Monday, November 26, 2012

On the Importance of Maintaining Religious Freedom

     Religious freedom should always be protected. I think protecting religion is so important so that we, as a whole people, can naturally come to realize organized religion and its dogmas are a hindrance to social progress.  It's like the difference between kids whose parents made no attempt to hide aspects of life versus kids who kept from everything deemed "bad" or "adult".
     The Puritan families wind up with the most fucked up kids.  If you happen to be ultra conservative with your children's upbringing in terms of not allowing your kids to explore their world without fear and secrecy, then your kids are going to be a mess.  While deviating slightly from a permissive parenting style in the sense of passing on to progeny some sort of ethical fortitude, it is important for healthy people to be able to explore and sample different aspects of life.  If life remains in such darkness, the seeker will always look for light.
     When tolerance and freedom to explore are the central factors in one's upbringing, suddenly, the taboos of life are diminished.  All the "sins" suddenly become less sinful.  Now, I'm not talking about breaking universal taboos like incest, child abuse, and murder if we all get out there and give it the college try, attempting to desensitize society.  What I am saying is that when we make nothing in life more special than something else, we see that nothing is shocking.  Life becomes less enigmatic and more pragmatic.
     Here's where religious freedom comes into play.  If there is no freedom, there are two possibilities that remain which are similar to Cannon's "fight or flight" response: 1) Freedom is sought and/or 2) Freedom is not sought.
     In the first instance, since its inception, the battle to pursue organized religion has only lead to war and death. From the Crusades to the American Revolution, the cause is the same.  Prohibit or attempt to suppress any behavior, and the one exhibiting the "negative" behavior will continue to rebel either in secrecy or in overt, physical manners.
     In the second instance, one might note a person forced into religion by birth, marriage, etc.  In modern times, this seems to be a more accurate portrayal of most people born into democratic cultures.  You are what your parents are- in the case of most, what your father is or was, unless one is Jewish, in which case, it follows the mother's lineage.  One time, when I was about 10, I asked an orthodox rabbi, "Rabbi, Jews say that if my mother is Jewish, then I am Jewish; yet, Catholics say that I am what my father is. So what am I?"
     "Is your mother Jewish?" he looked at me, bending down to my level.
     "Then you're Jewish," he said, shaking his head in the affirmative.
     "But, Rabbi, my parents baptized me Catholic."
     "It doesn't matter, we don't recognize that.  You're Jewish."
So, basically, even if I choose, am indoctrinated, swear allegiance to any number of gods or goddesses, or choose no religion at all, I am Jewish, at least according to some people.  If I lacked the kind of freedom that was really given to me by my parents, I might actually think I must be Jewish.  Every other religion is the same- you are what your parents say you are, because their parents told them what they are and so on.  This is a classic case of blind leading the blind.  Why are we waiting in this line? Oh, just because there is a line! I see... you mean some guy is just tying his shoes?  This alternative reality to religious intolerance is far worse than the former, as people become sheep, "Sheeple".  Unfortunately, sheeple follow the pack.  They raise their hands, speak when spoken to, believe in a Golden Rule, not because it comes from a deeper understanding of human suffering and the need for compassion, but because they were told of it, over and over again.  It was drilled into their heads as basically as the ABCs or simple arithmetic.  These are people who completely lack all advanced moral development.  Kohlberg believed most people fell into the category of defining morality according to rules and the law--maintaing order above all else.  This is why people can accept "safety and security" above their own liberty.  I'd rather fight.  There is more honor, though life might not be as long lived, like Bertolt Brecht's character, Mother Courage, an ironic name given to a woman who profits from war by claiming allegiance to whomever the ruling occupiers were during the Thirty Years' War.  That's how she stayed alive, and is the ironic facet to her name, she simply flew the flags of those occupying and never really showed any courage- but she stayed alive.
     When religious freedom is protected in society and especially in the home, or when a kid is allowed to sip wine at dinner with her parents, there is no mystery, no need to seek.  There is no need to binge drink with one's buddies, learning the hard way that lying face down in one's vomit is no pleasure cruise, and there is no need to die, kill others, or walk blindly like sheep and turkeys.
     As a Jewish Catholic, I've participated in Southern Baptist bible school, Catholic school, synagogues (from orthodox to reform), Jewish overnight camp, twirled with Dervishes, attended Buddhist temples and sangas, Hindu temples, Wiccan ceremonies, and sat in on Satanic rituals.  I've danced naked to the moon and sung songs praising Jesus.  I've read bibles, ancient religious texts, spoken philosophically with religious leaders, honored Mother Earth, drank from the plants of the gods, and sat in quiet meditation praying for inner and outer peace.
     Through all of this some have called me "lost".  Contrarily, I believe I'm found.  Through my ability to freely seek, tasting delicious, savory, full-bodied life without fear, I have found that one truth remains: Organized religion is nothing more than a tool for controlling the masses and the self in a world of competing gods who threaten an eternity of suffering or elation, depending upon whether or not one accepts that god or set of beliefs.  True morality comes from within one's self, through seeing the suffering that exists in the world and through seeing that laws change according to the culture of the times.  A moral compass can't be worn around a neck like a crucifix.
     So, Atheists and Agnostics, fear not.  You are what you are because you had the freedom to see, first hand, the antiquated tyranny of religion.  Long live religious freedom!