Can I Get an Amen?
Okay, hear me out.
To base legislation pertaining to human rights on religious premises is nothing short of crazy.
And I don’t mean “quirky” or “pleasantly neurotic”, I mean batshit insane. We wouldn’t base traffic laws on Kerouac’s “On the Road”, or defense policy on “Star Wars”. It just doesn’t make sense!
I am no theology expert, but I’ve read the Bible (the Eastern Orthodox version of the Old and New Testaments, at least), and as a literary buff I find that not only the Bible was written in a Ulysses-style stream of consciousness that’s, in my humble opinion, a bit confusing; it’s also most definitely NOT a meant as a legal template text. Sure, there’re a lot of do’s and don’t’s in it, but they refer to LIFESTYLE more than they do to the LAW: “Though shall not kill” is straightforward enough, but there’s nothing about manslaughter sentencing or the proceedings during a 1st degree murder trial...
The Bible was not meant to be taken literally. It has more symbolism and abstract imagery than the “Lord of the Rings”: with its magic and miracles and visions and epiphanies it qualifies as a fairytale, a classic work of FICTION. Besides, there’s no clear author here—no one to interview and ask the proverbial question “Where do you get your ideas from?”. And, of course, there’s so much to be said about TRANSLATION and the multiple revisions upon publication, about creative licensing and INTERPRETATION.
Most importantly, and historically, Lady Justice is BLIND. She’s literally a woman with her eyes tied up, holding a scale. She doesn’t know what’s on it. Her only concern is to determine that both sides weigh equally. Justice has ONE JOB: balance. It’s physics, really—a simple science, not art. Justice is when there’s equilibrium, and when the scales stay even. Neither side should tip, and if it does, something has to be done to restore symmetry.
That “something” is the law: we need laws which, when upheld and enforced would ensure that, whenever human rights are being threatened, it swiftly provides protection and vindication.
The facts aside that, here in America, we have a constitutional separation of church and state, that there isn’t one OFFICIAL religion, and that by law one has the freedom to practice ANY religion or NOT to practice a religion, there’s a simple way to explain why we cannot allow religion to influence the law:
Religion is arbitrary. I don’t mean the belief in a God—which is a deeply personal and spiritual thing—or even the moral/ethical implications of it.
I mean religion as an INSTITUTION, with specific sets of rules and understandings about how things are and should be.
All these practices and ideas are completely random. They vary widely depending on which religion you are looking at. There are rules about what to eat, wear, say, and think, and there’s a ranging spectrum of effects these rules lead to.
Organized religion can be positive and beneficial for individuals, giving them a sense of belonging and community, providing charity, and a moral compass of sorts. It can also be detrimental, in cases where religion dictates certain social roles, limits free will, or leads to extremes and violence. My point is that as many religions there are, there are also that many INTERPRETATIONS of their teachings, that differentiate according to point in time, local conditions, and personal interests. Religion is often synonymous with control and power, and control and power are never unbiased.
Also, most religions are OLD. This is imperative to acknowledge. Religious traditions and norms are not always aligned with modern day life. The very essence of a canon is unchanging, and scripture would lose its original meaning if it’s not perpetuated and enforced. Religion is all about the repeated practice of the same rituals, about preservation of values that were invented centuries ago...and these don’t always meet the needs of contemporary culture.
INVENTION is key. While almost every culture has its own version of a God, and consequently—a religion through which to worship this God, and with scripture according to which people should abide, the whole idea of something bigger and more powerful, of something omniscient and omnipresent, is a PRODUCT of human invention.
Religion as an ideology or a ritual practice doesn’t exist in the natural world. It’s man-made. It’s a collection of myths and stories and ideals. It’s a way to explain the world and find meaning and purpose to life. Animals don’t have gods, and without humans there won’t be gods either, because both religion and god, as abstract and celestial they might seem, are in fact a result of people’s ability to think critically. There’s a certain logic to religion, a rational element to the connection between action and consequence. Fiction and creative thought are properties of our species’ civilized cerebral function. It’s literally MADE UP.
So really, the only reason that religion is still so powerful and popular is that a) it’s kept alive by still being PRACTICED, and b) it’s been practiced for so LONG that it’s now widely accepted as a real thing, a FACT.
But it’s not a fact. It’s a bunch of practices and belief systems based on a book about ghosts by an Anonymous author that has the oldest premise in the world: the battle between good and bad, dark and light.
It is a fact, however, that in 2020 America—and please excuse the awful pun—things aren’t merely black or white. We have nuances and levels of a wide spectrum of colors, with many gray areas still, but thanks to advances in science and technology, thanks to philosophy and psychology, we understand the world a bit better than to rely on religion as a source of guidance when making political decisions. Our social structural organization allows space for religion, and provides freedom of belief and its expressions, yet America is a SECULAR republic centered in democracy, rooted in REASON.
Despite its enormous influence and power over humanity (See: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires, the Jihad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Spanish Conquistadors, etc. etc.) it is clear that freedom of religion should exist in parallel to—but not dictate—the law.
Because religion, being founded in the supernatural and mystical, being the vehicle for worshiping and following the word of a transcendent divine being, being an object of variation and interpretation in its rules and rituals, and being subjective and having an agenda itself, is not sufficient or adequate example for how to govern a country or how to provide its citizens with the just and equal political rights they deserve.
Religion is the quintessential “because I say so.” And that’s not enough nowadays.
So let’s agree to base reproductive right laws on MEDICINE, LGBTQ and gender equality rights on human rights, and leave the Bible out of it. Believe what you will, do what you believe is good for you, but don’t mistake religion for truth or justice. That’s arrogantly dangerous, and not very pious at all—thinking that you truly understand god’s intentions is just righteousness and HUBRIS.
For while I don’t think there is a god (which is ironic, since my very name means “God’s favorite”) if there was, I suspect they would be the MANIFESTATION OF PURE LOVE AND LIGHT, WITH ABSOLUTE POWER BUT TOTALLY IMPARTIAL AND NONJUDGMENTAL: they would be all the impossible things we, humans, are NOT.
We can’t be objective or perfectly kind at all times, and the definition of the human condition is our perpetual struggle to be “good” and to fight the “bad” within ourselves. And our failure to do so is where the concepts of shame and guilt and sin come from...
Yet if there’s indeed such thing as a god (and if there’s a value worth striving for and worshiping), it would be exactly that—the original embodiment of justice, a prototypical force that drives humanity forward by making sure we all have the basic rights and freedoms we need in order to be the best people we can, thus defying our own imperfect nature and elevating ourselves closer to that holy, deistic ideal.
Want to be closer to god? Vote for same sex marriage. Trying to become a saint? Work for equality, and work hard. Sacrifice your worldly possessions and transcend your ego for others, for the greater good. Thinking of starting a cult? Put a rainbow on your church doors and preach for abortion rights. Pray all you want, but make sure it’s not to some false idols. After all, Jesus was Black and woke, believed that love wins, and he had 12 close male friends in his 30’s.
You get the idea.