A stand up deist

There are limits to tolerance. Especially when certain archaic beliefs threaten to darken our society and roll back the enlightenment. I am talking, of course, about religion.

A recent Cornell survey found that nearly a third of Americans are interested in curtailing the civil rights of Muslim-Americans. 29% thought that undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim organizations in the US, and 27% thought that Muslim-Americans should be required to register their location with authorities. Excuse me, but what!?.

It turns out that those most interested in curtailing the religious rights of others are, quelle surprise, religious themselves:

The survey also found respondents who identified themselves as highly religious supported restrictions on Muslim-Americans more strongly than those less religious.

I’d rather provide civil liberties for everyone, but who am I to argue? Religious extremism is a major source of violence and irrational behavior in the world. It isn’t at all clear why we should limit this to Muslims, though. I think anyone who engages in organizations based in faith — let’s call them “mature cults” — should be monitored. Perhaps we have been too soft on fundamentalism generally, and anyone who wishes to act on articles of faith rather than reason should be watched more closely.

Such a solution would have been abhorrent to our founding fathers, not because they were men of faith (in George Washington’s words: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion”), but because they believed that free exercise of thought, no matter the brand of thought, was the cornerstone of liberty. They wrongly believed that over time the mythical nature of religion would give way to a reasoned view of god in the everyday. Thomas Jefferson:

One day the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in the United States will tear down the artificial scaffolding of Christianity. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.

In his autobiography, Jefferson notes that most of the founding fathers aimed to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Somehow, I don’t think the same man would suggest that it was now time to start paying special attention to groups who are “Mohammedan,” and curtail their rights to practice their own religion. But then again, times change. The founding fathers probably would not have included nuclear weapons in their freedom to bear arms. They probably were likewise unable to predict that Americans two centuries later would be able to at once embrace the science to understand the origins of life itself, and the imagination that allows them to choose a 2000 year-old fable instead.

In any case, it is time for the atheists, and modern deists, to stand up and be heard. And one of the things we need to say is that not all opinions are equal. You are welcome, within your respective communities, to tell old stories and keep your traditions. But our toleration of that sort of behavior ends when there are attempts to impose it on our government.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 12/27/2004 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alex,
    Reading this reminds me that up here in Canada (Ontario, specifically) a woman named Marion Boyd has just released a report relating to the use of religiously based arbitration panels in family matters. She has ruled that there is no problem with us having an “Islamic” arbitration panel — since we already have Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, and Ismaili panels. Of course, it was silly of our gov’t to ask the woman who created the law in the first place to review it! But like you, I have problems with bringing religion of any kind into the public political domain as it brings into question respect for civil/human rights and the separation of Church and State in Western governance models.

    On a lighter note, I imagine that my comment might stop members of that one third from moving to Canada! ;-)

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