Questionable Motives

January 8, 2010

Why do the religious need to support the secular state?

Filed under: Argument,Faith,Religion,Secularism — tildeb @ 2:46 pm

One poster,  4amzgkids, continues to assert that christianity is a religion of love and respect for others. In addition, the poster insists that secularism is fundamentally at odds with religion. One of her comments begins with the very common assertion that if only people understood what the religion was all about, the world would be a better place, so the poster attempts to do that. Rather than respond only to that assertion, I have decided to post my point as a separate entry because I think it helps to explain why secularist’s are the religious’ best friend… if they only knew it. So here’s my response:

As soon as you say Christianity teaches us… you have already moved into an area filled with problems. Which christianity? Protestant? Catholic? Latter Day? Baptist? Lutheran? Pentecostal? Anglican? Jim Jones’ version? Which is the right one? Which portions of the bible are trustworthy and which verses are the ones to be followed? Which portions should we reject or perhaps distrust and which verses are too intolerant?

I’m sure you have your preferences, and I’m just as sure that other christians will have theirs and that the two will often not be the same. I know at least this much to be true. Do you?

So when you suggest that within the context of this fuzzy assembly of writings and teachings that YOU call Christianity lies the ‘Truth’, then the natural question that follows is, “Which truth are you referring to? Just yours?”

If you are like most christians, you will now retreat into the most basic tenets of the faith – the fundamentals of the catechism – and claim that this is what christianity is really all about without every appreciating how few christians KEEP their faith in that box, in just the fundamentals of the faith; instead, out come specific truth claims about the nature of the universe and man’s role in it, quoting various sections of the bible as if it were any kind of authority in such matters. It isn’t. The bible’s track record on the accuracy of its scientific claims is abysmal by today’s standards and we know many instances where its writings are simply wrong. So I suspect that these biblical answers to scientific questions come not from any divine knowledge (because the claims like geocentrism are simply wrong and I think you do not want to accept a god that is capable of being wrong) but from those who profess faith, claims which must be true since you believe them to be true… that god created the universe, that god created man in his own image, that god created the ten commandments, and so on.

But we have a new problem here.

Not for second will you consider that the combined might of the 330 gods of the Hindus to be your god’s theological equal. You will assume Hindus to be misguided in their beliefs about so many deities. Come on, be honest. You think billions of people – Hindus past and present – who have a different set of fundamentals of a different catechism are simply wrong. But WHY are they wrong? I see no difference in the quality of the thinking that informs your belief in your god to be any different in what informs the Hindu’s heartfelt belief. Both of you will insist that you have the inside track to the real god, one that is true. You will both act in the world according to your beliefs.

And now we come to the crux of the problem: what do we do when your true beliefs come into direct conflict with the true belief held by another?

I think the natural arbitrator between you and another in regards to extending your beliefs into the world must be the secular state that has no religious agenda to favour. As long as the playing field is level between you and another, then both can continue to believe what you want. No harm, no foul. But as soon as either of you extends you belief into the public domain, then the state has an obligation to maintain the equal playing field. By subverting the secular state’s role to be a fair and impartial arbiter, people who wish it to favour one set of religious tenets over another set are setting the stage for conflict. And too often that conflict descends into killing.

So although you believe your religious convictions do not support any kind of killing or suffering, your extension of your faith into the world prepares the ground for inevitable conflict. By attacking and reducing and disrespecting the secular state, you are attacking and reducing and disrespecting the only arbiter capable of stopping religiously inspired violence from entering the world. Any religious person who attempts to extend their religious beliefs into the world even with best of intentions is taking that step towards religiously inspired violence. If you truly want peace between people of different faiths then you must do two things: you must support keeping religious faith a private matter and out of the public domain, and you must support the secular state’s impartiality in religious matters.

Those two points seem to be too bitter a pill for most religious adherents to swallow. Hence, sectarian violence will continue unabated and religious dogma extended into the world will continue to be a major cause of killing and suffering. If not for the the rise of the outspoken New Atheists, who – which apologist – will have the moral courage to stand up to so many people who think themselves divinely inspired to spread their version of god’s ‘Truth.’

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