Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Limits of Religious Tolerance

It looks as if the government of Afghanistan is going to dismiss the charge of converting to Christianity against Abdur Rahman. The crime of conversion is considered an attack on Islam and is punishable by death. The government decided that they do not have enough evidence to convict him.

According to The Guardian:

Rahman, who begged his jailers for a bible, insists he is of sound mind and willing to die for his faith. "I am serene and have full awareness ... If I must die, I will die," he told the Italian daily La Repubblica, which sent questions through a human rights worker.

How much more evidence do they need?

Of course, I am not arguing for a conviction. It’s just that nobody is being fooled here. Any claim that the government lacks evidence is a clear lie. Politically, this clear lie may be the best way to prevent a murder. Morally, a just society is one in which a government does not have to lie, and the people do not have to pretend to believe a lie, in order to prevent such a murder.

Another moral flaw with this decision is that it guarantees no safety for the next convert. It is not as if the people can trust that the government will pretend lack of evidence with every convert they hear about. All other converts have to accept the possibility of being murdered at the hands of the government, if not the people. There is religious oppression in such a society. There is injustice . . . immorality . . . in such a society.

Religious Tolerance

Those who are defending the right to murder Rahman are making claims that the doctrine of religious tolerance we had an obligation not to interfere with their religious way of life.

I suggest that religious tolerance has a clearly defined limit. I have an obligation not to interfere with the religious practice of others, up to the point where they pick up knives or guns or bombs or airplanes and start killing people in the name of God. There is one type of religion which we cannot tolerate, and that is a religion whose God tells its follows to kill, maim, or otherwise harm their peaceful neighbors.

It is simple nonsense to say, “In the name of religious tolerance, if a mob comes after you and demands that you be burned at the stake, then you have a moral obligation to surrender to them and accept the punishment. Refusing to be burned at the stake is to be considered an insult to their religion, and that is something we cannot permit.”

It is simple nonsense to say that, in the name of religious tolerance, an individual must accept violence motivated by the intolerant commandments written into another person’s religion.

If it is an insult or an attack on another person’s religion to say, “You may not do violence to me and invoking the name of your God as the authority for doing violence is no defense,” then one is speaking of a religion that very much deserves insult and attack.

A Taste of One’s Own Medicine

While Christians are complaining about the of their own being threatened with murder because somebody else’s religion demands that he be murdered, I do see this is as an opportunity to say to at least some evangelical Christians, “Perhaps this taste of your own medicine will teach you a little about the real difference between right and wrong.”

There are Christians who use their Bible to advocate violence against others. Like the Muslim’s in Afghanistan, they seek to use the courts and the system of law as the instruments for inflicting this violence, but it is unjust violence just the same.

There is no moral difference between the harm that the Muslim conservatives in Afghanistan wish to use the law to inflict on apostates, and the harm that Christian conservatives seek to use the law to inflict on homosexuals. In both cases, violence is equally defended according to the religious commandments of a God that the advocates of violence say is the source of all that is good and right.

There is no moral difference between the status of homosexuals in America, and Christian apostates in Afghanistan. Both groups can equally be described as victims of religious oppression – of violence that one group seeks to impose on others in the name of God.

One may argue that homosexuals in this country are not being killed (except by thugs who take their religion to unjustified extremes). Yet, there are religious conservatives in this country who do argue for death.

More importantly, those Christian conservatives who are saying, “We are not killing homosexuals so we do not wrong,” would need to assert – if they are not going to be hypocrites – that there would be nothing wrong with Muslims in Afghanistan denying Christians the right to marry, or to hold jobs as teachers in the public schools, or express themselves in public, or adopt children, or may be subject to have their children taken away from them on the basis that Christians, by definition, cannot provide children with a fit home environment.

If they are willing to allow that Muslim laws to this affect would not count as religious persecution of Christians in Afghanistan, then they would at least be free of the charge of hypocrisy for claiming that they do no wrong to homosexuals in arguing for similar laws here based on their religion.

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