Good Questions Should Be Asked
Freedom of religion is important to me even though I am not religious. This is because unfettered religious expression is one of many essential aspects of living as a free individual. But what does freedom really mean? Does it mean we are never subject to constraints or restrictions? Does it mean we can act in any way we choose? What is tolerance? How do we live together in freedom and peace? How do we protect ourselves when necessary, without infringing on the rights of others?
As everyone knows, at least intuitively, voluntary compliance with restrictions, religious and otherwise, is necessary to forming strong relationships and to co-existing in peace. We do our duty or answer our calling, which inevitably constrains us in some way, because deep down we believe that our actions will serve our own self-interest, fulfill us.
Acting in self-interest sometimes means engaging in what most would incorrectly label unselfish acts, such as striving to be a good person or performing works of charity to please God. But free individuals normally act in self-interest and fulfill duty and calling at the same time, most commonly by providing for and protecting family, serving community or country, or all of these at once.
Even if one chooses a way of life seemingly free of duty, in every case where others are involved, some concession or submission is required. The key is that in a free society one gives freely, voluntarily.
This is an essential emotional and moral distinction that defines individuals and cultures, leading on the one hand (of servitude) to degradation and severe limitations and on the other hand (of freedom) to prosperity and joyful discovery.
While it is true there are consequences for changing or not honoring one’s freely made commitments, they are normally proportional and just and remain mostly in the social realm or they can be adjudicated.
Restrictions of any kind imposed by force are quite another matter. The draft versus voluntary enlistment is one example most everyone understands: the draft is a form of involuntary servitude or slavery (enforced with physical restriction, caging), while voluntary enlistment is a freely-made commitment; yet both, otherwise, impose the same demands.
Which soldier will tend to be most fully invested? While there are always exceptions, it will be the one who enlisted, because the mind and heart tend to more fully engage in experiences that are freely chosen rather than imposed by other individuals or groups.
Imagine for a moment you are a non-Catholic living in a (fictitious) Catholic, religion-governed nation and thus forced, by papal edict, to attend confession and mass and to take communion. Imagine you face serious consequences for refusing to comply: fines, jail time, shunning, threats to seize your property or to separate you from your family.
Even worse, imagine a death penalty for daring to utter speech that is deemed by anyone in the community to be unflattering to the church or to the pope or even to your parish priest. How would you feel about that? Would this be a just society? Would you be a free individual or a slave to the state (in this case, a religious one)?
Those willing to impose this on you would not want to acknowledge the validity of your objections, because to do so would force them to change a fundamental perception of how the world should work.
They could lose status, power, property or all three. Most would do everything possible to prevent you from forcing reality into their consciences, if they had any left. It is not easy to admit deriving a perverted fulfillment at the expense of another individual’s life, liberty, and property.
Now envision for a moment you are a scholar who, while studying ancient manuscripts, has discovered profound beauty in the Catholic religion. So you begin freely performing all the rituals above that were imposed by force in that fictitious Catholic state; you go eagerly to confession and to mass and would never speak against your church or priest or pope, that is, unless you felt it necessary to maintain the integrity of your religious principles.
Thus the same physical commitment would be required of you, as in the religious state. But a crucial difference is that you would be fully and happily engaged emotionally BECAUSE you are FREE to change your mind.
Moreover, the threat of physical violence is removed. This is crucial. You would remain free to attend sporadically or to speak out or to leave the church. Free. Notice how different it feels to choose something freely and to be equally free to reject it? And with free choice, as mentioned above, the consequences of rejection usually remain in the social realm or can be adjudicated.
Now let’s think about how freedom of choice affects religious tolerance, as the two are inextricably tied. Religious tolerance allows individuals of varying faiths or no faith to live together in relative peace.
The word tolerance, it is essential to note, does not mean appreciation, agreement, or approval of any kind. In fact, tolerance implies a certain level of discomfort or even emotional pain on the part of one or all parties. Tolerance also implies that freedom of expression is available to all.
The key is that when all concerned are free and live under a just system for adjudicating disputes, the threshold for tolerance is high; the rule is simply that neither may (without appropriate consequence) use force or fraud against the other. Period. Property rights and contracts will show the way for resolving any serious problems that do arise.
Battles, if fought, will be fought with the mind and spirit, in the pulpit, in the temple, in the mosque, in the town square on the soapbox, on paper, or on blogs in cyberspace, but not with bloodshed or physical force of any kind.
One can learn to protect oneself from emotional wounds, and even those that pierce the mental armor can be healed. But the physically dead can never heal or return to this world. That is why battles (when they must be fought) are best fought heart to heart and mind to mind.
Of course, individuals can always work toward increasing civility of speech, but civility should never be imposed by threat of force, because it gives some individuals too much power over others. That is why designating some crimes or speech “hate-crimes, hate-speech” is such a destructive idea.
Who decides what is or is not a hate crime or hate speech? Individuals and groups in power can and do use this type of legislation to suppress free speech that might expose real crimes they themselves have committed.
Returning to the world in which we live today, as their commentary and political inclinations consistently prove, the political left is fickle when it comes to supporting religious tolerance and freedom of speech. Sure they offer it freely to one group but then would (if allowed) readily withdraw it from another, making these determinations with some sort of gauge that is inscrutable to any mind attempting to follow principle.
This mysterious leftist-gauge, fickle as it is, can only be based on a cultural signal, one not formally expressed, but one more likely clucked and squawked and pecked and scratched, presumably beginning with those at the pinnacle of the political pecking order (no offense to chickens).
This gauge insults intellectual understanding. It is the instinctual and terrifying method that corrupt people use to persuade otherwise intelligent and well-meaning individuals to do their destructive bidding. The simplest term for it is negative peer pressure.
To be fair, the right and the central establishment have their own equally egregious means of dissemination and persuasion, but they do tend to be somewhat more consistent with regard to rhetoric about freedom of religion and speech; this does not often extend to their actions, but sometimes it does.
This is one reason why, for example, individuals in the liberty movement support Chick Fil A, alongside the so-called Christian-right. Even though the libertarians might strongly disagree with the owner’s religious views, they would recognize the principles they are defending: freedom of speech and property rights.
This discussion of tolerance, obviously, also applies to sexual orientation, gender, and race, but for now let’s just stick to talking about religion.
Listening to a program on NPR yesterday, I heard an author interviewed and he spoke of the fears in America and in Europe that Muslims will establish themselves in governments and courts and thereby convert them to Islamic rule and Sharia law.
[This could be a great place to make the point for not allowing government to gain so much control in the first place, even for not consenting to any such control, but that is for another essay.]
The author being interviewed went on to describe how Americans were similarly fearful of Catholics and Jews and Germans at various points in history, that there were fears they would take over the government and thus control the people to suit their ideology.
But the obvious difference he failed to mention, at least while I was listening, is that in the case of some expressions of the Islamic faith, religion IS (even in our modern times, it is essential to note) THE GOVERNMENT.
Moreover, the goal of the Islamic religion (as SOME express it) is to slowly but surely convert every living individual to Islam by physical force, if necessary, and to impose Islamic Sharia law, thus effectively ending the free practice of religion, thus effectively ending freedom itself, except as it is strictly defined by their Islam.
While I would be happy to live among others of any and all faiths, so long as I may remain free, my tolerance would end exactly where theirs does. The moment others attempt to use the force of law or force of any kind to impose their views on me, is the moment I am justified in protecting myself from that force.
Please understand that merely seeing or hearing something is NOT a form of force unless one is not free to leave, unless it is imposed while on one’s private property, or in one’s place of worship.
Free individuals can walk away, look away, cover their ears, throw a letter in the recycling bin, delete an email, turn-off a radio, computer, television, etc. Again, tolerance implies a certain level of discomfort that is necessary so that all individuals retain freedom of expression.
How could I bear having my life defined by Islam (or any religion), by force? Why should I bear this? Why should I not be free to act and to speak, so long as I do not violate another person or her property or her right to act as a free individual?
Conversely, how could a Muslim bear having her life defined by others, by force? Why should she not be free to act and to speak, so long as she does not violate another person or her property or her right to act as a free individual?
To illustrate, some Muslims (or Christians or Jews or . . . ) may not like my sleeveless blouse and uncovered head. I may not like their long sleeves and head scarves. They may not appreciate my advocacy for individual liberty. I may not appreciate the restrictions they impose upon themselves.
But in a free world we are all free to choose. That is the point.
If either one of us is compelled to make an idiotic video about the other, so be it. Don’t watch. Something that can be avoided with a little effort is NOT a violation (again, this is called tolerance). Or if it is libel, naming the names of the living and telling lies, then we have recourse through adjudication.
Genuine tolerance cannot be gained by force; attempts to impose it result in a loss of liberty for all concerned. Tolerance flows from an acknowledgement that individuals must, first and foremost, remain free to express views that may offend others.
[Doing so at government-expense is a different matter entirely.]
Turning to the very real problems we face today, it is sad to say that we must accept the possibility that some Muslims, or Islamists, really DO want to tell everyone else what to do, how to live. This is fact. We cannot ignore information that could allow us to protect ourselves. To ignore the facts before us would be utterly foolish, not to mention possibly suicidal.
To ignore the facts may lead to more war, more death, more destruction, more oppression. To acknowledge reality is the first step toward peaceful coexistence. Yes, we are already living under an oppressive government, but compared to living under imposed Sharia law, we are still somewhat free.
This is exactly why, to give an example of the sort of information I mean, the relationship between Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton is of deep concern to me, not because Huma Abedin is Muslim, but because of her long-standing relationships to particular Muslims, individuals and groups who have indicated they wish to impose their will on others by force, and because of the position she holds in the State Department.
It is very possible that our government, at the upper levels, is acting under the influence of people who do not hold freedom, peace, and tolerance among their highest values.
I don’t want to offend anyone in talking about this. I know it is a sensitive subject, to say the least. Yet I do know that all peace and liberty-loving persons (no matter their religion or lack thereof) will understand why this must be discussed, why questions must be asked and answers must be obtained.
Good people have no interest in blocking others from seeking the truth about matters that may profoundly affect them and their loved ones and their posterity.
So even though these matters are difficult to contemplate much less discuss, I will continue to do so as long as the information before me indicates it is the right thing to do in defense of life and liberty and tolerance and peace.
Good questions should be asked.