Monday, December 27, 2010

Religion has no substance, that’s why you can’t hide behind it

But it doesn’t stop people trying.  Religion is no more of an excuse for bigoted discrimination than is any other variety of mania.  To discriminate against someone is to devalue them based on an arbitrary attribute such as skin colour, sex or sexual orientation.  This is a great evil: treating people as less than people opens the door for cruel treatment and consequent suffering. 

This is why we have anti-discrimination laws: you don’t get to cause suffering just because you believe you’re entitled to.  But religions and the religious persist in acting as though they are entitled.

I’ve tried long and hard to understand in what ways a Bed & Breakfast proprietor suffers when forced not to discriminate against homosexual couples and I’m afraid I just can’t come up with anything.  How is she harmed?  Is her body harmed?  Only if she self-flagellates to drive the sin out of her house.  Is her faith harmed?  Can’t see why: isn’t it an opportunity for her faith to be strengthened? Isn’t this what religious people claim suffering is about anyway?  Might she suffer because she believes it will harm her chances of eternal life?  Well perhaps, but then the Bible doesn’t say homosexuals should be banned from cheap accommodation, it says they should be killed.  And it holds fashion disasters, progressive farming methods and picking up sticks on the Sabbath in the same contempt.  A person who feels harmed in this way wouldn’t seem to be reading from the authorised version.  It would be easy to avoid the concern, too: can’t she just extend the excuse she uses for not killing homosexuals or adulterers to cover not turning them away from the inn?

It’s transparently obvious that this is not about religion but about bigotry in religion’s clothing.  The only way that B&B operator could be harmed is by a slight feeling of ick caused by her own prejudices.  She can try to hide behind religion but there’s nothing there on any level: the book doesn’t say what she says it says and even if it did, there’s no reason for anyone – including her – to believe it’s true anyway.

Perhaps this is one of these unsophisticated analyses of religion I keep hearing about, but I’m still waiting to hear about the harm that stems from having to treat humans as humans.

The Bishop of Windsor should be able to tell us, especially if he writes an article about it, right?  Well let’s have a look:

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, warned that the death of “religious literacy” among those who made and administered the law had created an imbalance in the way in which those with faith were treated compared to sexual minorities.

I wonder if Michael realises how petulant he sounds. NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!!!  Michael, this has nothing to do with understanding the particular nonsenses of your religion or its other adherents.  It’s about treating people as people. 

Highlighting the case Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor who was sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to a homosexual couple, he said that the judiciary now went out of its way to protect the rights of minorities.

Michael is objecting to the judicial system actively protecting the rights of minorities.  Isn’t that one of the main things the judiciary is for?  Instead it should fail to protect the rights of minorities?  Should it protect majorities in favour of minorities?  What is Michael saying here?

Gary McFarlane was not, of course, “sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to a homosexual couple” and if Michael actually said this, shame on him.  The circumstances were rather more complex.  His employers – the charity Relate – have an equal opportunities policy.  Since McFarlane’s religious convictions seemed to suggest that he might not be able to uphold this policy, he was asked to confirm in writing that he would comply with it.  He refused at first, so disciplinary proceedings were started.  He backed down and signed the agreement, so the proceedings were then stopped.  Later, he admitted to his supervisor that he had lied and had no intention of complying with the equal opportunities policy (that is, he intended to discriminate after promising he wouldn’t).  That’s what he was sacked for.

At the same time, for the first time in British history politicians and judges were largely ignorant of religion and so failed to appreciate the importance Christians placed on abiding by the scriptures rather than the politically correct values of the secular state.

Ah, the Big Picture gambit.  What you do is this: attack someone’s knowledge of the Big Picture (this is what we in the trade call ad hominem) and for the double whammy you shotgun accusations of intellectual and moral paucity on innocent bystanders (also, for the record, ad hominem).

Sorry Michael, the problem with the Big Picture gambit is that it is vulnerable to the Big Picture gambit.  Another problem with Michael’s particular application of this gambit is that it is entirely unsubstantiated.  He’s claiming that most British politicians and judges are ignorant of religion.  How can Michael possibly know this?  Oh, and there’s some faulty logic in there too for good measure: he says that ignorance of the specifics of religion implies ignorance of how important some things are to some people. And just to round things off, an irrelevancy: the importance Christians might or might not place on one thing or another has no bearing at all on whether the judicial system – the BLIND judicial system – should consider those same things important.

Bishop Scott-Joynt told the BBC’s World This Weekend: “The problem is that there is a really quite widespread perception among Christians that there is growing up something of an imbalance in the legal position with regard to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths to pursue the calling of their faith in public life, in public service.

Oh I love it when people use phrases like “quite widespread”.  You know in those old cartoons where a character’s eyelids shoot up and it has dollar signs instead of pupils?  The same thing happens to me when I read phrases like this, except that instead of dollar signs, I get weasel silhouettes.

”The risk would be that there are increasingly professions where it could be difficult for people who are devoted believers to work in certain of the public services, indeed in Parliament.

Whoah!  We finally get close to the ‘harm’ question!  It would indeed be suffering if people didn’t get to pursue their chosen careers because of their religious beliefs….. But see above.  The Bible doesn’t call for general disapproval and employer-suing in cases of encountering homosexuals, it calls for STONING TO DEATH. You are already defying the word of God by allowing homosexuals to live.  Do you think God deals in half-measures?  Do you think he’ll be fooled if you don’t let them into your house or acknowledge their existence?  Sorry God, I didn’t kill all the bummers I found, but I denied them minor goods and services.  Talk about getting into heaven on a fucking scholarship.

Anybody who is part of the religious community believes that you don’t just hold views, you live them. Manifesting your faith is part of having it and not part of some optional bolt-on.

This is a bogus claim that religious beliefs trump others.  It’s quite the reverse, in practice.  I believe I’ll break my body to bits if I step out of my bedroom window so I don’t do it.  Most if not all religious people sin, despite believing they’ll go to hell if they do.  Oh, silly me, I forgot that you can say sorry.  Religious people live their beliefs only insofar as they can opt out when it matters.  Christians: kill some gays or adulterers and I’ll believe you’re living your views.  Writing letters to the Daily Mail probably doesn’t count.  NOTE: you’ve killed enough people, Christians, don’t kill any more on my account.

Judgement seemed to be following contemporary society, which seems to think that secularist views are statements of the obvious and religious views are notions in the mind. That is the culture in which we are living.

Perhaps, Michael, the judicial system should return to the biblical.  Is that what you want?  Or do you want to pick and choose and decide what’s called ‘biblical’?

The judges ought to be religiously literate enough to know that there is an argument behind all this, which can’t simply be settled by the nature of society as it is today.

Michael, you’re talking about a get out of jail free card.  Justice isn’t about religion.  Nor should it be.  It’s about protecting people who need to be protected.  It’s about preventing what suffering can be prevented.  Michael, explain why it “can’t simply be settled by the nature of society as it is today”.  Why can’t it?  How can’t it?  I’m champing at the bit.

But I aim this question at everyone who uses caricatures of cases to cry their fucking peepers out about how they’re not allowed to cattle-prod the people they personally hate and then accuse the people who don’t like being prod of attacking them: where’s the harm?  Let’s all air our dirty laundry.  Homosexuals: let’s hear about the harm of people denying you goods and services.  And service providers, let’s hear about the harm of you…..refusing…to…sell…things…to…customers.


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