Religious Freedom is a Paradox
If there’s one thing you have to credit religion with, it’s their ability to insert themselves into things, often painfully and occasionally in a way that merits jail time, but mysteriously enough results in no real punishment. Religion is so skilled at doing this they manage to convince throngs of people to believe without them, the fabric of their lives would fall apart. Take marriage for instance, how many Christians in North America believe with absolute certainty the legal contract of marriage is bound to their religion? They are convinced that the union of minorities they revile, formerly other skin pigmentation and now sexual orientation, ought to be restricted, if not outright banned.
“From the beginning, the church has taught that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman,” the bishop wrote in his diocese’s newspaper The Courier. “It is a sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ to provide the special graces that are needed to live according to God’s law and to give birth to the next generation”
In Montana, there are serious legislative attempts to make homosexuality a crime, a reminder bigotry can remain veiled for only so long. The fact this is happening on the eve of a new decade in the 21st century should be a rude wakeup call for anyone still slumbering in America. Your country is being systematically dismantled by religious conservatives intent on creating a hybrid of theocracy and democracy. As you can imagine, these two elements are completely incompatible with one another, and it’s precisely this reason that the very founding document of your nation forbade this. The Founding Fathers knew first hand the M.O. of theocrats intent on suppressing the rights of not only those they disagreed with, but also of their own flock.
Marriage isn’t a religious institution. It’s a contract a person enters according to the rules of our society, not those of Rome nor those of the local mullahs. Meanwhile, religions proclaim they can dictate for others, who don’t share their delusions, what their own rights are. How then are we supposed to react to the free exercise of religion when it interferes with the freedom of others? It reminds me of the asinine utterances of Christian fundamentalists who interpret the Constitution as meaning: “you have freedom of religion, not freedom FROM religion”.
How can I pretend to be surprised when religion itself is antithetical to freedom? What has historically been the punishment for the crime of apostasy in Christianity? The Old Testament makes no bones about it: kill anyone who tries to turn you away from Yahweh, your God. Islam may still take the notion of deserters very seriously indeed, but it’s only been recently that the crimes of heresy haven’t been investigated by Christian Inquisitions.
There’s a reason “free-thought” is associated with atheism and agnosticism; it is only by the virtue of being free to contemplate a Universe without a creator we can come to be fully liberated. Perhaps a person who does so will still continue to believe in a God, but the ability to contemplate otherwise, even for a brief moment, is not something our ancestors benefited from. In many parts of the world that have abandoned their murderous campaigns against apostates, it is the fear of persecution, death and alienation that prevents so many others from coming forward and announcing they too have nothing one would characterize as belief. What then, do we make of freedom when these institutions are in positions of power?