Why is it that acts like killing homosexuals, adulterers, and witches are so abhorrent? Why is it that we do not accept such barbarism anymore? Why is it that when we see these acts happening in places around the world, we recognize it as a serious problem?
When burning witches and stoning adulterers was accepted in the western world, it was because religious doctrine required it. There is a linear relationship between the doctrine of Christianity and these outrageous murders.
There came a point during the Enlightenment when people realized that religious solutions gave rise to bad ideas and bad outcomes, and they were not isolated to killing little children for being witches; rather, an enormous collection of scientific observations led us to the realization that the bible was wrong about almost everything, notably its notions of creation, Geocentrism, a flat earth, and overall human decency.
In other words, the enlightenment gave rise to the notion that the bible is not inerrant, as its most zealous adherants would claim. This fact was, and is, horrifying to religious idealogues, but a great relief for anyone who believes human rights should not be impeded by arbitrary Bronze and Iron age fiction.
Most moderate and liberal religious practitioners don’t seem too concerned about the dichotomy of religious barbarism, and the secular institutions that keep it at bay. I always found this interesting when I was a Christian, because it was literally all I thought about when the topic of religion came up. I know many Christians who have no problem rejecting old covenant ideas such as the gleeful acceptance of rape and slavery and conquest, as described in Moses’ law. They also have no trouble accepting evolution, heliocentrism, the idea of a spherical Earth, and other modern scientific theories to which the bible seems oblivious.
The process of collecting information, making observations, testing our guesses, and honestly assessing whether our presupposed ideas agree with consequences in the natural world is technically called science. More generally, this honest framework of pragmatism gave rise to secularism, or the separation of law-making bodies and religious institutions.
When we consider acts of barbarism, such as stoning and killing witches, through a secular lens, it allows us to ask questions like: does this make sense? Is it reasonable to kill someone because we think they are a witch? Is witchcraft real? Can people invoke supernatural mechanisms? Does it make sense to kill homosexuals or adulterers, just because some religious text tells us to?
Unless you’re a psychopath or ignoramus, the answer to all these questions should be no.
We’ve considered these questions, absent of the urgings of religion, through a secular lens, and determined that there is no good reason to practice this barbarism anymore.
When Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, and other historical figures were advocating for a secular balance, it was because they were historically close enough to an imbalance to know what happens when religious doctrine runs amock. In fact, one of the major challenges Jefferson had as president was dealing with the Muslim world kidnapping Americans, holding them for ransom, and justifying this behavior with their religious doctrines.
I watched a Thunderf00t video on Youtube a couple days ago, where he tried to interview a couple Westboro Baptist church members, and failed miserably in the process.
It really is a painful video to watch, but what struck me was not the level of inconsistency with which these church members practiced their faith; rather, they were incredibly adherent to their faith. They had strong grasp on the scriptures, and I have no doubt that every single public act or display Westboro Church members have made were completely supported by religious scriptures.
The problem with the major religions, particularly Islam, Judeism, and Christianity, is not that some are better than others, or more palatable than others, or more compatible with the comfy secular world we’ve built for ourselves. Rather, the problem is that when you investigate the central doctrines of all the major religions, it becomes quite clear that the authors of those doctrines lived in a world we don’t want to live in anymore, and they advocated policies that are disgusting. The fact that we celebrate these doctrines, and give reverence to them, is puzzling.
Quality of life is a function of how well we implement secularism, coupled with how much weight we give to the notion that all people deserve the same rights under the law. It happens that one of the modern implementations that gave rise to this quality of life was birth control, and the general notion that women should be able to have more control over their reproduction – a fact that most religious adherants lament.
One of the most troubling issues of our time is how religion is creeping back into our secular paradigm, and that it continues to be an engine of hate and intolerance, namely in Indiana, and other states that are currently sponsoring similar legislation that institutionalizes bigotry.
Religion does not deserve respect, and it should not be given a special place in our society. We’re at a point where we’re beyond religion, and there’s nothing religion solves for us that isn’t better solved with science, secular morality, and maybe a fucking hint of empathy. As for the nugget or two of truth religion managed to concoct in its thousands of pages of fiction…well, even a broken clock can be right twice a day.