Questionable Motives

February 13, 2010

What do we owe to secularism?

In my discussions with many who hold some allegiance to religious beliefs, I am often presented with statements that assure me that human rights, freedoms, and respect of personhood derive from religious holy texts. That’s a rather optimistic interpretation usually assumed to be true by those who wish to present their religion as a force for good in the world. But a significant problem arises when the same texts are used by many men in religious authority as a bullying tool to justify the intent to reduce human rights, freedoms, and the dignity of personhood. The standard reply to my criticism is to assure me that only ‘extremists’ and those who misinterpret god’s will abuse the holy text in such a way and so should not count against the more favorable interpretations and assumptions.

Then along comes another example of religious belief being used to justify some reduction in human rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood not by some fringe extremist but some central authority like the the pope or the archbishiop of Canterbury or some typical local clergy and I am left wondering how so many religious people can tolerate the constant undermining of hard won secular enlightenment values by people who think believing in some favored invisible sky father adds authority to their opinions about how treat others.

This latest (bold face in mine) come to us from an English vicar concerned about the divorce rate. His solution? Wives, obey your husbands and close your mouth. Such is the quality of so much ‘moral teaching’ from holy texts:

In a leaflet issued to parishoners, the Rev Angus MacLeay used passages in the Bible to justify women playing a submissive role in local church life. He urged women to “submit to their husbands in everything”.

Mr MacLeay, a member of the General Synod (that just voted 241-2 that the conflictual truth claims made by science and religion are compatible because, well, just because they say they are), is opposed to the appointment of women bishops. He has campaigned vociferously for Reform, an Evangelical group that seeks to reform the Church of England “according to the Holy Scriptures”.

The leaflet he issued It says at one point: “Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church.

“This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other and Christian marriage cannot function well without it.”

In a section called `More difficult passages to consider’, it continues:

“It would seem that women should remain silent….if their questions could legitimately be answered by their husbands at home.”

In a sermon days later, his curate, the Rev Mark Oden, a married father-of-three, built on the argument, sparking further controversy.

He told his congregation at St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks, Kent, that the behaviour of modern women was to blame for Britain’s high divorce rate.

He said: “We know marriage is not working. We only need to look at figures – one in four children have divorced parents.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

Thankfully, at least a few of the parishioners have the sense to withdraw their active support from this religious organization that champions with religiously sanctioned authority such twits as this. If the parishioners don’t like it, they can leave. And that’s usually where the critical thinking about the truth claims uttered on behalf of religious denominations  stops. It shouldn’t.

Why can people walk away from religious edicts without public penalty or censure?

Does that right, freedom, and dignity to walk away from ignorant and bigoted faithist social positions come to us from the religious teachings?

Hardly. If we have the courage to deny the edicts of the holy texts to respect their clergy’s teachings, we are assured within those texts of all the awful consequences that awaits us – if not in this life by our faithful neighbours then in the next by a veritable host of supernatural malignant creatures out to punish us for our temerity.

Why we have the right, the freedom, the dignity of our personhood to choose to walk away from such religious drivel is not a small or trivial matter to consider. We can do so because our secular laws protect individual rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood and can call upon the power of the State to enforce these laws. Part and parcel of these laws is the right of individuals to believe what they wish, known as freedom of religion, so the ally of the individual that empowers our choices with respect whether religious or not is secularism.

And that is a point more people need to spend some time pondering: it is secularism that grants us the rights, freedoms, and dignity of personhood that empowers each of us to be able to make meaningful choices and lends us its authority to force others to respect our legal ability to do so. It is secularism that deserves our primary allegiance as citizens, whether religious or not.

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