Sago Boulevard

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Imposing Values

In a comment to Jewish Atheist's post, Esther writes:
I don't understand why religous fundamentalists feel the need to impose their beliefs on other people.

Eric adds:
I've asked that same question on my blog, and I've yet to hear an explanation that wasn't rooted in a religous tautology. The most frequent answer I've heard to your question is that your 'sin' affects others. The fallacy of this argument is that it's one religon's belief that sin affects others. Deriving laws based on that belief flies in the face of the establishment clause.

This subtle dismissal of religion and religious beliefs is common and I don't mean to pick on either Esther and Eric. It's just the most recent place I've seen this kind of argument. I say, "subtle dismissal" because neither of them say outright that they think religion is garbage and ought not to be taken seriously. Instead, the claim is simply that one should neither "impose" his or her beliefs on others nor "deriv[e] laws based on that belief".

But why not? Every political group, by its nature, seeks to impose its set of values on everybody else. Feminists want to impose the ideal of equality between the sexes on others and support legislation to do so. Environmentalists want the law to prevent others from poluting and legislation to teach about Earth Day in schools. Abolitionists wanted to impose their value that blacks are in fact people. Civil rights activists, a century later, tried to get the law to require everybody to embrace that value.

In suggesting that religious individuals kindly keep their values to themselves, you imply that somehow religion isn't worthy of the consideration we afford other ideologies. Of course, you may in fact think the religion is wrong, harmful, and stupid but it's a step further to suggest that their opinion isn't welcome in public.

Many may respond as Eric did, that "deriving laws based on that belief flies in the face of the establishment clause." This is entirely wrong. We're talking about specific religious positions, not religious institutions. The Constitution protects against the government recognizing religion as having any authoritative power. So arguments along the lines of "well, the Pope said so" don't belong in government. But, "well, the Pope said so and it's a good idea for reasons x, y, and z" is perfectly acceptable. What's unacceptable is, "why can't you religious people just keep your opinions to yourself". And that's what Eirc and Esther mean.