By Shanna Babilonia
Many people globally are being persecuted for their religious beliefs and for their non-belief. They are being stripped of their property and personal rights, tortured, murdered and displaced from their own homeland, simply for not following the same spiritual principles as their fellow citizens. Whether you are a believer, or not, we can all agree that this is a reality that has left a horrid stain on humanity for thousands of years. It is the unfortunate and terrible trademark of our archaic ideas that have followed us into our modern world. No doubt, this problem has yet to see its end.
In America, we are given the freedom to pursue our own religious philosophies (and our choice to free ourselves of religious ideology all-together); but the problem is that some American conservatives observe what’s happening to religious adherents in other nations and assign the same “experience” to their own life, when in reality – it’s not their experience at all. They claim to be the victims of persecution, when in reality, they have more in common with the discriminatory perpetrators. It’s easy to understand why this is happening – religions have been persecuting one another (and outsiders) for thousands of years because it is an embedded element of many religious traditions. But, can a dominant religion in a free nation claim persecution? Is it the same experience citizens of other (less free) nations are experiencing around the world?
Here are 11 things American conservatives must stop claiming as persecution:
If something is true, it can be largely proven through the scientific process; and our ability to prove our hypothesis’ is advancing exponentially. The fact that most of our world’s scientists have reached a consensus on our planet’s beginnings and how human life has developed through time, is not a targeted attempt to persecute religious cohorts. It is a [human] attempt by those who are concerned with human advancement to learn about our world and share that information with humanity in order to propagate human and natural growth, advancement and improvement. Whether an individual chooses to believe in untested ideas, while simultaneously discarding proven ones, has nothing to do with persecution, but with the inability of an individual to mentally separate fact from fiction.
When a family member who has been trained to believe a specific set of religious instructions about life discovers philosophies that conflict with those experiences, they may choose to discard their first teachings and create new ideas that are more compatible with their own life direction. This is almost always not a choice that is made in order to spite or disobey family traditions; but rather, because it no longer fits into their world view. This is not persecution because the family member should be free to honestly choose what ideology is correct for their individual understanding. The persecution occurs when the family member who has chosen differently is cast aside and besmirched, simply for no longer carrying on the same religious notions as other family members.
Offenders of discrimination often seek to justify their attempts to restrict the rights of other people based on their own religious ideas, and those of their religious text; even when those rights harm no one and enable people to enjoy a more harmonious life. They are not concerned with other people enjoying rights and freedoms, but whether they agree that those individuals and groups should have those rights according to their religion. Persecution does not occur because groups of people attempt to achieve rights and freedoms, it occurs when others attempt to restrict those rights based upon religious concepts. The victims are the groups who are denied their rights because of religious bias, not the group denying them.
Our past and modern history is full of examples of what can be expected for citizens of theocratic societies. Those informed citizens who have studied the events of our world, and our country are well aware of the oppression a theocratic government can cause for its people. When those citizens speak out against religion in government, they are not attempting to persecute religion; they are attempting to keep religious oppression from asserting itself and affecting their own life and that of their fellow Americans. Their interest lies in keeping America free for all, and they are informed enough to understand that a religiously governed country is harmful to that freedom. The persecution happens when religious followers support forcing their ideas on the entirety of a population, irrespective of the fact that millions of Americans do not agree with their spiritual concepts.
Many of our world’s major religious books were written hundreds and thousands of years ago in a time when our human understanding and concepts were in their infancy. When a person takes interest in exploring those texts and thinking critically about what is presented to them, it is easy to discover the innumerable inconsistencies in those books. When people who have taken the time and effort to educate themselves about religion share those findings with others, they are not doing so specifically to persecute believers. They are doing so in order to help others discover a truth that has been largely hidden from populations in order to perpetuate a specific belief structure. Even today, there are countries that still conceal information from their citizens in order to maintain religious control, especially in theocratic societies. Presenting the problems with commonly held beliefs written in ancient books is not persecution, it is information. It is a common human way of sharing ideas and partaking in human mental expansion.
In a free society where information is readily available and shared, it is expected that the ideas and concepts of a people will eventually change and adapt to a new cultural environment. As Americans begin to become increasingly aware of the painful and violent atrocities that have plagued humanity over religious differences, the decision to leave religion is a favorable option for many Americans. This is not persecution, it is an individual and collective decision to move away from concepts that can be harmful to humanity and society and move towards more modern, positive and ethical ways of treating one another. It is the very thing that has already happened countless times in antiquity when our past religions were retired to the dustbin along with all our other historical mythologies. It is what happens when the world operates off of a set of ideas, until it reaches a point where the human mind expands enough to leave redundant belief structures in favor of philosophies that more critically and appropriately fit with our current world experience.
At one point in our history, when religion claimed to know the absolute truth of life and our universe, it was accepted as fact. It was our only explanation before our consciousness matured enough for us to use our mental tools to evaluate our world more precisely and quantitatively. We no longer live in that time, and our advancements have proven that what we once believed about our world; was in fact, completely wrong in many ways. It is not persecution when religion continues to make extraordinary claims and defy everything we have learned to be the actual way our world functions and we ask for proof of those claims.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
~ Carl Sagan
Although it’s true that we can’t prove that a divine creator who mysteriously delivered messages about life to ancient goat herders is not real; we also can’t prove that it is. But, we can prove when and how those texts came into existence, and often even who wrote them and what collective trends they share with other mythology and the commonly held beliefs of the time. To make a religious claim without the ability to prove the stories of man are true and not simply fables (like all our previous mythological gods and goddesses) is an open-door to criticism and skepticism, especially in today’s world where informed people can no longer be fooled into ignoring their own cognitive abilities to discern fact from fiction. It is not persecution to require those who make extraordinary claims to prove that their concepts are real and not human-conceived.
Many Americans view proper family functioning only through the ideas of one specific religious ideology and are unable to recognize or accept that their version of family values is not agreeable for many people. For those who are well-informed and researched on religion, many of the family “values” found in religious texts, are in fact, abhorrent to those who disagree with the archaic and unethical instructions on the treatment of women and children. To them, their concept of family values cannot possibly agree with that of a religion that dictates oppressive and harmful roles within a family. It is not persecution when those who disagree with religious family values refuse to have those values dictated to them, when internally, they can’t possibly accept those instructions. It is persecution when those who perceive their idea of “family values” to be the only acceptable concept attempt to force that concept on an entire society through legal processes.
We now have more information available to many more people on the planet, thanks largely to the internet. We can connect with people from across the globe, learn about cultures and explore our history in a way never available to the average human in times past. Since we are living in an age where we can quickly learn about our world, many of us have used this opportunity to discover the whole picture, rather than just the portion we were indoctrinated with as children. We have the resources to connect the historical dots of our human religious invention and understand how it all began – and how it brought us to where we are today. It is not persecution that those who have chosen to learn about their world and its’ history are sharing that information with others, and with less-informed groups. It is a natural progression that when information is available, it will be spread to others through conversation and debate. This is one way we humans reconcile old and new data and arrive at a conclusion that promulgates human progress.
There is no denying that our world’s three largest religions all support texts that are full of misogyny and appalling treatment of women. It is not persecution when outsiders expose what is plainly written in these texts. It is an attempt by cognizant people to help others understand what they are supporting and expose the problems that are created for many women in the world as a direct result of the words written in those books. In some countries, women are treated so despairingly that it is an insult to humanity to believe that we as a species can treat one gender of our human race in such atrocious ways. Pointing out the reality of what is written in our holy texts and our social contempt for such deplorable human actions is not persecution, it is necessary in order to change the female human experience to a more positive and equal one.
Our public schools are filled with a diversity of cultural, racial and religious backgrounds. In a classroom, it can be expected that many student may hold a majority belief, while there will still be some whose teachings differ vastly from that of their peers. In the past, it was acceptable for staff members to lead students in teachings and prayers that only catered to a specific religious idea, but it left those whose religious concepts were different in a unjustifiable situation – an authority figure in their life (who was not their parent) forcefully leading them in a way that conflicted with their currently held views. If this is allowed, where does it leave those students who do not adhere to that specific faith, or non-faith? Are they to be ostracized and singled-out for non-participation? The persecution is not the restriction of staff from proselytizing for a specific belief; it is the expectation that those students who don’t carry the same religious ideas of their teachers should be subjected to religious teachings, without their own consent, or that of their parents. For this reason, religion is allowed in school, but can’t be led by a publically paid teacher. Students are still free to connect on a spiritual level with other like-minded students.
So, if these things are not persecution, what is?
Persecution occurs when those with specific religious beliefs use their ideology to justify labelling others as immoral and wicked, without consideration to facets of the individual’s personality and actions, other than their religious disagreement. It is the attempt to eliminate, or prevent others from enjoying the same rights and freedoms they enjoy and using religion as the basis for that discrimination. It is the use of religion as a means for oppressing others by forcing a specific ideology on children, tribes, communities and often an entire population through legal processes, violence and the threat of personal safety, loss of property and resources, citizenship or even life itself. It is the use of money, food, resources and governments as a tool to force religious ideas into society, without consideration to all parties involved, but only for the ideas of one specific group. It is when religious institutions and followers seek a measure of control that ultimately reduces other human beings to a position of inferiority based exclusively on religious belief, rather than the content of character.
Persecution, as defined, is the act of continually treating others in a cruel and harmful way. Sharing knowledge and information, attempting to exercise rights already provided to others, upholding freedoms for all citizens, not just for one group of religious adherents, is not persecution. It is how a humane, ethical and civilized society progresses for the benefit of all.
Shanna Babilonia is a former blogger
May 16, 2018