This has been a recurring theme in this blog, and in many other places. In a recent post (Let's Rename the Discovery Institute to the 'Re-writing History Institute'), I tried to make this clear, at least my own position, but I decided to really lay out my thinking on the subject. In that post I said:
"In my opinion, religious beliefs do not trump personal and professional responsibilities."Let's expand upon that for a while. When I use the phrase 'personal and professional responsibilities', what I mean is that as one goes through life, one assumes various responsibilities, for example:
- By accepting a job, you accept the requirement to perform specified duties.
- By signing up for a college course, you accept the requirement to perform assignments and participate in the activities of the class.
- When you get married you accept a number of responsibilities, too many to list in this short paragraph.
- When you enter into a personal relationship with someone, there is a certain amount of give-and-take as the two of you define many of those responsibilities.
- Becoming a parent, by deliberate choice or not, you have an even longer list of responsibilities, all revolving around the care and development of a new life.
You assume these responsibilities through specific actions of your own, YOU decided to attend school, YOU decided to accept a job offer, YOU decided to enter into a relationship, YOU decided to have children . . . while I know some folks who didn't make that particular conscious decision, they still took the actions that resulted in childbirth. Whatever the reasons, you made these decisions, and many more, and each and ever one of them came with a set of personal and/or professional responsibilities. Sometimes those responsibilities conflict and overlap, and part of your life is always spent dealing with them.
Now why do I separate Religious Beliefs from personal and professional responsibilities? While many would lump them into 'personal', and I am sure you can make an argument for that -- I want to focus on them in a different light because religious beliefs can, and do impact many other decisions because for many people it's part of their decision-making criteria.
For example selecting a college, many people elect to attend a non-secular school because the school aligns with their religious beliefs. Personal relationship criteria is often based on religion, as in not dating or marrying someone who didn't share the same religious faith. While it is only one of the possible sets of criteria, it is one of them commonly used. I worked with someone years ago who was single . . . and enjoying it to the fullest, including the late 1970's Sexual Revolution. However for all the women he was involved with, he would not consider marrying a single one of them unless they were Jewish! That was an absolute hard-line for him. He dated, had sex, had three children that I knew of . . . yet refused to consider marrying any of the mothers of his children because they didn't share his belief set. I'm not trying to pass judgment on his behavior, simply offering it as an example of how religious beliefs are often used as a decision criteria.
My issue revolves around what do you do when your religious beliefs conflict with already accepted personal or professional responsibilities. My position is simply, your personal religious beliefs should in no way come before your personal and professional responsibilities!
So let's look at a few examples, like college. If you do not want to learn subjects that conflict with your religious beliefs, then go to a school that is also based on those beliefs. If you go to a public school, you do not have the right to force the school to comply with your beliefs. That's what I am talking about with this conflict between personal responsibilities and religious beliefs. Imagine a Catholic student in a Muslim school demanding the school support their belief set! I know, I know, the immediate question is why would a Catholic go to a Muslim school in the first place . . . but you can ask the same question about why an Evangelical Christian would attend a public school and then demand the school let them opt out of classes that disagree with their religion? Yet that seems to happen all the time.
Personal relationships are like that as well. People of different religious beliefs, and even the same religious beliefs can come into conflict over those beliefs. Yet people manage to overcome those difficulties regularly. Those that cannot, end those relationships in one manner or another. They say breaking-up is hard to do, but hopefully you learn the lessons and carry them into your next relationship.
Having children is a huge set of responsibilities, and the news has frequently cited examples of where parents caused actual harm, and even death, to their children in the cause of complying with their religious beliefs. Children haven't yet had the option of accepting any set of religious beliefs, so forcing their compliance on the parents belief set seems more than a bit unfair, and in many cases deadly for the children. I've stated many times that children shouldn't be even exposed to religion until they are over 18. After all, they can't vote, drink alcohol, or join the military, so they should get to examine the options and elect once they know what those options are.
When it comes to professional responsibilities, when you accept a position, you also have to accept the responsibilities that come along with it . . . all of them! If there are responsibilities that you cannot accept due to your religious beliefs . . then do not take the position! If the responsibilities change while you are in the position and the new ones conflict with your religious beliefs . . . then you have a choice to either suck-it-up and do the job or resign your position and go find something else to do.
Now I mentioned this recently to someone when that Kentucky Clerk decided to put her religion ahead of her responsibilities and they immediately brought up an example of what if your responsibilities involved killing. My response was that now you are talking beyond religion and into legalities. Being a policeman or a member of the military may well involve the taking of a life, those acts, when done in accordance with the law, are not illegal. Any other form of killing is illegal and needs to be be dealt with. Legal issues aside, what I am talking about specific examples where people allowed their belief set interfere with their responsibilities, like:
- Kim Davis from Kentucky
- Nathan Abrahams and Woods-Hole Oceanographic Institute
- Catherine Crocker and George Mason University
- Richard Sternberg and Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington
- David Coppege and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)
That's why I consider religion to be one of the most dangerous forces on Earth. It is incredibly divisive. While some religions pay lip service to religious freedom, their acceptance of most other religions is one of tolerance rather than acceptance. Most think the idea of religious freedom is one that protects them while they use their religion as a license to discriminate against those who do not share their beliefs. I wholeheartedly disagree!
Bottom line, is that religious beliefs are personal beliefs. No one has the right to force those beliefs on anyone else, adult or child. If personal or professional responsibilities conflict with religious beliefs, then either take care of those responsibilities in spite of the beliefs or get out of the situation. Resign from a professional position, get out of a personal relationship, even if it means giving a child up for adoption . . . which in my mind is certainly better than refusing them needed medical treatment because of religious beliefs . . . the child doesn't end up dead and the parent doesn't end up in jail.
While people like to say things like God, Country, Family . . . the exact order needs to be a bit more fluid. But of the three, I would place religious responsibilities far in the back, well behind personal and professional responsibilities. I know there are many who will disagree! Personally I cannot imagine any deity worth following having a problem with someone accepting and handing their responsibilities. There are so many different belief sets, that to try and follow them all would be insane. Yet every time a theists asks for a religious exemption, that's exactly what they are trying to do, build a system that not only supports their belief set, but allows them the ability to force their belief set onto others.
I look at things a little more . . . well . . . black and white. When you accept personal and professional responsibilities, you make a commitment. You made the choice, now you should live up to them. If your religious beliefs will not allow you to carry out those responsibilities . . . then do not accept them. Don't take the job, don't enter the relationship, and above all else, do not have a child. But once you accept those responsibilities, then accept them fully and carry them out! If you cannot, or will not, carry them out, then what you are is a liar and using your religious beliefs as an excuse for lying is contemptible. Clear enough for you?