Friday, August 8, 2014

Will "Freedom of" ever share space with "freedom from?"

"This above all: to thine own self be true."
          - William Shakespeare (Polonius, from "Hamlet," Act 1, Scene 3)  
"Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause."
          - Mahatma Gandhi
"Arguing against discrimination is not intolerance."
          - Richard Dawkins

Freedom of religion, the right to practice a religion, the right to believe in what a religion offers as truth, is considered to be a human right. It's considered to be important in countries throughout the world, but it's so important in the United States that it's specifically mentioned in the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, right next to freedom of speech. 

But isn't there a corollary? 

Doesn't this freedom have to include the freedom to not practice a religion? The freedom to believe differently about a religion or to not believe in what that religion offers? In other words, the freedom from religion? It has to. Otherwise, how is the underlying point, the very foundational concept of the U.S. Constitution and other constitutions --- freedom --- to be taken seriously? Freedom of, just has to allow room for freedom from, and it's where these two prepositions meet, where they so often collide and leave their rails, that is at the heart of so much of the world's discontent, so much of its turmoil, and in historical terms. 

This ongoing discontent, this conflict between "from" and "of" is almost entirely a function of intolerance, of one religion not tolerating the tenets of another, or of one faction of a religion not tolerating the tenets of another faction of that same religion. It's as if the very existence of an alternate viewpoint is seen as unacceptable. Discrimination does spring from intolerance, certainly, but this is not about discrimination. This is about its source: intolerance.

Non-acceptance can manifest itself as something simple, something seemingly benign, such as disagreeing about what day of the week is considered the sabbath or holy day. 

Or it can be passive-aggressive... sending missionaries to places where other religions are practiced, purely because these missionaries and their religions don't accept the "otherness" of those religions and feel duty-bound to bring the "heathens" out of darkness and into the light that they believe shines only on their way of thinking. 

Or it can be something mean-spirited... saying outright that those of another faith --- or possibly everyone who doesn't believe exactly what you do --- will not get to heaven, based solely on opposing beliefs, on an opposing viewpoint, on an opposing interpretation of some text. 

But it can also be horribly aggressive, even savage... torturing, mutilating, and killing people who don't believe what you believe, even if A) your religion expressly prohibits violence, and B) the folks you're being violent toward are simply another faction of the very same religion in which you profess to believe.*

This all seems to be bound up in the concept of belief. As an example, most religions espouse life after death, and most religions hold as essential the concepts of heaven (so called) and, its opposite, hell (so called). But those of one religion, one faction, quite often believe that those of another religion, of another faction, will never attain the former even as they most assuredly will attain the latter.**

I get that these folks might feel this way about agnostics, atheists, and agnostic-atheists, but to feel this way about someone who might very well be as much a believer in their religion as you are in yours, to deny these equally devout, equally sincere people the right they feel they have as a result of their beliefs, is just plain intolerant, which is ground zero in the collision between "of" and "from." 

I wish I could say intolerance could be reckoned with, could be changed, but with history as our guide --- the Romans and the first Christians (and vice versa), the Mideast since the 7th Century, the Crusades, the African continent, Irish Protestants and Catholics, Westboro Baptist Church, ISIS/ISIL, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc, etc., etc. --- it certainly appears that this is not possible. As missionaries keep proselytizing, as religions keep interfering in the beliefs (or non-belief) of others who very well may be every bit as sincere, as factions keep rejecting and fighting with other factions, as true believers keep truly believing their causes are more just and more true, as folks keep rejecting, messing with, and, in many cases, killing disbelievers and unbelievers, we quickly arrive at a very, very ugly, terrible, and unholy place, and all in the name of someone's religion.

If they believe their deities, who dwell in their heavens, are "speaking unto them" and proclaiming this horrible behavior is okay, then we have a huge problem, because --- voices-in-their-heads delusion notwithstanding --- this hatred is spilling over and affecting people who are innocent of any wrong-doing, and who, if they are guilty of anything, are guilty only of believing differently (freedom of) or of not believing at all (freedom from). 

Intolerant behavior is not okay, especially when it spills over onto innocent people. It's wrong. As ironically silly as this might sound, it's something of which we all should be intolerant. It's an affront to human rights and to personal freedoms. 

You want to practice your religion? Go ahead, do it! But do it in your own place, in your own space, in your own church, in your own head, in your own heart, and in your own mind. Stop trying to convert and mess with those who believe differently. Stop making signs that read, "God hates fags." Stop ridiculing and burning and micturating on each others' holy books. Stop rejecting those who just might share beliefs very similar to yours. Stop hating, attacking, mutilating, and killing anyone who doesn't believe what you do, anyone who might believe a slightly altered version of what you believe. And, above all, stop assuming morality springs best or only from your religious beliefs. Q.E.D. The history of the world is replete with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (Thought Experiment: How many wars/conflicts would have been [be] eliminated if intolerance did not exist?)

If you believe in your god and if you believe your god "speaks" to you, fine and dandy, but... if you believe your god tells you such things are okay to do in his name, then your god is probably not worthy of respect, of love, of fealty, of belief, or of your valuable time, because you're not here for very long, so stop wasting your time on someone so paranoid, so jealous, so horrid, so shallow, so vengeful, and so hateful, and start connecting with real people...

who you can see...

who you can touch...

who you can love...

who you can believe in far more easily and with far less collateral-damage... 

than a voice in your head.

* Here is an example, as if the world needs another.
** Ironic considering they can't achieve one but can the other. Oh well.

Relevant Updates

1: Here is a news story from, on 8/26/2014. Religious intolerance rules. 
2: Even more intolerance, and I am no fan of Senator Cruz.
3: And here we go again... again.