Jon for President!!

Religious Tolerance Manifesto

What is freedom of religion? Is it toleration, where each religion puts up with the other and government makes laws to allow existence and limit practice? Is it separation, whereby the state may not interfere with peaceful worship nor compel one to violate their conscience? It is enforced atheism, where no “public” religious expression is permitted at all. Is it egalitarian, where all holidays must be included in the civil calendar and it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as your religion has a charter? I see no consensus currently, just escalating resentment between the world’s religions.

I guess consensus has always been elusive. There have always been religious wars and persecutions. Often they were veiled power struggles and conquest ventures. Oftener they were blood feuds and vengeance taking. I won’t pretend that the human heart will change any time soon, but it sure would be nice if we could find some ways to turn this zeal into weal. Rather than drawing lines for respect and toleration, why don’t we engage the world to bless it, and compete with each other at doing good works?

• There are only 3 major world religions: Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. They should each pick a struggling third world country to exclusively wield their influence, and within 5 years see how many lives can be ennobled, how much poverty can be abated, and how much infrastructure can be built. Now that’s my kind of Jihad.

• St. Francis saw good in Islam. The calls to prayer and veneration of the Koran were among the things he admired. Challenge: What good things can you say about ( you fill in the blank )? People more easily hate than love, and more easily resent than appreciate. Yet the exercise of seeing good, even in those who we deem to be enemies, can mollify the wounds of distrust and dislike, and can lay a foundation for respect.

• Now spin it. What can be found in ( you name the holy book ) that is also true for your religion? Go buy a copy and start underlining. Or perhaps just do nothing and nurse your prejudices.

• Belief implies both truth and falsehood. I think it is immature to try to assume that religions can ever “accept” each other. How can you “accept” what you believe to be a lie or a deception? Moreover, if you truly believe that you possess the truth, you are the most cruel of people if you withhold it from others. A true believer MUST evangelize, proselytize, teach, debate, develop apologetics, disciple, and be zealous for the faith.

By the same token, a true believer must never threaten with physical harm, coerce, bribe, or muchless misrepresent (lie)[a.k.a. using force, fraud or allurement]. So, how does one be faithful to the obligation of witness without compromising someone else’s right to disbelieve? Several ideas come to mind:

- Licenses to preach publicly, meaning, outside of a house of worship or a home. Note: If you allow one faith to have a license, you should allow others. If you forbid one faith to obtain a license, you should forbid all others including your own. Such license may be revoked if the preacher is inciting hatred or violence.

- Public forums that are considered neutral ground. I don’t mean worship places. I mean public halls. I mean college campuses. I mean civic centers. I mean a circle on the ground at a public park.

- Wearing a badge that warns people that this person loves God and will talk about Him at the least provocation.

- Do “student exchange programs”, only instead of trading students from foreign countries, trade students from different religious schools or congregations.

Note: Some would argue that it is necessary to suppress the falsehoods taught by other religions, but every person is endowed with dignity just by the mere fact of their being human. We honor their humanity when we allow a person to express their beliefs, no matter how much we disagree with them. One should listen to and respect others when they profess their doctrines. Perhaps you cannot bring yourself to respect a different creed or a religion, but at least you can give respect to a fellow human being.

• I would like to see religious organizations pay honor to persons from other faiths. The honor is for the person and what they have done, not an endorsement of their religion. Nevertheless, their religion will be seen in a favorable light. Moreover, I am thinking that whoever leads others to forsake sin, embrace mercy, and love justice, will find approval in any society and the pity of God in the life to come.

• Governments should never give money to or accept money from any religious group. State churches should be cut off from all funding, or better, cease to be “state churches”. A religious group must always fund itself from its membership. If it can’t do so, it is a indictment of its impotency. Read that last sentence again.

PS – Tax free status is not the same as giving money to religion. Actually it is a recognition that religion has an elevated position in the social order. And this has been the common testimony of most historical governments for many millennia.

• Further, clerics who receive support from the state, owe an obligation to the state. This can only but compromise their obligation to God.

• Any house of worship should be treated as if it were a foreign embassy, that is, protected by the host country from indigenous danger. If a house of worship is damaged or destroyed, the government should destroy a house of worship of the adherents who lifted up violent hands against another religion, because that is what a house of worship represents.

Spin it. Let the various religions designate which church, temple, mosque, or synagogue that will be destroyed beforehand should harm come to another house of worship by an angry mob of religionists.

• Debate never solved anything. It is well said that you can never win an argument. Still more, it is almost intrinsic to human nature to want to be right, or at least not be wrong; to win, or at least not to lose (and I’m as guilty of this as the next guy). But the free exchange of ideas is healthy, indeed, invigorating.

Listen to this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “…truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.” How can we move towards this winsome ideal?

 

Freedom to blaspheme

If you can say Jesus is not the Christ, then I can say Mohammed is not a prophet of God (or Krishna is not an incarnation of Vishnu, or the Torah is only of human origin). Trust me, one of us, or all of us, is going to be in really big trouble in Eternity if we got it wrong. If we can’t convince the other person of the truth we believe we possess, don’t worry, God will. Our job is to tell what we believe. (But you get Brownie Points if you will fairly listen to what another has to say.)

 

Freedom to be in error

(Or as I like to put it, “Freedom to be a stupidhead”.) If it is true that there can be no compulsion to religion, then it is corollary that one may remain in unbelief if they so choose. I didn’t say you had to like it. From my perspective, it is a tragedy to reject Jesus as Savior. But people do it all the time.

 

Freedom to change religions

If we desire the “conversion” of others to our belief system, we must also allow them the freedom to “convert” in directions we would prefer they not take. Again, we don’t have to like it. How can we? It is tantamount to choosing death over life, or bondage instead of freedom.

 

Freedom from fear of reprisal

 This is a toughie. The lower you go on the cultural scale, the more likely you are to be in danger of being hurt by uneducated, undisciplined, uncivilized types. It takes so little to incite a mob. It can’t be helped. So I guess the next best thing to ‘freedom from fear’ is wisdom to hold one’s peace in the presence of the incredulous. Too bad for free speech and free thought. Too bad for everybody.

Compulsion to respect

(I thought I’d follow the 4 freedoms by 4 compulsions, just for the fun of it.) You may not interrupt, shout down, threaten, or talk to someone else while another person is expressing their views. You may leave. You may ask permission to rebut. You may close your eyes and plug your ears (and demonstrate to everyone else your immaturity). But you MUST respect someone else when they have been given permission to speak, and this goes double when you are a guest at their house or place of worship. Henceforth and forever, let no one ever seek to disrupt a lawfully convened assembly.

Compulsion to obey the law

This is not a hard thing to do when the laws are just and fairly enforced. But what about unjust laws? What about repressive enforcement? This happens everywhere. What is to be done about it? Submit to civil authority anyway, and continue to work for reform. This honors God more than rebellion. When we take the law into our own hands, however justified we may feel, we are moving away from civilization and downwards to lawlessness and blood feuds. God condemns that. Do not all religions teach due process of law? Do any religions sanction mob rule or personal vendettas or escalating violence?

Compulsion to be honest

Actually this is the hardest thing of all… to admit our failures along with our merits. Any honest Christian will sorrowfully admit the disgrace of crimes committed in the Name of God during the Inquisition, the excesses of the Crusades, and the endless persecutions of the various heresies (and the Jews in general) over the centuries. May it so be that it never happens again. Will anyone else step forward to admit the excesses of their faith (or Ideology) that has caused more Christians to be killed for their faith in the last century than in all the preceding centuries combined?

So here I would posit honesty about ourselves as another key to the normalization of relations. The attendant Humility that appears when we are honest about ourselves and our faiths can only do us nothing but good.

Compulsion to smile

I get so tired of frowning, serious-looking fanatics. I say that we have a smiling competition. Take all 3 of big time religions. Let 2 of them show how big they can smile and how hard they can laugh. The odd religion out does the judging. Do this until each side has had a chance to face each other. Extra points if one side starts to make the judges smile. Double points if the judges laugh.

• I believe it is wise to separate religion and government. But I also believe that religion owes a duty to government to voice its objections, vote its principles, and peacefully resist religious oppression. Likewise, I believe that government owes a duty to religion to allow it to practice its precepts unmolested, proclaim it’s truths without fear of reprisal, and for each sect to preserve its autonomy apart from other religious groups, especially those in the majority.

There should be a synergy between religion and government wherein religion contributes to the culture, history, and society, and wherein government allows for faith in the public discourse. A person, so choosing, may have a political life as a believer. One that allows freedom of religion, travel, and trade. One having all the rights of citizenship. To be able to obtain birth, death, marriage, or divorce certificates, as well as passports and ID cards. To be able to seek employment, education, treatment in public hospitals, or vote, among other things.

But government should not be allowed to involve itself in religious matters. When it does, oppression is not far away. History has yet to see a theocratic government that was fairly superintended by humans. When given civil authority, we seem to love to persecute the “infidels” and the heretic. We seem to lack the faith to believe that other faiths can peacefully coexist when they are opposed to each other.

Now government may intervene when a religion abuses its liberty by encouraging or practicing things that the law prohibits (polygamy being an example), or uses its free speech to incite violence or disrupt public events. (Hate speech may be recognized by its appeal to the emotions rather than to the intellect.)

But I believe that only government should be allowed to execute civil and criminal justice; not the church or the mosque. Here are some words that should not be put together: state - church; religious - police; holy - war.

Here is Jefferson again, writing The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, in 1779: "[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." (underlining mine)  Right on, Tommy Boy!!

• The death penalty is only allowed for government to assess, and then only after due process. Retaliation? That is the role of a court of law.

But let’s shift things a bit. If someone insulted your wife or lied about her or called her a slut, would you kill them? What would you do? Now before you answer that, who do you believe should execute justice (in this case, for slander)? You? The party offended (your wife)? Your friends? Your religious leader? Your neighbors? The government? What if you were the accused? Who would you want to answer for your crimes? What if you believed yourself to be not guilty?

Yes, I know that governments can be corrupt and that courts of law can be unjust, but so can all the others. So who is the most likely to render fair judgment? ( I would prefer it be my religious leader, but there’s no guarantee that they will use my religious leader or even a leader from my religion.)

• Proselytism can be a contentious issue; it can be regarded as an offence against the validity of others' religions, or as an expression of one's own faith. Actually I think any religion that can get a proselyte has done a good thing.

You know, most proselytes tend to be spiritually immature and lax prior the their “conversion”. When one becomes a proselyte, they usually become committed and active for the faith they have embraced. I kind of like that. I like it whenever someone starts to take eternity seriously, and worries about their own soul and the souls of others. I say bring on the proselytes! Give awards for the most proselytes achieved in a year!

Now if you’re scared that false religions will be able to lure and entrap unsuspecting victims, I worry about this too. But give God a little credit. If it’s His cause that we are contending for, He will ultimately give the victory, and that erring proselyte will return to the true knowledge of the Faith, and be more mature for having endured the struggle.

 

Some Final Thoughts

Show me a person who is trying to overcome Sin, who loves Righteousness, who rejoices to be merciful, and I’ll show you a person whom I can’t help but respect. Show me a person who wants to please God, who reads His Word (whatever they are convinced His Word is), who anticipates Heaven, who fears Hell, and I’ll show you a person whom I cannot hate.

 

Militant religions may fairly be thought of as warring armies, but with a commitment to upholding the cease fire, an army can be at peace.

 

The most radical advice of all: “Love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.”

 

Who can do this and not change the world? Who is bold enough to do this? Who is foolish enough to do this? Can anyone do this? (I’ll try, Lord.)

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