Sunday, September 2, 2012

Religion is not a free pass


Religion is often invoked in debates about public policy in the United States.  In the name of freedom of religion, people seek to block legislation they believe would contradict their own personal religious beliefs and to pass legislation that would enshrine their personal religious beliefs as the law of the land.  Any objections raised against this religious bias are met with cries of discrimination and attempting to suppress religious liberty.

This is based on a mistaken understanding of religious liberty.

Religious freedom means being free to worship and live as you choose, as long as you do not infringe upon the liberties of others.  Religion is not a free pass to justify any action, attitude, or belief, however irrational or harmful, simply because you believe your religion justifies said action, attitude, or belief.  In particular, religion should not be seen as a free pass for bigotry, whether against gay people, women, ethnic minorities, or religious minorities.

Religion is your personal set of opinions and preferences about whether there is a deity, or deities; what the nature of that deity or those deities may be; what it all means, life, the universe, everything; what your place in the Greater Scheme Of Things may be; what the purpose of your life may be; whether you have any purpose at all for being here; how you pray, worship, ritualize, connect with the Greater Scheme Of Things; and so on.  Religion is personal and subjective.

Religious beliefs are not objective, evidence-established truth.  If they were, they would not be religious beliefs:  They would be science.

As personal, subjective opinions, religious beliefs apply only to those who hold them.  They do not apply to people who do not believe they are true.  Moral and ethical guidelines that we would impose on society at large must demonstrably tend towards doing good and avoiding harm to people, rather than depending upon claims of religious revelation or doctrine to support them.

I myself have beliefs and experiences that are not objectively "provable."  They resonate with me at a deep level and give me a sense of peace and inner stability, and they reflect what I believe likely to be true about the spiritual realm; however, I do not seek to make those beliefs the basis for how others live their lives.  In the realm of culture, law, and society, reason and evidence are my cornerstones, as they should be for us all in order to create a just and harmonious society which respects individual liberty.

Personal religious beliefs cannot be cited as the basis for any action that would restrict the rights and liberties of others in society.  They may inspire and guide your own personal conduct, but for something to hold the weight of law for all people, it must have a basis in reason and evidence--the truths that all of us, whatever our spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, share in common.