Freedom to Offend Imaginary Gods

This topic is still very much in the news and in my thoughts. 

Who Deserves the Blame? from friendlyatheist.com

A good article on this is On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God from Sam Harris and I agree with this other than the “no apologies necessary”:

The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. And Governor Romney, though he is wrong about almost everything under the sun (including, very likely, the sun), is surely right to believe that it is time our government delivered this message without blinking.

In my last post I said people do harm and not religions so I support freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I also said freedom of religion doesn’t mean religions are free from criticism.  Sam Harris criticized our government for disavowing the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle.  He also said:

Our government followed the path of appeasement further by attempting to silence the irrepressible crackpot Pastor Terry Jones, who had left off burning copies of the Qur’an just long enough to promote the film. The administration also requested that Google remove “Innocence of Muslims” from its servers.

These last parts are inexcusable in a free society practicing true freedom of religion so  I agree that this path of appeasement doesn’t protect free speech.  However, I think the one and only thing our government should have done was apologize on behalf of the government only.

Here is the type of apology our government should give for any attack, criticism, parody, etc. of any religion:

The U.S. government is deeply sorry that you feel offended.  The government firmly believes in the freedom of religion for everyone and deeply respects each individual’s right to believe or not believe as they choose.  There may be things in the world that offend you and your beliefs or disbeliefs because of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech that each individual enjoys.  Rest assured that the U.S. government does not share in this criticism even as we defend the right of individuals to exercise their freedom of speech, including your rights to say whatever you want in response.  However, we will not tolerate violence from anyone in the name of any religion and will serve to protect freedom of speech and religion across the world.  This freedom of religion includes freedom from the rules of religions that don’t apply to that individual.  Blasphemy in a religion only applies to people that share in that same religion and is not a governmental law.

This should be the words of a government that has freedom of religion in their Bill of Rights.

 

Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Senator, slams new bullying legislation

A homosexual student killed himself as a result of intense bullying. They introduced a bill in Michigan for an anti-bullying law named after that student. Republicans added a special exception in the law for bullies who have “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” If you came across that story would you view that as a reasonable addition? I came across it and thought, why would they need any kind of protection for the bullies if whatever words or actions were covered under the term of “bullying”? The bill language is now contradictory:

ALL PUPILS ARE PROTECTED UNDER THE POLICY AND BULLYING IS EQUALLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT REGARD TO ITS SUBJECT MATTER OR MOTIVATING ANIMUS…
…THIS SECTION DOES NOT PROHIBIT A STATEMENT OF A SINCERELY HELD RELIGIOUS BELIEF OR MORAL CONVICTION.

Now the law would have done nothing for the kid this bill was actually named after if the bullies claim they were making anti-homosexual statements based on sincerely held religious belief. I think this is disgusting and a reason why Christianity should never be tied directly to our government and the laws we create over ALL of the people. This would be a terrible country if the Bible was directly turned into law. Is the Christian god really that anti-homosexual and for what purpose or reason? I do believe people are born with different sexual preferences and their minds are wired that way just like I’m wired to be left-handed. Sure, I could be forced to write right-handed and probably could physically do it if laws and my religion forced me to be permanently right-handed, but it just doesn’t work right and is against my nature as a left-handed person. Fortunately I don’t have a religion trying to tell me what to do.

I’m curious as to what the Christian god really tells the religious about homosexuals since religious people are all over the place on this subject from supportive (the general “love thy neighbor” philosophy) to condemnation of death (Leviticus 20:13 as the literal word of their god). Apparently the Christian god supports the death penalty for homosexual acts. This is obviously the written word of some ancient homophobic human and not the divine word of a perfect creator unless he really wants people put to death for being what they were created to be.

Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Senator, slams new bullying legislation (video)

Wishing Us God Bless You

I was at an event for work that had various speakers. One of the speakers was obviously religious since he mentioned being blessed in general and blessed by God. He always closed his remarks the many times he was on stage with the phrase “God bless you all”. It gave me an opportunity to think about this and what I normally view as an unnecessary public display of a personal religious belief. It also gave me the opportunity to think about the viewpoint that he shouldn’t be allowed to talk like that since this was a person in the government with some amount of power over some of the people in the audience. Does all religious speech cross the line into endorsement and coercion that infringes upon our freedom of religion?

As a recipient of the speeches I didn’t feel like there was any coercion or intent for me to change what I believe. There wasn’t an expectation of participating in his expression of belief or any judgement of what the audience may or may not believe. It wasn’t any different than politicians on TV saying “God bless America”. Everything he said and how he said it sounded like his personal good wishes for us from his viewpoint as a believer including other casual statements about his own beliefs. If I had said “I wish you all well” with the same feeling and inflection then it would have been an equivalent expression without the backdrop of a personal religious belief. It was simply the fact that he was a religious person that his “well wishing” included his God. In that context, I would think it would actually be less meaningful of a wish for us if he left his God out of it since that was his most sincere form of wishing well to others if you knew that was what he believed.

I don’t believe his words were an endorsement or included any type of coercion to agree with his belief. However, I still don’t think he should say those words as a matter of personal choice even though I know I’m in the minority on seeing it as a bad choice. The reason it is a bad choice is that I don’t believe as he does so his expression of belief leads me to think a certain way about his ability to use logic and judgement to make decisions based in reality. I naturally view such devout believers as potentially close-minded to anything that might conflict with their faith-based beliefs. I have less of a desire to follow such a person since they usually place faith above fact when the two conflict.

Interestingly enough, it’s these religious beliefs that makes the religious people in the audience see him as being more worthy of following since he appears to put his trust in what they think is the same faith as their own. Simply using common Christian phrasings really doesn’t tell anyone about what he really thinks about any given topic. I always hear about how clear the Bible is as a moral guide but what does “God bless you” tell you about a person’s views on issues such as abortion, civil unions, birth control, slavery, women’s roles/rights, suicide, death penalties, war, divorce, working on Sunday, etc. etc. etc. A religious person could instantly put the speaker in a better light just because they say the word God regardless of what that person really thinks or does.

The person saying “God bless you” doesn’t harm me or anyone else. It does negatively impact what nonbelievers think of that speaker. That isn’t a big impact currently since we’re in the minority. However, I also think it negatively impacts believers as well since they make positive assumptions about the speaker that are based on faith and have no relation to how that person really thinks or acts. This happens far too often when faith is viewed as more important than facts when the two are in conflict. Add this to the list of the many ways that religion and a reliance on faith does not help you in your life. Faith leads people to follow others based upon faith instead of reality. That’s a potentially dangerous reason to follow another human without question or critical thought of your own. Even if you are religious, please don’t do anything based on faith alone!

Billy Graham’s Prayer For Our Nation

My mother forwarded yet another religious spam email. This one was titled Billy Graham’s Prayer For Our Nation and ends with a call for a return to “One Nation Under God”. According to Snopes it isn’t from Billy Graham but that doesn’t really matter much regarding the intent of the email. The general text of the email sent to me is in that Snopes article if you’re interested.

Taken on face value as simply human values what does most of these items have to do with anything written in the Bible and a supposed dictated word of God? Does that book really give an exact recipe for a Christian-only government and such things as the nuances between a government sponsored form of charity and an overly dependent welfare system that is detrimental to society? The Bible does say certain things are punishable by death (usually a stoning) so how is the killing of an abortionist contrary to the general morality of the Bible? I do believe in the wisdom and values of the forefathers of this country but they didn’t create One Nation Under God as this email implied. Kenneth Davis had a good article on CNN recently about this. One Nation is inclusive and Under God is exclusionary so this phrase never made any sense to me.

Look at this fantasy art piece I came across while searching for information about One Nation Under God. I found this to be hilarious because the artist honestly believes in Jesus as the origin of our government and the Constitution for the people even though the Constitution has zero mentions of God, Jesus, or any creator reigning over “We The People”. It is a great visual depiction of what a Christian nation would be if one existed because the Constitution would have dictated the leadership of God and Jesus over the People as central to the government with a setup for worship and fidelity to that specific structure. This contrasts to the actual setup we have of a self-governing organization of checks and balances that were an attempt to protect individual liberties and societal justice instead of defining an exact and unchanging morality dictated by a religious leadership under the direction of One Nation under One God and following the literal word of the Bible as the rule of law.

Oh well, most people get these emails and just say it sounds good and it matches with the feel-good things they think they believe. This is cotton candy for the mind that reinforces “God is good, humans are evil, and we should listen to the God-believing humans to tell us how to think and what we should do with our resources.” The same goes true for politics and I wish people wouldn’t consider themselves Republicans or Democrats even if politicians are doing it. We should actually think for ourselves without labels while expecting the same from our political leaders. If we really had One Nation Under God in practice we could have just one political party because the religious right version of the Republican Party would be the only one true party needed under God.

Instead, since we are in practice a country of E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) then we really should have more choices and parties representing our political beliefs and all of the variations in the reality of humanity. It seems like we’ve been reduced down to a country of Out of Two, One with one side of that really pushing One Nation Under God to kick out the views of the other half of the two.

Standards of Good

I posted this as a comment reply to The Golden Rule post but it’s long enough to elevate to an actual blog post.

I assume humanity works through our standards of good in any given situation as an imperfect society of fellowship with our laws to guide us. A “standard” is universal and applies to all situations. “Thou shall not kill” is an absolute standard of good that should prevent you from using deadly force as a police officer or defend the country as a military member, but most bible believers judge for themselves when this supposed absolute standard of good actually applies. All religions don’t have a standard of good that contradicts the rest of humanity because it is all of humanity that shares in the universal guide of the “golden rule”. It is just a guide and is not perfect in itself. If I were a twisted individual that enjoyed pain I should not follow “do unto others…” and inflict pain on other people.

It’s funny you think I said Americans are not good and even quote the word “not” as if I said it. Saying a country appears to be nicer and safer than mine doesn’t mean the United States is not also nice and safe. I just said that Japan appeared to be higher on the scale of a “good society.” There isn’t a specific standard for a good society unless you want to try to make something up with crime statistics and the amount of individual freedoms enjoyed by the people if such things can be quantified.

We are all evil? It is the saddest thing for me to read when I come across it and is definitely one big thing I find wrong with religion. I believe most people are good and you believe everyone is evil. We use our inherent good as a society to collectively determine what is good for our societies. It isn’t perfect but our tribes have managed to graduate to governments and laws that work fairly well for some of the basics of good. If someone steals from me or murders my family (we can agree on those being bad, right?) then police, courts, jail, etc. all step in and take care of this. Hopefully the police could step in and prevent murder of my family but taking care of the murderer is the action that stops that person from killing again.

What does religion do in all of this? Here is the religious standard of good and how it operates. We are all evil sinners so religion offers forgiveness for the murderer. If they can only find Jesus then the murderer should be set free to live for Christ and kill again in his next moment of weakness. It’s not his fault because God made us as pure evil. What kind of nonsense is that? I don’t think most people have evil thoughts and urges. Let’s continue down your thought process that the bible is the standard of good. The 10 commandments should become law for this country and our most severe punishments should be for violating them since this is the top 10 list. So if I have another god before your god or create false idols I should be punished more severely than being a murderer if the commandments are ranked in order of importance. I should be punished for the thought crime of coveting. All parents should be honored so I think that does away with child protective services and the crimes of child abuse. These are just some applications of your good from the top of my head.

You are good without god. We are not evil. I don’t need Christ to stop my hand from stealing from you, killing you, or any other evil deed that you think we all are compelled to do since we are evil. Simply providing “Christ” as the ultimate standard just will not cut it. Humans do disagree at many points, and we work through it situation by situation. If it were perfect then one true church would currently rule the world and we’d only need a single priest to serve as judge and jury over all evil deeds. You can ask god and the Pope how well that one works out for us all.