Sunday, January 24, 2010

Atheism: a danger to freedom of religion.

(Yes, I know. It’s a 1500-word essay, but I’ve been cogitating on this for a while, and I just needed to unload. I think it’s important!)

Once upon a time, centuries ago, people of various faiths could talk to each other. At least the educated could.

They were able to speak to each other because of one thing:


Although people disagreed on dogma, they had a common philosophical patrimony in the natural law. Catholics, Jews and Muslims had contacts with each other and could speak based on that common patrimony rooted in ancient philosophy. But the number of people who could do that was limited, for obvious reasons. It was after the Reformation that such a patrimony became accessible to larger and larger numbers of people through books and education. In the nineteenth century “natural religion” was a popular topic for philosophers. Natural religion is that part of religion that can be known by reason alone.

Although the monotheistic religions disagree on a number of issues, they have enough commonality to agree on a number of things: for instance, the existence of God, his providential activity in the world; his role as moral lawgiver; his own nature being the measuring stick for morality.

Tolerance was based on this commonality. So long as this philosophical patrimony was accepted, people could agree to live together based on a common conception of rights and duties.

Enter widespread atheism. Up until the late twentieth century, atheism had always been a marginal world view. It’s true that atheists subscribed to various ideologies, and can’t be said to have an ideology in common.

But in this day and age, political correct ideology is coalescing around “religious neutrality”, which neither affirms nor denies the existence of God. It just requires that people in public institutions affirm this neutrality.

Which amounts to a practical form of atheism. If you do not affirm that God exists, and you’re acting like he doesn’t, it practically amounts to saying that he doesn’t: that he’s irrelevant.

To people who believe in God, whether by faith or by reason, he most certainly is relevant. Those who subscribe to secularism treat God like it’s some *personal opinion*, a figment of the imagination. Not an actual statement rooted in reality. The subjectivism of our day and age makes this seem plausible.

The big problem with this is that once you treat God as non-existent, and effectively accept that he’s non-existent, the impetus for acknowledging religious freedom no longer exists.

Because such a freedom is not necessary in the atheist mind.

Would you, for instance, want the freedom to believe in the tooth fairy and other mythical creatures to be recognized by public institutions?

Of course not. It’s non-sense. Why should we act like it’s true.

To the atheist, the same logic applies. Why should he act like religion is true, when it’s not?

The ambient subjectivism of our day is supposed to preserve that freedom of religion. So the thinking goes. If you want to believe in God, that’s your business. Leave me out of it.

The problem is that atheists and secularists want to treat faith like it’s a purely private activity.

When for the bulk of believers, it’s not.

They want to define FOR PEOPLE OF FAITH whether faith should be public or private. They think it should be private because to them it’s a subjective opinion. And subjective opinions have no business being foisted onto people, in their minds.

If belief in God is mythical, and religion should be private, why should atheists recognize religious freedom?

It doesn’t make sense.

In the mind of the atheist, religious freedom means the freedom to believe what you want and to associate with whom you want.

We already have those rights.

They do not understand – and do not want to understand—that freedom goes beyond thinking and gathering. It can affect every day life.

For instance: it has been suggested in Quebec that people who work in the public sector should not be allowed to wear religious symbols because they represent the state.

I abhor this instrumentalization of the person, as if he or she is not an individual in his own right with thoughts and beliefs.

Why should the secular state allow people to wear crosses, hijabs, kippas and other gear? Faith is a private thing after all. It’s their problem if they don’t want to respect secularism (i.e. practical atheism).

Once again, the secular are defining for religious people what they should be doing when it comes to their faith. If they want to work for the government, then they have to reject their religious freedom and leave their religious symbols at home.

Another example: People of faith want to transmit their beliefs to their children. Secularists don’t want to fund religious schools with their money. Okay fine. But why should people of faith be forced to fund practical atheism? After all, the school is going to teach and act like God doesn’t exist, that one religion is just as good as another. Just look at Quebec’s controversial religion and culture course in high schools. Those types of ideas are taught in one form or another in public schools. People are forced to pay for it, against their religious beliefs, but secularists say: too bad! They once again define what people of faith can and cannot do with respect to their beliefs.

Another example: we often hear people say that MP’s should not base their vote on their religious beliefs, nor should clergy speak out on political matters.

Again, this is a freedom of religion issue. An MP is a human being, and in casting his vote, he should be allowed to base his vote on his values.

“But” the ignorant secularist says “that’s based on faith”—implying that it’s entirely subjective and not based on the real world.

The truth is that all moral values—even faith-based ones—have a philosophy behind them. They’re not just arbitrary. But even if they were, the MP must follow his conscience. A person who doesn’t follow his conscience has no integrity. Now, you may not like the conclusion of his deliberation, but integrity begins with the resolve to do what’s right.

And bishops have every right to say WHATEVER they like. As individuals, they have the right to free speech. I note that when the Church declares something to be true as policy, individuals have the power to ignore them. When the State decides something as policy—such as muzzling clergy—they have the power to compel with force. The Church can do nothing to force an individual to act if he doesn’t want to. I know that people will bring up excommunication as a threat, but even that can be ignored, as it is in the States. The State can use the law to compel people. There’s no power to ignore them.

Atheists do not like clergy speaking up because they don’t like what the clergy say. It has nothing to do with the separation of Church and State. Their objection has to do with their objections about religion being true. If religion could be true in their minds then they might have more tolerance; but it’s all fairy tales. The logic goes: why should we allow these men to influence people when all they say is rubbish?

Atheists could be more tolerant of religion if only for one thing. Since the turn of the twentieth century, modern man has lost confidence in the capacity of reason to find the truth about non-empirical matters.

Atheism makes things bad. Subjectivism and relativism makes things worse. With subjectivism (the belief that all truth is in your head, that it’s not a faithful reflection of reality) and relativism (that truth is subject to circumstances and can’t be properly evaluated against an absolute measure), the common philosophical patrimony of the west is thrown out the window. There’s no way for a subjectivist, relativist atheist to have a serious dialogue with any educated person of faith.

It’s all non-sense for him. His opinions are true because he thinks so. And it’s all a question of context anyway.

There is strictly no common ground.

There is no common ground from which people of faith can make the case for freedom of religion. Freedom of religion makes as much sense to atheism as freedom to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s not necessary to believe in and worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster and it’s not necessary to believe in and worship God.

The lack of common ground between atheist and the faithful can only lead to conflict. I suspect it may lead to persecution. As it is, people are losing jobs because of their faith in the real world. It’s only going to get worse.

The solution is that we have to challenge this practical atheism not only legally but culturally. It’s a tough challenge for many. Once upon a time, you could regurgitate Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs of the existence of God and make a case. But the problem is more profound than that. The whole notion that philosophy serves any purpose is undermined. Reason is reduced to skepticism; that is, in uncovering errors and inconsistencies, not in actually affirming anything true.

We have to unmask this agenda for what it is. It’s not just about atheists wanting to be left alone. It’s about atheists wanting to set up their atheocracy.

(And if you read this far…Thank you!)