I’m an atheist, or as I like to think – a “friendly” atheist. I know about religion’s dark side. The many, many wars over whose holy is holier than thou’s. The hypocrisy rampantly on display on C-Span, in St. Peter’s Square, and before various ethics groups and committees. Religion used as a bludgeon to pummel other beliefs into – if not in compliance – vapor. Yet, I still see a place for religion in the public square.
Life is a dark ride. Anything that helps people get through the night is a good thing. Heck, sometimes I even envy believers’ ability to say a few words and be instantly comforted. But, that isn’t how I’m wired. I don’t believe in God so any strength I need to summon comes from within. I view it as a nearly pure form of self-reliance and responsibility. It’s a stance that’s worked well for me and I see no reason to change.
I believe that someone else’s rights end at the place where they impinge upon mine. If religious groups insist on placing “In God We Trust” on money, I’m cool. The money spends the same as it always has. I’m not being deprived of anything.
However, I understand the argument that every display of religion be removed from the public square so the country doesn’t slide down the slippery slope to theocracy. But in exchange for this live and let live pragmatism, I expect a little respect in turn.
For example, formalized prayer in school impinges on the freedom to NOT practice a religion. Some schools endorse it in such a way as to cause kids embarrassment, something that isn’t good for the kid, me, or society. I’ll trade the “In God We Trusts” for praying to oneself any time they want – even in the classroom – as long as you do it privately.
The same is true for Christians’ seemingly unquenchable desire to nail the Ten Commandments to every flat surface on Earth. Don’t get me wrong. I think the 10 Commandments are as good any ethical checklist you’re likely to find anywhere. But, I don’t think it’s necessary to post it in so many places that you can’t swing a bottle of holy water without hitting one. If you must be reminded to be good every 10 minutes you aren’t paying enough attention to your religion anyway. And if you must be reminded, keep a copy in your wallet and pull it out each time you’re feeling compelled to worship no God before Him.
I’m always dismayed that we spend so much time on these relatively minor points. Simply-speaking, none of these things mean a hill of communion wafers in the end.
But there are important issues. For example, same-sex marriage or gays in the military. Treating homosexuals different from the majority-religion is wrong, constitutionally and morally. In my mind, that’s where a religion’s insistence on forcing gay people to be someone they aren’t is where religion’s rights should end.
I’ve yet to see an example of homosexuals having their rights denied based on any substantial evidence. Gay sex doesn’t affect a religion’s rights to practice what they preach. Same-sex marriage doesn’t devalue the sanctity of marriage any more than divorce does. It doesn’t cause anyone to turn gay. It doesn’t even force you to accept it. You can continue to hate gay people. It’s your right to associate or love anyone you wish, just as it is a gay person’s.
When I ask these questions of anti-gay religious groups I’ve gotten only one of two answers. The sound of crickets chirping and “because the Bible tells me so”.
If one chooses to not believe the Bible, it holds no more water than Creationism or Intelligent Design.
Any democracy worth its salt understands and respects different beliefs. Just because Christianity is the predominate religion doesn’t mean that all other expressions of faith (or no faith) be verboten. It doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t have the right to practice their faith either. But to get along, we all have to understand the rights and responsibilities of who we are.
And that’s no different than any other part of the human existence.