Religion should not enjoy a privileged status, especially when many religious people strive to influence politics and public policy based on their religious beliefs. Do I violate some rule of civil discourse if I draw or publish a cartoon lampooning the Catholic Church’s position on abortion when the Catholic Church is trying to influence public policy on abortion? If so, I fail to understand the reason for such a rule. Such self-censorship merely serves to perpetuate the taboo mentality that has protected religion for too long.
While I agree with the writer in principle (and the article is well worth reading), I have to reiterate a point that I have made a number of times on this blog.
Religion is not just another subject for debate. It is the foundation of the world view and basis of hope for billions of people. Its roots go far deeper than belief in quantum theory or evolution, because what are believed to be its effects are discernible by ordinary people without arcane training, if they choose to interpret their world uncritically.
As compassionate practitioners, we owe it to believers to treat them gently. While it is true, as the writer points out, that they attempt to influence policy and government in the direction of their own beliefs, that is also true of other special interest groups, including secularists.
I believe it is fine to debate religious ideas, within reason, but debate is always with the consent of both sides. It is not accomplished with bludgeons on unwilling participants. We need to understand that when people’s core beliefs are threatened, they become defensive and inflexible regardless of the content of those beliefs. To pound, willy-nilly, on issues they find threatening will only stifle debate, not extend it. Furthermore, to attempt to alter someone’s core beliefs without offering something that will adequately replace the framework of his life is to commit cruelty of the first order. Morally, it no different from the acts of those who attempt to force religion on others.
Very few secularists were born to their belief system. Most of us came to it after many years of searching for a direction that made sense to us. Furthermore, some of us were traumatized by religious people, and have yet to deal adequately with those issues (which may explain some of the vehemence in discourse). So, let us debate if we must. But let us also remember that minds are unlikely to be changed, and — above all — that when it comes to religion, logic is never an issue.
And let’s be gentle, understanding that discussion is not battle and that, even if it were, this is not one that we are really equipped to win. We need to remember that secularist fanatics are no more correct in their behavior than religious ones, regardless of the logic in their arguments, because reasoned discourse requires mutual respect. How can we demand that of believers if we do not deliver it ourselves?