Yesterday I accidentally wandered into a religious discussion on Facebook. (I sometimes do this on purpose, but try not to do it by accident.) It was on the wall of a writer who self-identifies as Christian, where they talk with their friends, who by and large seem also to be Christian.
I was more-or-less politely objecting to a rather crude caricature of secularism and atheism the writer had posted a link to. What I quickly realized was that words which I saw as simplistic and bordering on offensive seemed logically obvious and even self-evident to the owner of the Facebook page and their friends.
As I was, so to speak, in someone else’s house without an invitation, I made my best effort to gracefully withdraw once I realized we were still politely at loggerheads. Not for me to turn up there and be difficult.
My accidental host’s final point to me was taking Camus as evidence that the secularist viewpoint could only be desperate. They then wished me will, apologizing if I saw their faith as a fairy tale.
Camus is an extreme outlier, as you surely know. Citing him as a referent to understand secularism is rather like citing David Kouresh or Jim Jones to understand religion.
I don’t call your faith a fairy tale, I call it your faith. That I don’t happen to share that faith doesn’t lessen its meaning to you, or my respect for that meaning in your life.
Which led me to a thought I have perhaps not expressed here often enough.
I rail constantly against the influence of religion in politics and culture. Likewise I rail against religious hypocrisy, bad acts, harm to others outside the faith, and sheer cruelty perpetrated under the cloak of religious privilege.
What I do not deliberately do is criticize the tenets of faith. Regardless of my personal opinion of specific religious beliefs, about which I am in fact a deeply cynical bastard, it’s not for me to comment in this public frame on theology, or what happens behind the doors of church, temple or mosque, or the hearts and minds of believers. I really am a First Amendment absolutist when it comes to protection of free religion. Especially religions that trouble me profoundly.
I am also profoundly anti-majoritarian on this question, which I suspect sometimes comes across as a more simplistic and hostile opposition to American Christianity. But religious freedom is one of the places in our society most susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.
No religion is safe when any religion can dictate public policy, law and education. It’s that simple. Hence my dictum that freedom of religion means freedom from religion.
When I say that, it is not a call for deconversion. It’s a call for a secular state where all faith is equally protected, and no faith at all is just as protected.
That’s what I believe about what you believe. That you have an absolute right to believe it, and that you have absolutely no right to impose your beliefs on others through the public instrumentalities of government, law and public education. Any more than any one else has the right to impose their beliefs on you. I think Christians call it the Golden Rule.
Pretty simple, really.