Religion is a word everybody uses, but few have a really concise and precise understanding of what it is. It does not mean believing in God. Buddhists are very religious, but do not believe in a god at all. Hindus have many gods. Jews, Christians and Muslims adhere to a belief in one God, although their understanding of who he is, and what his attributes are differs greatly.
More importantly, some who are religious are seen to be pious, and some aren’t. In this sense, being pious means regularly doing things like engaging in prayer, reading the holy writings and teachings, and other ritualistic practices. All are designed to make one a better follower, a more faithful follower.
But faith is misunderstood as well. Is faith necessary in order to be religious? You may be surprised to hear me say that the answer is no. Look up the Pharisees, and see what Jesus had to say to them. Their religion was offensive to Him, and He’s the Son of God. But here’s a different, and perhaps more meaningful question: Is faith necessary to be part of any group of like-minded individuals? The answer to that one is yes. So let’s define faith.
Faith is the reasonable belief, based on all evidence obtained by an individual so far, that a thing is true.
You may want to argue with that, but if you do, you do so on faith. Life is short, so we need to make some reasonable conclusions about how it works based on limited evidence. The question is not so much whether you have faith, but in whom (or what) do you trust? I believe God created man, while the Darwinian faithful believe that he evolved. I believe the Biblical account is true, and they believe otherwise. Neither of us have proof that we’re right. But I come to a different conclusion, not because I have no brain, but because I see the Biblical account as more defensible than Darwinian Evolution, and because it coheres with my worldview that God created the heavens and the Earth “in the beginning”. Atheists believe the universe popped into existence without a cause. Or at least without a “need” for a god. OK, they’re entitled.
But what’s the point? The point is this: Freedom of religion is under attack in the USA, and because it is here, it is in many other parts of the world as well. Why should you care? Because the very thing for which the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors, was the freedom to believe and live according to their deeply held beliefs about life, morality and their Creator. And even if you have no formal, recognized religion, you are free to believe as you do, and live it and express it precisely because we have the first amendment to our Constitution.
The signers called it religion, but they had a far different understanding of the word than we do. We tend to understand it as ritualistic piety, and see it as being confined to activities inside a religious building. We don’t think of it as affecting the way we actually live. Some even confuse it with the things believed and practiced by those with a bent toward murderous barbarism, who nevertheless believe that they should be free to separate your head from your body to make a point. That kind of religion should never be allowed in this country, or anywhere for that matter. And many ignorant people say that their religion does not matter.
But nothing matters more, actually. The framers of the Constitution went “all in” on the notion that the King of England had no right to rule them from across the sea without giving them a say in how they were ruled. They wanted the freedom to elect people to govern them, and expressly limited the power they gave to those elected so that they would continue to be free. When Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty, or give me death”, he made it clear that he wanted to think for himself. And he made it clear that liberty – the right to arrive at his own conclusions and worldviews – was so precious to him, that he would not trade it away for anything, not even his very life.
So that’s what we’re talking about when we discuss freedom of religion. We’re discussing whether we want to allow any group of men or women to force anyone else to act as if they believe things they do not believe. That’s what some Muslims do. Once you are part of their culture, abandon hope. There is no way out. If you want to question aspects of the religious teachings, you are deemed an apostate, and you are enslaved, beaten, imprisoned, or raped, and your life is turned into a living Hell. That’s what happens when there is no freedom of religion.
I do not believe that atheism is a coherent belief system, but as long as atheists do not threaten my property, by health or welfare or my loved ones, I will fight to the death to protect their freedom to believe it.
On the other hand…
If you want to force me to believe as you do, that’s not OK. And it’s happening in the USA today, even though we supposedly have our first amendment rights. That’s wrong, and it needs to stop.
I propose two things: First we need to start using the word ‘worldview’ in most cases where we have been using the word ‘religion’, because religion as we have come to understand it, is too narrow. Second, we need to make two small changes in the first amendment to reflect that it is about freedom of belief, not just religion. In addition, it should reflect the limitation that our freedom of belief is not unlimited, but is rather limited by the requirement that we all live as citizens who are free to disagree, but who are not free to coerce, force, or cause physical damage to another person or their property.
That’s the way I see it. What about you?