Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Freedom Requires Faith?
Sorry, am I actually less free because I'm rational? Because I live an evidence-based life? More nitwittery from the depressing collection of heehaws running for president; this time, from Mitt The Twit. Via, Mitt said:

"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

I'll take my wisdom from Thomas Jefferson, thanks:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

letter to Danbury Baptists

Here's another good one from T.J.:

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.
-- Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779), quoted from Merrill D Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: Writings (1984), p. 347

Jefferson wasn't exactly religion's best friend:

I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Woods (undated), referring to "our particular superstition."

The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823, quoted from James A Haught, "Breaking the Last Taboo" (1996)

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read the Apocalypse, and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.... what has no meaning admits no explanation.
-- Thomas Jefferson, to Alexander Smyth, January 17, 1825

We find in the writings of his biographers ... a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications.
-- Thomas Jefferson, to William Short, August 4, 1822, referring to Jesus's biographers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Posted by aalkon at December 8, 2007 11:30 AM


" I actually less free because I'm rational? Because I live an evidence-based life?"

Now you probably asked that rhetorically and the whole religion v. spirtituality distinction won't get me anywhere but here is a swing at it:

Your rights are enforced by your neighbors;
"rights" don't mean anything if you can't walk around with a reasonable expectation that other people respect them. People respect your rights because they recognize your inherent worth as a person.

"Inherent" beliefs are the ones not easily quantified or justified to people who do not share them. To discuss these kinds of beliefs requires a social context where the workaday expectations of the marketplace are, if not truly suspended, at least modified to accomodate the deeply personal nature of the topic at hand.

You've mentioned before that morality (and that's basically what we're talking about here) is an evolutionary trait. I'm not saying it's not but I do think "morality" is a word people can be expected to disagree on but it's too important to simply leave out of polite conversation.

If religion gives people a place and a context to discuss "deep" issues like morality then it is providing a means to inbue in people of all kinds, that inherent regard for the rights of others, you and me included.

(That's pretty much the "belief in belief" argument but going any further than that would require a different context, see what I mean?)

Oh, and I think the people who use churches as a front for planning military operations know they are doing a horrible thing.

Posted by: martin at December 8, 2007 8:53 AM

If religion gives people a place and a context to discuss "deep" issues like morality

I don't see a lot of "discussion" in religion -- I see a lot of dogma: Do this, don't do that, without a lot of "Why or why not?" crossing into it. Do most church and temple goers really engage in thought about morality? Or is there blind obedience -- to ideas that do not come from a rational place (homosexuality is wrong/a sin/evil), etc.?

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at December 8, 2007 9:05 AM

"Do most church and temple goers really engage in thought about morality? "

Most? Maybe not, some are just there because it seems like the place to be. But by the same token, some people just obey civil laws without much real thought about them though they have some idea about where to go if they do take issue with a law (city hall, write their congress-critter etc.)

To address your original point a little more directly: If your quality of life was dependent only on you and the people in your address book, you'd probably do okay. No one you call a friend would let you go cold or hungry. But our civilization is so complex that our quality of life depends to a disconcerting extent on people we don't know at all.

We can call a shared system of values "culture" but even that word is taking on troubling connotations for some people. We Americans are actively discouraged from celebrating our culture or even claiming to have one. (I consider religion to be a component of culture.)

One theory for the rise in rampage style murders is alienation; people feel alone and unimportant and so they lash out at people who appear to be "insiders" to them. Someone who would kill you is only the most extreme example of a person who does not respect your inherent rights. A cab driver who won't pick you up in the rain or a DMV clerk who pretends not to see you or a traffic cop who offers to let you off with a warning if you'll join him in the cruiser are less extreme but equally relevant examples.

If you are just another accident of the universe to them, they can mistreat you without feeling bad about it.

Posted by: martin at December 8, 2007 9:52 AM

It's funny how these religio-nuts can't produce their god for an interview but act as though everyone else is crazy for not submitting blindly to their pronouncements of moral superiority and divine guidance.
This guy is just the latest in a line of sheepherders.

Posted by: Gog_Magog_Carpet_Reclaimers at December 8, 2007 9:56 AM

I don't completely disagree with Amy, however I think she pushes her argument a bit too far.

"I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion."

Abraham Lincoln

"..the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.."

" ..that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.."

Declaration of Independence. 1776

"I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping"

Gen. Washington resigning his military commission
Dec 23, 1783

Posted by: winston at December 9, 2007 12:58 PM

Even the devil can quote Scripture.

Posted by: Dana at December 9, 2007 1:41 PM

Meaning what? You don't like the quotes so that means they are insincere?

Posted by: winston at December 9, 2007 1:50 PM

It's funny how these religio-nuts can't produce their god for an interview...

Huckabee can. ;o)

Posted by: miche at December 9, 2007 3:49 PM

The difference being, Martin, that civil laws are not brought into being without discussion by some group whether it be the common people or the senate. Well, Dubya is changing that proclaiming as law anything he chooses because, by God, God wanted him to be president and tough nookies if I don't want to fund his effing religion regardless of what it says in the Constitution. But, admit it, civil laws are discussed to death in this country. Well, at least the ones we care about. Most of us just don't give a hang what the fine for jaywalking is. Religious laws are proclaimed from on high and, no, disagreement is not allowed, only blind obedience (accepting that "God" knows better than you) will get you saved. Just look at the reaction with rational arguments are made to abortion, homosexual marriage and creationism to name but a few of the issues being loudly debated in this country about what our laws should be.

Posted by: Donna at December 10, 2007 9:36 AM

Leave a comment