Atheists Want Religious Freedom, Too!

There are a number of bills in various states of enactment across the country with the claimed purpose of advancing religious freedom. One of the latest is a Mississippi law that allows anyone to deny services to members of the LGBT community, including some government services. As I write this, the controversial law has yet to be signed by the Mississippi governor. And just this week, the Austin American Statesman reports that Texas also may be entering the fray with a bill of its own.

It must be said that these laws are nothing more than government permission to discriminate. But it’s more than that. Believers want to have the freedom to discriminate without any consequences. They don’t even want the taint of the word “discrimination,” so the legislators enacting these laws will swear that they’re not discriminatory, though they seem to single out gays and lesbians based on “lifestyle” or some religious right code word. Supporters of these bills want to go to their churches as part of their communities and hold their heads up high and be seen as the upright and moral people that they mistakenly believe they are. They want the joy of watching the auto-da-fé of those they hate without being seen in public getting off to it.

One hypothetical way these people could claim their religious freedom would be to post signs on their businesses openly stating the religious restrictions adhered to by the business. (Do businesses have religious beliefs?) Such a sign might say, “No wedding cakes for gays”, “No car washes for Catholics,” “No interracial couples served,” or even “Jews not allowed.” While this would be an efficient way for the market to honor these random religious “freedoms,” it has the obvious negative side effect of the business owners having their wacky and malicious beliefs being subject to public opinion. What if the entire community figured out that Fred’s Bakery, say, is a bastion of hatred and they took their business elsewhere? No, no, no. That won’t do. Supporters of these laws don’t want any responsibility for those religious beliefs. They want their “freedoms” without those pesky consequences. That’s the nature of these laws; rights without responsibility.

But why gays in particular? The simple answer is that the modern business model of Christianity is to sell hatred of gays. As US laws are changed to treat gays and lesbians as normal citizens, their business model (and power) is increasingly under threat. Hatred of people who have done you no harm is bigotry, pure and simple. These laws carve out a niche for the bigotry peddlers.

Sure. There are some verses in the Bible that call homosexual behavior and effeminacy abominations. But the same Bible calls lying an abomination and shrimp and crabs seem to also be abominations. While these quaint and silly laws appear in the Pentateuch, Jews aren’t banging down the door of government so that they can have the “religious freedom” to persecute gays and lesbians—or seafood restaurants. According to the good book, the punishment for finding two men together in bed is to kill them both. But Christians don’t seem to want that. Too messy. They just want government permission to discriminate—as if they know instinctively that the US government is far more powerful than their god. If they really believed their god was more powerful and they wanted to obey the god’s laws, they would just do so, consequences be damned.

Isn’t it ironic that these religious freedom laws never seem to mention any concrete religious tenet? I think there are three reasons for this.

  • First, I think that most Christians don’t know that their holy book is loaded with atrocities and highly embarrassing stories that would not be taken seriously outside the walls of a church. Take, for example the silly golden hemorrhoid story or the immoral Abraham and Isaac story.
  • Next, by staying away from concrete Biblical tenets, they avoid being put in the position of arguing for one right while NOT arguing for one of those embarrassing rights just a few pages away, like killing witches, holding slaves, or women and children being property. By keeping the argument abstract, they can pick and choose.
  • Finally, as SCOTUS indicated in the Hobby Lobby decision, the government can’t take a stance what is a valid religious belief. Apparently, even a falsehood like Plan-B being an abortifacient is a perfectly valid religious belief from the government’s perspective. So anything goes, whether it’s justified by some actual religion or not. So yes, I suppose people can have deeply held religious beliefs about trans-gender bathroom use or that blacks are inferior people.

If there’s a shining light here, its that these laws are written in such a way they also apply to non-Christians. Even atheists have religious beliefs. We believe (based on fact) that religions are malicious frauds. I see no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of these ill-conceived laws and turn the tables on them. Ditto for RFRA and its state versions.

Open thread for #20.12: Matt and Tracie

Matt and Tracie discuss different ways in which people justify their treatment of others within authoritarian systems, such as, but not exclusively religious systems, and how people who wear the same label sometimes justify opposite actions in the name of systems represented under those same labels.

Open thread for episode 20.07: Russell & Martin

Martin here. Predictably there have been the usual suspects on social media firing off about the discussion with Kieran. I think a lot about the conversation with Kieran could have gone better, but what’s notable about those responding is the way in which binary thinking is their general pattern. Either you’re someone who condemns everything about Islam as a cancer and scourge upon the earth that requires immediate cauterization, or you’re a jihadi apologist. Very little in the way of nuance, shall we say, is on display. The usual dog-whistle terms (“regressive left,” etc etc.) are trotted out and put through their paces, indicating a preference for lazy reactionary emotionalism over intellectual engagement.

Also, posting actual data which shows that, in the US at least, random gun violence has been an exponentially higher cause of death than violence of an expressly terrorist nature is seen as a “deflection” from the real issue. The following tweet (not embedding it because I don’t wish anyone to come back at the guy) is typical: Three different issues: Mass shootings by insane people, gang violence/crime, & terrorism. “Different issues”? They’re all about mass murder and its causes, which sounds like the same issue to me. Are the victims of mass shootings by “insane people” somehow less dead than those deliberately carried out by ISIS cells?

Click to embiggenify.

There is a contigent among atheists who are very much in line with conservative Christian Republicans on this topic, and it’s a problem. Allow me to suggest the following radical ideas: rejecting xenophobia towards Muslims generally does not mean one is blithely pretending Islamist violence and terrorism do not exist at all. (Yes, some of the haters are arguing that.) Pointing out that gun violence by angry white men takes vastly more lives in the US is, also, not a way of denying that Islamist terrorists are a thing. It’s simply asking paranoid people to look at the data, put your paranoia in perspective, and then come up with reasoned and effective responses to terrorism that don’t target the innocent victims who are fleeing that very terrorism.

That Islamist theocracies are the most oppressive societies in the world is not anything any sensible person would debate (in fact I recall both of us on the show yesterday making that point). But when people assume, and politicians like Trump and Farage go on to exploit said assumption, that we have to fear all the people fleeing an Islamist bloodbath because they’re obviously just coming here to start a bloodbath of their own, then it’s time for folks to step back and take a breath. Caving into that manipulative fear is playing right into the terrorists’ hands.