Pope Francis reminded those recently enamoured with the “progressive” Pope that he is first and foremost the leader of an iron-age religion when he said, “you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others”.
From corporations use of a religious free pass to deny heath care to women to violence in the name of Allah we are confronted more and more with the line between “free exercise” of religious beliefs and our mutual obligations to each other and our civic laws, mores and values.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recently decided to take a gay marriage case with many observers envisioning that the Court will render the right to marriage equality a national one, as opposed to the state-by-state patchwork presently the norm. This in turn, as conventional wisdom would have it, would actually benefit many Republicans (yes, the very same ones who have been railing against it) because it would then be the law of the land and there’s nothing they could do about it.
As is often the case with conventional wisdom, a better credo might be, “be careful you get what you ask for”. In a typically trenchant piece, Linda Greenhouse has written comparing marriage equality with many civil rights issues of the past and the tremendous lag time between the declaration of a legal change and the actual full and just implementation of the law.
Between last week’s Supreme Court opinion allowing an incarcerated Muslim the right to grow his beard , contrary to prison rules, to last years’ Hobby Lobby case allowing a corporation to be exempt from ACA coverage rules, to a case before the Court now regarding bakers, photographers and florists who refuse to work a gay wedding on account of the religious beliefs, will a right to marry be full and complete when there are those who successfully claim that to follow the law would be to offend their religious beliefs?
With a Court, and a sympathetic majority of the public albeit slim , willing to grant free passes on account of religious beliefs to more and more responsibilities and obligations the rest of us have to comply with (and which, let’s not forget are designed to help/protect/afford a portion of us equality) the reality of religious beliefs and civic duties co-existing is becoming more and more tenuous.
The claims of those who want to opt out of certain civil obligations on the basis a religious belief is only going to become more prevalent. Frankly, who can blame them? Don’t like the dictates of a President, or Congress? Just sue and claim religious belief. Even assuming that all those who make such claims are legitimate and heartfelt, with a sympathetic Court and a mixed (at best) public, why not?
Greenhouse writes, “…it’s safe to predict that politicians will be confronting these issues under the glare of a public spotlight. Republicans who expect the Supreme Court to give them a pass from having to take a stand are in for a rude surprise.”
Sorry legislators, now put the fundraising phone down – you are actually going to have to do some work.
Ok, most civilized cultures can agree that violence against others is verboten even if in the name of a sincere religious belief. Or, do they? The Pope said if someone insults his wife he will hit them. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch…” in the very same sentiment he found insulting one’s faith inexcusable. Well, he is still the Pope
There are so many instances of violence in the name of religion from Christian fundamentalists mayhem against abortion doctors and gays because they say their Bible requires them to take such action, to the brutal Israeli West Bank occupation in the name of Judaism, that to say that these are done only in isolation by extremists is to deny a fateful reality. Yea, but God said so…
And let’s not ignore the institutional state violence inflicted by some western powers fueled to varying degrees by religious sectarianism. Plenty of fault to go around. While we might like to forget it, Bush’s “crusade” that he launched against terrorism (read: Islam), is well remembered as a brief intrusion of brutal candor in justifying U.S. military action. Bush, Cheney and God’s war
Even if the conflicts between religion and civilization where believers perpetrate violence is intellectually “easier” to reconcile, then the multitude of instances where religious beliefs and civic responsibilities conflict are going to be where the frequent and consistent challenges take place. The “get of jail” cards given on the basis of “sincere” beliefs (BTW, growing one’s beard is not even a Muslim dictate) are increasingly creating separate cultural and legal universes.
Like alcohol (and guns?) religion disinhibits violence as opposed to actually causing it, and it’s most pernicious impacts are realised when other factors have created conditions that make violence more likely. In perhaps the most insightful article I have seen on religion and violence psychologist Val Tarico, argues that “because religion often is centered around authority and text worship (aka “bibliolatry”)… it has the power to lower the threshold on any behaviour sanctioned by either a sacred text or a trusted religious leader and is at its most powerful when one is echoed by the other.” Must read
In a perfect world religious belief would be a private matter where people can practice their faith by themselves and with others who are like-minded. Democratically created laws and other rules governing behaviour in the community would both honor that worship and be equally applied to all with no exceptions for even what one sincerely believes – because that’s the price you pay for living in a civilised world where the collective serves and protects it’s citizens. Problem is of course where proselyting is seen as an indispensable prerequisite, and sacred texts condemn (or worse) those “others” who believe something different.
With 7.2 billion people, weapons of mass destruction and man-created climate change we simply don’t have the opportunity to dilly-dally anymore. With secularism and anti-theism growing, religious fundamentalism and the noxious potion of oppression and inequality this tension is only going to become more so.