Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

The Governor of Arizona vetoed a bill yesterday that had a lot of people up in arms.  Did you hear what the bill was about?  I saw a lot of activity on social media with posts about discrimination and race and homosexuality.  It seemed to me the bill must be about letting people decide to discriminate against minorities if they wanted.  I assumed it must mention specific issues abridging a gay person’s rights.  Who would support that?  Stupid.  This morning I finally got around to reading the bill.  You know it is amazingly simple to get informed in our day and age.  The bill I found is only two pages long.  You can read it yourself in less than three minutes.  Even with the legalese it isn’t hard to get through it.  I was surprised at what I found.  This bill isn’t about discriminating against gay people, its about protecting people’s rights to act according to their religious beliefs.  That is what it says.  The government is not allowed to make anyone violate their conscience. It is basically nothing more than a repetition of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Personally I am very happy to have the First Amendment guaranteeing me that no one can make my wife wear a burqa or tell me I can’t read the Torah.  If you’ve looked around you know that religions ask people to believe and to do lots of things.  What to wear, what to read, what to say, when to say it, who to associate with, who you can marry…tons of stuff.  Most of it leaves somebody shaking their head one way or another.  There is no sensitive way to say this, so here it is:  freedom of religion means the freedom to act stupidly.

Now if it happens to be YOUR religion, it is the freedom to act piously or correctly or whatever, but if its someone else’s religion, that’s a different story.  We all know this or feel this, but few of us can be real enough to say it out loud.  And some religions take their particular set of beliefs and practices so seriously that venturing to criticize or laugh at state_oppression_1them will get your name on a religious hit list.  Religion is about pleasing God, improving the world and/or getting to heaven.  If you believe in God, there aren’t many things that could be more important than your religion.  Forcing someone to give up their religion’s belief structure is stealing their core identity.  It is intolerant.  It is evil.  No matter how stupid it may seem to you.

The dirty little secret, though, is that only religious people try to force their religion upon others.  The religious are both the oppressors and the oppressed.  It is the nature of religion to enslave, not to free.  If you really believe you have THE set of beliefs and behaviors that please God and that God can only be pleased by people believing and acting upon these things, you cannot help but look down upon those who don’t.  You have to relegate them to second class citizenship.  You have to oppress them either implicitly or explicitly.  You have to discriminate against them.  They are the people messing up the world by acting in ways that displease God.  They are the ones who bring judgment on all of us.

Great, you say – I was looking for someone to finally agree with me that religion is the problem so we can all agree to get rid of it.  But it isn’t so easy as that.  The absence of God or gods does not mean the absence of religion.  If you have what you think are THE set of beliefs and behaviors that will make the world a better place if everyone would just adopt them, you have the same issues as the religious people.  You don’t have a God you have a Good that you worship and serve.  You are in fact, a religious person without a religion.  And you look down upon those who don’t hold your beliefs.  You are intolerant of them and you oppress them in the name of your Good.  Your non-religious religion is just as enslaving as any other.  The fact is there is no such thing as religious freedom.

I will make a claim here that will make many of you scoff, but it is true.  The Christian gospel is not religion.  The Christian gospel is the opposite of religion.  I am not saying Christians are not guilty of religious abuses.  I am not saying Christians don’t do stupid things in the name of Christianity.  I am saying that the Bible does not teach religion.  The Bible is not the story of what we must do to please God or to get to heaven or to make the world into a great place.  The Bible tells the story of what God has done to help us, to fix what is broken, to get us to heaven and to make the world a better place.  The Christian gospel is not about bad people gradually becoming better people from the outside in by their beliefs and behaviors; it is the story of God changing people from the inside out when they start believing what he has done and that he is for them.  People who rightly believe the gospel have no business looking upon others as second class citizens because they are not keeping the right rules and holding the right beliefs.  Christians know that they are not making the world or themselves better because they keep the rules or believe the right things. They know it is a miracle of grace that they have come to believe the gospel.  They can’t give themselves any credit for it.  God is the one making everything better by what he does.  Christians don’t expect to be better people than their neighbors and have no glory in it if they are.  A Christian can only claim to be loved by God for no good reason, and because they know that the last thing love can be is coercive, they know better than to try forcing the gospel into anyone’s life.  It can’t be done.  There is no such thing as religious freedom, but there is freedom from religion.  The gospel is freedom from religion.  It is freedom to love people who really disagree with us.  It is freedom to know that God is the one who will make everything right in its time and in his way.

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10 thoughts on “Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

  1. The reason Governor Brewer gave for vetoing the bill was that no one had been able to present her with a single case where anyone’s RELIGIOUS rights were threatened. There’s no need for a law addressing a non-existent problem.

      • Yes, even though that question is off-topic, I “like” the first amendment. It really makes no difference at all whether or not someone “likes” laws. If you plan to live ethically in a society, you still follow them. There are plenty of laws I don’t particularly like, which I still adhere to.

      • Well actually the initial comment was off topic. The post isn’t about legal issues but about the tyranny of religion. As for liking laws and the need to obey them – do you really live like that? What if the law said to discriminate or worse? 1930’s Germany. Seems laws and ethics are more complicated than that.

      • Yes, I live like that.

        If you don’t want to risk the consequences of criminality, or if law puts you at personal risk, you move somewhere else, as so many did in the 30s.

        Laws can fit your own preferences or not. Right and wrong are both choices you formulate, and negotiated within groups. Slavery was “right” in the ancient world. Law exists in relation to who has power.

      • This is interesting. If I understand you correctly there is no transcendent any right or wrong only socially constructed rules based upon the opinions of whatever group manages to obtain and hold power. If that is the case there is no law except the law of strongest survive. So the things that happened in Germany are not wrong – they are what the strong did to the weak. And you say you really live this way?

      • I did not say there’s no right or wrong. Our discussion was about law, not about morality. Laws are contracts made within societies.

        In a dictatorship, those under the rule of the dictator do not have the same rights or input into the making of law. The laws themselves can be right or wrong, but law is not by nature EITHER right or wrong. It’s just the set of rules.

  2. OK Mikey – but you did say this “Right and wrong are both choices you formulate, and negotiated within groups” so how is there a transcendent right or wrong?

  3. Thanks for a thought-provoking blog post. I really like your take on Christian Gospel vs. religion. However, I also wonder how there being “no such thing as freedom of religion” functions in a pluralistic society such as the USA in the 21st century. I think the very fact that you can drive down the street and see a Mosque, a Synagogue, a Church, and a Mormon Temple side-by-side thus affirms the practice of “freedom of religion.”
    Now, I am happy that the AZ law was shot down because I think it was just giving people legal grounds to discriminate. I think your point about “not having a God but a Good” resonates loudly in today’s USA. Often being tolerant of everyone tends to be the “Good” you speak of. Interesting thoughts, though.

    • Thank you for your feedback. The original post title was actually a play on words to make a point; we do have the ability to exercise various religions here, but the idea was to say that religion enslaves regardless of what “flavor” it is. It is strange isn’t it how intolerant the adherents of the religion of the Good are in pursuit of their goals. I think the gospel liberates me to be much more tolerant of all points of view. If the central image of your faith is a man dying on a cross for his enemies it seems likely his followers would be able to handle differing points of view.

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