Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. By it, we are allowed to adopt any view we choose as to the nature of the world and the way humankind should behave so as to keep in tune with its Creator and/or the created order. It leads to a wonderful diversity of practices, all of which no doubt provide solace to the souls of believers, and meaning in the spiritual world.

Freedom of religion has its limits, however. The state gives religions bodies some breaks on their income taxes, but the suggestion made by the Hutterites, for instance, that their communities are religious organizations which should pay no taxes at all never got much of a reception. Conscientious objectors have often enough found themselves pretty unpopular in time of war. The Druidic Church still hasn’t got to first base in its efforts to have sacramental drinking of beer made grounds for charitable registration as a religious organization.

Worse than that though, is when religion goes on the offensive. Then it can be very offensive indeed. We have gentlemen on street corners offending our ears with endless quotations from the Bible. Regardless of whether our homes may be our castles, we cower or feign absence as grim faced Witnesses or Mormons bring their literature to our door. The safety of our medical clinics and the peace of our neighbourhoods is shattered as self-appointed guardians of public morality besiege abortion clinics. Beyond this, see Iranian fundamentalists decree worldwide death sentences on publishers and writers who offend their sensibilities. Watch also the true believers in the class struggle cause all kinds of mayhem, harassing their fellow workers and the innocent public as they protest the inadequate amounts that they allege the government pays them.

Doesn’t freedom of religion include the freedom not to believe? The freedom not to be debarred from lawful pursuits by zealots anxious to interfere with our lives because our activities offend their moral code? Once it was Prohibition—now it is the banning of dancing in bars. The Bible-believing religion that on one hand states that humans are made “in the image of God” and “very good”, now seeks to prevent the display of God’s handiwork, whether it be by banning nude dancing, or by putting pants on Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. The unbelieving public is at least observant enough to note that it is precisely this holier-than-thou antagonism to sex, characteristic of a particular religious attitude, that has been associated with the secret sins of preachers such as Swaggart or Bakker, let alone the regrettable sexual abuses of children by certain religious Brothers and Fathers.

As Oliver Cromwell one said to some of his more rabid supporters: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, have the humility to consider that you may be mistaken.”

Whether it be drugs, alcohol or sex, impulses that might otherwise be met only with a yawn, gain double attractiveness, and become twice the social problem the moment they are “banned in Boston.”

– Gemini, January 1992