April 8, 2008

The Inquisition, Here We Go...

Imagine if this exchange took place in a state legislature between a legislator and a Christian minister who was testifying about what should be taught in a science class:

Legislator: I’m trying to understand this so-called “Christian philosophy" that you want to spread here..… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous--

Minister: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Legislator: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Minister: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court--

Legislator: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Well, it did, of course. Except, of course, that it was an atheist on the receiving end of the tirade. “Dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists.” This is the mentality that gives rise to thought police: the conviction that “truth” must be somehow be protected from scrutiny and criticism; the idea that there are thoughts that no person should think; the mentality that liberty is somehow compatible with silencing those with whom you disagree. This is the mentality that is a source of particular distress for me – in part because I belong to the group targeted for obloquy because of my lack of religious belief, and in part because this sort of Reformation-era mentality is fundamentally at odds with the ideas of liberty enshrined in our Constitution.

In a comment on this story, one atheist wrote:

I'm an atheist and I understand that going out to challenge other people's beliefs often seems like being needlessly offensive. However, the this sort of "rude" behavior is necessary when the social conventions are rigged up to deem demands for fair and equal treatment as rude.

The fundamental problem is that people parse the expression of atheist beliefs as unnecessery personal attacks/disparagement in ways they don't for religious beliefs. When someone says they believe in some other religion (maybe when demuring to participate in some prayer) people don't interpret this as a criticism of their own faith even though belief in most major world religions is logically incompatible with each other. However, when someone explains they don't believe god exists people tend to take this as an attack on their beliefs. From a logical perspective this doesn't make the slightest sense since Judaism is at least as much a denial of Christ's status as Mesiah as is atheism.

The consequences of this are severalfold. Primarily it means that atheists who decide they ought to be polite and avoid offending people relegate themselves to second class status since they must avoid expressing their beliefs the way the religious must not. Just consider how most people are likely to react to someone non-aggressively explaining how they came to realize Christ is the risen lord versus non-aggressively explaining how they came to realize belief in god is irrational.

Secondarily, however, it means that atheists have no choice but to block governmental religious expressions because they have no serious option of merely responding in kind. A jew might respond to a manger scene on city hall by asking for a menorah on their holidays and other religions can request for their own beliefs to be celebrated. City hall would never display a flying spaghetti monster to celebrate atheist's beliefs at some time of the year since too many citizens would find it to be directly offensive and mocking of their beliefs. Thus atheists have no choice but to be the killjoys because they are denied the chance to have their beliefs positively represented. If we flatly refused to celebrate/recognize the belief systems of certain non-christian religions in public life you better bet they would start being a lot less friendly to public celebrations of religious belief.

I thought the sentiment was worth repeating.


zzi said...


I wonder if the ACLU is heading up to Minnesota to file.

Burt Likko said...

Looks like a First Amendment violation to me. I don't speak for the ACLU.