Friday, September 28, 2007

Religious Coercion

I've been commenting over at the Wapo's "On Faith" forum a bit. In addition to the Hitchens post of yesterday, I posted this against a Susan Jacoby piece today:
The sad fact is that, in the ecology of belief systems, there are few stable niches. All belief systems--even rational ones--are competing for the same essential resources. Without minds to perpetuate the belief, it dies. So it's no surprise that fundamentalist Christianity or Islam feels threatened by incompatible ideas like atheism or agnosticism. There ultimately ain't room in this town for all of 'em.

But I think we're all kidding ourselves that atheism/agnosticism has any moral high ground in the hatred department. It's very unattractive when a minority viewpoint becomes arrogant or coercive in its evangelism. More importantly, it's suicidal. The proper tactics for a minority are gentle persuasion, not coercion.

Still, I got taken to task on another thread in this forum--by an atheist--for professing mere agnosticism, when in fact he asserted that I was as atheistic as he was. The need to build a consistent dogma and attract as many folks to our "side" as possible is wired up deep in our nature. I can't but wonder what would happen if the atheists/agnostics represented 75% of the population. Would they be as dogmatic and coercive as Christians or Muslims?

Now, I'm convinced that secularism as a philosophy of government is essential to a free, healthy society. And I further believe that secularism deserves to be defended. However, I am not anti-religion. I am not even completely opposed to one's religious beliefs informing one's public policy actions, although there's a fine line in there somewhere. (The little sucker's good at camouflaging itself...) But I am unalterably opposed to any form of religious evangelism or coercion through public policy--to say nothing of through intimidation or violence.

But there's a contradiction buried in here. (He's a drinking buddy of the fine line, apparently.) I view going to war to protect the West from jihadist Islam as a perfectly reasonable and, indeed, moral position. But I would no more use violence against my Baptist neighbors--even though I dislike their politics on some things--than I would fly to the moon.

What's the difference? Is it merely that the jihadis are shooting at us and the Baptists aren't? What if the Baptists were to start shooting? Is this a simple tit-for-tat escalation game? And if so, what does that auger for the future?

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