Thursday, February 02, 2012

Gays and Atheists in the Military

Sean Faircloth recently presented a list of political objectives to be reached through his new political strategy for atheism. The first of these was described as:

Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious and non-religious, with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

I rejected the idea that we can have a military that serves and includes all Americans. It would include and serve the American who takes a number of child brides, the Ku Klux Klan member, and the atheist who thinks that the 'religion' meme should be exterminated by exterminating all of those who are infected with it.

Nobody actually accepts the proposition that we must accept everybody We going to have standards for determining who the military should include and who it should serve, and some people and groups will not meet those standards. We are not going to put the child rapist, the KKK racist, the apostate-murdering Islamist, or the atheist seeking to euthanize anybody infected with the 'religion' meme on the "accepted" list.

As an aside, I want to mention that this is not an "either/or" question. We are going to find that the situation is more complex than simply branding certain qualities as making people "acceptable" or "unacceptable". However, for the purposes of this discussion, we don’t need to worry about those details. We can paint the room and add bring in the furniture after the structure is built.

The fundamental structure has us asking, in a broad sense, "How we are going to determine the broad general category in which to put individuals and groups?"

The first principle that I would advance - which I may call the Presumption of Innocence - is this:

Everybody starts on the "accepted" list and only moves to the "unaccepted" list with evidence sufficient to override this presumption.

This is a version of the principle that people are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It will never be the duty of any individual or group to prove that they deserve a place on the "accepted" list. It will always be the duty of those who would exclude people or groups to provide good reason for removing them - proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove a need to remove an individual or group from the "accepted" group preserves their place in that group.

One way to understand the presumption of innocence is by answering this question. Can you prove you did not sneak out and kill a young jogger at 4:00 AM on August 23, 2008? Consider this, and you can see why people generally have reason to promote this presumption of innocence.

The second principle - what one might call The Secular Principle - is this:

Religious reasons are not good reasons to move people into the "Unaccepted" group.

As a model for "good reasons" we should have in mind the reasons that would be considered acceptable in a court of law.

We would consider it a mockery of justice for a prosecutor to call to the witness stand some soothsayer, who kills a chicken in front of the jury, examines its entrails, and proclaims the accused "guilty" or "innocent". Similarly, we would not allow the prosecutor to present as evidence the accused's horoscope on the day that the crime took place, unless the horoscope actually helps to establish the real-world motive of the accused.

Similarly, swearing in a priest who says, "I spoke to God this morning and he said that the accused is guilty" is out of the question.

The main reason for excluding these types of testimony us that none of them offer any kind of public evidence. If some other priest takes the stand and says, "Well, my God said that the accused is innocent," we have no way to determine who is right. What type of public evidence can our priests bring to the jury to show that they revealed the true word of God and the other priest does not?

Faith may be "good enough" for a number of things. However, those who would be harmed - or removed from the "accepted" group - have a right to require something more than this. When it comes to declaring that the accused is guilty, or that apostates deserve to be killed, faith is not "good enough".

On the other hand, real world suffering counts as public evidence. The pain one feels on sticking one's hand into a bed of hot coals requires no belief in God and transcends religion. It is represented in the science of biology. That science considers not only the chemical reactions involved in experiencing pain, but the ouchiness of pain. We do not have a complete real-world theory of pain that excludes any link between it and behavior. It must include the real-world fact that pain is something that those who experience it have reason to avoid, even though they sometimes also have strong reason not to.

These types of facts can be offered as public evidence - and as reason to move people into the category of "unaccepted".

There are those who claim that atheists cannot explain the wrongness of causing pain, for example - that we cannot explain this without God. However, this dispute is a side show. They would also say that atheists cannot explain the existence of trees. However, disputes over how trees got here do not necessarily translate into disputes over whether trees actually exist. And disputes over how the wrongness of pain got here do not necessarily translate into disputes over whether there is actually a wrongness to causing pain.

Note the fundamental difference between this presentation and Faircloth's presentation. Faircloth said that we are going to accept everybody - religious and non-religious. This is a claim that I have wagered even Faircloth does not actually accept.

I, on the other hand, have argued that we are not going to accept everybody. We are going to divide people into those on the "accepted" list and those on the "unaccepted" list. That people and groups are not to be moved off of the "accepted" list unless proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be provided for moving them off. That this proof requires public evidence. And that religious reasons do not provide public evidence for removing people from the "unaccepted" category.

There is no good public reason to remove gays or atheists from the "accepted" category to the "unaccepted" category. Though many religious people try to find public reasons that correspond to their religious motivation, these public reasons are nothing more than a set of secular myths and rationalizations that aim to support conclusions that some people have adopted for religious reasons.

Their rationalizations provide a bigot's proof that a target group deserves to be targeted, not rational public evidence beyond a reasonable doubt - the way some southern slave owners rationalized away slavery by claiming that there were good secular advantages to slavery, even for blacks.

One thing we can say about religion is that it does have a tendency to go hand-in-hand with a disposition to believe wild and fanciful stories that just happen to support a desired conclusion. Though non-religous people clearly are not immune from this.

Here, we have a framework that takes seriously the fact that we are not going to put everybody in the "accepted" group, gives everybody a presumption of membership on the "accepted" list, and requires public evidence for moving them out of the "accepted" group. Religious evidence is denied a role of "public" evidence in these matters just as it is in a court of law and for the same reasons. This leaves no good public reason to move gays and atheists out of the "accepted" group. It provides no good reason to boo a gay soldier serving his country, or to hold that atheist service personnel are only qualified to follow orders and never to give them.

Tomorrow, I am going to add to this an account of why it is that gays and atheists appear on religious "unaccepted" list. I will look at what is really going on when gays and atheists face discrimination for religious reasons.

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