In my examination of Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists, I have reached the fifth of his policy objectives, which he stated as "no bias in marriage law." It is a call for legalized gay marriage.
The argument is, "If your religion has objections to gay marriage, then don't enter into a marriage with somebody of the same gender. But your religious prejudices are your business and have no business becoming law. Some people have religious objections to eating pork, or having blood transfusions, or working on the Sabbath. That's fine - they can obey those restrictions to the point that they do not endanger others. But those religious prohibitions do not provide an argument for laws against eating of pork, getting a blood transfusion, or working on the Sabbath. Nor should we restrict homosexual marriage."
Looking at some of the arguments we have been seeing to justify imposing religious restrictions on everybody, we really should outlaw the whole pork industry. No doubt, those people who think that God prohibits pork are offended when they enter a restaurant and see "pork chops" or "bacon cheeseburger" on the menu. Having the butcher put pork ribs on display is nothing but a slap in the face of all those who adhere to a religion that condemns such activity. One might as well post a sign saying, "These pork-prohibiting religions are nonsense."
What is the difference, really, between selling hot dogs at a ball game or drawings of Mohammed on a web site? Both are prohibited by certain religions. Don't they both call for violence against the infidels that would offend the religion by these practices?
Or, perhaps we should form the judgment that neither of them justifies legal entanglements.
The same line of reasoning applies to gay marriage. A person’s prohibitions are their own business. We will not force somebody to violate their religious prohibition on marrying somebody of the same gender. The freedom of religion requires this – as does common human decency. However, such a person has no more of a right to call on a prohibition against others marrying somebody of the same gender than he has a right to call for a universal prohibition on the manufacture and sale of pork. Not without a good, solid, secular argument.
Unfortunately, one of the realities we must admit to and not sweep under any rugs is the fact that people with religious prejudices are great at coming up with fantastic secular arguments to defend their religious prejudices. Where they are not permitted to use religious arguments to condemn gay marriage, they invent secular arguments to take their place. They will tell us, for example, that all of civilization will start crumbling down if we allow a person to marry somebody of the same gender. Or we are told that there is no rational defense of gay marriage that does not also allow one to marry children or animals.
There is no evidence for the first claim other than the fact that people with certain religious prejudices like to imagine that it is true.
The "children or animals" argument assumes that there are no secular objections to be raised against these marriages. However, the counter-argument is really quite simple. Marriages represent a contract, and no person may be permitted to enter into a valid marriage that cannot enter into a valid contract. A child's lack of judgment disqualifies the child from entering into most contracts. In the United States, even young adults cannot enter into a valid contract to purchase alcohol. We can use the same secular arguments to prohibit children from entering into a marriage contract. They are just too young to make a wise decision on such matters.
With this in mind, our next question is, "Why do people embrace unfounded absurdities such as these?"
The problem that we are faced with is what I have called, "The Bigot's 'Proof'". It involves embracing a secular argument that is as fantastic and unreasonable as any religious claim merely because it appears to support a prejudice.
Bigotry strives to justify itself. It does so through a system of rationalizations. Bigots are masters at cherry-picking evidence, seeing only the things that conform to and confirm their bigotry, while dismissing any counter-evidence as "an anomaly". They are also masters at filtering what they see through the lens of their prejudice. A young black male trying to break into a car is a thief. A blonde female is stupid. A white male is having a bad day.
An era in history that always comes to my mind when I think about the bigot's proof is the way some Americans defended slavery in the early 1800s. They told us that the child-like mind of the Negros made them unfit for adult freedoms. Instead, they were to be cared for under the benevolent watch of a paternalistic "owner" who cared for the Negro like a child. Of course, even children were obligated to do some chores around the farm - those chores that were appropriate to the child's abilities.
Where did these nonsense ideas come from?
They came from the human disposition to embrace unreasoned fantasies that support a valued prejudice.
Jim Crow laws, "Separate but Equal," treating women as the property of their husbands or closest male relative, the Holocaust, all can find "justification" in secular arguments that are no less fantasy-driven than their religious justifications.
Furthermore, fantasy secular arguments and religious arguments go hand-in-hand. With many religious claims, we are already looking at a population inclined to believe fantastic claims without the least bit of evidence in a culture that shuns reason-based thinking and logic and holds "faith" (evidence-free belief) to be a paradigm virtue. This is a culture that is primed to accept not only religious claims, but fantastic and unfounded secular claims as well.
Furthermore, we must not underestimate the power of these prejudices. Look at the volumes of hard scientific evidence we have that supports evolution, that the Earth is more than 6000 years old, or that humans are contributing to global warming. Yet, these volumes of hard physical evidence - much stronger than anybody could provide in a court of law, for example - are swatted aside and dismissed by those who embrace a conclusion this evidence does not support.
People who can ignore so much hard evidence on matters such as these are going to prove completely immune to evidence on matters such as gay marriage. We are being foolish if we think that merely providing them with the reasoned evidence that they are wrong will have much of an effect.
Where does this leave us?
We need to recognize that "The Bigot's 'Proof'" is not just an intellectual failing.
It is a moral failing.
On issues where we are talking about denying freedom to others and doing harm to their interests, there is a moral obligation to begin with a presumption of innocence – a presumption of freedom. It is only when confronted with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that freedom must be curtailed that we may act against that liberty.
For example, we may give this presumption of liberty to the child molester. However, we clearly have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that such relationships pose unreasonable risks and, thus, any presumption is quickly overridden.
In the case of the homosexual adult seeking a committed relationship with another homosexual adult, no such evidence presents itself, we have no such evidence. More to the point, those who embrace unreasoned and unfounded arguments for doing harm demonstrate that they are neglecting their moral obligation to begin with a presumption of freedom. They are, instead, beginning with the presumption that harm is justified, and clutching at every straw within reach to try to keep the appearance that it is justified.
Before I close, I need to warn my readers that this is not only a problem for the religious. In fact, saying that this problem is limited to those who believe in God would be an example of the very type of Bigot's 'Proof' that I am warning against.
The disposition to embrace an argument because it supports a prejudice is a human failing. It is not a religious failing. It is a failing that both causes people to write their prejudices into their religion, and to accept fantasy secular arguments in defense of those same prejudices. Remember, religion did not come from God. It comes from the human mind - and reflects the moral failings of its authors. We cannot consistently say that no God exists, and then blame God, and not humans, for the moral failings we find in scripture – as if these moral failings would not exist if not for the instructions some god provided.
There is a very real possibility - I would call it a certainty - that many atheists will adopt a bigot's 'proof' on the harms and dangers of religion itself. They will embrace claims, not because those claims are founded on reason and evidence, but because they support a valued prejudice.
One must be watchful. One must take the time - even formally - to ask whether evidence and reason actually supports one's conclusions, or whether one simply sees it as doing so because one wants to. And the presumption should always be that we are being fooled by our own human nature. We should always give the benefit of the doubt to others.