In a recent op-ed piece on Massachusetts Live, Joseph Levine writes:
States that violate rights can be legitimately targeted by boycotts and sanctions, while ethnic/religious identities cannot. That was the principle underlying the BDS movement against apartheid South Africa, is the basis for the sanctions on Russia (whatever one thinks of the specific political situation there), and underlies the legitimacy of the BDS movement to defend Palestinians against the actions of the Israeli state.
One simple question comes to mind: If we cannot target/boycott religion entities, then why is it generally considered alright to do so to ideological entities?
Among the questions new immigrants were asked, upon their arrival at Ellis Island were “are you a polygamist?” and “are you an anarchist?” I heard about an Arab who, upon his arrival in the U.S., was asked if he’s a polygamist. His answer was, “yes, I’m Muslim.” He was allowed in – which makes me wonder why they asked him in the first place. It could be that being Muslim is considered a valid excuse for being a polygamist, and, if not for that, he would have been denied entry.
Communism is an ideology that would have gotten you in a lot of trouble in America during the McCarthy Era. These days, it’s just another word for “Democrat.”
So it’s pretty clear that, historically, one’s ideology is not protected in America. But one’s religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution.
Dictionary.com defines “ideology” as:
the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation
“Religion” is defined as:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects:
the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
A religion doesn’t have to include a deity, nor must it involve rituals. In fact, definition #2 is not much different from the first definition of “ideology.”
The Church of Scientology has this to say:
Scientology certainly meets all three criteria generally used by religious scholars around the world to determine religiosity: (1) a belief in some Ultimate Reality, such as the Supreme or eternal truth that transcends the here and now of the secular world; (2) religious practices directed toward understanding, attaining or communing with this Ultimate Reality; and (3) a community of believers who join together in pursuing this Ultimate Reality.
If we accept this definition, then we should ask why this set of beliefs (and no others) should have special legal status in the United States. We should wonder why Pastafarians are a legally protected religion.
When the Constitution was written, religion played a much more prominent role in human affairs than it does today, at least in the Western world. Over time, ideology has eclipsed religion as the prime power behind human interactions and customs. Ideologies tend to adapt to scientific advances more readily than do religions. With the advances of Science, religion has been scaled back, and ideologies have taken its place. For many people, their ideology is their religion.
But there is no Constitutional amendment to reflect this; we still don’t have a legally recognized freedom to practice our ideologies unhindered and unmolested. While ideologies vary in the degree to which they’re bound to logic, it can be argued that, overall, they’re more rational than religion.
Personally, I think the real reason that religion has protected status, while ideologies do not, is that religion tends to be closely linked to ethnicity and nationality. Historically speaking, religion is tied to geography, as are race and language. Hence, to discriminate against a specific religion was tantamount to discriminating against an ethnic group.
But in an age of Scientology and Flying Spaghetti Monsters, perhaps it’s time to challenge old notions, and to recognize new realities.
If believing in a big man in the sky affords one special privileges, then why should a lesser status be the lot of an ideology based upon reflection and reason? This question is especially relevant to atheists.
One of my brothers is a vocal atheist, yet he goes out of his way to show how much he respects the religions beliefs of Muslims, and even Christians. To put it bluntly, neither of those two faiths make much sense – at least not to the casual observer. They involve a belief in miracles, Heaven and Hell, the suspension of the laws of Nature based on the whims of a supernatural being – and a rejection of solid scientific discoveries. I’m pretty sure my atheist brother understands how irrational these religions are.
Surely, they’re less rational than the beliefs held by the Alt-Right, even those held by neo-Nazi wannabe Alt-Rights.
It really shouldn’t matter how we define a set of beliefs or practices. The only reason it does matter is that governments have chosen to sanctify certain sets of beliefs as (protected) religion, while ignoring, or actively condemning other sets of beliefs as (non-protected) “hate” or “pseudoscience.”
In a perfect world, governments would extend their protection of religion to include all ideologies, as long as those ideologies don’t preach violence against others, and don’t infringe upon the rights of others. In this regard, many ideologies are superior to major religions.
In such a world, the measure of an ideology/religion would be its contributions to community, personal growth and well being.
I’ll conclude with a quote from the official site of Pastafarianism:
But nonbelievers are overreaching when they dismiss the phenomenon of religion as wrong and useless because it so often lacks a basis in evidence. The fact that millions of people get something positive out of a religion – even if it is based in superstition – *does* mean something. But that’s not to say it’s True, only that it has Value. For many people, religion is about being part of a community and being part of something bigger and more important than themselves. These transcendent experiences are something we want to emulate.