There’s a problem when religious people claim they do not (or should not) have to obey secular laws that go against their religious beliefs. The trouble is that there are so many different religions, each of which conflict with each other on so many different principles, that the only way to have a coherent and stable society within what we nowadays call “multiculturalism” is to have laws that apply to everyone equally, based on common sense, not religious fanaticism.
The latest example of religious bigotry is the case of Kim Davis, a Kentucky court clerk who has recently been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples. According to the four-times married Christian, who had twins as a result of an adulterous affair, gay marriage is not in accordance with God’s definition of marriage. (There’s another Christian who has obviously not read the Bible, or at least believes that she is entitled to interpret it selectively enough to fit her own particular prejudices.)
When you get down to it, though, it doesn’t matter what your views are about gay people, you are under an obligation to obey the law. Your religious beliefs are neither here nor there, but at least in a western democracy anyone can form a movement to change any existing laws. In fact, that is exactly what happened here with regard to homosexuality. Here in the UK, I can remember when homosexuality was a criminal offence that could result in jail time for anyone who was found out to be gay. Prosecution was what happened to one of my intellectual heroes, Alan Turing, who subsequently committed suicide because of the scandal. (Turing could have been jailed, but he accepted “chemical castration” as an alternative to prison time.)
The same principle also led to the possibility that people in very high (and not so high) places could be open to blackmail if their sexual orientation were to be made public. That too also had some very public consequences for some individuals, but also for national security. As far as I know, Turing was never a security risk himself, but OK, if his work (that helped to end WWII) had been compromised by the threat of blackmail, then he would have been considered a big security risk. If homosexuality had been legal then as it is now, then so what if he was a homosexual? If I were working right now in a high security government post and some blackmailer were to threaten to “out” me as a heterosexual, well… it just wouldn’t work, would it? The very idea would be laughable.
It’s much better now that gay people can just be part of the community; after all, anyone should be able to do whatever they want to do with only one proviso: that what anyone does causes no harm to others. That sounds reasonable to me.
I believe in and support religious freedom, even though I am an atheist and I do not believe in the existence of any gods. There are thousands of religions, and here in the UK, there is a more than fair spread of them. Having said that, however, I have met some religious people who have tried to hurt me and my family just because I am not “a person of faith.” What is it with these people? Religious people (who actually hate people of other religions), hate even more those people who do not have “faith,” which by definition is a belief without any evidence whatsoever. (If you have the answer to that one, then please let me know.) Also, of course, believing things without evidence – and especially in the face of contradictory evidence – is called “delusion.”
But yet again, we have a Christian who believes she is being persecuted because of her religious beliefs, when in fact she is in trouble for refusing to carry out the job she is paid to do. Like so many others, she thinks that “God’s laws” are above man-made laws. She is, of course, wrong. Her interpretation of her god’s laws just happen to contradict the actual law, as well as other people’s interpretation of their god’s laws, so we also get the regular situation where Muslims, for example, refuse to allow pork or alcohol through the supermarket checkouts they are operating. The reality of the situation seems to be that the religious are upset because they think they are being discriminated against because they are not allowed to discriminate against others.
When you think about it for a moment, there are so many different interpretations of so many different religious laws, that we would live in a totally chaotic society if there were no central laws to keep order. I wonder how many people of different religions think their religious freedom is under attack because they aren’t allowed to burn witches, or kill apostates, or carry out stonings, beheadings, amputations and all the rest of it that is going on around the world right now? Then again, no religion is known for toleration; it’s a pity toleration has to be enforced by (secular) law.
It’s about time that religious people just accepted the fact that in a secular democracy they have the right to follow their religion without interference (they aren’t going to be executed by the state for following their religion, after all), but at the same time, they have an obligation to allow others their own freedoms – whether they like it or not, and no, they are not being persecuted, they are merely being required by law to act like civilised people in a civilised society.
When you get down to it, there are thousands of religions, and many of them are represented in this country. If we want a coherent society where everyone can live together in some kind of peaceful co-existence, then there has to be a system of laws that do not prefer one religion over another, and which restrict what people are allowed to do to either promote or defend their religious beliefs. The same applies to atheists like me – I want the right to not be religious, without being attacked because I don’t believe the same way as some other people. I don’t mind if others want to pray to their imaginary god (and let’s be honest here: I am not alone as an atheist claiming that the religious are worshipping an imaginary god; every religious person believes that the people of every other religion are worshipping an imaginary god or gods. In a very real way, every religious person is convinced that the gods of the various other religions just don’t exist; in that sense, everyone on Earth is united. No one believes that the other fellow’s religion is true. For every god that is claimed to be real there is an overwhelming majority of people who think they are wrong, ergo, there is no god. Maybe.).
I wonder what would happen if I lived in America as a heterosexual atheist, and applied to Kim Davis for a licence to marry a woman, say another heterosexual atheist. Would she feel justified in refusing a licence to me because I don’t believe in her particular god? Or could I insist that I would accept a licence only from an atheist clerk? Or could I quote the Bible as a justification that in the eyes of God she herself is an adulteress, having been married four times (so far) and is therefore unfit for her post and should be put to death according to biblical law? And what if I insisted and incited other people to do that? Obviously I should be arrested if I were serious, but I’m a reasonable and rational thinker, so it ain’t really gonna happen, is it? All I can do is look at the whole sorry mess and shake my head as I ponder the irrationality of religion dividing humanity rather than uniting it – as so many of the religious claim to be trying to do.
If you have read this far, you might be starting to understand why I think that all religions are just magnets for bigots, and if they weren’t bigots before they got religion, then they certainly become so once they accept it – from the youngest possible age if they were born into it.
I’m an atheist. I don’t need religion to tell me it’s wrong to kill, steal, lie or do anything else that causes harm to any other person. Those principles were in place thousands of years before the Abrahamic religions existed, and they existed in prehistoric societies just because it was a sensible way to make those societies exist peacefully. No gods are required to have an orderly and peaceful existence. It is the belief in gods that divides people and buggers it all up for everyone – every time.
Being divisive because of belief in any any gods is Bad Thinking; accommodating others whatever their beliefs if they cause no harm to anyone else is better thinking.