There is a measure on the ballot in California, Proposition 8, whose purpose is to overturn a California State Supreme Court decision that made homosexual marriage legal in the state. It has collected a lot of support – a lot of money – among those who are opposed to gay marriage.
I had been thinking that the people of California were good people, on the average, and would not allow this measure to pass. However, news reports have reached me recently suggesting that Proposition 8 is heading toward victory in California. Gay couples there are rushing to get married before the right to do so is again taken away.
The specific argument that I would like to see being made against Proposition 8 is that it is yet another example in which religion inspires people to go to great effort and to put a great deal of enthusiasm into doing harm to others (in the name of God). It is not as violent as a bomb on a crowded bus and will probably not kill as many people. However, this does not change the fact that the Proposition, if passed, will severely millions of lives. Legislation has always been the greatest and most destructive of all of the weapons of mass destruction for those who seek to do harm to others.
I want to add that a lot can be said in favor of those who have given up bombs and guns as their tools of choice for imposing their religious views on others. The theocrat who decides to use the ballot box instead at least gives their opponents (victims) the opportunity to argue in their defense, and they spare society the widespread disruption of physical violence. This is a huge step forward, and it should be acknowledged.
However, the fact that a particular group of people determined to do harm to others in the name of God have decided to give up bombs and guns and limit themselves to the ballot box does not argue against the fact that they still do harm to others in the name of God. This is their goal, their passion, they can think of nothing else in their life that gives it more value than to make sure that the group that they have properly targeted is sufficiently harmed by their actions.
I have argued in the past that it is a mistake to claim that the number of people who actually get their morality from their religion is anything more than a miniscule fraction of the population. The proposition that A implies B . . . or even A tends to lead to B . . . is sufficiently discredited when one can find case after case after case of A and not-B. The huge number of cases in which the Bible prescribes or proscribes some conduct that religious people ignore are a huge number of counter-examples to the thesis that anybody gets their morality from their religion.
Instead, what we have is a group of people who get their morality from their culture, who then read that culture morality into their religion. These people do not get their morality to God, they give their morality to God through their selective use of biblical test, taking from it only what they want and ignoring that which they find inconvenient. It is because this culture is bigoted that they find bigotry in their religious text. They read those values into their religion and, in this case, they read hatred into that religion. They invent a god to give support to their hatred.
They do not assign their bigotry to God but they still share the bigotry that their culture-mates are assigning to God.
So, this is not a case where religion causes people to be evil. In fact, it is actually quite difficult to make the case that religion causes people to be evil . . . or to be good. Because they create a religion to hold their values, the values must come first. Morally good people invent good religions and good gods. Morally vicious people invent vicious religions with vicious gods.
Still, the important point for the purpose of this blog is that the opposition to gay marriage gathers a lot of its support from a religious faction that puts a high value on hate. This is an example in which religion is intimately connected to motivating people to act in ways harmful to others. Yet, in the eight years in which this campaign to do harm in the name of God has been waged, I have not heard people expose these particular campaigns for what they are.
When the current group of atheist authors – Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and others – filled the air waves, a part of their message was that it is time to stop coddling religion and to expose it for what it is. Yet, on a national campaign issue that had its primary purpose the use of legislation to do harm to the well-being of millions of American citizens – a classic example in which it is possible to connect religion to a motivation to do harm – religion was still coddled. Nobody, as far as I could tell, pointed out the similarities between using a law to destroy the lives of millions of people that one’s religion has taught one to hate, and using a bomb against the enemies of one’s religion.
The task of describing Proposition 8 accurately – the task of communicating the thesis that this is an example of people being driven to do harm to others in the name of religion – cannot be trusted to a political group that aims to oppose Proposition 8. There are certain things they cannot say – certain groups they cannot offend. It is up to us to carry the message that this type of legislation is actually an excellent example of causing harm in the name of God. It is yet another example in which religion is involved in motivating people to behave in ways harmful to their neighbors.
Given the content of this posting, I believe that I should take at least a couple of moments to address a claim that some might make, “But look at the good that religion has done?”
However, the good that religion has done, if there is any, is not relevant to this debate. Consider the person who gives you $10 to buy some groceries but slices you with a razor at the same time. We can say of him, “Look at the good he did, giving that person money so he could eat.” However, this does not change the fact that he would have been better off still getting the $10 without being cut, than he was getting the $10 and getting cut at the same time.
The charitable contribution does not excuse the harm done by cutting the recipient
Nor is it the case that any good that religious people do excuses the harm they do at the same time. The good that they do with their charitable work would be just as good if it were not accompanied by such enthusiastic devotion to such harmful behavior as getting a ban on gay marriage passed in the state of California (or any other state).
So, this is a post not only in favor of supporting the campaign to reject Proposition 8 in California. This is a post that speaks against the habit of refraining from saying the obvious – that this ballot initiative is just another example of how religion in this country is intimately tied to behavior harmful to others – of making people enthusiastic beyond reason over the prospect of doing something that is harmful to others.
In the name of God.