Against Satanic Panics > To Pagans and occultists > Religious tolerance
To people of all self-empowering religions and worldviews:
Promoting religious tolerance
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- Introduction: Countering Christian fears of religious diversity
- Fear of "moral chaos" and crime
- Defending a humanistic ethic: The example of opposing homophobia
- Church/state separation arguments likely to make sense to a Christian
- Christian persecution paranoia
- Introduction: Countering Christian fears of religious diversity
On this page I'll discuss some other aspects of promoting religious tolerance besides opposing anti-Satanist scaremongering.
Anti-Satanist scaremongering is often tied in with an overall agenda of intolerance toward nonmainstream religions and worldviews, especially towards those nonmainstream religions and worldviews which either question traditional morality or aim to empower the individual. Wicca, for example, both questions traditional morality (at least on some matters) and aims to empower the individual. So too does modern Western humanism. So too, of course, do most forms of Satanism - which is one of the reasons why many conservative Christians will still see Wicca and Satanism as being essentially similar even after they've fully learned that Wicca is not, itself, a form of Satanism.
Christian right wing religious intolerance isn't based just, or even primarily, on prejudices against particular religions. It is based, first and foremost, on a more general fear that if Western society as a whole ceases to be based on Christianity or at least on Christian morality, then all hell will break loose. Therefore, in order to promote tolerance towards one's own religion (or one's non-religion, as the case may be), one needs to do more than just to defend one's own religion or worldview in particular. One needs to address the more general fear as well.
It is also important to remind Christians of the reasons why separation of church and state is a good idea even from the point of view of the majority religion. And it may also be necessary to counter the nonsensical belief, on the part of some Christians, that they themselves are "persecuted" in modern secular Western societies.
This page will contain numerous links to atheist sites, especially to one very good atheist site known as Internet Infidels (Secular Web). I'm not an atheist myself, but I've linked to these sites because they - and the organized atheist/humanist movement in general - have done a very good job of defending the kind of secular society that all minority religions need. People of all nonmainstream religions can learn a lot from their example.
- Fear of "moral chaos" and crime
Many Christians fear that if society as a whole ceases to be based on the Bible, the result will be general lawlessness. The religious right wing has promoted the idea that there can be no other foundation for morality besides the Bible; hence any society not based on the Bible will become a myriad times more crime-ridden than the Wild West. Below are some replies to this notion, primarily by atheists:
- Moral arguments and Morality and atheism on Secular Web (Internet Infidels). See especially No Morality Without the Bible?
- Various threads (including where do morals come from? and Nonchristians have no ethics?, and Atheistic Moral Relativism, Subjectivism, and Realism) in the Moral Foundations & Principles section of the Internet Infidels Discussion Forum, hosted by some very well-read atheists and agnostics.
- Sam Harris Takes On the Muslim Cartoon Controversy and His Critics - see especially the section where he responds to "3. Religion is our only source of morality. Without it, we would be plunged into a secular moral chaos."
Many Christians have similar worries not just about atheists but also about those theistic religions (e.g. Wicca) whose ethical principles are largely humanistic rather than based on a divine command theory. Many of the arguments in the above articles can be used in defense of all religions with a humanistic ethic, as well as atheists.
A caveat about using arguments similar to those on the Secular Web (Internet Infidels) site: Some of the above arguments entail a direct challenge to Christian beliefs per se, whereas others do not. If your aim is simply to promote religious tolerance, you may wish to avoid direct challenges to Christian theological doctrine.
One very important thing that should be pointed out to conservative Christians: The idea that non-Christians are inherently lawless is not an official point of doctrine required by any Christian creed. Although too many Christians do believe it, and although the religious right wing has been pushing it, the idea that there can be no law or morality without the Bible is contradicted by the Bible itself (Romans 2:14-15).
Christians, especially Protestants, do traditionally believe that all non-Christians are going to hell. But this does not mean that all non-Christians are criminals. It just means that even the best humans aren't good enough for the Christian God.
Calvinists (e.g. Presbyterians) do have a longstanding traditional doctrine that humans are "totally depraved" without God. But even Calvinist theologians will usually explain that the "depravity" is "total in an extensive rather than intensive sense." In other words, they'll say that humans without God aren't necessarily thoroughly nasty and lawless, but no part of us is good enough for God.
Wiccan author Kurt Cuhulain says, in Planning to be Pagan in Public:
One of the most common arguments used by anti-Pagans in an attempt to discredit Wiccans is the claim that Wiccans have no moral or ethical guidelines. They try to convince the public that as Wiccans don't have commandments like they do we have no moral guidelines.
This ethical question is one very often asked of me when I do public presentations. The last time that this happened was at a presentation to over two hundred police officers at a police academy. This is how I handled it: I asked for a show of hands from the audience. "Put up your hand if the only reason that you don't steal is because there is a law somewhere that says that you should not." Of course not one of the police officers present put up their hand. I told them that the true reason that they did not steal was because they knew that such activity harmed other people, not because there was a statute somewhere prohibiting such behaviour. This is exactly how the Wiccan Rede works. Wiccans replace "thou shalt not" with "I will not".
LaVeyans and other LaVey-influenced Satanists, whether atheistic/symbolic or theistic, can voice sympathy for the law-and-order worries that are common among conservative Christians, and can point out that LaVeyan Satanism emphasizes the need for a tough stance against violent crime. They can then discuss practical measures to enable our society to become better at catching malefactors.
Both Pagans and Satanists of nearly all kinds can talk about the need for people to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Of course, both atheists and theistic humanists do typically differ from most traditional religions on some moral issues, notably in attitudes toward gender and sexuality. And many Satanists disagree with traditional Christian values on even more points than Wiccans and mainsteam atheistic humanists typically do.
Should you have occastion to get into in-depth conversations with conservative Christians, you may at some point need to defend your own values on points where they differ from traditional Christian values. But, when the topic of morality is raised, it's probably best to focus primarily on issues on which you and the Christians are likely to agree, such as opposition to violent crime.
It is important to reassure Christians that a growth in the number of non-Christians is not likely to result in an increase in violent crime. "Satanic ritual crime" is one especially important aspect of this fear, and is the topic of the bulk of this website. But the more general fear of alleged non-Christian lawlessness should be addressed too. To that end, in addition to the general philosophical arguments in the articles linked in the above section, I would suggest looking at actual crime statistics in different countries and eras. Below are some relevant web pages:
- Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look by Gregory S. Paul, Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7 (2005). (But see also this critique: Religiosity, Secularism, and Social Health: A Research Note by Gerson Moreno-Riaño, Mark Caleb Smith, and Thomas Mach, Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 8, 2006.)
- Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations: A Closer Look by Gary F. Jensen, Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 8 (2006)
- Lists of countries with The Largest Atheist Populations - compare with Country Comparison Statistics for various crimes. (It should be noted that, in many of the Western European countries with large atheist populartions, nonmainstream religions such as the modern Pagan movement have grown too.)
- The threads Crime statistics, and history of crime, in relation to Christianity and Atheist vs Theists In Prison Statistics on the Internet Infidels discussion board.
It can also be pointed out that, on noncriminal matters too, Christians aren't necessarily better than non-Christians at living up to their own proclaimed moral standards. See, for example, the following:
- The Year's Most Intriguing Findings, From Barna Research Studies - research by a reputable evangelical Christian scholar, including admission that "Born again adults are more likely to experience a divorce than are non-born again adults (27% vs. 24%)." See also Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce and Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians
Defending a humanistic ethic: The example of opposing homophobia
Should you have occasion to discuss morality in-depth with conservative Christians, sooner or later the conversation will likely wander onto moral questions on which you and the Christian do have real disagreements. On most such matters, I would suggest the following strategy, which avoids any direct challenges to traditional Christian theological or moral doctrine:
- Argue that your ideas on ethics/morality are good enough in order for a society to function well, even if they aren't good enough for the Christian God.
- Concede that Christians have a right to believe that God has stricter standards. However, they don't have the right to impose a purely religion-based standard on people who who don't share their religious beliefs.
- Remind the Christian of the reasons why church/state separation and freedom of religion are good ideas, even from the point of view of the majority religion.
Back when I was in college, I used the above strategy quite successfully in debates with some evangelical Christians who had denounced the campus gay group. It took a long time, but I eventually got them to concede publicly that they had no real reasons other than purely religious reasons for their disapproval of homosexuality, and that, therefore, they had no right to impose that disapproval on people outside their own religious group.
The main thing I did was to challenge them to give me even a single nonreligious reason for their disapproval of homosexuality. All allegedly nonreligious reasons they gave me were easily shot down. A typical conversation went as follows:Me: Do you have any reasons, other than purely religious reasons, for your disapproval of homosexuality?
Homophobe: Of course I do.
Me: What are they?
Homophobe: Well, two people of the same sex can't have a baby.
Me: Why is that a problem? Are there too few people in the world?
Homophobe: Homosexuality is contrary to the way God made us.
Me: I asked if you had any nonreligious reasons for your disapproval of homosexuality. Can you give me any reasons that don't mention God?
Homophobe: Of course I can. It's unnatural!
Me: That word, "unnatural," just means that something is unusual in a bad way, but doesn't specify what is bad about it. So you haven't yet given me even a clue as to exactly what you think is wrong with homosexuality.
Homophobe: It's perverted!
Me: That word, too, essentially just means that something is unusual in a bad way, but doesn't specify what is bad about it.
Homophobe: It's abnormal!
Me: That word, too, just means ....
And so on, until the person ran out of synonyms. Then:Homophobe: It's disgusting!
Me: Well, I'm disgusted by various kinds of food I don't like. But that's no reason to judge people who like those foods. Why are sexual tastes any different? Homophobe: There are obvious biological differences between men and women.
Me: How do you feel about oral sex between a man and a woman?
Homophobe: That's okay, as long as it takes place within marriage.
Me: Could you please tell me the obvious biological differences between a man's mouth and a woman's mouth?
Once I tore down all their alleged nonreligious reasons, they inevitably fell back on mentioning God again. I then reminded them, "I asked for your nonreligious reasons." Eventually they admitted they didn't have any.
These conversations took place in the late 1970's, before much was heard about AIDS. Had they occurred more recently, I would have needed to point out that AIDS and assorted other infectious diseases are spread not by homosexuality per se, but by having unsafe sex with multiple partners.
Had these conversations occurred more recently, it might also have been necessary to refute various pseudo-scientific "research findings" that are trumpeted by anti-gay propagandists these days. Here are some relevant links:
- Sexual orientation: Science, Education, and Policy, including:
- Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health
- Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation
- Attempts To Change Sexual Orientation
- Paul Cameron
- Dr. Paul Cameron and the Family Research Institute - links to numerous articles
- False Bennett: Gay-Bashing by the Numbers by Andrew Sullivan - about Paul Cameron
- Gay Bowel Syndrome? Yeah, Right by David Holthouse - about some of Paul Cameron's claims
- The Facts About "Ex-Gays" on hatecrimes.org
- The Gay Gene: Guest Columnist - Douglas Haldeman
- Blog entries on science and NARTH on Ex-Gay Watch
- The Thirty Years War: A timeline of the anti-gay movement
Anyhow, once I convinced my opponents that they did not have any valid nonreligious reasons for objecting to homosexuality, the next question was whether they were justified in trying to impose a purely religious belief on society as a whole. That argument was very easy to win back in the 1970's, before the religious right wing became as entrenched as it is now. It's a bit more of a challenge now, but still not too difficult - at least when you are talking to relatively honest and intelligent Christians, even conservative ones.
These days, it will be necessary to refute the religious right wing's Orwellian political rhetoric against against the gay rights movement. For example, religious right wingers are fond of claiming that the gay rights movement is seeking "special rights," when in fact it is seeking equal rights as opposed to the special rights that only heterosexuals now have (e.g. marriage). Also, when a Christian complains that anti-discrimination laws constitute "religiious persecution," it should be pointed out that religious institutions are specifically exempt from most laws prohibiting discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
I do not recommend arguing with Christians about the meaning of the Biblical passages that appear to condemn homosexuality. Such debates are likely to lead nowhere - except perhaps to point out that, according to the Bible, Christians should be more worried about other sins (see Ezekiel 16:49). Instead of trying to convince Christians that God doesn't disapprove of homosexuality after all, it is both easier and more important to (1) convince Christians that their objections to homosexuality are purely religious in nature, and then (2) defend separation of church and state.
Church/state separation arguments likely to make sense to a Christian
Contrary to the claims of many Christian religious right wingers, the U.S.A. was not founded as a Christian nation. Many of the founding fathers were Deists or Unitarians, not Christians. The Constitution contains no mention of God or Christianity. Article VI of the Constitution prohibits religious tests for office. The First Amendment mandates freedom of religion and prohibits the federal government from having an official "establishment of religion." And the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli specifically stated that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" and therefore has no enmity toward Muslims. For more information, see:
- The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State, including this refutation of some common religious right wing historical claims
- On the Treaty of Tripoli: The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense founded on the Christian religion by Jim Walker, on NoBeliefs.com, and Little-Known U.S. Document Signed by President Adams Proclaims America's Government Is Secular on The Early America Review, Summer 1997
- The U.S. Constitution Online
Nevertheless, the majority of Americans at that time were at least nominal Christians. And many of the colonies did have official state churches. So, in order for the nation as a whole to accept a Constitution which prohibited religious tests for office and did not mention God or Christianity, and in order for the First Amendment to be passed, it was necessary for the majority of Christians - not just the Deists and Unitarians - to be persuaded that separation of church and state was a good idea. And indeed they were, although the Deists and Unitarians were the ones who felt most strongly about it.
But now the Christian religious right wing wants to turn the U.S.A. into a country where Christianity is imposed on the rest of us by force of law - even going so far as to prohibit people of non-mainstream religions from teaching their religion to their own children! (See The Wrong Religion and Puritan Politics on nuvo.net.)
Because the majority of Americans are still Christian, it is vitally important to remind Christians of the reasons why separation of church and state is a good idea even from a Christian point of view. These include:
- Which version of Christianity would be established as the official religion? This is still a problem even with a very broad definition of Christianity or the "Judeo-Christian tradition." Even with something so seemingly pan-Abrahamic as posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, there's the question of which version of the Ten Commandments. (Catholics and Lutherans have one version, whereas most Protestant denominations have another. The Catholic version has two separate commandments against coveting, whereas the most common Protestant version has only one commandment against coveting and a commandment, not found in the Catholic version, against making "graven images.")
- The history of fights over religion in government has been quite bloody. Do we really want a repeat of what happened in medieval and Reformation-era Europe, when wars were fought over questions of theological doctrine and heretics were persecuted?
- For the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was not an official state religion, and there is nothing in the New Testament which states or implies that the Christian church should strive to become an official state religion. (Ancient Israel did have a state religion, but that was the "Old Covenant," not applicable to Christianity, according to most Christian theologians.)
- Christianity (especially Protestantism) is primarily about a relationship between the individual and God, i.e. it is primarily about the salvation of individual souls. Therefore "true Christianity" is inherently an individual matter, requiring sincere belief by individuals. It cannot be imposed on society as a whole.
- People are likely to join an official church because they have to in order to be respectable, rather than out of sincere belief. The presence of such people will inevitably corrupt the church. (Protestants traditionally say that the medieval Catholic church was corrupted in precisely this manner.)
- When talking to Southern Baptists, you can remind them of their own tradition. They are now dominated by the religious right wing, but, for most of their history, they were staunch upholders of separation of church and state. See, for example, the Petition form the Baptist Ministers’ Institute at Anniston, to the Alabama State Constitutional Convention, Anniston, Alabama, June 28th, 1901, near the bottom of this page on the official website Of The Alabama Legislature.
- As shown earlier on this page, it is not necessary for a society to be Christian in order to be a decent place to live. So, there's no pressing reason not to have a live-and-let-live attitude.
In addition to persuading Christians of the value of freedom of religion and separation of church and state, it is also necessary for people of all nonmainstream religions to unite politically, together with atheists, to defend our freedoms. (See the list of relevant organizations in the thread Church-State Separation Groups and Resources in the Church/State Separation forum on the Internet Infidels message board.)
Christian persecution paranoia
Ultra-conservative Christians, including both fundamentalist/evangelical Protestants and traditionalist Catholics, often love to imagine that they are persecuated, even in situations where they clearly aren't. Christians are indeed persecuted in some parts of the world, but certainly not here in the U.S.A. Below are debunkings of some common persecution claims:
- On snopes.com, renowned urban legends debunking site:
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair's alleged petition to ban religious broadcasting
- Petition to ban nonexistent film allegedly portraying Jesus as gay
- Janet Reno's alleged definition of a "cultist"
- Claim that the ACLU is seeking to have cross-shaped headstones removed from federal cemeteries
- Claim that four Christians in Philadelphia face a potential sentence of 47 years in prison for preaching in public
- ACLU's alleged objection to a U.S. Marines prayer session
- On the Internet Infidels Discussion Board: Spam Guide: Debunking church-state separation myths
Below, I'll point out other false persecution claims, as I run across them:
- Rock-star "Madonna" Owns the Word Madonna, Says New World Order on Fatima Perspectives - compare with the real story on Nebraska StatePaper.com here and here. See also Madonna wants her name back on ZDNet and Madonna wins madonna.com on Out-Law.com. Note that there was never any dispute over the name of Madonna Rebilitation Hospital, which retains its name and still owns the domain name madonna.org (as distinct from the disputed madonna.com).
- More later.
Typically, those American Christians who wail "Persecution!" are themselves advocating the persecution of non-Christians. See, for example, The Buddhists Are Wrong — but for the Right Reason in Fatima Perspectives
For a general satire on Christian persecution claims here in the U.S.A., see Life in Our Anti-Christian America by Robby Berry, on the Secular Web (Internet Infidels).
For further suggestions on discussing all these matters with Christians, feel free to ask in the counter-evangelism Yahoo group associated with my Counter-Evangelism website.