Some people believe in a God. Some do not, being more like a personal system of morality; Buddhism may be classified that way. Further, theistic religion is not to be confused with the realisation that there are many things within and around people that are wonderful and mysterious, like music and beauty; the fact that some do not understand them — and they may never understand them — does not mean that such things must have a divine origin. One should fully enjoy them, but not give them a status they do not have.
But for those who do believe in a Creator, there are unfortunately some major paradoxes:
- In a free society, obviously there must be no law or compulsion about what anyone can personally believe, even though their belief is wildly irrational.
- The only way to live in a free society consistently — and especially, to help bring one about in the first place — is to live according to rationality.
- The very essence of living free — of making all one’s own choices for oneself — involves a high sense of self–esteem and self–reliance; a rational pride in one’s own accomplishments and a strong will to manage one’s own life rationally and independently. In contrast the very essence of a religious life is that the individual subjects themselves to and prostrates themselves before an alleged supreme being, delibrately trying to enslave themselves to Him.
One is most reluctant to turn anyone away from a deeply–cherished belief; but that third point makes it formidably difficult to reconcile religion — which all agree rests upon faith, not rational analysis — with freedom — which does rest firmly upon rational analysis. The religious will have to work this paradox out for themselves.
Those profoundly committed to irrational beliefs will not change their minds but will rather be strengthened by having to think the challenge through; those with a less profound commitment may realise it is time to shed this as a fairy tale, however comforting.
By the exercise of reason, one should therefore conclude that God cannot exist; that like government He is an elaborate myth and, like government, should be regarded as such.
There is a further connection between religion, freedom, and government: Historically, the great religions have been very closely associated with government and have helped it suppress individual liberty. In the early 2000s it became widely realised how true that is of the Muslim religion; indeed one interpretation of the “terrorist” menace is that Muslim fundamentalists are determined to take over the governments of countries with nominally Muslim populations, so as to make those countries’ laws conform to their religious rules ” like the Taliban did in Afghanistan; and that they destroy “infidel” icons like the Twin Towers so as to impress their prospective supporters.
Christian hands too are by no means clean in this respect. The bond between church and state has for 1,700 years been often close, and always damaging to liberty. The organised church benefits from state power — with laws crafted to please its supporters to forbid Sunday trade, prohibit certain types of marriage and even, in the past, to compel church attendance. That power has even been used to execute and persecute heretics — both by Roman Catholic and Protestant varieties; the Pilgrims themselves came to Plymouth Colony because of state–backed religious persecution in England, yet within a few years were busy executing women who were oddball enough to get called “witches.” By state power, of course.
Likewise the state greatly benefits from church support, for preachers almost uniformly urge their flocks to obey the government’s laws and “do their duty to their country” so providing a thick veneer of morality atop what is in truth a murderous kleptocracy. The cosy relationship between the two is helped along by a quite sinister tax arrangement found in most countries. The deal is that churches are “allowed” to operate tax free, and donors to their funds can give money out of pre–tax income, provided that the church obtains government permission to be registered as a charity that will not engage in political speech of any kind. Thus, any time a preacher criticises government, they are in danger of ruining their church’s finances.
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