Sunday, December 09, 2012

5 reasons why the separation of state and [church, mosque, synagogue, temple] is always a good idea, and is just basic human decency

in the light of recent events in egypt (the hijacking of the secular revolution by religion-based leadership), the us (religious arguments taking a central position in the party politics), and myanmar (the buddhist ethnic cleansing of the rohingya), i decided to create this lucid list of (mostly) simple, rational reasons of why religion and government should be very strictly separated. though my distaste of bigotry in general, and religion in particular, is no stranger to this blog, i hope to keep the tone of the entry as level-headed as possible. that is to say, i will not rage. the list goes from the most obvious to the more nuanced explanation of my argument.

  1. religion looks at everything in terms of black and white. few things are more dangerous than strict, always-right/always-wrong approaches to any problem, let alone running a country. religion, of course, is the epitome is b&w view of the world, where everything is basically either sin or not sin (in religious terms, either according to or against the teaching of a holy script). this danger is compounded when put into the hands of rulers because if one knows, with absolute certainty (as religious teachings guarantee), that one is right, then this will limit one's taking alternative decisions and possible solutions to problems. and with this certainty, one will never negotiate. one will never try to reach common ground. one will never care what anyone says if it doesn't agree with one's teaching. which brings us to reason 2:
  2. you can't debate with religious texts, teachings or figures (with debate i mean discuss with the possibility of admitting that you're wrong). in its most basic sense, religion is two things: first, it is a set of rules of how god wants you to behave, and second, an explanation of how the world was created and how it works. religion is usually documented somewhere (more often than not, a religious text of sorts), and it is taken to be the literal truth of god and his teachings. in other words, it is a set of infallible, unyielding laws and myths that are taken to be facts. how can an argument be made for abortion, for example, of a religion clearly forbids it? or for exploring space if "the heavens are god's and the angels' domain"? religion, of course, is subject to certain debate: that of debate between religious figures regarding vague or fuzzy points in the teachings. this leads to different sects of religions disagreeing on what the "right" teachings other. this is useless in public discourse, as it doesn't serve a country in any way. no other sphere of humanity has that kind of infallibility, and that infallibility is a hindrance to the running of the country.
  3. religion doesn't evolve based on observable facts or scientific reasoning. i would say this is religion's achille's heal, were it not so easily ignored by the religious person. if you look at any set of laws in human history (civil or otherwise), you will find that they change and adapt to what we know about the world. science makes changes to its view of the world all the time. if anything, science is the process of observing something, making a prediction about the world, then testing that prediction against reality. religion is the exact opposite: if a fact is discovered, it is to be tested against religious texts, and if it disagrees with religion, it is to be abolished. this opens the door for truth suppression (earth center of the universe, anyone?), human suffering (religion justifies - nay, it compels - parents to not treat children dying of disease because prayer is the only treatment they need), ignorance (just google the god particle) and plain old bigotry (you're evil because it says so right here in this book). why is that dangerous? for public policy to work in the long-term, is has to take scientific facts and statistical models and medical advice into its planning. if these facts are ignored in favor of religion, then the consequences can be seen in ksa, afghanistan, etc.
  4. religion, by definition, is exclusive. and i don't mean exclusive in the fancy sense (ooo i can have it but you can't), but in the literal sense of the word: it's designed to exclude those who don't adhere to it. nothing man has created comes close to the strength of the sense of "us" and "them" that religion indoctrinates. this exclusivity is not just dangerous in the risks is poses to world peace, but on a more micro scale, it's scary in how it allows one to commit heinous acts just because they're perpetrated against "them". religion is what allows otherwise rational, smart, humane people to drive their countrymen into suffering because they're not jewish. it's what allows the adherents of an essentially peaceful religion to prosecute their countrymen because they pray differently. the "other" ceases to become human - they become objects. in any other context, these actions are instinctively criminal and despicable, yet they are allowed to perpetuate in religious contexts. and running a country based on that worldview is disastrous. i mean, what of people of other religions in your country? what about your neighbors? how about different sects within the same religion?
  5. religion is manifestation of the basest human tendencies. this is perhaps the most controversial point of this entry, but it's also the most important. if religion was just about being good to your neighbor and honoring your friends, no one would have an issue with it. but religion is a tool of bigotry, oppression and control. we can't, as a human race, allow the suppression of what women want to say because most religions treat them as second class citizens. we can't allow under-educated, ignorant religious "experts" to guide humanity based on their understanding of books written 2000 years ago. we can't allow these leaders to further their personal (and as humans' are) flawed agendas based on the authority given to them by god. we can't allow people to be led to act in a certain way without critically analyzing that way, because god is watching. we can't allow the progress of science to stop because science discovered something that is in conflict with 2000 year old scriptures. we can't allow human suffering under the guise of religious teachings. we need to grow up, as a race. we need to do right because it's right, not because god is watching.

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