Thursday, June 14, 2007

Camp Quest and Religious Bigotry

I came across an online article in The Hook concerning teachers who are refusing to hand out literature on Camp Quest for children to take home.

Atheist camp: Teachers buck School Board policy.”

The story behind this article is that a Christian parent protested the fact that the school would not allow her to distribute a flier for a Bible school.

after a local parent was refused permission to send home a flier for vacation Bible school, the parent contacted the Christian Liberty Counsel, which reminded the Albemarle school district that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that if a school permits fliers about after-school events, it can't discriminate against religious fliers.

Then, Camp Quest decided to hand out fliers. Camp Quest is an organization that runs summer camps with a secular, atheist, agnostic theme. Some teachers were refusing to hand out this material. The same lawyers informed them that the same rules prohibiting discrimination in what the school handed out based on religion required them to hand out the fliers for Camp Quest.

Now, the school is revisiting the policy. They want to exclude any further use of the school backpack mail program to advertise Camp Quest by limiting the distribution to “local events.”

The intention of the law is quite clear. Some teachers and parents want to discriminate against atheist groups. However, the law does not permit them to do so. Therefore, they want to Gerrymander a set of rules that use non-religious criteria that will, nonetheless, serve the same political purpose – to institute a policy of discrimination against atheists.

For example, if the school were to adopt a rule prohibiting fliers for any organization with the word “Camp Quest” in the title, this would be a non-religious distinction that would serve the purpose of discriminating against Camp Quest, while leaving religious organizations free to use the backpack mail program.

However, this rule would appear arbitrary. Its discriminatory nature will be so blatant and obvious that the Courts could not help but recognize it for what it is, and disallow it. What the school needs is to gerrymander a boundary between what is permitted and what is not that could possibly get past the courts because it seems like a legitimate rule. It’s possible for a community to be overcome by tribalism and decide to exclude all non-local vendors. Who is the Court to say that this is not the case?

The fact of the matter is, this is not the case. The rules did not come up for review because an “outside organization” decided to advertise using the backpack mail program. If a religious camp had decided to advertise in this way, there is little doubt that the school would have accepted the advertisements without a second thought. No, the real reason why these people are revisiting the rules is because an atheist organization decided to use it – and the school wants to ban atheists.

One question that this issue brings up is an issue of what the law will and will not allow. Is the law set up to defend bigotry, or to defend the victims of bigotry. As I have said several times, this is not a “law” blog, this is an “ethics” blog. I am not concerned with what the law does or does not say, I am concerned with what people should and should not do.

Regardless of what the law says, these people have already exhibited a moral failing that they cannot hide. The courts cannot change the fact that these people are motivated by unreasoned hatred and bigotry to commit an act of injustice against their neighbors. This is now an established and unavoidable fact.

A preacher might stand before these people and say, “You might be able to fool your neighbor into thinking that you are motivated by love and kindness to your neighbor. You might be able to fool the courts into thinking that you are motivated by love and kindness to your neighbor. But you cannot fool God. God knows what is in your hearts, and he knows that it is not love. He knows that it is not kindness. He knows that he sees hate. He knows that he sees injustice. You can try to hide your shame behind a fig leaf of rhetoric, but He knows.”

Of course, in secular terms, this is simply another way of saying that the terms ‘hate’ and ‘injustice’ capture the truth of the matter, and anybody who says otherwise is lying. But, if a person is already stepped into the quagmire of immorality up to the point of hate and injustice, why not add some good old-fashioned lying to top it off.

We constantly hear about how God gives these people an inside track on ‘the right thing to do’. We constantly hear that it is because they cannot hide from God, and they cannot escape judgment in the afterlife, that they are more highly driven to do good than their secular/atheist neighbors – people such as myself.

Yet, the physical evidence seems to suggest otherwise. The evidence suggests that they know that there is no afterlife, that there is no final judgment. All of these claims come with a wink and a nudge among the knowing, that this is just a story that they made up so that they could get away acting immorally, and then blaming it all on God. “I’m not the one who made up these rules. I’m just obeying God. Can I help it if GOD wants you to hate these people and treat them unjustly? I’m just the messenger.”

No, he is not just a messenger. He is a hate-mongering bigot who needs to say something other than, “Because I don’t like it,” to get others to adopt the hatred and bigotry he preaches.

A good person really doesn’t need a God to get him to do the right thing. He does the right thing because he wants to. He does not need to be told, “God can see into your heart and he knows what you are truly after.” This is because he can see into his own heart. He knows what he is after.

If he is after justice, then it is simply going to leave a taste in his mouth too foul for him to swallow if he should treat others unjustly. He will so hate the taste that this is simply something he will not do. If he does treat others unjustly, this can mean nothing other than the fact that it has not left much of a foul taste in his mouth after all.

This is how secular morality works. Or, at least, it is how desire utilitarianism works. Desire utilitarianism seeks to use social institutions to make it the case that people so dislike injustice that they will avoid it, even when they can get away with it. Unlike certain religious people in Albermarle, the very idea of manipulating the legal system to execute a campaign of hatred and bigotry does not appeal to them. This is not because they don’t think they can get away with it. It is not because God can see what is truly in their hearts even if the Judge cannot. It is because, in being raised to be good, moral individuals, they simply do not like to treat others unjustly.

It is said that, without God – without religion – people can do whatever they please. In fact, everybody always does whatever they please. Even the religious person does not serve God unless it pleases him to do so, and does not treat others justly unless it pleases him to do so. The difference between good and evil is not a difference between doing what one pleases or not. The difference lies in being pleased by an opportunity to act fairly and justly towards others, versus being pleased by an opportunity to treat others to unjustly.

Religion clearly has done nothing to give certain people in Albemarle a distaste for injustice. Indeed, we are invited to wonder whether their religion has helped them learn to treat others unjustly – actually causing them to adopt the immoral attitudes we see witnessed in this particular campaign. Injustice – particularly the unjust treatment of those who do not share their beliefs – is a recommended dish in most moral menus based on scripture. Injustice is a dish that too many people are trying too hard to serve up as often as they can, and to force down the throats of others.

In the name of God.

Amen.

2 comments:

Reed Braden said...

Holy shit. I'm desperately ashamed of my home state of Virginia. We are the most W.A.S.P.-Dominant state in the Union. Everywhere I go, I hear all sorts of proud Southern crap from racist, anti-Atheist, Holocaust-denying, scum-of-the-earth rednecks. It no longer surprises me to see half of the quoted articles on Atheist blogs like this coming from within 50 miles of my house.

I live on top of the epicentre of bigoted hatred on the East Coast. I assume there is one in Mississippi and Alabama too, but the one in Virginia seems to be spewing out some major filth as of late.

Chandra said...

The blindness of religion never ceases to amaze me. The argument that we need god to tell us right from wrong is laughable. I've heard that one so many times from well meaning people who are concerned about me raising my kids without religion. They really can't fathom life without being told what to do and what to believe.