Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

8 thoughts on “Keep religious morals private

  1. “Adultery? Live and let live. ”

    That’s a straw-man argument. I know a “few” Christians and none condone adultery. We just don’t have a large movement in the church saying it is a gift from God, the way the pro-LGBTQX groups are saying that all their preferences are divinely guided.

    Re. abortion — You don’t need the Bible to show why that is wrong. It is a scientific fact that a new human being is created at conception. Protecting innocent life is one of the most primary roles of government.

    The 1st Amendment doesn’t restrict religious speech, it protects it. Critics like you imply that we should have to vote the opposite of our religious views. In that case, I’d have to favor beating up atheists and stealing their goods. As it stands, I oppose those things.

    You should re-read the post you linked to, including this self-examination part: Do you protest the religious speech of theological Liberals? I can point you to countless false teachers and religious types who insist that God is pro-abortion, pro-gay theology, pro-open borders, pro-wealth redistribution, etc. Can you show me where you are just as active in dismissing their religious views as you are mine?

  2. Hi Neil, welcome. Before I respond, let me assure you that your replies will always be posted, excepting personal attacks, of course. I realize this is not…ahem…a universal policy.

    You wrote,

    That’s a straw-man argument. I know a “few” Christians and none condone adultery.

    I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear. I was making a point about the inconsistent promotion of religious dictates in law. Gay marriage, abortion, and theft are some theists have would have be (or remain) illegal, while divorce, adultery, and keeping the Sabbath are those they assent to keeping a purely private matter. I see no rhyme or reason why. Perhaps you can explain?

    The 1st Amendment doesn’t restrict religious speech, it protects it. Critics like you imply that we should have to vote the opposite of our religious views. In that case, I’d have to favor beating up atheists and stealing their goods. As it stands, I oppose those things.

    No one is advocating squelching speech, religious or otherwise. Besides, it’s irrelevant to the question of voting choices. What I’ve wondered is how you decide which of those religious views to vote on, when, seemingly, all of them should be. I note also that perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to impose your liberty-restricting religious views on others lest they impose them on you.

    Do you protest the religious speech of theological Liberals? I can point you to countless false teachers and religious types who insist that God is pro-abortion, pro-gay theology, pro-open borders, pro-wealth redistribution, etc. Can you show me where you are just as active in dismissing their religious views as you are mine?

    I had actually already answered you on this. I have nothing to say against theological liberals, or conservatives, for that matter, who espouse views that lead to the broadening of liberty. Naturally, I’d prefer they ground such views in other ways. I oppose efforts to restrict liberty. And so should you, even if they run counter to your religious dictates. You already do this on many other questions (when was the last time you advocated a law on keeping the Sabbath?), so why not on these too?

  3. “I realize this is not…ahem…a universal policy.”

    LOL.

    “Gay marriage, abortion, and theft are some theists have would have be (or remain) illegal, while divorce, adultery, and keeping the Sabbath are those they assent to keeping a purely private matter. I see no rhyme or reason why. Perhaps you can explain?”

    Simple: Abortion kills innocent human beings. That is the case regardless of religion.

    Gay marriage is an oxymoron, like a square circle. And it isn’t illegal. Let me repeat: It is not illegal. Sadly, otherwise well-educated people repeat that emotive canard ad nauseum. You can go “marry” any guy you want, today, in lots of apostate churches. Set up house. Spend the rest of your lives together. Etc. It isn’t illegal. It just isn’t recognized by the gov’t, which is enormously different. They have no reason to monitor your relationship, because by nature and design it does not produce the next generation (among other reasons).

    Adultery is like homosexual sex. It isn’t illegal, even though it is immoral. Consenting adults and all that. So cheat on your wife or have sex with a guy all you like. I’m not asking the government to get involved. That’s why your argument is a straw man.

    “I note also that perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to impose your liberty-restricting religious views on others lest they impose them on you.”

    Sorry to be repetitive, but that’s more straw. Opposing abortion doesn’t restrict liberty any more than opposing killing outside the womb. Your argument deliberately ignores the liberty of the human being who gets chopped up in little pieces, without anesthetic. And again, I am not restricting the liberty of gays. Go have sex with all the guys you like and I won’t complain or ask the gov’t to get involved. I also won’t ask the gov’t to sanction square circles (oops, I meant “same-sex marriage”).

    “I oppose efforts to restrict liberty.”

    No, you don’t. Theological libs are pro-abortion, and that is the opposite of liberty for 3,000+ innocent human beings in the U.S. today. You just define “liberty” in your own personal, un-scientific way.

    “You already do this on many other questions (when was the last time you advocated a law on keeping the Sabbath?), so why not on these too?”

    Ah, a final batch of straw. You deliberately ignore my rationale against abortion (the gov’t should protect innocent but unwanted human beings from being destroyed) and oxymoronic “same-sex marriage.” You have to resort to religious bigotry, and even then it is inconsistently applied. When I point that out you have to resort to a modified definition of “liberty” so you can try to wiggle out of your hypocritical position on only opposing religious speech that conflicts with your views (how convenient!).

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    The last word is yours, but feel free to keep the links coming. Whatever you respond with, I’m pretty sure my comments will address it.

    Cheers!

  4. Sorry, one last thought: The theological Left pushes for the opposite of Liberty, and not just for abortion.

    Once “gay marriage” is legalized and sexual perversions become civil rights, you see all sorts of religious freedoms disappear. Kids as young as kindergarten are told how normal transgenderism is (I’m sure you saw that one on my blog recently).

    And the religious Left wants to take the money of other people by government force to redistribute as they see fit. A consistent person like you should be going nuts over that. What about the liberty to spend your money as you like and not how some theocrat thinks Jesus told them to spend it? (I can show from the Bible how wrong they are, but your premise is that those guys are OK because they don’t reduce liberty. I’m just showing how incorrect that is.)

    Again, cheers! Hope you give this some careful thought.

  5. Neil,

    You’ve missed the forest for the trees. The forest in this case is there appears to be no principle or method by which the theist decides which of her holy book’s prohibitions does she advocate be made also illegal in the law.

    Gay marriage, abortion, adultery, divorce; these are merely examples. It does no good to argue that some or all are already illegal. Many theists would argue at least some should be illegal, based on what their holy book says. Why they argue those some and not others remains a mystery, though I do have some theories.

  6. I know this was done a long time ago…but just stumbled on this article and wanted to chime in.

    I think there can be Rational arguments against abortion–even Christopher Hitchens gave one in his debate against Turek. Of course, what are we talking about in the abortion field? It seems to me that the thought amongst a lot of religious conservatives is that abortion is being used recreationally for those too inept/lazy to use proper birth control. If that is the case, I, too, as a Humanist, oppose such things. However, if it is an issue of the mother and/or child will die during the course of the pregnancy, or the child is so deformed that having it born and live will be more a torture than a gift, then I support the choice to terminate.

    Also, Neil seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on abortion issues. Now, protecting the unborn is important, but he seems to be using the issue as a smoke screen–screaming about that in order to distract you from the fact he isn’t answering any other question.

    The bible says the penalty for Sabbath breaking is DEATH. The penalty for adultery is DEATH. The penalty for homosexuality is DEATH. Now, nobody today is advocating any of these things, though the religious conservatives still want homosexuality to be illegal. And it IS il-legal. Sure, a gay couple can co-habit, or just have a fling and the gov’t won’t say anything, but that doesn’t make it legal. Marriage is a Governmental affair–the government decides which unions to support with, say, laws regarding visitation rights in hospitals, or if one spouse dies, who gets the stuff, differences in taxes for married couples, etc. As it stands, a gay couple won’t receive those government benefits. There is a big difference between a church service “marriage” and the legal side. And in several states there are laws against “sodomy”, or the act of homosexual sex…so, yeah, there can’t be any homosexual marriage.

    But the point is, if the religious want to restrict gay marriage based on the bible, why not push for keeping the Sabbath? Why not push for laws against Adultery? Consenting adults?? Not according to the OT God! Sure, Jesus was all “let him that is without sin cast the first stone” when confronted with the adulteress. Would that not apply to gay marriage? “Consenting adults and all that”. Of course, the NT also says that gays, adulterers, fornicators, etc won’t inherit the Kingdom (thus, presumably, be sent to Hell).

    “People on the religious left want to take your money away and redistribute it as they see fit!” Dude. Seriously? That’s your argument? Have you ever heard of Kings? Have you ever heard of Emperors? Have you ever heard of Nation States? These things are where a large territory (of land), containing people and cities, is ruled over by a Government (the governmental heads formerly being mostly Kings and Emperors, now mostly Presidents and Legislatures of elected representatives of the people). Regardless of how much the gov’t does for the people it governs, it has ALWAYS collected taxes to do it…and done with it what it wants. And actually, the gov’t does with the taxes what the TAXPAYERS want far more now than ever before in the history of the world. So, that isn’t a great argument there…

  7. Great comments Eric. I’ve still never heard a very good argument from theists why they apply some of their moral dictates on the rest of us, but not others. Neil studiously avoided the question, as you saw.

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