Freedom and religion 0

Among free people there will always be many who hold absurd beliefs, such as those of Christianity. Some will hold beliefs that are not only absurd but cruel, such as those of Islam. The beliefs should be argued against. The people who hold them should not be persecuted, though they must be stopped from harming others. That remains in any case the most important function of law.

From an article by Luke Goodrich, Director of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in the Wall Street Journal:

The view of religion as a threat is, of course, common. “New atheists,” such as Richard Dawkins, are one manifestation of that view; he dubs the Catholic Church a “disgusting institution,” one of the “greatest force[s] for evil in the world.” But new atheists are not the only ones. Others cite a history of religious wars, Muslim oppression of women, or Christian skepticism of science as proving the dangers of religion. Backward, superstitious, and bigoted, a threat to science and progress: religion is a divisive, intolerant force that governments should tame.

There are two possible responses to this view. One is to attack the premise, arguing that, no, religion really is a force for social good. Religion motivated 19th century abolitionists; religion gave us Mother Teresa; religion permeates the Louvre.

But might there be reasons to protect religious freedom even assuming religion is harmful? I offer three.

First, a practical one: suppressing religion may exacerbate the very problems it is designed to solve. History shows that religion does not disappear when governments try to suppress it. It goes underground, sometimes erupting more violently than if it were not suppressed.

Second, empowering governments to deem religion harmful, and therefore suppress it, opens the door to tyranny. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are inextricably linked. If the government can deem religion harmful and suppress it in the name of public order, it can do the same to other ideas. It is no coincidence that many of the 20th century’s most tyrannical governments—Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia—made suppression of religion a centerpiece of their administration.

[Third] Finally, suppressing religion—even when done in the name of freedom and equality—strikes at the heart of human dignity, which is the foundation of all human rights. Every human being is born with a “religious” impulse—the urge to seek truth, to embrace the truth as one finds it, and to order one’s life accordingly. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free” and are “endowed with reason and conscience.” Absent a serious threat of violence or imminent harm, suppressing religion interferes with people’s ability to be fully human, to seek and embrace the truth as they understand it. A serious commitment to human rights requires governments to respect the religious impulse—even if much of society thinks religious beliefs are wrong, silly, or even harmful. If the European Court of Human Rights cannot get past its fear of religion, its jurisprudence will only become more incoherent, and all human rights more fragile.

On the second and third points we agree. They are in defense of freedom.

To the first point – that persecution can strengthen an undesirable movement – we would add this maxim from our own Articles of Reason:

Many a belief can survive persecution but not critical examination.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Ethics, Islam, Law, liberty, Muslims, Religion general, Totalitarianism by Jillian Becker on Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

This post has 0 comments.