give a few secular and non-religious or even atheistic examples.
Every year we know it's coming, The War On Christmas™. For me personally this time of year gives atheists a bad name. We come off as petty, overzealous, nit-picky douche bags. This isn't because we are but because we let Christians paint us in to a corner by playing right into their hands. The only thing that is going to come out of this is more fuel for the persecution bonfire they have been building for hundreds of years. But is it actual persecution? Well let's look at some of the things they seem to deem as us taking away their freedoms.
We demand space in court houses and state capitols right next to their displays or we demand that all displays to actually not be displayed.
We sue them when they build a 10 commandment shrine in front of court houses. We also do the same or demand removal of all crosses in public spaces.
We condemn the National Day of Prayer. We sue cities, counties and states that open their sessions with a Christian prayer.
We pretty much do the same when it comes to public officials and employees.
And on and on and on...
Just looking at the few I listed it might seem petty but most Christians don't understand our reasons in doing so. We aren't trying to create an atheistic state but a secular one. A state that accepts all walks of life. A state that stays neutral in every capacity. Christians see this as an affront to their religious freedom. This couldn't be further from the truth. By creating a secular government we are ensuring the religious freedoms of EVERYONE not just the ones you may like or participate in. Most conservative Christians (again, I said MOST) would have no problem with the state blocking the religious rights of those they disagree with. This is why we see Creationism take the route it always does, which is through the courts and not through the scientific process of peer review.
So let's address my main question. When is it OK for the rights of the religious to trump those of other religions or non-religious?
If I am being fully honest here, I'm gonna say I have no idea. I think it's because I keep asking myself what are religious rights? If it's the freedom of religion, meaning just being able to practice with out persecution then it becomes about rights being taking away instead of given special preference. The way I see it is that rights of the religious are held within their own dogma and practices. It is what they see as wrong or right through the lens of whatever faith they choose. For instance ritual slaughter or animal sacrifice is both legal and illegal. I'm not well suited or versed in the Humane Slaughter Act to talk about it but here is a clear cut case where a certain tenet of faith or religious right trumps the right of an animal. Now I'm just using this as an example of what I'm calling the "rights of the religious". Now that we have defined what it is let's just dive right in to a human example.
Gay marriage or marriage equality as it should be called is another hotly contested issue facing not only America but the world at large. Countries like Uganda and to a certain extant Russia have basically outlawed homosexuality. Being gay in those countries is a quick way to be imprisoned and in certain cases even death. America has been a little more humane about the subject but also disappointingly quiet on a national level until recently when President Obama has sided with the majority of Americans in support of LGBT people and their right to marry.
Christians and indeed most people of faith detest the idea of gay men and women being allowed to marry. This, they say, would be an infringement on their religious freedoms. They believe there is no such thing as homosexuality simply because their religious text, in this case the Bible, says there isn't. They are specifically asking for their text to be used in the making of laws. This to me is a clear violation of my right and freedom of no religion. Basically this is what you would call an impasse. To them allowing them to marry would violate their religious dogma and for me not allowing them to marry on the grounds of their religious texts would be a violation of my rights. Again, impasse. We could use our country's Constitution to determine the law and if we do so we can quickly see that the right of the individual is preferred here. But I want to ask the question in a more philosophical sense not using pre-existing laws.
I want to ask a couple more questions.
How should religions be treated? Meaning, should we treat them as real events or more philosophical in nature?
Do ideas have rights?
The first one is an important question and one that deserves its own post at which I will do later. It's the second question that seems to be pertinent in this debate and the one I want to spend time on.
I think after pondering upon my initial question, this is where I keep ending up. Most Christians would object to the thought that their religion is just an idea but for me this is how religion should be treated. But does an idea have rights? And if they do, can they trump those of individual human beings?
My first thought is to say no, they don't. But what about all the ideas that do good? But I think this is where the problem lies. Ideas cannot be thought of or acted upon without sentient beings to think them and act them out. Ideas are non-existent and cannot be made into action without us. Ideas are abstract concepts dependent on our minds to think them. And if such is the case they should be valued, not given a right. Before we even consider whether or not a certain idea has value, we should see how the idea was constructed in the first place.
I am reminded of a post written a few years back by Mike D. over at The A-Unicornist in which Mike talks about informed decisions in the essence of moral reasoning. He says, "It's entirely plausible that such people are true believers and are not knowingly spreading false information, but it highlights a central point to my post: sound moral reasoning is dependent on accurate information." Ideas should live or die on their merits and while ideas are not dependent on accurate information, our discernment should. Ideas that are made up whole cloth are usually easy to spot but some like to hide and obfuscate themselves under the guise of religion. But the great thing about the scientific method is that its blind. It has no master and it has no preference. It is simply a tool to discern fact from fiction. It's a way to see through the veil of lies and emotional appeals religion employs and treat its ideas just like any other. Science based methods of discernment gives us the advantage to see how ideas are constructed by using accurate information about the known universe. We use this information to test the ideas to see if they are based on sound reasoning and accurate information.
I would venture to say that most Christians and then again most religious people are true believers and have no idea they are spreading false information. To them, their beliefs about god or gods are real and based upon real tangible things. I don't fault people for falling for the tricks of religion, I've been there myself. But you can only claim ignorance once. So no, I don't think ideas should have rights. Our world and society changes so fast and with information at our fingertips everyday it will only change faster. Our ideas evolve during this time of change. They will continue to evolve with every new piece of information. Ideas are not sacred and therefore should not be protected. Ideas should be scrutinized and analyzed to every degree possible.
Before this turns into me just thinking out loud I want to address the main issue here, the rights of the individual and the freedom of choice. The recent ruling shows that certain religious ideals trump the individual right of free choice. The whims and beliefs of individuals should not infringe on your right of free choice. The ideals of Christianity live or die on the existence of self-aware, conscious human beings. Without us the Bible and Christianity does not exist. The only thing or people who should be making the choices of family planning, who I marry, what religion I follow or reject should be made by the individual. Again, Mike D. says it perfectly, "We are, by nature, self-interested. But we're also gregarious, social, bonded, and interdependent." And in turn we should be not only helping those who need it the most but not making their decisions either, especially based on false information and ideals they might not agree with.
It's entirely plausible that such people are true believers and are not knowingly spreading false information, but it highlights a central point to my post: sound moral reasoning is dependent on accurate information. - See more at: http://www.theaunicornist.com/2011/09/essence-of-moral-reasoning-part-3.html#sthash.0QP4GFZw.dpu