Thursday, April 17, 2014

Religious Freedom and Related Matters

Dallin Oaks is at it again, saying stuff that sounds crazy to me.  Of course I no doubt impress him (and others) much the same way.  In proof whereof I offer the following disjointed observations.

1.  How are religious people being abused in contemporary Western society (especially American)?

Religious people are being abused by having their private lives turned into weapons that large corporations (that may identify as religious or secular--es macht mir nichts) can use against one another to jockey for market share.

The problem is that we hav
e hordes of people who cannot find religious identity without forcing themselves unconstitutionally on other people, against the will of those other people. When you break the hordes up into individual personae, you discover that most of them don't actually want to engage in litigation, culture war, etc., against "the enemy" in some individual, personal way. Peter does not hate Paul and want to destroy him. But Rome hates Antioch. Christianity hates Islam (and vice versa). Religion hates secularism. Science hates ignorance. Republicans and Democrats hate the other party (not their aunt who belongs to it, at least not the same way). The individual feels powerless to exist without a community (legitimately), and all communities (or the loudest, most politically active ones at any rate) are currently led by people who demand that he must join their fight against rival communities to have a place with them. I must force you to wear my burkha because if I don't, then you will force me to wear your cross. Religious freedom does not exist in this contest. It has become an oxymoron, a dead letter that people invoke as cover for what they are really saying: "My god has a bigger dick than yours, and I am going to prove it."

Think of Elijah challenging the priests of Baal. That is how we do religious dialogue in the modern fashion. I pray to my god, you pray to yours. We go to court. We duke it out. If the court fails us, we go to the battlefield (and kill terrorists). Freedom in this context is just Nietzsche's will to power. Having told myself that I am painted into a corner, that I must fight for my religion or be crushed ruthlessly by yours, I lash out and try to destroy you before you destroy me. I don't see your humanity. I don't see your vulnerability. I don't see that your motivation, your movement, is fractured, fragile, fragmented, and falling apart (the same way mine is). I put my chin up and charge into the fray.

2.  Is religion failing?   

It is not the failure of religion or science that confronts us today, it seems to me, as much as the failure of leadership. We have forgotten, if we ever knew, how to contend well with those around us (be they of our culture or not). We don't deal in dialogue, compromise, inaction, etc. We are all business, all about making decisions and then doubling down when they prove bad. We are fighting dogs that value gameness over survival, over anything really, because we think that loss is impossible (inadmissible, evil, cowardly, wrong).

I don't personally believe that religion is dead or losing anything. What is changing in society is what has always been changing. Religion is simply changing its clothes, putting away the frock it wore yesterday and making (or buying) something new to cover human nakedness (itself a garment, the clothing of Nature). Religion will only really die with the last human being (who will be religious, on my view, no matter what he thinks about anything or does with those thoughts).

Secularism is just another kind of religion, with a new pantheon of gods (that like different rituals). And it is not really that new, from my perspective. (The very word "secular" comes to us straight from Roman religion, which lies close to the heart of our Western political culture, historically very much a religion. A religion that strives to be ecumenical, sometimes, but that does not make it any less religious.)

3.  Should we invoke politics to strengthen religion?  (No!)

I would argue against Oaks (and others who agree with him) that the strength of religion must be built outside the US court system. To the extent that religion relies on civil law for its strength, it loses that strength, conceding that we do not make important religious decisions outside the courtroom, a move that makes our only really powerful religion the US government. I hate that idea.  I see that idea as one to avoid legitimizing at all cost.

Religion is stronger and more powerful as it needs less external civic intervention, not more. The religion that must invoke violence (politics, court orders, police, military) to assert its strength has already conceded incredible weakness, practically admitting its own moral bankruptcy.  If I cannot strengthen families, live a decent life, love God and my fellowman, etc., without charging into the courts and demanding that you live my life against your will, insisting that I make no concessions to your weakness and you none to mine, then decency becomes impossible.  Dialogue becomes impossible.  The open society dies, and we get yet another iteration of Plato's kallipollis (a theoretical utopia on the books, and in courtroom babble, that manifests in reality as hell on earth).  Eso no quiero, no busco, no deseo jam
ás.  Mejor en pie morir (o en la cruz, los que queramos ser Cristianos auténticos).

"My kingdom is not of this world." As a Christian, I invoke these words from the Lord to justify my decision to walk away deliberately from Elijah's stupid quarrel with the priests of Baal.  "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

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