Friday, 15 April 2011

The Principle of Specificity in Religious Toleration

The universal tolerance that protects religious diversity is predicated on the assumption that no religion is inherently evil.

Let us examine this statement for a microsecond.

“No religion is inherently evil”.

This would seem to imply that a ubiquitous social and/or natural mechanism exists that prevents evil religions from arising, or if they do arise, at least prevents them from becoming large and powerful. What on earth could such a mechanism be?

In any case I can think of no reason why any such mechanism should be presumed to operate in the real world.

Accordingly, until existence of such a principle of natural law has been persuasively substantiated, I believe we should make theoretical provision for the likelihood that certain religions may well prove to be inherently evil.

The definition of what is evil varies greatly from religion to religion. In typically ethnocentric fashion, I will take Christianity as the standard of comparison among religions. In Christianity the concept of moral evil revolves around harming living things. In certain other religions, on the other hand, evil is arbitrarily defined as whatever the boss-man labeled as evil. In certain religions no act is by its nature good or evil, but only by virtue of it being labeled as such by some sacred scribble or taboo.

Thus Christianity regards killing humans as something inherently evil. Christianity nonetheless permits killing people in certain extreme situations. Certain religions, in marked contrast, with admirable sang-froid proclaim their pragmatic view that killing people is an ethically indifferent activity, i.e. can be either good or evil, depending on who kills whom, as well as how, when and where.

An especially important distinction in certain religions in connection with killing is that between in-group and out-group. In certain markedly élitist cults, members of the in-group are favored in many situations over those of the out-group. On the whole in-groupies are given relatively free rein to bump off out-groupies, while the reverse situation, i.e. an out-groupie bumping off a in-groupie, would be extremely difficult to justify in terms of in-group theology and ethics.

In other words certain religions have a built-in protection clause for the home team. In Christianity I do not have the impression that Christians are allowed to kill others with far fewer restrictions than those that stop non-Christians from killing Christians.

Consequently there is an element in certain religions – an élitist attitude that favors the in-group over others – that I argue constitutes prima facie evidence that they are evil religions. Equality among people is a perennial ideal in all cultures. Certain religions prize equality, but redefine it, not as equality among humans, but merely equality among members of their religious in-group. Out-groupies are designated as clearly inferior in many respects.

How can such a religion form the basis for a tolerant and egalitarian society? Such favoritism reeks of injustice and oppression.

Consequently I tentatively propose the following principles for an ethical ranking of religions:

“Religions that strongly discriminate in favor of the in-group and to the detriment of out-groups are second-rate religions. They are ethically inferior to first-rate religions, which are those that make no such marked distinction.”

Furthermore religions should be encouraged to base their ethical standards on universal and broadly-defined rules, not special rule full of loopholes. Their ethical codes should be relatively consistent and be logically arranged in terms of human needs and desires, not in terms of isolated memoranda from The Boss or other arbitrary distinctions.

I propose that an independent ethical standards agency be constituted, which would then assign each religion a position on the one-dimensional scale of good and evil on the basis of the two principles outlined above.

Furthermore I propose that certain sorts of discrimination be made lawful against religions that do not meet certain minimum ethical standards. In other words the protection that the law offers a religion should vary according to the religion’s ethical rank.

I would even go so far as to propose that the Constitution classify all relevant religions into at least two categories: "VRs i.e., “violent religions” and ”NVRs”, i.e., “non-violent religions”. This distinction would be of primary importance in determining a religion’s legal status, and consequently the rights and duties of its practitioners.

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