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Sun Dec 21 22:05:54 CAT 2014

Religion and politics don't mix

Bruce Gorton | 03 May, 2013 10:54
A mosque burns during a riot in Meikhtila.
Image by: Soe Zeya Tun / REUTERS

Religion mixing with government has never been a terribly good thing, whether it is in Pakistan or Soviet Russia, Malaysia or America.

Most Muslims view Islam the same way most Christians view Christianity, or Buddhists view Buddhism, it is about trying to be a good person. The trouble is a significant minority of these populations view their religions as being about the rules set forth within the holy teachings.

And when you have political dominance by one group you will generally end up with that minority getting powerful because they are actually the ones who are most outwardly pious.

They take their religion seriously, and it isn’t about being a good person to them, it is about being a good Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or whatever.

And if the rules of being a good Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or whatever clashes with being a good human being, they will always pick their religion. The 969 movement in Malaysia is all about being good Buddhists, which doesn’t seem to be working out to being good people for the local Muslim population.

That is why gay rights has such a hard time with religious conservatives in America, they seem to pick being good Christians as being more important than being good people. They can see the suffering they inflict but it comes second to the fact that they believe their god views homosexuality as being an abomination, and obeying their God on that issue is part of what they mean by being good Christians.

And it doesn’t really help when you have the religious left arguing that their interpretation of scripture says otherwise, because rights should not be contingent upon theological arguments, they’re rights.

Note: there is a difference between the religious left and secularists who happen to be religious: the former believes that their religion calls for a more feminist or gay friendly society, the latter believes their religion is their own business and shouldn’t be law. This isn’t a criticism of all religious people.

And you know why I included Soviet Russia in the list? Because we atheists suffer the same basic issue when we end up with an explicitly atheist government making a big deal about how atheist it is going to be - for most atheists being a good atheist is all about trying to be a good person but there is always going to be that minority with more elaborate ideas on the subject.

This is why theocracies, including atheocracies, tend to end up poorer and with more internal instability than their secular counterparts – all fraud is identity fraud because we all tend to think someone who agrees with us is a good person and someone who disagrees is not.

And that often isn’t the case, often the person who most seems to agree with you is in fact the person you should be most worried about.

To see this in action one only needs follow the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in the US – 96% of its clients are actually Christians but because they aren’t quite the right Christians for the ones doing the proselytising they are facing discrimination within the military.

And this is causing greater and greater strain, leading to more suicides and less unit cohesion.

But if you look at any column where the MRFF is brought up you end up with Christians arguing that the organisation is bigoted against Christianity even as the bulk of its clients are Christian.

This is because those evangelical proselytisers are vocally proclaiming how Christian they are, while the MRFF is ‘on the other side’ by virtue of the fact that it disagrees with them.

Most of the people posting about how bad the MRFF is being for disagreeing are not on the religious right, most of them think what the chaplains are doing is encouraging soldiers to be good people and what is wrong with that?

And the same thing happens with Islamist governments – because they make such a huge deal of running the country according to Islamic doctrine the average Muslim in those countries think they mean less corruption and less injustice because, well, the Quran is all about that right?

Then they end up with morality police and rape victims being subject to the lash. These people aren’t alien to us, they are us. They fall for the exact same tricks the rest of us do, because we all tend to “side with our side.”

And then it turns out that the whole concept of sides is bullshit designed to keep us defending the same lunatics we would rather not associate with.

Secularism is an attempt to get around this problem, it is an attempt to get us to think about things aside from religion, not a rejection of religion precisely but rather, “deal with the issue and facts in front of you”.

You don’t know what Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or Vishnu or Kant would do, you’re none of those figures. Secularism is about doing the best you can do.

And really it is what people do that matters in the end.

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