There are many reasons for why I am an Atheist but does that mean that I do not like religious beliefs and practices? That is, in a way, a loaded question that can very easily be misconstrued or offence taken from.Now previously in this blog I have examined, albeit if briefly, why I am an Atheist. After publishing that entry, I realised I had missed more than one reason but that is neither here or there now – those that were included, I think, are more than enough justification for my stance.
As an Atheist, does that mean that I hate religion? Does it mean that I wish to see religious beliefs wiped from the face of the Planet? No, for that way leads to the very problem that many religious movements are causing this very day as I shall discuss later.
Justification. That is probably one of the problems I have for verdant religious beliefs, there simply is no objective justification for it. Many people speak of personal experiences or feelings which lead them to believe in a higher power but there is no way at all to verify these claims. There is no more justification or rationale behind that particular religious view than a man who claims that he is the reincarnation of napoleon, or a man who wears tin foil hats because he believes that the CIA/KGB Gestalt are trying to read his mind. Very few people indeed would claim that these are examples of rational thought or beliefs. Yet, with no more evidence than these delusional and paranoid examples, people claim that there is a supernatural creator being who intervenes in various aspects of existence. They call this, so I understand, ‘faith’.
But, as mentioned, faith is a subjective thing indeed. It can not be empirically tested, measured or gauged. Other people can not see it; other people have no way of testing whether a faith based belief is true or not. Instead, they are asked to simply have faith of their own and accept the belief and respect it.
Now if people wish to have such beliefs, lacking in evidence or whatever, then that is not a major problem in itself. After all, that is one of the cornerstones of a decent society (or at least how contemporary society defines decent) – the right of free speech and choice of beliefs. Only the most radical and backwards of people would wish to choose to eliminate that right. People can choose what they wish to belief, evidence or not, rational or not.
Religious beliefs, however, seem to have obtained some sort of special status within society which makes it an entirely different beast than to paranoid delusions and theories about being reincarnated dictators. Perhaps it is a throwback to earlier, simpler and more ignorant times but religious beliefs are afforded special rights, privileges and protections that other beliefs are not.
Religious organisations are given tax free status for reasons I have been unable to understand. You have organisations like Benny Hinn’s, Scientology and Hillsong which are clearly more business orientated than religious organisations that use this provision as a means of making a whole lot of cash. Even so, why do religious organisations need to be exempt from taxes? None of the major churches seem to be short of funds by any measure, so they are under no real threat of going under if they suddenly had to pay their fair share to keep government services running. Yes, charitable causes are also tax exempt and charity and religious groups often go hand in hand (For example, the Salvation Army who do an excellent job all the time of helping the unfortunate). That being said, charitable organisations could easily remain tax free while religious ones not – all it would take would be to separate the two from each other. The Salvation Army, to use it once again as an example, could simply establish a sub-group within itself which deals with charity matters. That sub-group would be tax exempt while the religious part could pay its fair share. This measure would sure help in stamping down on the rather questionable practices performed by various ‘religious’ groups and actually assist in bringing back credibility to religious groups by weeding out those just looking to make a quick buck.
Some will not agree with this line of reasoning and that is fine. But ask yourself this, if a group of people got together who held that belief that they were all Napoleon and set up a small church where they worship the Grand Prime Napoleon, would you be comfortable with them not having to pay tax? Their belief would not be supported by any sort of evidence and rely solely on faith … which is exactly the same as any religious organisation I can think of currently in operation.
Some may even be thinking at this time that having to pay taxes would be a form of discrimination against religious organisations. But how is it discrimination if they have to simply follow the same rules and laws as everyone else? Businesses have to pay tax; citizens have to pay tax and so on. Yet religious organisations have somehow achieved a privileged status, one which does not create any clear tangible benefit for society (such as charitable or educational groups create).
But this special status also goes beyond mere concepts of tax law (which can admittedly be extremely dry and sleep inducing). In The God Delusion, Dawkins (not everyone is a fan of Dawkins and that is fine but the example he uses is till perfectly valid) brings forth the case of a church which was allowed to imbibe and use drugs which were illegal to every other member of society, merely because the members of that church thought that being high/stoned got them closer to god. There is not one piece of evidence to support this claim and yet people in great pain from illness are not allowed access to cannabis and other (currently) illegal substances which have been proven to lessen or eliminate pain. What silly and preposterous nonsense; what if anyone tried to claim that robbing banks or urinating in public brought them closer to god?
Similar to this is the example of privately run schools who also, at least in Australia, gain automatic exemption from anti-discrimination laws for not only which students they allow to be enrolled but also which staff they employ and the conditions they impose on those staff members. I personally know of a case where a person was hired at a private (catholic) school and the conditions in her contract were draconian at best. For example, her employment could be terminated if she stopped living in her life in the style of a what the school defined to be the ‘christian way’. This included such absurdities as living with a member of the opposite sex out of marriage even if that person is just a housemate and it is entirely platonic in nature. Some may argue that the person agreed to such conditions willingly when she signed the contract but that is missing the point entirely; every other private organisation has to abide by antidiscrimination laws no matter their business philosophy or personal beliefs of the CEO. So why do private organisations/schools run by religious organisations get this special treatment? What matter is it of the schools if a female staff member has a male housemate? What matter, to go to extremes, is it of the schools if that same female staff member enjoys sexual interaction between males, females or even both at the same time? There is a clear line between the private and working lives of every Australian citizen and anyone with any sense of decency would respect those boundaries.
So now we have cases of religious groups being afforded special privileges in the form of exemptions from law (tax, criminal and antidiscrimination) for no clear reasons.
As stated, people have a right to belief in whatever they wish but that does not extend to forcing the rest of society to live by the restrictions or conditions of those beliefs. There are many cases of people doing such, usually for religious reasons in recent times. The most obvious of examples for this would undoubtedly be the seemingly never ending Evolution debate. Well, debate would be the wrong word really; it could be much better described as scientists with the facts shaking their head slowly in disbelief while the other side sticks their fingers in their ears shouting “LALALALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” repeatedly. But I digress…
To make a long story short, the evidence for Evolution is truly massive indeed whereas the evidence for either creationism or intelligent design is more or less non-existent. Both of these later examples are based in religion and not science as anyone who understands science could succinctly inform you. Yet it is a case of someone with a faith based idea trying to change aspects of society even though there is no evidence to support their case; in this case many proponents of such silliness attempting to impose their personal beliefs to change science education.
There are many other examples of faith based beliefs attempting to be imposed on a secular society, from controversy over the ‘Ten Commandments’ being placed inside courthouses (even though they have nothing to do with criminal law or even morality), Specific menus being placed into school and office canteens (recent case with a British school introducing a Halal only menu). Such things seem to effectively discriminate against any members of society which do not share those beliefs. Why should children have to eat a halal meal when eating beef from a cow slaughtered in the usual way is just fine?