Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Decency, society, and religion: a long, bilious rant

I’ve been getting a full head of steam built up lately, and it’s time to let loose. If you don’t like me ranting you may want to skip today and come back another time.

First of all, David Letterman’s pathetic joke at the expense of Sarah Palin’s daughter (not to mention Alex Rodriguez, who should take great exception to being labeled a pedophile rapist) was inexcusable. Don’t bother with the pathetic “but she’s a public figure” excuses. No one’s daughter deserves to be treated like that. The comedians who made cracks about Chelsea Clinton’s appearance were just as much in the wrong.

I really couldn’t care less who started it, who escalated it, or who was the last one to push the boundaries. It has to stop. We can have public debate and still maintain decency. We can make fun of our public figures without verbally molesting their children. Let’s stop this headlong race into the gutter now. This is not a race anyone should be interested in winning. This is not progress. There is nothing liberating about stooping to our lowest common denominator.

This might be understandable if Letterman abused everyone equally, but he does not. The man who is afraid to make jokes about President Obama—I can’t imagine any comedian turning down a chance to roast our top politicians—does not draw the line at children. It seems we can expect him to verbally abuse Sasha and Malia before we can expect him to poke fun at their father. Is this what passes for manhood these days? Man up, Dave. If you’re the paragon of liberal virtues, count me out.

Next topic. An acquaintance of mine on Facebook has recently frequently been posting his views on gay marriage lately. No problem with that. It’s his right. It’s his page. But something he said lately stuck out, as he’s not the only one I’ve heard bring up this defense. He asked, in essence, what right does society have to tell people what they can and can’t do?

I have to respond with a counter question: If society doesn’t have that right, who does? Who should? As a society we’ve pretty much eliminated God as the moral authority on what is right and wrong. What’s left, if not society? It is society that makes laws, not the other way around. The original colonies didn’t just pass a constitution and some laws and create a society along with a nation from the grip of anarchy. If we don’t acknowledge a higher being as our moral anchor, then that role falls to society.

It’s society that protects us. The majority of society believes it to be wrong for me to kill my neighbor if his sprinklers get hard water spots on my car. The majority of society believes it to be wrong even for me to punch him in the nose. I might even suffer adverse consequences for cussing him out if I happen to do it standing in his yard. These are good rules, and we don’t have minorities lining up to tear them down because “society is telling me what I can and can’t do.”

So why does gay marriage get a pass? Why is this issue somehow immune from majority rule? Why does the minority voice matter more than the majority voice? Why is it unconscionable that society dare tell people “no” in this instance? It’s the way things work. It’s how societies function. It’s the same rule that keeps idiots from solving the problem by killing all the gays—which, people seem to forget, is still the preferred solution in many countries in the world today.

To give minorities—any minorities—the right to override society just because they don’t like being told they are the minority is not just wrong, it is suicidal. Do you really think that allowing one minority that ability is not going to throw the door open wide for any minority who feels unfairly limited to force their will upon society in the future?

Suppose someday the majority finally supports gay marriage. Guess what folks, you’ll have created a new minority. Does that minority suddenly get preferred status? Do they suddenly get to invoke the “What right does society have to tell me what’s a marriage” argument?

Don’t pull out the example of racial rights in America. The majority became convinced it was time for a change, and the majority changed society. Should it have happened sooner? Absolutely. But society being what it is, it had to wait for enough people to change their minds to where the majority had enough mass to force the change. It may not have been fair for blacks to wait that long, but in the absence of any other moral anchor to go by, we should just be glad it happened at all.

Remember, we did this to ourselves. We overthrew every other moral authority we might have turned to, so all that is left is the “wisdom of crowds”. There is no "right" or "wrong" anymore, just the majority opinion. If a minority in that crowd feel they’re smarter than the rest of the crowd, too bad. They can’t—even though they try to—claim the moral high ground, because they flattened that hill long ago. In their wisdom they handed the moral imperative to society as a whole, and then complain when the crowd takes it and runs a different direction. The ungrateful wretches didn’t recognize what we did for them and immediately hand the moral authority to us as an expression of gratitude!

Now, frankly I have no doubt that one day the majority will support gay marriage. And I have no illusion that the new majority will suddenly want to show the same respect and consideration for the new minority that they insisted we show them. No, suddenly they’ll find new wisdom in the crowd and use their new societal authority to get revenge for their perceived wrongs.

When that time comes I reserve the right to fight hard to limit the damage that will be done to my right to worship as I please and for the government to not infringe on religious beliefs and practices. I don’t expect much tolerance and respect for diversity from the new social order. I don’t expect many of the current crop of “live and let live” proponents to come riding to my defense; “What right does society have to tell those Mormons they have to accept and perform gay marriages?” That particular argument will have served its purpose and be put into a cozy retirement, I’m sure.

And last, but not least—and certainly related—I’m tired of the anti-religious sentiment going around. From an even closer friend I recently heard “I believe in God, but I don’t like his fan clubs”. I doubt she really feels that way at heart, but rather thought it a cute or clever way of saying “I don’t follow any organized religion”. And that’s fine.

But far too many people do fully believe the notion that the only good religion is a dead religion. You know, the people with the “God, protect me from your followers” bumper stickers, or who hire billboards to warn people to beware of dogma. These are the people who are intellectually dishonest enough to actually believe that the majority of the world’s problems are caused by religion.

Yes, there have been a lot of atrocities committed throughout history in the name of one god or another. There have also been great atrocities committed in the name of no god, or in the name of socialism, or genetic purity, or division of resources. You name it, people will kill over it. Religion is just one of the many excuses. Most of the people who use that excuse are not actually religious, or at least not truly following their faith. They are perverting it in the name of a different cause—namely themselves.

To blame all ills on religion is dishonest also because it fails to acknowledge the vast amounts of good that religion does in the world and in history. For every David Koresh you have a Mother Teresa. For every Osama Bin Laden you have hundreds of humble religious believers who live out their lives in peace without bothering anyone. Why is it fair only to acknowledge the bad and not the good? And yet that’s what these people do.

The reality is they care nothing for history, if indeed they’ve ever taken the time to study it. It’s merely an excuse for, as I ranted about above, the minority view to rail against the majority. Because the majority is somehow infringing on their right to do whatever it is they want, and because the majority claim to be religious, then organized religion must be bad. End of discussion, lest reality enter into it.

But for all those haters of organized religion out there, I throw down the gauntlet. Here’s a challenge for you. You make the accusation, so the burden of proof is on you. Prove to me:

1- That there is no God. If many of you are telling the truth about your belief system you concede this one already.

2- That God does not have a specific set of rules for us to follow.

3- That God does not believe it will be easier for people to follow those rules as part of an organized religion.

4- That God does not believe in order, and therefore does not care how his followers worship him, organize themselves, or perform rites and ordinances.

Don’t bother with the lame stuff like “Well, if there was a God, how could he let X or Y or Z happen? Why doesn’t he stop it?” That doesn’t prove there is no God. It just proves that God does not see things the same way you do—something you should expect from an all-knowing, all-powerful being. All it proves is that whatever God has in store for us, He feels it’s worth allowing us to endure short term suffering in order to get it.

No, don’t give me platitudes or decrees on how you believe God should act. Give me proof. Ultimately you can’t offer any more hard evidence against those four points than I can offer hard evidence in favor of them—at least that you’re likely to accept. If the myriad of religions and religious texts out there aren’t proof enough already then you’re not likely to accept anything else short of a visit from God himself. And since that doesn’t happen very often, it’s obviously not important to his plan that you be given incontrovertible proof.

So since you can’t prove that organized religion is wrong, knock it off with the hate, the smug mockery, and the continual bigotry and prejudice. Or, if you must, be egalitarian about it. Don’t just picket the Baptists or Mormons when they vote against your favorite cause. Go picket the Muslims and the black protestant churches, too. Don’t just pick on the churches that are in the majority in America, pick on them all. Otherwise you’re little more than a hypocrite at best, or lying to yourself at worst.

Because it’s not about religion in the end, is it. It’s about getting your way and finding easy targets when you don’t. Never mind that you’re laying the foundation for the destruction of society by imposing minority rule. Never mind you are paying lip service to the role of society while ultimately exploiting it for your own anti-social ends. Never mind that while you are tearing down a moral anchor that hasn’t been a threat to you in decades you are also tearing down the only anchor left.

It’s all about you.

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