Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Believe With Me

I've already written about the somewhat raw deal that people of various faiths find themselves confronting whenever they deal with people who don't believe the same things that they do.

But the fact that Washington State is moving ever closer to legalizing same-sex marriage is giving a certain segment of the Christian community the opportunity to demonstrate that they, too, can seem to forget that not everyone else the world, or even the state, thinks in the same way that they do.

One common lament that has been making the rounds lately is that, "God defined marriage and it is not for man to redefine." Another is: "It is a very sad day when we get to choose which one of God's laws we will obey and which ones we will choose not to." But if one is Wiccan, or practices Shinto, what does it matter what the Judeo-Christian-Moslem god defines marriage as? Why should anyone who doesn't follow an Abrahamic religion or one of its offshoots care? But more importantly, why should they agree that religious strictures from faiths they don't follow are valid reasons for civil and/or criminal legislation? After all, if Christian legislators in Tennessee can convince themselves that practicing Sharia law should be punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment, why would they think anyone else wants to have to follow religious laws from faiths they don't practice? Or religious laws that simply differ from their own understanding of the religion? After all, it's not like the dietary laws were expunged from the Bible; but you'd have a hard time codifying them into law. Hand wringing about "picking and choosing" would likely be of little use.

While "legally-mandated lip service" isn't really the correct term for it, it's one that always comes to mind. Of course a more accurate way to look at things from the point of view of believers is that "Right makes Right" - the "fact" that they are morally correct gives them the right to legislate their beliefs into laws that everyone else must follow. This is perfectly understandable, if not exactly desirable. But it veers into the odd when its presented as a perfectly straightforward reason that everyone should sign on to. Part of it, I suspect, is the idea that often comes up that deep down inside, everyone is actually a conservative Christian, or wants to be. If the Pope can maintain that the targets of forcible conversion wanted in their heart of hearts to be converted at any cost, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that everyone secretly wants to be a pew every Sunday. There's also the corollary that what we're seeing is a childish temper tantrum thrown by a willful Humanity against a parental deity - claims of disbelief are simply disingenuous attempts to get around having to follow bothersome rules. But I think that part of it is also the flip side of what many religious people themselves deal with - the idea that one's own beliefs are so self-evident that no-one can honestly see things any differently. This is aided and abetted by the somewhat homogenous nature of American society. While the United States is not exclusively Christian, it is overwhelmingly so, and so its possible to go quite some time (perhaps one's whole life) without ever actually meeting anyone who professes to be otherwise. And so it becomes much easier to assume that everyone else thinks and believes in the same way. And for many people, the whole world isn't much different than whatever community they are currently a part of - it's just bigger. Despite the fact that the continental United States is some three thousand miles from East to West, people still experience unexpected culture shock after moving a significant distance. Despite the fact that many large states have populations large enough to be decent-sized nations themselves, many Americans are taken off-guard by things that are different than the way they were used to them.

As unbelievable as some find it, however, we do not all believe alike. Therefore appeals to and expectations of a universal understanding and adherence to faith will fall on as many deaf ears as appeals to and expectations of a universal agnosticism have.

No comments: