Monday, July 20, 2015 1:03 PM
It seems that Ted Cruz’s stupidity goes unnoticed in the shadow of Trump’s monkeyshines. This morning I heard him say that he would defend ‘religious liberty’ for those being persecuted for their belief that marriage was a sacred institution between a man and a woman. I assume he’s talking about how horrible it is to ask a Christian to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
But if you’re in the cake-selling business and you don’t serve gay people when they ask for a wedding cake, that’s bigotry, not freedom. If you don’t serve any group, for any reason, the way you do others, that’s bigotry. We have the freedom to believe whatever we believe, but we do not have the freedom to make our religious beliefs part of our business policy. If we did, the shop aisles would run red with blood from the stonings, the beheadings, and the crucifixions. And if they were honest about it, these ‘religious freedom fighters’ would hang a sign outside their shops that says, “Christians Only”. If they’re against anything non-Christian, then why would they serve Jews or Muslims or Buddhists? Doesn’t an altogether different religion trump a difference on a single point of protocol within the Christian faith?
Not that I wouldn’t put that past Ted Cruz, in his heart of hearts. The fundamentalists only attack gays as the most vulnerable target—and (this is important) the least likely to impact their revenue stream. They really are against other religions just as much as they’re against gays—but they can attack the gays without it being attached to a specific religion. As if gays are just evil incarnate (a sentiment I’m sure they feel quite genuinely, if quietly).
But Cruz skirts around the central issue of freedom—inclusion. He confuses inclusion with permission. America certainly includes Christians—even Ted Cruz can’t deny that. But he tries to make the case that denying Christians permission to force their beliefs on others is somehow exclusion—it isn’t—any more than we exclude gays by forcing them to serve Christian customers along with the rest of their businesses’ patronage.
Cruz is slippery—his stupidity is in his cleverness in trying to make a wrong a right. He can talk all day, but bigotry is still bigotry, even if you claim it as a ‘religious freedom’. His attempts to glorify ignorance are impressive, but he’s still not stupid enough to pull ahead of Trump in the GOP polls. I still remember when you shut down the whole government out of personal pique, Ted, and I ain’t gonna forget it. You suck.
It’s been said that religion is just an excuse—that the fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere all stems from more mundane motives: real estate, racism, greed, lust for power, etc. When fighting localizes down to Muslims of different sects, the mundane motives become inextricable from the differences of scriptural interpretation—just as they did during the European wars sparked by the Reformation.
There are very few saints among the believers—they are just as human as we atheists. Some of them secretly are atheists—a concept which should give pause to the atheist-hating fundamentalists—shouldn’t they be more afraid of the undeclared atheists in their midst? But, whatever. My point is that sometimes religion is used as an excuse—not always, but people under duress will sometimes reach for an answer. Worse, it is entirely possible that a ‘great religious leader’ is actually an insincere manipulator, using religion to further his quest for influence or dominance.
While such abuses are not the norm, they are also not unheard of. Thus even when we accept religion as the root cause of certain global aggressions, we still have not pinned the specific causes down with any great accuracy. Just as religion takes many sub-sects, all religions can be used to justify a variety of actions in a variety of ways. As many decisions are based on a limiting of piety as are based on a surfeit of it. If we apply these uncertainties to the virtually infinite spectrum of religions, we find that the only real compass for our motives is a gut understanding of the difference between good and evil.
If religion were the root of conflict, wouldn’t atheists be obliged to be the most pacifist humans on the planet? Well, I can assure you that we aren’t any better than the faithful when it comes to acting in good faith. There are just as few saints among the atheists as there are among the believers.
I think the root of all conflict is the will to fight. When a person has no sense of justice or respect for the peace and property of others, that person will commit injustices. That’s the bad kind. When people are oppressed to the point of feeling the need to strike back at their oppressors, they will fight. That’s the good kind. But once the fighting starts, all players play by the same rules.
And once the fighting stops, there will always be casualties calling to their loved ones for vengeance. Vengeance is a temptation, but it is also our greatest enemy. Many wars, ongoing and long-ended, are still being fought in the minds of those who loved the casualties or lost their homes—and will never fully end until the thirst for vengeance is foresworn. But how do you ask someone to lay that burden down?
The intermingling of politics and religion in America is a great danger to our government—but it is a greater danger to religion, and I’m surprised that more religious leaders don’t see that. America has always walked a knife edge, carefully deciding where faith will be spelled with a capital ‘F’ and where faith is spelled lower-case. The attempt to merge faith and government has innate hazards—the same hazards that drove the first colonists here, followed them, and plagued them anew, splitting off new colonies to accommodate the emerging sects of Protestantism. Ultimately, the American colonists adopted a policy of separation of church and state (and this was long before the Revolution) as a matter of practical need. Even the most staid religion is too amorphous to be a guiding principle of government—only justice can be counted on for universality of application in civil matters.
And justice sometimes has to be fought for. I tell myself that this is why America tries to inculcate world peace by having the most powerful military. And that is the true conundrum of war—it’s not about religion—ultimately, we can only hope for peace while fighting against injustice. The trick—and we seem to have lost the knack of it, if we ever had it—is not to compound the injustice being fought with the ways in which we fight it.
And that’s a thought worth considering, if your atheism is of the virulently anti-religious sort. Don’t be a carbon-copy of Ted Cruz for the other side—be better than that jerk, no matter which side you’re on.