Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Freedom of religion

Freedom OF religion also means freedom FROM religion, or it means nothing at all. It also doesn’t mean one religion gets to force others to do as it demands.

These should be obvious to any thinking person: No religion has the right to force others to believe as they do, or to accept their religious beliefs as the only acceptable religious beliefs. All rational people agree that a Jewish person shouldn’t be forced to be a Roman Catholic and a Presbyterian shouldn’t be forced to be a Muslim. Obvious, right?

Then why should we tolerate mainstream and progressive Christian churches being forced to accept the religious beliefs of Assembly of God, Pentecostals, Baptists and other rightwing churches? Why do only the most conservative believers get to have religious freedom, but mainstream and liberal believers and the non-religious do not?

The answer, of course, is that the most conservative religious activists—Leviticans, they’re sometimes called—have long controlled the political debate on social issues. They alone dictate what is the only acceptable “Christian” position on issues like marriage equality and abortion—along with such godly topics as gun control and cutting taxes for the rich, of course.

When it comes to marriage equality, the far right religious activists have decreed that the only “Christian” position is to oppose all government recognition of same-gender couples (civil unions as well as marriage). To do otherwise would deny their religious freedom. However, the reality is far different: By failing to permit marriage equality, government is denying the religious freedom of the majority of people who disagree with the rightwing on this issue—even many who otherwise share the fundamentalists’ religious dogma.

When marriage equality exists, then all religions are equal and all are free to follow their religious tenets: Conservative churches can refuse to solemnise same-gender marriages, but mainstream churches can perform the weddings. Everyone wins, everyone has their religious freedom preserved.

Of course, the rightwing doesn’t see it that way because to them the world is made up of absolutes: Everything must be their way, no compromise and no exceptions, ever. It’s pitiable that they feel that way, but it makes no difference.

So, with the enactment of marriage equality, rightwing religious activists will feel they’ve “lost”, but the fact is that the ONLY thing they will have lost is the ability to dictate that all people must follow rightwing religious demands. They’ll still be able to teach whatever they want, no matter what the majority of us think about it—they simply will NOT be able to force everyone else to bow down to them and their particular beliefs beliefs.

Of course, all of this is kind of funny to those of us who are non-religious: We frankly don’t care if fundamentalists are unhappy that mainstream and progressive churches will finally get religious freedom, too. Similarly, while it’s nice that mainstream churches will be able to perform wedding ceremonies for same-gender couples, we don’t really much care if they do or not. The affairs of churches don’t concern us.

However, we’re very concerned about the most conservative religionists being allowed to dictate that everyone—religious and non-religious alike—live according to the rightwing activists’ religion. Um, no. Many of us don’t believe in their religious worldview and we are not bound by their religious beliefs. In fact, no one is: Freedom of religion always means freedom from religion or it means nothing at all.

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