Saturday, April 7, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy

So the next couple days are Blog Against Theocracy weekend. There's a neat website called First Freedom First (which has lots of interesting information, a great petition you can sign in seconds, and some pretty neat t-shirts), which is how I found out about the blogswarm.

I've touched on a few subjects related to this in some past posts. I mentioned neo-Fundamentalism and religiously-based discrimination back in October, and religious bigotry's presence in the voting booth back in November. And last August on my other blog, I wrote about separation of church and state in the public school system.

But in celebration of Blog Against Theocracy weekend, I thought I'd take a different approach. It seems to me that the general issue here (theocracy = bad; separation of church and state = good) is pretty obvious, and should be almost automatically agreed upon by all reasonable people. I mean, you don't hear almost any Americans, Christian or not, Republican or not, defending the wonderfulness of concepts like militant Islam or Sharia law. When we, as a culture, look out on the world and see laws or cultural rules that have no basis at all outside of faith-based religious commitment, we don't think twice about the inherent idiocy and intrinsic unfairness of such systems. For example, we do not hesitate to question and criticize the severe oppression of women, up to and including rigid (and often violently enforced) dress codes (such as Taliban-mandated Burqas) and barbaric punishment, reminiscent of the Old Testament and the Inquisitions, for breaking the rules.

When it comes right down to it, in our culture 100% of us seem to agree that religious discrimination is wrong, while a full half of us then turn around and embrace it fully when it agrees with our own religiosity. How does this, in so many of our minds, not trip the breaker of intellectual consistency? How can so many in our nation affirm that theocratic public policy is wrong in other cultures and religions, while gladly (and hypocritically) embracing it in their own?

One of the great things about our country is that people are free, within certain constraints of course, to believe what they want. So if a person wants to have a view of certain topics (such as politics in general, or homosexuality in particular) that is decided solely by their religious faith, they can. But another one of the great things about our country is that just because you have a religious belief about a certain subject, that doesn't mean that I have to believe it too. And it is this, precisely, that seems to be the trouble lately. An astonishing number of people in our country seem to have come to believe that their religious faith is, all by itself, a good enough reason to make rules and laws that discriminate against and deny the rights of others. Somehow the idea that a religious opinion only shared by some should then be forced on all others (others that perhaps prefer to have opinions that are informed by more than faith-based commitment to ancient religion) has avoided the criticism it so richly deserves, in a startling amount of our population.

So the question becomes, why? If we as a culture want to make laws that declare something wrong and illegal, like rape or fraud, for example, we should be able to give many sound reasons why. Not surprisingly, we find that this is exactly what we have done. Grand theft auto is not illegal because a minority religious viewpoint desires it to be. It's illegal because we, as a society, have used our reasoning minds to figure out what things we don't want people to be doing, with the general principle of freedom in mind to constrain us. We allow individuals to pursue their individual freedom and happiness, up to the point where such pursuit would infringe on the rights of other individuals. What this means is that if a group of religious people, small or large, wants there to be a certain law, they must be expected to give sound reasons why. In the absence of good reasons and in the presence of statements like "I just believe" or "my holy book says," it should be exquisitely clear that theocratic rules that discriminate against others based on nothing but religious conviction should be dismissed as worthless. No Christian would want to be told how to live their life based on the faith of a different religion. It is high time that our society leaves theocracy and religious bigotry behind us, back in the dark ages where it belongs.

(If you would also like to participate in Blog Against Theocracy weekend, click on over to the home page to find out what to do and how to let them know you're involved in the blogswarm.)

1 comment:

Derek Timothy said...

John Locke, an Enlightenment philosopher who influenced the framers of the Declaration of Independence, said: "Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, 'It is a matter of faith, and above reason.'"

Another brilliant philosopher who influenced the formation of the Declaration was Thomas Paine, who once said: "To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, is like administering medicine to the dead."

I found the above two quotes as I was working towards my goal of reading through all of the BAT entries.  Something like 650 posts were created for the blogswarm; of course, some were fairly lousy, but the majority were pretty good, and many were excellent.  Here, I will post links and snippets to the ones that I found to be exceptional.  And by the way, make sure and check out the YouTube video that was created for Blog Against Theocracy weekend.

...stuff from BAT weekend that I liked...

The first post I came across that really struck me was a three-part story from One Act In The Eternal Play Of Ideas.  I enjoyed reading it.

Later, I read a blog called tuibGuy, and here's clip of what I read:  "...I think that it is astonishing that we would have people passing amendments which restrict the rights of other citizens; and this is a clear contradiction of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and more documents written by the founders... ...In order to gain ratification, the Framers wrote the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution which would protect the rights of individuals against the will of runaway democratic passions.  I don't know if this could be more clear, and yet the forces behind 'Marriage Protection Amendments' justify their movements as a defense of their liberty not to be faced with the rights of the minority..."

I was touched by an entry on MPS, commemorating a beloved uncle.

Here's an excerpt from the springy goddess:  "It amazes me and saddens me to see the truly nonsensical debates on issues that were supposedly put to rest centuries ago. To see disdain for scientific method in a country that claims Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison and adopted Albert Einstein as its own. To hear the ravings of public figures who think blind obedience is a virtue and who view the world through a simplistic us-versus-them lens."

I also enjoyed a post from Action Skeptics, telling a great story and quoting Mark Twain.

One post I enjoyed linked to a great speech that Douglas Adams gave about nine years ago.

At a blog called Progressive Historians, I read a horrible story about when theocracy actually happens, in our country, in the modern world.

I also found an awesome post on Pandagon.  Here's a snippet:  "This is why I’m suspicious of anyone who makes a political argument from a religious point of view. Not being motivated by faith, but actually arguing from faith. I’m suspicious even when that person shares my point of view, because resorting to arguments from faith indicates a willingness to avoid actually arguing from logic. If you can’t make your point in a secular way, what that says to me is that you don’t really have an argument and you’re using religion to stop the conversation."

I came across a link to an excellent article called "Have Christians Become Dupes?"  You should check it out.

This, from a blog called Dark Christianity:  "The bottom line is this: Is an extensively edited and uncertainly translated tribal lawbook something we want to run a 21st Century civilization with? I don't think so. That is why I am standing up and revealing theocracy for the giant step backwards it truly is. In a secular government, there is room for many voices and beliefs. It's messy, chaotic, and sometimes stumbles. But all the elements keep the extremists in check. To permit any one faith to rule us all would be disastrous. Religion and government should not co-mingle. A believer can govern, as can a non-believer. But the believer must be capable of looking beyond the dictates of his or her faith to serve the greater good."

I also found a link to an awesome Doonesbury comic about the Republican candidates for president, compared to the Democrat candidates for president, when it comes to marriage and family values.  It's pretty hilarious.  In case you don't click the link and read the cartoon, I'll do the math for you here.  Three of the Republican front-runner candidates for President have a total of five divorces between them, all involving adultery.  On the Democratic side, the three front-runners have no divorces at all.  So who should you vote for, if "family values" are important to you?

The Yikes! entry about school vouchers is disturbing, and informative.

On a blog called Witches and Scientists, I read a completely horrifying story of a woman's fight to get the VA to properly and fairly honor her husband, who died serving in Afghanistan.  Her story is an egregious example of theocratic influence resulting in outright religious discrimination.

I came across a very well written article about euthanasia, on a blog called A Whore in the Temple of Reason.

A blog called Orcinus took a somewhat more optimistic view of the future, and even managed to specifically mention "the emerging church."

"Theocratic religiosity = street gangs" is the thesis of this post by The Omnipotent Poobah.  I quote:  "Gangs offer protection from non-believers, the psychological comfort and inner strength of belonging, and a belief system that helps them deal with the vagaries of their often violent and capricious world. Gangs attack each other in the firm belief they have the right to kill or enslave others before others kill or enslave them. Like a religion, they work tirelessly to fatten up their membership - a sort of mid-growth power grab they hope leaves them the ultimate masters of their dysfunctional block of the universe."  Also:  "[God] should be able to create an organizing principle much more elegant and inclusive than a myopic theocracy led by a few people with pretensions to the divine and a thirst for banishing all those who disagree."

Tengrain's post on MPS about abstinence-only sex "education" was absolutely mind boggling.  You've simply got to read it to believe it.  Likewise, Roberta deBoer's article about the same thing is an obvious indictment of the head-in-the-sand method of "teaching" about sexuality.

A blog called Abnormal Interests had a few good things to say:  "Second, without evidence that is subject to public scrutiny no group can claim special knowledge. Theocrats and aristocrats have always claimed some kind of special knowledge. Third, everyone should be far more interested in the why and what of any belief than the belief itself. All beliefs should welcome rigorous study. The claims of theocrats and aristocrats seldom do."

On a blog called The Greenbelt, I found a stinging retort to an all-too-common misunderstanding of Sam Harris.  The Ridger wrote:  "What secularist, not setting up his state and self as the new religion, has ever led a nation to invade another, preached the death of those who didn't accept his theory, or consigned all those who disagreed with him to eternal and everlasting torment? Who? When? Where? What political-cum-religious leader has even managed not to have division within his own?"

What do Dan Brown, "intelligent" design, historical and scientific ignorance, and Bill Dembski have to do with each other?  Northstate Science blogger Dr. O'Brien tells you, and knocks it out of the park!

A blogger named Brian wrote:  "Philosophically speaking, a government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal if it asserts that a particular god prefers some.  ...and suggesting we are a nation "indivisible under God" is true in neither principle nor practice."

WereBear's take on the Reality Principles blog is excellent.  He begins with this:  "As Scotty well knows, certain elements must be kept separate from each other, or there’s hell to pay. Fresh butter and old fish. Disco and metalheads. Church and State."

I found a blog called Rabbit Mountain, and her contribution to the event was to post exerpts from her own story.  Moving, and quite compelling.

One blog linked to this awesome clip from The West Wing, almost single-handedly convincing me that I should've been watching that show.  Good thing I can get it on DVD..

One blogger linked to a Bruce Wilson piece on T2A that reveals a startling fact: if you're a Christian Republican who got elected to the Texas (or Georgia) House of Representatives, you just might be stupid enough to believe that the earth is the center of the universe.  No, I'm not joking.  Seriously.

This nicely-stated and short blog quoted Sandra Day O'Connor:  "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

HedyBlog forcefully asks the ever-important question about the "Christian nation" idea: When?

A site called gee bobg linked to something that is guaranteed to make you dumber.  In fact, it is such a stunning example of creationist stupidity, you have to see it to believe it.

A blogger called dhonig posted some funny cartoons and some insightful commentary that I enjoyed.

The Honest Doubter, taking his cue from Barry Lynn regarding "damned religion," wrote a good post, and here's a clip:  "It is the damned religion that is left unsatisfied by the freedoms that allow people to believe and practice their own beliefs so long as they do not harm another. It is the damned religion that must cover itself under the garb of "religious freedom" to tout theological legislation against gay marriage, evolution, and stem cell research."

A Lutheran blogger called The Flying Dutchman wrote a blog entry that coincidentally mentioned a Newsweek article that I lucked into reading about two weeks ago.  Sure enough, he scored the discussion between Sam Harris and Rick Warren the same way that I did, almost 100% for Harris.  For anybody else that's read the article, this should come as no surprise.

Daveawayfromhome wrote one of the better rants of the whole swarm.

Bruce Godfrey's blog entry expertly points out the absurdity of, and the justified reaction of outrage to, the courthouse "10 Commandments" argument.  He also linked to an excellent article by Chris Bowers that points out the importance of pluralism in our modern context, and in the formation of the country.  Also tackling the issue of the "10 Commandments" in public places is Evil Genius Chronicles, who made lots of good points, including the following:  "When someone wants to display the Ten Commandments in a civic space, question #1 to ask is “Are you planning to show all 10, or just the 3 that aren’t illegal?”"

In an instance of simply being far too reasonable, GonzoWorld explains the nine simple questions a theocrat should answer in order to make us all happily consider theocracy as a viable system of government for this country.

Seething Mom explains what got her thinking about the trend toward a theocratic nation:  "It took watching in horror as the President used my son’s rights as a bargaining chip to gain political clout. ...It took one political party claiming moral superiority and the patent on Christian and Family Values while trampling my family and my Christian values. It took watching my tax dollars going to Churches that preach hate for my son, exclusion of my son, and bigotry towards my son. It took seeing my country’s gov't contemplating using the Constitution to guarantee that one of my children would never be equal to his brother and sister."

A Not-So Polite House made an impressive list of all the things that God and the Bible are not.

At Pho's Akron Pages, I found a different approach.  Instead of being against something (theocracy), Pho wrote about what he supports (religious liberty).  He also wrote:  "When conservatives work to dilute the protections of the establishment clause, they erode our religious liberty. It doesn’t matter whether they are ultimately working toward theocracy. What matters is that they are working against religious liberty."

A blog called My Thinking Corner posted the transcript from a "discussion" between Robert Boston (AU) and Charmaine Yoest (FRC), regarding proper curricula and the science classroom.  It's one of those have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kinda things.

One blog linked to a very interesting list of facts about Prohibition.

GoDrex 's excellent article linked to a 21-year-old clip of Frank Zappa appearing on the then-young cable show Crossfire.  Which is more amazing: that Zappa's comments still ring so true today, or that the two conservative commentators on the show are such humongous idiots?

Lastly, I'll leave you with a quote that I found when I was almost done reading through all of the posts in the blogswarm.  This statement was made by then-Senator John F. Kennedy, in 1960, while he was running for president.  "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote… I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or other ecclesiastical source."

Wouldn't it be nice if modern politicians believed the same thing?