[religion] What I believe about what you believe

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.

My response:

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.

8 thoughts on “[religion] What I believe about what you believe

  1. Shared. I am a Christian and I believe what Jay Lake believes about religion.

  2. MightyCasey says:

    That’s … PERFECT. As a refugee from Catholicism, I have a clear understanding of why someone might “believe.” I don’t. I keep that under my hat, and don’t proselytize for my POV. I’m beyond annoyed when the faithful go flying-monkeys at me for my lack of faith. I have plenty of faith: in physics, in chemistry, in biology, in gravity. I see that faith as (at least) equal to any religiously-based belief.

  3. Stevie says:

    One of the really strange things about the way that the US does religion is that it is far, far more ingrained into daily life than it is in England. We have an established Church and yet it wields far less power than the unestablished churches in the US.
    I live in a country where not believing in one or any number of gods is normal; it is very difficult to imagine living in a country where the default setting is the reverse…

  4. Harald Striepe says:

    Agreed! I also would like the same (religious ?) freedom to be an atheist or agnostic. In our current state, it would be political suicide to attest to that conviction.
    I think what stands in the way is that morality or ethics are perceived to be solely based on a religious belief – preferably the correct version of your Abrahamic religion – rather than being an independent framework of integral social behavior and values.

  5. As a faith-bearing person, this is exactly my own sentiment about religion (and irreligion as well). I don’t even like proselytizing (or being proselytized to). I absolutely don’t want any religion to which I may currently or in the past have adhered to, nor any other religious institution, to hold sway over public policy and government. That just seems anti-constitutional to me.

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