Tag Archives: Christian Right

How To Resolve The “Religious Freedom” Debate

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Every now and then, a tragic story comes along involving an innocent child who needlessly dies because their parents refused to give them medical treatment due to their religious doctrine. Whether you’re deeply religious or overtly atheist, these stories are heart-wrenching. The fact they occur is a travesty.

Just last year, a two-year-old girl died in Pennsylvania because that very reason. Consequently, her parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. They were later convicted and subsequently lost custody of their other children.

Those are the least surprising details of the story. They aren’t the first parents to get charged with a crime for refusing to provide medical treatment to their children on religious grounds. According to a study by Pediatrics, 140 children died of treatable medical conditions from 1975 to 1995. You also don’t have to look far to find some pretty tragic stories of children needlessly suffering because of their parents’ inaction.

I bring up these distressing, disheartening facts because there’s one critical detail to stories like those of the girl in Pennsylvania. While the parents of that girl were convicted, the church they attended, the Faith Tabernacle, was not held liable. Never mind that the church’s tenants were what told them to pray harder rather than take their child to a hospital. They incurred no responsibility for that girl’s death.

They’re not the only church that holds those beliefs, either. According to ChildrensHealthCare.org, there are nearly two dozen churches whose tenants discourage or prohibit seeking medical treatment. Moreover, there are laws in certain parts of the United States that actually protect these organizations from liability. Much of it is done in the name of “religious freedom.”

That’s a term I’m sure most with access to a news feed have heard recently. In fact, they’re probably been hearing it a lot more frequently lately, albeit not in a way that links directly to dead children. The indirect link is still there and it’s the key to unlocking the controversy and the resolution to the issue.

Now, I put “religious freedom” in quotes because it’s another one of those vague terms that can be construed to mean anything to fit a particular situation. More often than not, it’s an excuse to argue for favorable or preferential treatment of an individual or group.

That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. People are going to argue for favorable treatment with or without religion. Where “religious freedom” sets itself apart are the legal protections it seeks. Those parents of that dead little girl used religious freedom to justify their behavior.

That is, admittedly, an extreme example and one that rarely makes the news. These days, the most common manifestation of “religious freedom” controversies involve people using it to justify denying services to LGBT individuals, be it a marriage license or a wedding cake. It was also part of a major decision by Supreme Court involving a cake shop that refused service to a gay couple.

Those who champion “religious freedom” cheered the ruling and the precedent it set. This, along with the Hobby Lobby ruling in 2014, establishes that someone can use sincerely held religious beliefs to obtain exemptions from mandates prescribed by law. It seems the effort in securing this “freedom” is gaining momentum and winning battles in the courtroom.

Again, I put that word in quotes for a reason and one I hope will help craft an appropriate standard for what constitutes actual freedom and what constitutes contrived excuses. That is, in essence, what the “religious freedom” battles are seeking. They’re pursuing legally-protected excuses for their theology and its associated behaviors.

I can understand, to a limited extent, why there would need to be some legal protections for religious groups and not just for the purposes of anti-discrimination efforts. We need to have some resource for situations where someone is coerced into doing something that goes against their religion. Strapping someone to a chair and forcing them to eat shellfish will do unique distress to a Jewish person than it will for others.

That being said, it’s somewhat telling that the organizations fighting hardest for “religious freedom” also happen to be organizations that have preached hatred and misinformation on the LGBT community for years. Some of these organizations are designated as hate groups and their sentiment on LGBT issues is rarely subtle.

To them, the free exercise of their religion, as articulated in the first amendment, means the ability to treat certain people, notably LGBT individuals, a particular way. Some will even take it farther than that, seeking the right to craft their entire society around their theology, regardless of what secular law states.

It’s an effort not limited to one religion or denomination, either. There are other major religions with theology that goes beyond refusing service to LGBT individuals and crafting a society where their adherents are their primary authority. Therein lies the greatest flaw in the whole “religious freedom” debate.

When put into practice, the actual expression is less about the exercise of religion and more about the treatment of minorities. Those same Christian bakers may fight for their right to refuse service to a gay couple, but would they fight for the right of a Muslim cab driver to refuse customers with alochol? Well, when the courts ruled against that particular religious expression, there was no major outrage.

That’s the first and most critcial step to assessing the merits of “religious freedom” and the agendas behind them. If you reverse the majority/minority dynamics, is it applied equally? If the majority is the only one that benefits, then it’s not really freedom. It’s an overly elaborate excuse with religion as a cover.

There’s an even easier standard to use if majority/minority dynamics are too complex. This one goes back to the tragic stories about parents refusing life-saving medical treatment for their children. It can be articulated with a simple set of questions.

Could a form of religious expression/teaching be used to justify conduct that leads to the death of a child?

If yes, then it warrants no legal protections of any kind.

If no, then it constitutes free expression.

It’s a fairly simple standard, one that does not add a religious context to freedom and expression. There is freedom. There is expression. Sometimes it’s religious. Sometimes it’s not. Whether it’s just going to church on a Sunday or not eating certain foods, it’s just another form of freedom and freedom is a beautiful thing.

When it’s used to justify the deaths of children and discriminating against minorities, it’s not freedom. It’s just bullying looking for legal protection. I’m completely in favor of people practicing their religion as they see fit or no religion at all. However, there are standards for a civilized society and those standards cannot and should not accommodate excuses for dead children.

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Filed under Current Events, political correctness, Reasons and Excuses, religion

Boredom: How It Can Shape (And Subvert) Religion

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Whenever I talk about boredom, whether in the context of the present or a future where it’s a full-blown plague, I often belabor how it’s effects and impacts are understated. That’s somewhat unavoidable. Boredom, by definition, requires an environment of limited, monotonous drudgery. Most people see their lives as inherently hectic so the boredom seems like a distant concern.

Hectic or not, everyone is still vulnerable to boredom’s corrosive effects. Those effects are well-documented and it’s part of why solitary confinement is considered torture. Those same effects can shape heroes, villains, and eccentric mad scientists, alike. It can also be a factor in determining the long-term viability of an ideology.

That last detail is something I attempted to explore in an earlier article where I introduced the concept of the Boredom Filter. Simply put, by contemplating an ideology taken to its ultimate end, the Boredom Filter can reveal whether that ideology can survive in a world where humans despise boredom and will do anything, including horrific crimes, to alleviate it.

While researching that article, I originally intended to apply the filter to religion as well. I knew that was sure to enter some extremely sensitive areas. Talking about identity politics and sexual taboos is tricky enough. Adding religion to the mix is like adding a bit of nitroglycerine to a burning pile of napalm.

On top of that, I think religion in its general form is somewhat distinct from ideologies like liberalism, conservatism, feminism, and even libertarianism. Those ideologies are philosophical or logistical tools that present themselves as guides or interpretations of social phenomenon. Religion also does that to some extent, but has a broader scope.

Religion doesn’t just cover methods for making sense of society and the universe, as a whole. Unlike an ideology that can be taught, learned, or studied, religion is a lot more subjective and dependent on personal and shared experiences. Even though religious affiliation is in decline, it’s still an influencing force on society.

Whether or not that influence grows or wanes is not the point. My focus, in this case, is to show how religion is shaped by boredom. I also intend to use it show how boredom can subvert the core tenants of a religion, if it’s followed strictly.

Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I’m not out to condemn or demean any particular religion or its adherents. I’m making a concerted effort not to play favorites here. If it sounds like I’m being unfair or too harsh to a particular religion or faith, I apologize. We all have our biases. I’m not particularly religious so I’ll try to remain objective as possible.

With that out of the way, I feel it’s important to establish one particular aspect of religion that sets it apart from political or philosophical ideologies, in terms of how boredom effects it. Religion, and religious experiences, are extremely subjective. You could argue that they’re entirely subjective.

One individual can go to a church on Sunday, listen to a sermon, and be incredibly moved on a personal level. To them, it could be one of the most intense experiences they could have. Another person who is as healthy and sane as the other can sit through that same sermon and be bored out of their mind.

It’s that subjective disparity that makes it difficult to apply the Boredom Filter. However, even with that disparity, boredom is still an influencing factor. A religion that evokes more of those intense experiences in a large number of people will likely be successful and pass the Boredom Filter. One that only evokes those experiences in a small group will only have limited appeal.

That’s why repressive cults usually only appeal to a handful of people. If you’re in a tight-knit group that’s full of solidarity and intense tribalism, it’s possible to get around boredom, if only because members are too scared or too brainwashed to escape. For larger religious organizations, boredom is a bigger issue because appealing to a lot of people means ensuring they don’t get bored.

When assessing an ideology with the Boredom Filter, it’s relatively easy to speculate on what their idealized society is because most ideologies clearly state those goals. Communists want a communist utopia. Liberals want a liberal utopia. Libertarians want a libertarian utopia. With religion, there’s not a clear endgame for the most part.

Sure, some religions like Christianity and Islam preach spreading the faith, if not converting the entire world’s population. Others either don’t emphasize it in their theology or only use it to the extent that it has to market itself in a modern economy. When applying the Boredom Filter, though, it’s important to be targeted.

By that, I mean it can’t just apply to what a holy book says or what sort of ethics certain religious icons preach. It has to apply to how it’s actually practiced. There are so many varying sects and denominations within a particular religion. Not all of them practice the same way or take their holy texts quite as literally.

That, more than anything, is the key to determining whether the Boredom Filter will impact a particular form of religious expression. Even if it passes, though, it can also reveal how that form of expression is shaped. It’s rarely overt, but the fact major religions have endured longer than most ideologies shows that a religion is more willing to adapt than it claims.

For a simple example, let’s apply the filter to the most common form of evangelical Christianity, as practiced by the religious right in America and espoused by religious leaders like James Dobson from the Family Research Council. They favor a brand of Christianity that favors a very strict form of religious morality.

It doesn’t take much speculation to see that this form of Christianity doesn’t pass the Boredom Filter. This brand of Christianity seeks one particular manifestation of family, one manifestation of gender, and one manifestation of personal conduct. That includes no promiscuity, no cursing, no porn, and no unholy behavior.

Even if that one manifestation of society is a particularly good one, it’s not hard to imagine people getting bored with that. At some point, they’re not going to be as moved when they go to church. They’re not going to be as excited about consuming the same Christian-friendly media or having sex with the same person for the same reasons again and again. Boredom will set in for many people. It’s unavoidable.

The same issue occurs when you apply the filter to fundamentalist Islam, especially the kind espoused by modern extremist groups. They may use a different holy book and employ different religious practices, but the manifestations are the same. It promotes a society of strict, rigid conformity for large numbers of people, regardless of their diverse personalities, passions, and proclivities.

Even when these standards are brutally enforced by state-sanctioned religious police, there’s no escaping the boredom. People may still conform out of fear for their lives, which is usually a stronger motivator. However, it only goes so far in terms of creating loyal, passionate adherents. In general, people who conform out of fear can only be so sincere.

In a sense, the fact that some of these religious ethics have to be enforced with fear and violence, be it from the police or threats of eternal damnation, is a tacit acknowledgement that those ideals are not tenable to a large group of people. Without that fear, the boredom alone will make them seek other experiences and no religion can survive like that.

That still begs the question as to why some religions manage to survive, even the repressive ones. On paper, the Catholic Church has pretty strict moral tenants. The Vatican opposes premarital sex, masturbation, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and free expression that denigrates or defames the church.

However, the difference between the Catholic Church and the extreme forms of Islam and Christianity is that they can’t do much to enforce that morality. They could in previous centuries, but these days the Vatican’s moral proclamations are largely symbolic. They preach against immoral behavior, but don’t directly combat it.

To some extent, that might have helped the Catholic Church endure. By losing it’s authoritarian muscle, it had no choice but to adapt its theology to accommodate less-than-pure adherents. It’s not quite as flexible as some would prefer, but it has shown a willingness to revisit old traditions in the name of evolving with the times.

Other religions have done a much better job of that. Denominations like Reformed Judaism and Unitarian Christianity have been much more receptive to adapting their theology to the changing times. While this may upset some traditionalists, so much so that they won’t even consider those denominations as true adherents, they do win in one aspect. Adapting their theology keeps it from getting boring.

Sure, church on Sundays may still feel like a chore, but at least you won’t have to listen to the same fire and brimstone rhetoric every week. That counts for something when applying the Boredom Filter. Any sect or denomination that doesn’t do that, though, will only ever have limited appeal, at most.

In that sense, Islam is more vulnerable to the Boredom Filter. Traditional Islam is basically in the same domain where Catholicism was several hundred years ago. It still enforces strict adherence of its traditional method in many Islamic countries. Like the Vatican, however, the enforcement isn’t always on par with the Spanish Inquisition.

Within these countries, those traditions and the state-sanctioned enforcement of them are often challenged or overlooked. To some extent, the Boredom Filter is already having an impact because shifting demographics and generational clashes are leading some within Islam to become disillusioned with those rigid traditions. I’m not saying boredom is the sole cause of it, but like Christianity, it is a likely factor.

Islam’s ability to adapt to these trends will determine whether or not it will continue to endure like Catholicism. There are some making a genuine effort, much to the detriment of their safety. Whether or not these adaptations are sufficient will have depend heavily on its ability to pass the Boredom Filter.

I don’t want to speculate too much on the future of Islam, Christianity, or other faiths. I also don’t want to give the impression that the Boredom Filter is definitive, especially for something like religion. I present it as simply another tool to help make sense of, and possibly speculate on, the impact of religion.

That impact will continue to incur other impacts on society, even as religion continues to decline. It will always have a certain appeal to certain people. If it’s going to have appeal to more people in a future where people are more informed and possibly enhanced, it would be both wise and necessary for it to pass the Boredom Filter.

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, religion, sex in society, War on Boredom

Extremism: The Ultimate Excuse Bank

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Strap yourselves in and tighten your sphincter because this is another one of those posts that I’m sure is going to offend a few people. I try not to do posts like this too often. I like to leave that kind of offending to shock jocks, Fox News, and Kanye West. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’m not Howard Stern.

However, sometimes I need to dip my toes in the piss-filled pool of offense in order to make an important point. I did that last year when I explored the mind of misogynistic men that too many women don’t even try to understand. That was hard to write, but it was something I felt needed to be said.

This post is similar. I knew I was going to write something like this when I began my discussion on reasons versus excuses. I also knew that by doing so, I would offend a few people. I’m not going to apologize for that. Sometimes, a message needs to be offensive in order to get the point across.

In this instance, that point has to do with extremism. I’m not just talking about religious extremism. I’m not just talking about political extremism. I’m not just talking about the extremism you find on Twilight message boards either. I’m talking about extremism in all forms.

I want to keep the context broad so that the topic can be applied to every possible instance. From the Islamic extremism that every news outlet tries to mention a thousand times a day to the political extremism that builds shining “utopias” like North Korea, this issue can apply to all of them. It won’t be the most comfortable application. If anything, it’s akin to applying acid to a contact lens.

To understand the common link between all these various forms of extremism, some of which actively try to murder each other in the streets, we need to revisit the concept of “excuse banking.” Sure, it’s a concept I just invented and has as much scholastic weight as a Will Ferrell movie, but it’s a concept that helps make sense of the irrational whims of people who really think they’re rational.

The basics of excuse banking are simple. They take whatever actions, beliefs, knowledge, or social connections someone has and effectively molds them into a ready-made list of excuses to justify their future actions. Excuse banking is basically akin to stocking up on Twinkies so that when you get hungry, you’re ready.

Remember, we don’t make decisions based on logic. We decide first and then look for reasons or excuses to justify them. That’s just how the human brain is wired. That’s how it has been wired since our caveman days and we can’t change that wiring any more than we can change the color of the sky.

With extremism, excuse banking goes a step beyond justifying your decision to buy a thousand posters of a half-naked David Hasselhoff. Extremism, in many ways, is the ultimate manifestation of excuse banking. It provides people with a set of infinitely malleable, constantly excuses to justify pretty much anything. Why else would actual Flat Earth Societies still exist?

In such an extreme, excuse banking goes far beyond just justifying a decision. When someone has such a malleable excuse in unlimited supply, it can lead to a form of self-hypnosis and self-delusion wherein someone actively avoids looking for reasons. They favor, cling to, and obsess over their preferred excuses.

It takes many forms, but the patterns are fairly similar. In religion, especially in the big three Abrahamic religions, there’s a perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing excuse sitting in the clouds. Call that excuse any name you want, be it Yahweh, Allah, God, or Cthulhu, it still functions the same.

If you have faith in said deity, then that deity will bless you and vindicate you. You don’t need to provide reasons for anything. You can just claim that the deity commands or wishes it and that’s the end of the conversation. You don’t need to justify anything else.

You want to murder an abortion doctor? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to blow up a bus full of civilians? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to take slaves from neighboring tribes? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to mutilate the penises of infant boys? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

Sometimes the justification comes in the form of holy books that cannot be questioned. Sometimes it comes in the form of charismatic cult leaders who want first dibs on all the pretty girls in room. Sometimes it’s just some guy claiming to be a prophet that somehow slipped through the cracks and works at Dairy Queen during the week.

However it happens, the pattern is fairly clear. In terms of excuse banking, it’s almost too perfect. Having vindication from an all-knowing, all-powerful deity is basically like playing an old video game with cheat codes. Nobody can argue with a deity like that. Nobody can even verify the will of that deity.

Think back to what distinguishes a reason from an excuse. Reasons, by their definition, need to be verifiable on some level. Deities can never be verified. That’s why many religious extremists emphasize faith, which is essentially accepting the belief beforehand, absent any reason.

For the Richard Dawkins’ of the world, that seems dishonest. However, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it perfectly meshes with the wiring of our brain. It perfectly aligns with the process of making decisions first and then justifying them. In that sense, religion has far more advantages than atheism ever will. Sorry, Richard Dawkins, but the game is just not in your favor.

Think about any religious zealot. They’ll claim the same thing. Their deity and their holy book condone, promote, and even command whatever behavior they do, no matter how irrational or atrocious it might be. That’s how terrorists justify their atrocities. That’s how someone can harass the families of dead soldiers and still think they’re a good person. They’ve banked the ultimate excuse to justify that sentiment.

Now I’m not just going to harp on religion. I’ll leave that in the capable hands of South Park and Seth MacFarlane. Religion is just the most obvious example. Political ideology is still a close second though.

By political ideology, I mean any ideology that has an extreme element to them, which is essentially all of them. There may not be an all-powerful, all-knowing deity, but there are still a set of infinitely malleable excuses that adherents use to justify anything and everything.

Communism is probably the most famous example. From the Soviet Union to North Korea, communisms as a concept basically functioned as a deity in that its adherents thought it was perfect. Anyone who claimed otherwise was killed and those who did the killing had a valid excuse. They were protecting communism and the god-like leaders that promoted it. How else could Kim Jong Ill get away with those ridiculous glasses?

It also scales to smaller domains. Here in America, we have political parties who treat their affiliation the same way religious zealots treat their deities. That’s how one party can get so outraged when the other does something, but be totally okay with it when they do the same thing.

Through excuse banking, a political party can justify their actions because they see their party as correct, moral, and ethical party. There’s no reason for this and there’s no way to truly justify that sentiment. By blindly accepting it, they have the ultimate excuse. That’s why it’s entirely possible for a party member who claims to be pro-life to pay for his mistresses’ abortion and still be considered moral.

Go beyond political parties and you’ll find extreme excuse banking in all sorts of fields. It has been happening a lot more in fields subject to political correctness, especially in areas like feminism. It’s already evolved its own set of language and terms, much like any religious or ideological movement.

Such excuse banking can end up dividing an ideology that actually has verifiably good ideas. The inequality of women was and still is an unfair practice, something that feminism worked hard to overcome. However, extreme measures of excuse banking led to horrendously misguided subcultures in that movement, some of which joked about the mass murder of an entire gender.

This is the part where I hope everyone can unclench their asshole a bit. I know this is a difficult discussion to have, but these are all topics that affect us profoundly. Whatever the balance in your own excuse bank might be, religion and ideology affect our lives in profound ways. That’s why it’s so important to have a way to make sense of it.

This is also the part where I want to remind everyone that extreme forms of excuse banking in no way makes someone a bad person. I still believe that most people are good people who operate under the same burdens as the rest of us. Some, either by circumstance or endowment, find themselves clinging to certain excuses more than others.

Now I’m not saying that the idea of excuse banking can make sense of every complex sociopolitical situation on the planet. It’s just one tool I’m offering to add to a toolbox that can never be too stocked.

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