The Real Issue

| October 23, 2006 | 6 Replies

Debate goes on, seeming forever, about the issue of religious belief in a secular society.  The validity of sacred texts becomes grist for the mill and sides line up over What Would Jesus Do bumper stickers.  We see competing fish on cars–Darwin fish with feet in answer to the unembellished christian fish symbol, then a bigger fish labeled Truth swallowing the diminutive Darwin fish, and on and on.

What is really at issue here hasn’t got one thing to do with who believes in god or evolution.  Belief is a self-contained, private matter.  The issue that gets lost in all the polemic is very simple: behavior.

Those who would sap the poison from the “inerrant word” crowd are defending their assumed right to live the way they want.  One might argue that belief in god doesn’t really limit people, and as far as it goes, that is true.  If you, as an individual, choose to believe in god, then you have elected to reform your life according to the tenets of your new faith.  You may adopt whatever modest or byzantine traditions and habits you wish.  After all, you have chosen this, you get to do it.

What you don’t get to do is tell everyone else to behave accordingly, and that’s where the meat of the issue lies.

Because fundamentalists–and we’re talking about fundamentalists here for the most part, of any stripe–do not adopt such an extreme view of faith out of intellectual curiosity or even spiritual need.  They do so to join a Program.  They want to be part of an army, marching in the cause of righteousness.  And for an army on the march to make any sense at all, there must be enemies to fight and victories to win.

None of which has anything to do with getting to heaven or living your own life according to a select set of principles.  It has to do with making changes in everything around you.  What would be the point of going to war, metaphorically or otherwise, if after you win you leave everything as it was before you marched?

We who disagree with these programs are defending ourselves in the most civilized way we can–by arguing over the justifications, the framework, and the legitimacy of the governing creeds.  We dissect Scripture and demonstrate that it is riddled with inconsistency, error, contradiction, and, by the way, a  lot  of bad advice in order to assert that those marching to change our lives do not  have the authority, much less the responsibility, to enact those changes.

What changes am I talking about?

Women, to put it as plainly as possible, are not chattel.  They are human beings first, women more or less next, and as such cannot–may not, must not–be stripped of their prerogative to live lives of self-choice in the same way as men.  Almost all fundamentalist programs seek to reduce the public and private status of women to a subserviant role.  The justification for this is taken from the Bible.  This is part of the “bad advice” I mentioned.  It is inhuman, uncivilized, and ultimately immoral because it creates a slave condition which binds not only women but the men who must work to keep them in that condition.

Science is a tool for investigation.  It is not something subject to the whims of frightened, superstitious people who don’t like the idea of their children growing up smarter–and therefore less frightened–than their parents.  If what is discovered contradicts the stories set down in Scripture, you may personally reject the results for yourself, but you may not ban books, burn them, or enact laws to constrain science or the free inquiry therefrom.  Science has done more in the last two centuries to improve individual lives than all the praying and hapless mucking about with incantations and charms have done in thousands of years.  Granted, it has caused some new problems, but just the fact that we now live past 35–almost to 70 or more now–and have more productive, fruitful lives is a pretty good reason to preserve the practice of science.  In any case–it is certainly one’s personal prerogative to reject the benefits of science, but you do not get to make that choice for other people, especially (for you Christian “Scientists” out there) not for your children or other people’s children.  They are individuals, too, and deserve the chance to live long enough to learn how to choose.

You may not tell us what books we may read, what music we may listen to, what movies we may watch.  “Uplifitng family viewing” tends to be boring, cliche-ridden, and trite, because it usually ignores Life and the truth of it in exchange for comforting bromides and reassuring plattitudes.  If I wish to read James Joyce’s  Ulysses  or see a pornographic film or listen to obscenity-ridden hip-hop, that is my choice, and you may not take them away for fear your children might read, see, or hear them.  Maybe if you stopped being afraid of so much, you might find the value in some of the things you wish to eliminate from the world and raise your children with the perspective and intelligence to understand them, choose sensibly among them, and not be afraid of them.  You may not prune my cultural landscape because you don’t like the particular trees in the garden.

You may not tell us how many partners we may have, singly or in groups, or under what conditions we may marry each other, or conjoin our estates, or choose to interact.  The Bible, the prize bastion of such fake morality, is a casebook of alternate relationships, but it is also a compendium of sexual tyranny, constituting that bad advice I mentioned earlier.  We do not wish to live that way anymore, and probably, if you’re honest about it, neither do you.  Limiting everyones choices is nothing but a weak-willed way of eliminating so-called temptation for yourselves.  If you can’t handle the choices of others, too bad.  We attack your justifications because it is the only way to point out that this is your problem, not something from god.

We also do not wish to conduct national policy in accordance with a Chosen People vs The Heathen perspective which requires us to treat people who believe differently as enemies or potential converts.  This is a democracy, which means it is also a pluralistic society, which means that point of view must be taken on merit, not weighed in a scale of whose god is bigger, which can only lead to–well, the mess we’re in now is, in part, a result of a fundamentalist response on our part to a fundamentalist attack from the outside.  If the attack was not justifiable according to religious dictate, neither then was our response.  You cannot find compromise when the rules of engagement demand an “our god or nothing” approach–on one side, the other, or both.  This is bad foreign policy born of bad domestic policy born of the meddling of frightened religionists in control of a major political party.  It has hurt us all.

In short, the real fight here is over life choices–behavior–not faith.  There are many people of faith who would reject fundamentalist proscriptions on lifestyle.  The “real issue” is over who gets to tell who how to live.  So let us not deceive ourselves about the nature of the fight and the reasons for it.  This has less to do with eternal truth than it does with temporal power.  Much less.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.  Back to our regularly scheduled diatribe now.

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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Communication, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Current Events, Education, Evolution, Good and Evil, Health, History, Meaning of Life, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Science, Sex, War

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (6)

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  1. hogiemo says:

    I am a person of faith and reject the harmful proscriptions on lifestyle, most of all their harmful theories of child rearing, of fundementalists.

    What's most scary is that the federal government is now attempting to impose upon our society the fundementalist child rearing agenda so as to raise new generations of soldiers for their fatally flawed views.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Talking about treating people who believe differently as enemies, check out this page: http://www.jesuswouldbeashamedofyou.com/

  3. Scholar says:

    I heard the term "secular progressive" a few times lately, and wanted to figure out what the heck they were talking about. It turns out that the term was coined by a certain Bill O'Reilly.

    …O'Reilly generally believes that "secular progressives" are misguided individuals who share general political beliefs, such as, but not limited to: Little or no acknowledgment of God or other higher powers in public; The practice of taking money from the affluent and giving to the less fortunate; Opening national borders to create a "unified world"; Legalization of drugs; and belief in provision of "prosperity" by the government.

    (From Wikipedia.. .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_progressive)

    or as His Majesty O'Reilly writes…

    "The ACLU, on the front lines, is extremely aggressive and well funded, as I have stated (referring to George Soros). That means they are serious people. On my programs, I have called this crew a "fascist organization" because they seek to impose their world view on America — not by the popular vote, which is the way it is supposed to be done in a democracy, but by "gaming" the legal system. Because they know that they will never, ever achieve their goals on Election Day, their strategy is to rely on activist left-wing judges to bring about secular changes in our laws. The most notorious example of this strategy is the gay-marriage ruling in Massachusetts. The ACLU helpfully pointed out to the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth that the state constitution had an apparent loophole: that is, the document failed to define marriage specifically as between one man and one woman. Presto! With the stroke of a pen, the liberal court wiped out more than three hundred years of legal traditional marriage going back to the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The ACLU was in ecstasy. To this culture warrior, gay marriage is not a vital issue. I don't believe the republic will collapse if Larry marries Brendan. However, it is clear that most Americans want heterosexual marriage to maintain its special place in American society. And as long as gays are not penalized in the civil arena, I think the folks should make the call at the ballot box. Traditional marriage is widely seen as a social stabilizer, and I believe that is true. But if you are trying to secularize American society, gay marriage is a good place to start — thus the ACLU's fervor on this issue."

    Well, I guess that would make me a "secular progressive" by default. Not the most ameliorative sounding phrase, but if it helps separate me from Bill O'Reilly, it can't be that bad. And his weak argument about the stroke of a pen wiping out old antiquated laws…isn't that what pens are for? For example, ALL of the ammendments to the constitution were written in ink.

    Maybe a good name for the O'Reilly camp would be the "privileged nationalists".

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    I'd proudly join O'Reilley's framed "secular progressives" except for the clause about "belief in provision of 'prosperity' by the government".

    I think that the government has an obligation to provide capital improvements that benefit the majority. For example the 1930's struck-down-as-unconstitutional WPA that provided a paved road and electricity for every town in America. Many of the poorest prospered from this program, and the country gained an infrastructure that is still the envy of most other nations.

    The present system of direct federal handouts to the needy produces nothing of capital value, but apparently is constitutional. Churches were originally given tax-exempt status in order to allow them to care for the needy, but those funds are now free for mass marketing their product (ie: evangelism).

    Go figure.

  5. Mark says:

    Righteous, righteous (forgive the phrasing) reading, my friend. Concise and poignant, and something I have been wishing I could express as eloquently for some time. Thank you.

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