Something has really been pissing me off lately. And actually it’s something that I haven’t ever really had much emotional investment in until very recently. Because I always thought it was a legal construct, a formality, but actually within the last week I think it’s affecting people’s psyches in ways I certainly hadn’t considered. I might write about this some more in the future – but I tell you all this just to explain that the video I’m about to quote wasn’t the one I went looking for, though I thought it embodied something worth sharing…
I put it out as plainly as I could. Your religious views are yours. Other people who don’t believe what you believe shouldn’t be subject to them. That’s most of the reason your religious views shouldn’t be involved in making laws, because your religious views govern the people that believe that religion, while the laws are supposed to govern everybody. And you wouldn’t find it very favorable if someone who had different religious views than you was having their religion infused into the laws and you had to follow the philosophies and rules and laws of their religion or you’d be arrested. By our own legal process you would be forced to follow them. You wouldn’t like that.
I wonder if this mentality doesn’t hark back to times when we didn’t have the kind of racial and religious diversity we see today. Times when a ruling monarch actually did set the religious standards and they were enforceable in this way, that there was this meshing of religion, law and power. I imagine in some special instances – say, Vatican City, for example – that this is probably still the case.
I am always slightly bemused when people tell me “Australia is a Christian country.” Even if you resist the urge to take this literally, to think that this piece of dirt has a religion (and that it has nothing to do with Aboriginal mysticism), it is usually cited as an excuse to enforce a kind of social norm. And, actually, we see this all the time in Australia, even in more secular pursuits. The Melbourne Cup, for example. If you don’t place a bet on this celebrated horse racing event or have a drink on this day, you’re clearly “UnAustralian.” (Never mind the terrible social consequences such an attitude might have on those suffering from gambling addictions and alcoholism.) You’ll be harassed if you don’t participate in this ritual, but you won’t be arrested – and that’s kind of the point, I think.
This is what is at the heart of the separation of church and state, this understanding that certain things apply to certain people in certain contexts. And religion is tribal, religion is ‘opt-in’. You are initiated into a tradition in one fashion or another. You choose to do certain specific things and identify as part of a specific group. Other people identify with other traditions and participate in other rituals.
I think Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, talking to Rachel Kohn on The Spirit of Things, makes this point well.
Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence:
As Rebecca was saying before, you say a certain food isn’t allowed and it creates some kind of desire. Within the Torah we’re given a whole slew of animals, many of which are not readily accessible, but others which are, like a pig or a camel, that we’re not allowed to eat, and meat with milk that we’re not allowed to eat.
On the verse that I referred to before, it says you should be holy, and that meant you should separate, so Nachmanides says if you’re walking past a butcher’s shop and you see this huge pig hanging up there, you’re not supposed to say ‘How revolting, how terrible, how could people eat such things?’ You’re supposed to say, that you know, ‘This is food and God has provided in the world, but it’s not for me to eat’ and I’ve got a measure of self-censorship in that.
Here eating pork is not in and of itself a bad thing necessarily, those keeping Kosher are motivated by the commitment they made within their tradition. You’ll note the expression “self-censorship” here. You could perhaps argue that the act of consuming certain foods and not others here is of less importance than the commitment to the tradition that the act represents.
I understand that proponents of specific religious traditions may wish that everyone should embrace their particular tradition. (Many of the world’s religions are deeply rooted in proselytizing traditions.) Though such a push would result in less authenicity among religious practitioners because to participate authentically within religion requires faith and commitment.
I’m reminded of the remark of Twitter user @NZAfro:
I hate it when people say they pray for me. I ask them not to! I’m atheist, that’s like eating a chicken to help a vegetarian!