Tag Archives: Santorum

Marriage Is Not the Government’s Business

President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage
has gotten people talking. I am late to the party, so maybe I can toss in a question that few people are asking.

Why should anyone need the government’s permission to marry?

The whole thing smacks of feudal times, when serfs needed their lord’s approval to marry. Today, we have freedom. Shouldn’t we be free to make a basic commitment to each other without the government’s say-so? We don’t need the government’s permission to commit ourselves to a particular god; why should it decide which interpersonal commitments are up to snuff?

Let’s get government out of the marriage business.

Wherever government now relies on marriage to determine something, let it use a civil contract. And I’m not talking about civil unions. What I have in mind is much more fine-grained. There could be contracts to establish a household for tax purposes, inheritance contracts, living will contracts, contracts to raise adopted children together, and so on. In each case, the restrictions on who could execute the contracts would be based on the relevant factors for that type of contract, not on the religiously charged concept of marriage.

If you talk with those on the Religious Right, who style themselves as the most ardent defenders of marriage, it’s clear that for them marriage is a religious institution, and their faith makes it especially hard for them to accept the idea of same-sex marriage. But can we not see that even in the context of faith, marriage means different things to different people?

Our country is supposed to allow everyone to practice their faith (or lack of faith). How do we have freedom of religion when we prohibit Muslims from following their custom of polygamy? And have we forgotten that the founders of the Judeo-Christian tradition were polygamous as well? (Yes, Abraham, Moses and many of the other patriarchs had multiple wives.) Finally, does anyone else see irony in the fact that the Republican platform of 2012 will almost certainly include a “one-man-one-woman” plank, and standing squarely on that plank will be … a Mormon?

Did you know that the Bible nowhere defines what it takes to be married? Certainly heterosexuality is assumed, but it’s remarkable how little the Bible actually says about the mechanics of getting married. There is no particular ceremony to follow, and no particular vow to take. And it isn’t until the New Testament that monogamy is unambiguously held up as the ideal. More to the point of this post, no government is invested with the authority to “declare you husband and wife.”

How have we Americans, of all people, ended up with a government that arrogates the right to define marriage not only according to one particular religion’s definition of it, but a late-arriving definition at that?

The first amendment  to our constitution expressly tells government to stay out of the religion business, but we have taken a long time to realize the full implications of that wisely drawn boundary.

  • The first prayer of the Continental Congress (admittedly predating the First Amendment) closes with, “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” Recent prayers  are generally less sectarian.
  • The history of blasphemy laws  in the United States may surprise you. As late as 1977, Pennsylvania used its law to prosecute a man who named his business I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. My own state’s general statues still threaten jail time for those who “reproach Jesus Christ.” Yet, one by one, we are realizing that these laws are unconstitutional.
  • It wasn’t until the 1960’s that many people thought twice about things like prayer and devotional Bible reading in schools. Now most Bible advocates realize that a time of silent reflection is probably the most that our constitution will allow.

We have gradually realized that the government does not belong in the prayer business, nor should it police blasphemy. Isn’t it time to realize that it should get out of the marriage business, too?

Let’s go back to the traditional practice of marriages that are covenants between free people – people chosen by each other, not by the government.

Those who want religion to be part of their marriage can enroll a religious leader to conduct a ceremony; those who don’t can pledge their commitment in front of friends or all by themselves. Most marriages will still be between one man and one woman, but a minority will not.

If it’s important for some groups of people to maintain a distinction between their brand of marriage and others, they could copyright a design for special rings.

Wait. That would be kind of like where we are today. Well, I’ve gotta go. One of my kids is asking me to read The Sneetches.

Contraception and Religious Freedom

President Obama has recently taken flak from the Right over his requirement that employer-funded insurance plans cover contraception. The top Republicans running for president have cast this as an issue of religious freedom.

I’m all for religious freedom. I would quite literally be dead without it. However, I wonder whether Romney and Santorum see the irony in their position, for the Bible is consistently against religious freedom.

Back when God was directly in charge of the nation of Israel (even before there were kings), here is how he chose to run things, according to the Bible (Deuteronomy 13:6-10):

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” … Show them no pity. … You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death…

Let that sink in. If your own child even whispers a suggestion to worship other gods, you are to stone him to death without pity. That’s how the God of Romney and Santorum ran things when he was in charge, according to the Bible.

Things are not much better in the supposedly kinder and gentler New Testament. The apostle Paul called down God’s curse (“May they go to hell,” basically) on all who would preach contrary to his message (Galatians 1:8-9):

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Lest we think that this is a harmless figure of speech, consider that Paul also said that if you take communion “unworthily” God might strike you with sickness or even death (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Let’s all work for religious freedom. For the Religious Right, the first step in that struggle must be to disavow passages like these.

The second step might be to apologize for the burnings-at-the-stake and other atrocities that their forebears carried out under the influence of passages like the one from Deuteronomy.

As a third step, if they’re really serious about religious freedom, the Religious Right could lead the way to removing blasphemy laws from the books. In my state of Massachusetts, Chapter 272, Section36 is still on the books:

Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, His creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

Those steps would communicate loud and clear that the Religious Right really are concerned about religious freedom, and not just about getting their own way. They would also show a humility that would do a lot to foster dialog with the more secular part of the political spectrum.

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?

<< Previous in this series: Why Do Atheists Care About Other People?

I’ve noticed on the CNN Belief Blogs and elsewhere that atheists comprise many if not most of the commenters. That puzzles the believing portion of the commentariat.

When I was a Christian, I, too, could never understand why an unbeliever would care one way or the other about religion. Why would he or she waste time commenting on CNN’s Belief Blogs? Why not just leave religious people alone?

Now on the other side of the fence, I find that there are at least three reasons. [What follows is a Beagle’s Bark. ;) ]

To Warn of the Dangers of Faith

Many atheists are former believers. We have seen not only the benefits of a faith-based life, but also the damage it can do. Just as evangelical Christians want to warn the world about the peril of hell, atheists want to sound the alarm over the dangers of conservative Christianity. For me, these included the following.

  • I  became morally compromised by having to justify some of the commands and actions of God in the Bible. I’ve posted about this here.
  • I became intellectually twisted by having to fit modern, scientific knowledge into a framework that was forged in the Bronze Age.
  • I became emotionally damaged by believing that my Heavenly Father’s very best plan for the world included so many seemingly gratuitous instances of suffering, and by believing that even my righteousness is like a filthy menstrual rag.
  • I became relationally insecure when the God with whom I was supposedly having a relationship so often did not speak a word to me — at least none that I was able to hear.
  • I became socially toxic due to an excessive, us-versus-them mentality. It’s hard to be both graceful and sincere toward the rest of the human race when the Bible specifically says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” and calls all non-believers “fools.”
  • This one did not apply so much to me, but I saw others become bound by fear due to the doctrine of hell. (Here is a gift one otherwise gracious person gave me when I left the church.)
  • …and on and on.

To Do Penance For Our Sins of Faith

Second, some of us former believers feel guilt over our years spent in religion. Warning others away from it is a form of penance. In the Bible, God

This list, too, could go on and on.

During my 40 years as a Christian, I never felt as guilty and ashamed as I did when I realized that the book I had promoted as God’s Holy Word teaches atrocity after atrocity, and all my excuses for it were totally lame. I felt that my hands were drenched in blood. I hope that by speaking out now I can undo some of the harm I have brought on society.

To Protect the Body Politic

And speaking of society, here in America conservative Christianity drives at least one side’s passion in many political issues: abortion, homosexual marriage, school prayer, science curricula, global climate change, and recently even birth control.

While evangelical Christians seek to make their faith-based views into law, they ironically complain that our secular government is trying to deny their religious freedom. I say this is ironic because, far from promoting religious freedom, the Bible demands the death penalty for even a whispered suggestion of worshiping another god. But I digress. For now, let’s just say that the Bible’s definition of religious freedom is “worship Jehovah or else.” When a substantial portion of the American electorate upholds the Bible as God’s Unchanging Word, the rest of us get a little nervous.

That wraps up this series. I hope the reasons I have given for why an unbeliever would care about religion, other people, right and wrong and indeed anything at all make sense. If not, please leave a comment!