Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tolerance is the key to our future

Religion, science and human rights... how are they related? One of them is constantly being used to harm the other two. Tolerance is such a key ideology to the future of humanity, and we can only benefit from it being widespread faithfully, scientifically and ethically.

No one is out to attack religion or spirituality. However, some faithful followers are constantly combating others who have done humanity no harm. Women, homosexuals and people of all kinds have been heavily discriminated against socially and legally for hundreds of years and the prejudice has always stemmed from overzealous dogmatists of different pieties. Old-world, young-earth believers try to discredit and halt scientific advancement because it doesn't align with their ancient concept of the universe. Scientific research brought the world medicine, life-saving knowledge of disease and the human body, not to mention endless amounts of information about the natural world; it is not a threat to society.

Luckily, in our modern time we find charming and refreshing churches and groups, even in the Bible Belt, that promote loving thy neighbor - and yes, even their homosexual ones. These peaceful and loving people have learned tolerance of those who are different than themselves, and their faith is not affected by it in any negative way. Most people nowadays can tolerate change, variety and opposing views — it's the dwindling assembly of powerful extremists that fuel this ridiculous bigotry. I'd like to think the majority of religious people, or at least the ones that I know, look to their faith as a source for love and compassion toward one another and not as a tool to harm or restrain others.

The argument that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community is living in sin or that solid scientific findings are bogus because they negate an older, less-informed idea of the natural world is irrelevant to law-making in a democracy. America has been a secular nation since day one, which protects the freedom to have faith as well as guards from discrimination derived from it. Lately both locally and nationally, states with anti- gay marriage laws are being challenged and some even overturned due to the gay rights movement.

You don't see any laws in favor of America's majority religion that forbid rounded haircuts (Leviticus 19:27), eating figs (Mark 11:12-14) or getting divorced (Mark 10:9) because those little tidbits seem a little absurd to even the most pious of followers. Laws should not reflect these oddities, especially the ones that directly inhibit the freedoms of others that bring absolutely zero harm to anyone - like gay marriage for example. Homosexuals will not "violate the sanctity of marriage" because licenses are issued by the government. "Sanctity" literally means the quality of being holy, which is an intangible idea that the government cannot legally enforce.

Without tolerance and a yearning for knowledge, technological advancement would halt. I will never understand why anyone would blatantly ignore evidence and physically tangible and testable proof for such things as the age of the Earth or evolution. And not to get started on the whole "it's just a theory" bit, but theories in science are arrived at by hypothesizing, experimenting, observing, collecting data and analyzing the facts - not randomly guessing. Many other well- known and accepted scientific ‘theories' are bacteria (germ), electromagnetism, gravity, atoms and plate tectonics. Science isn't trying to dissolve faith, it's trying to learn and explain nature in a logical, researched and informed way. If knowledge is power, why knock it? Time and time again, the government rightfully stands behind teaching science in public classrooms and not re-branded forms of religion, such as Intelligent Design.

I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to live in a free country instead of one plagued by deep-rooted dogmatic principles such as misogynistic Shariah laws or - let's be honest - many of the pro-murder musings in Leviticus that (hopefully) no Christian follows anyway. Be thankful for life, love and the pursuit of happiness and don't waste your time trying to ruin others'. Tolerance, kindness and empathy will not lead to eternal damnation - or communism - but they will produce a higher standard quality of life for all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

America's Spurning of the Wall of Separation

Since its establishment, the wall of separation between church and state has been a very sensitive, fine-lined matter. Many Americans argue that government sometimes takes the separation too far, when in actuality church and state often cross blurred lines even today. When did this idea of a secular nation originate and what is its function?

The separation from, and freedom of religion was established through several official government documents including the Bill of Rights, Treaty of Tripoli and several Supreme Court and other judicial rulings. Many of the founding fathers offered intellectual perspectives on why secularity in government is necessary in a free nation. James Madison, fourth president of the United States of America, once said, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”

As early as the mid-17th century colonists petitioned for freedom of religious choice. The 1657 Flushing Remonstrance, a petition to the governor of New Netherlands who had banned all religions but one, stated "Wee desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master.” The document is celebrated as one of the earliest articulations of one of the most basic rights of freedom and was even commemorated on a U.S. stamp in 1957.

What comes to mind when thinking over the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America? About 61 percent of Americans said it is about freedom of speech, while only 23 percent also mentioned it protects the freedom of religion. This is uncanny considering the very first words of it are “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” This was the first of 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1789 and became law.

Those who are somewhat against complete separation of church and state may argue that America is a Christian nation, founded on its basic principles and ideas. In Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, American diplomat Joel Barlow wrote, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” John Adams, second U. S. president, signed the treaty which received unanimous ratification from the U. S. Senate. Why would so many of the founding fathers agree with this notion? Many of these prominent figures, including Thomas Paine and well-known favorite – Benjamin Franklin, were in reality deists. They may have associated with Christian philosophies, but many rejected orthodox ideologies and organized sects thereof.

Many high-profile court cases have battled over religious rights and infringement. Supreme Court case Watson V. Jones 80 U. S. 679 in 1872 ruled among other things that “The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect.” Cases like this only further the strong suggestion that spirituality and government do not mix.

Sure, all these documents imply that there should be a separation, but where did the actual expression “separation of church and state” come from? Founder of the Rhode Island colony and Baptist theologian Roger Williams wrote of a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world" in his book “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.” Third president to the United States of America Thomas Jefferson is credited for making a simplified version of the phrase famous in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802.

There is so much more evidence out there that shows this nation is meant to be utterly secular, yet we still find violations of that idea on monstrous scales. Separation of church and state is something that has been established since the beginning of our nationhood, but is still not in full effect. Why exactly is this division so important? Think of how life would be if the reigning majority religion was not your own belief; how much would having to abide by laws of a differing creed affect your life? To keep these entities separate protects the most fundamental rights we as Americans have earned – the freedom to choose our own personal beliefs.

Sources and Bibliography

“Name That Freedom” by John Schwartz

“Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of the Town of Flushing to Governor Stuyvesant, December 27, 1657”

“Selected Quotes of James Madison”
“Bill of Rights”

“Six Historic Americans: Benjamin Franklin”

“THE BLOUDY TENENT OF PERSECUTION” by Roger Williams July 15, 1644

“Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists” by Thomas Jefferson Jan. 1, 1802

“Group sues Texas governor for 'unconstitutional' participation in prayer rally”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Deserting Dogma to Advocate Truth

We are all amazingly beautiful and manifold creatures living among our own wondrous world inside an immeasurable universe. I believe in the stupendous science and nature of our cosmos, but not that it was designed by an archaic figment of our predecessors' imagination. Some choose to fill the great void of the unknown with theistic explanations instead of factual research and habitually use these ideologies to justify harming others. To me, this is unacceptable, and that is why I am no longer religious.

Indoctrination most commonly occurs during our youth because children are unassuming and highly impressionable.  Kids put all their trust in those close to them and rely on their kin for life’s necessities. They have no choice during religious instruction and are subjected to barbaric rituals, such as female circumcision, without any form of consent. Religious parents who use faith healing methods over modern medicine endanger their children’s lives and disregard scientific research. There is a reason the gap in intellectual progress was dubbed ‘The Dark Ages.’ One day, I will teach my progeny to be freethinkers and have reign over their own volition.

I’ve always thought it obvious that religions are built on beautiful, fictitious tomes that are used to teach the masses moral behavior. Various faiths hold different moral standards because of their distinct cultural domains. The main purpose of religion is to instill moral standards, but these dogmatic devices are completely unnecessary for people to be ethical. I find morality through my own desire to be treated well by others; it drives me to always act kindly and respectfully.

One of the greatest moral fallacies the majority of religions condone is the treating of women as inferior to men. It is absurd that half of the Earth’s population is considered subordinate to the other solely based on chromosomes. Women are suppressed worldwide and treated like objects or property not capable of choosing their own decree. Fundamentalist Middle Eastern denominations abhor Western societies because they generally allow women much more freedom and rights.

I believe all people should be treated equally if not found less worthy of trust or praise by judgment of character – not color, gender, sexuality, religious belief, culture or other form of prejudice. I don’t use faith or scripture as an excuse to pass judgment on people. I evaluate the caliber of person based on my interactions with them, not because some omnipotent unseen immortal thinks they are lesser beings.

Pious leaders are meant to be honorable role models, yet we frequently find them guilty of lewd behavior and molestation of children. This is ironic considering sexual intercourse is deemed to be unclean, and one of the most sinful acts one could ever engage in – let alone think about. How can anyone ignore this tragic and apparent priestly trend? These monsters actually utilize their trustworthy persona to commit horrendous acts against innocent children – a vile thought.

Religious texts also serve up enticing elucidations to the timeless and morbid speculations of life after death. Faiths guarantee an afterlife as an artifice to distract us from dismal thoughts of our inevitable expiration. I understand the realization that we are perishable creatures on this planet, just like all other living organisms, is not an idea all people can stomach. Death is permanent.  This notion was the most painful for me to acknowledge. It took me a great deal of courage, after a dear friend recently ceased to exist, to face these realities on a multitude of levels. The grim veracity of our demise is so dreadful, I almost long to believe in heaven again because it would soothe my vexed mind.

Because of our arbitrary existence, humans incessantly search for the meaning to life and craft fables to simplify our inexplicable origin in the universe. These creation stories are entertaining, yet not necessary to explain how we came to be.  Science can solve those queries and even helps us overcome obstacles to lengthen the span of our lives.  The only real purpose I have on earth is to live until I die, but my own motivation is to enjoy life to the fullest and positively contribute to humanity.

There are over 400 billion stars in our galaxy just like our sun; there are most definitely other forms of life out there somewhere. We may even seem like insignificant ants to some highly advanced alien organisms, but they did not place us on earth or speak to us through a burning bush. I believe it is lazy to identify something one simply cannot explain as an act of God, the invisible man in the sky keeping tabs of all of our triumphs and transgressions. Scientific research is the only unswerving instrument we can use to discover factual evidence for any theory or claim. Many dogmas deny research because it threatens their control over society.

The world – driven by technological advancement – is gradually releasing its firm grip on religion. The greater the spread of information, the less we rely on unsupported faith. My curiosity is ever-growing, and I will never stop asking questions. I cannot abide religion because I consider the accuracy of science to analyze our universe down to its basic intricacies, and faiths simply do not align with it.