04 February 2022

Religion vs freedom

A recent post at Atheist Revolution points out that the main reason for opposing fundamentalist Christianity is the fundies' tendency to try to impose their taboos on the whole population, including non-fundies.  If they just lived by their own taboos and didn't bother anyone else, there would be far less reason to object to them.  But they seek laws against abortion and pornography, legal discrimination against gays, and other impositions which would restrict the freedom of everyone, not just themselves.

Centuries ago when Christians really deeply believed the nonsense in the Bible, there was a quasi-logical reason for this.  Based on the Old Testament, God tends to annihilate entire communities that displease him, without too much concern for any "innocent" individuals therein.  So any heretics, sodomites, beard-trimmers, Sunday-stick-picker-uppers, etc residing in a town could be endangering the entire town, and thus needed to be suppressed.  I don't think most Christians today go through that kind of thought process.  Imposing their taboos is more a matter of asserting dominance, and (among the more dull-witted of them) a visceral sense that anything that transgresses their taboos is just plain wrong and bad and shouldn't be allowed.  The secular view that pretty much anything permissible if it doesn't harm others doesn't come naturally to the religion-poisoned mind.

Whatever the reason, superficially things look grim.  The Supreme Court is thoroughly captured, and likely to erode and subvert the long-settled standards (such as Roe v Wade and the separation of church and state) that protect people in Republican-governed states from the imposition by law of Christian taboos.  If Republicans win control of Congress and the presidency in 2022 and 2024, as seems likely based on current polling, we could see federal laws restricting or banning abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc even in blue states.

This view, however, illustrates a broader issue which will become critical if we get another period of right-wing political dominance.  The left tends to be very focused on government actions such as legislation and court rulings, viewing them as the final word on whatever issue is up for debate.  That's not how things actually work.

As I pointed out here, politics is "downstream" from culture -- culture ultimately shapes politics, but there's little or no influence in the other direction.  During the first half of Trump's term, the Republicans controlled the presidency and both Houses, yet there was almost no reversal of the ongoing cultural changes that infuriate Trump's base.  Same-sex marriage remained legal and accepted by the majority of the public.  Religious belief and religious influence over society continued to erode.  Marijuana decriminalization continued to advance.  Hispanic culture and the Spanish language remained a major presence in much of the country.  Fundies remained a marginal group, actually more scorned than ever due to their association with right-wing extremism, and the exodus of young people from their ranks accelerated.

There is already a growing trend of lower-order jurisdictions simply ignoring higher-level laws which are incompatible with their local culture.  We have sanctuary cities which refuse to enforce federal laws on illegal immigration, and sanctuary counties in the rural areas of blue states which refuse to enforce state-level gun laws.  State after state has legalized recreational marijuana, ignoring the fact that it remains banned at the federal level.  And in general such defiance is successful.  It's almost impossible to effectively enforce a law in a region where the local culture, often including local government and law-enforcement personnel, overwhelmingly rejects that law as illegitimate.

If a future Republican trifecta were to come down hard legislating religious taboos, such as banning abortion nationwide, many states would defy such laws (and the states that would go along with them are already doing all they can to limit abortion anyway).  Abortion pills delivered by mail are already undermining bans everywhere.  The internet is already making it easier to circumvent censorship, and the more censorship there is, the larger the market for technology to safely post and access forbidden material will grow.

Furthermore, a government which deviates too far from the cultural mainstream will not stay in office long.  In a two-party system, not everyone who votes for a party necessarily supports its entire agenda -- more often they have simply judged it to be the lesser of two evils.  Certainly not all of the 81 million who voted for Biden in 2020 were supporting the whole Democratic agenda.  That unprecedented vote mainly represented a visceral desire to get Trump out.  Similarly, if Republicans reclaim the trifecta in 2022 and 2024, it won't be because a mainly-secular country has opted for theocracy; it will be mostly a rejection of the Democrats' "woke" agenda which is too extreme and bizarre for most Americans.  If the Republicans start passing national abortion and birth-control bans and other such medieval excesses, the voters will punish them for it in subsequent elections -- especially if, by then, the Democrats have move back toward the sane center and no longer look too fringe for mainstream voters.

Atheist Revolution concludes, "We are only one or two Supreme Court decisions away from losing a great deal of the progress we've made.  Even if that happens, we cannot give up but must be prepared to make secular activism a priority in ways we haven't been willing to do yet."  I'd suggest that this should be based on recognizing that politics, while important, isn't the only or even the most decisive arena in which these issues are decided.  Culture and public opinion ultimately outrank politics.  I do not doubt the importance of the vote.  But -- especially when political power is out of reach -- persuasion, propaganda, and the influence of mass entertainment are the tools which will turn things around.  It's the cultural changes of the last sixty years that eventually made possible achievements like legal marijuana and same-sex marriage -- not the other way around.


Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

If everyone would keep their religious views and beliefs to themselves that would be great but it's never gonna happen.

04 February, 2022 06:37  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

You know the fundies will push and push and push until they get away with imposing some if not all of their beliefs on others. It's an all-out power grab, of course, as you point out.
I don't think the Dems are too woke. They seem woke because the policies (and the stacking of the lower courts) during Cheeto were bent towards the Right. Biden & Co. seem more centrist in some policies than all the way to the left, to me.
Having the Drunk Fratboy and the Opus Dei woman in SCOTUS did tip the balance towards the Right, though. Somebody pointed out that it was possible to kind of balance that, but as you say, it starts from the bottom and there's where the Repugs and the bigots are stacking the cards...


04 February, 2022 08:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: Unfortunately it's the most aggressive religions that tended to spread in medieval times, rather like an aggressive disease, and now that's what we're stuck with.

04 February, 2022 10:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: It's an effort by an increasingly militant but shrinking minority to impose its will on the majority. Whatever success they have will ultimately backfire.

McConnell has been working hard for years to wingnutize the Supreme Court by any means necessary. Not too surprising that he eventually succeeded.

I don't think the Dems are too woke.

I've already covered this subject pretty exhaustively.

04 February, 2022 10:52  
Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

We can never give up the fight but, the Fundamental Ethno State the Republicans imagine will be akin to Apartheid South Africa with a large segment of society over policed and regulated and a small cadre controlling all apparatus of government.

04 February, 2022 11:36  
Blogger CAS said...

I love your attitude on such matters. Always brightens my day. :-)

04 February, 2022 12:10  
Blogger NickM said...

How's about this...


It would appear JK Rowling is getting it from both ends...

She writes fantasy fiction for fuck's sake!

04 February, 2022 14:23  
Blogger Mike said...

""We are only one or two Supreme Court decisions away from losing a great deal of the progress we've made."
Sad but VERY true.

04 February, 2022 15:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Grung: That analogy has occurred to me. It's not something even they themselves should want, not the remaining sane ones. Apartheid South Africa was never stable or secure and ultimately didn't last.

CAS: Glad to hear it.

NickM: I heard about that -- already have the story ready to include in this Sunday's link round-up. I guess if we can have literal Nazi rallies, we can have literal book-burnings too.

Rowling is now hated by two of the nastiest sets of crazies in the world. She must be doing something right.

Mike: See my response to it within the post, though.

05 February, 2022 00:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One point of the conservatives losing the culture war is the quasi-legal status of Marijuana in the US.
As states "legalize" it according to Federal law it is still illegal.
Is still listed as a Class 1 drug with herion?
Now it is a multi billion dollar business/ tax revenues so what else can the r's do but finish legalizing it.
Alas a past liberal "symbol" overtaken by rednecked meth heads from the heartland.

05 February, 2022 00:31  
Blogger Jack said...

You raise some excellent points about the importance of culture and how it can influence everything upstream. It has been encouraging to see how that has brought about many changes opposed by fundamentalist Christians. I think that part of the challenge, for me at least, is that culture varies so much from state to state that those of us in places that lag far behind often feel like we have little ability to influences cultural views where we live and no choice but to focus on the courts to protect our rights. Cultural progress is possible in many of these backward places; it just seems to be a few decades behind many others. Some are celebrating that Mississippi finally passed a medical marijuana law, but alcohol is still illegal in the county where I live.

05 February, 2022 04:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

All the original reasons for wanting legal marijuana still apply (it will eventually reduce mass incarceration of harmless people, for example). If it gets some conservative support as well, fine with me -- everyone knows some right-wingers use drugs too. In the same way, some of the biggest gains in insurance coverage from Obamacare have been in red states, but so much the better, since over time it will make it harder to repeal.

05 February, 2022 04:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: I think that's exactly what's happening -- some parts of the US are culturally lagging several decades behind others, as the US as a whole is lagging several decades behind western Europe, and Latin America and the Middle East are similarly behind us.

In general, though, I think politics tends to lag behind culture, since it is ultimately led by culture. For example, the political establishment didn't accept legal marijuana as a mainstream respectable idea until it had already won widespread popular support. The courts, too, will generally lag behind. In Mississippi, you often get court rulings that are more "advanced" than what the local culture would support because Mississippi is part of a larger political entity (the whole US) and the federal court system and the limitations that apply to the state court system reflect the level of progress of the entire country, not just the state's own standards. If Mississippi were an independent country, its court decisions would probably be even more reactionary than its culture.

05 February, 2022 09:16  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Your essay has tempered my fears about the future. Not muchly, but enough. Thank you.

05 February, 2022 09:29  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

The Goddess thinks most religions are full of shit, and she should know.

05 February, 2022 18:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ricko: Thanks -- I'm not saying no effort needs to be made, only that there are more options for where to do it.

Granny: Only "most"?

06 February, 2022 01:21  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

she likes the Buddhist..although its not really a religion, its more a way of life.

06 February, 2022 19:09  

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