Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Missouri “Freedom of Religion” Resolution

Senate Joint Resolution No 39 will likely come before Missouri voters in November 2016.  The Resolution amends article I of the state constitution and aims to protect certain religious organizations and individuals from being penalized by the state for their actions that are based on their "sincere religious beliefs concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex."
Described by its proponents as "Religious Freedom" legislation, the Resolution actually legalizes religious discrimination. The Resolution involves the State of Missouri in taking sides in a religious dispute over the definition of what constitutes marriage.  On one side of the dispute are religious traditionalists, who hold the view that God's view of marriage consists of one man married to one woman.  They support their argument by quoting the Bible, but are simply incorrect in their conclusions as to what the Bible says about marriage (see  Their myopic misreading of the Bible makes their argument appear disingenuous.  The other side of the dispute is represented by members of the LGBT community and religious liberals in the Christian tradition who do not share the same definition of marriage and want the same status for same-sex unions as are enjoyed by other Missouri citizens.
            This Resolution would add Section 36 (having five subparagraphs) to Article I of the Missouri Constitution, which states that the state shall not impose penalties on religious organizations, clergy or religious leaders, churches and other houses of worship, or individuals who decline to provide goods and services to persons of same sex unions based on their "sincere religious belief" that marriage between two same-sex persons is not God's view of marriage—in short, the Resolution would not require them to associate with "those kind of people."  This Resolution in effect prohibits same-sex couples from describing themselves as married and permits discrimination against them.
            If SJR 39 becomes law the State of Missouri will clearly be in violation of Amendment 1 of the US Constitution by establishing a sectarian religious view as the law of the state of Missouri; Amendment 1 of the US Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  SJR 39 legalizes discrimination when it authorizes the withholding of goods and services from a group holding to a minority religious view, and would thereby "establish" the traditionalists' religious view of marriage as law.
            If civil actions occur, initiated by plaintiffs who feel discriminated against, as well they might, courts will be forced to validate that the respondent's belief is both religiously based and that it is "sincerely" held.  This judgment will be required in order to identify those whose religious view is insincerely held (i.e., opportunistically) and others whose prejudicial views are not religiously based; state protections cover only those whose "religious view" is "sincerely held."  Sincerity (honesty of mind, freedom from hypocrisy) is a state of mind and impossible to determine—we never know for certain if people say what they are actually thinking—even when they tell us what they are thinking.
SJR 39 aims to legalize religious discrimination with impunity.
Charles W, Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Should We Always Trust the Gods?

Can humans really trust the Gods always to treat us with integrity, when on our better days we appear to have a sharper sense of morality than they do on their worse days? We assume Gods will always act with integrity—after all, they are divine. We expect immoral behavior from demons, but not from Gods. The record, however, is flawed. For instance, in Homer's epic poem the Iliad Zeus deceived Agamemnon with a lying dream—to the hurt and detriment of Achilles (2:1–35). And even Yahweh, the God of the Bible, sent a lying spirit to deceive King Ahab of Israel so he would be defeated in battle. Later he placed lying spirits in the mouths of all the prophets of Israel (1 Kings 22:19–23). On another occasion, he sent an evil spirit to torment King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14–15)—strange behavior for a God! Such behavior by the Gods recalls Homer's description of Zeus' father, Cronus, as the God "of the crooked ways" (Iliad 2:205).
            Humans believe it is not ethical to deceive or mistreat others. And that is one reason the "serious misconduct and loss of moral value" of American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraqi war was so reprehensible. The soldiers were held accountable for their actions, but apparently Gods can act as they wish—and with impunity! We explain their occasionally shocking ways by arguing that Gods obviously know the big picture. Since they are Gods, we assume they must know what is best for us in the long term. Our human view of things is finite; we see matters dimly and then only in short term. So we conclude: an event appearing tragic to us must only be so from our limited perspective, for surely Gods always act justly. For that reason, we tend to think that our personal tragedies must somehow be for the best. This solution, however, leaves honest folk with a nagging ethical question: how can bringing anyone harm ever be considered "good"? Is it possible that Gods do not always know best after all, and humans invented that idea to cover divine misbehavior? Or is it, perhaps, possible that the writers of our religious texts have mistakenly misled us? For example, did Jesus really instruct his disciples to take up the sword (Luke 22:36).
            The biblical book of Job is one of the clearest examples of divine misbehavior in the literature. Job simply could not understand why tragedy struck his life. When his "friends" told him that God punished him because of his sins, Job was perplexed. He was willing to admit he was not perfect, but he knew his suffering was not proportionate to the sins he committed. And Job actually was correct: God permitted his egregious suffering to see if he would commit a greater sin, as the text makes plain (Job 1–2).
            "The ends never justify the means" is clearly an idealistic sentiment, and we humans on our worst days never quite measure up. In cases of expediency, we frequently find our ends justifying our means, like at Abu Ghraib, for example. Nevertheless, when we privilege ends over means, we at least know we are traveling down a lower road. And if we finite humans sometimes know the difference between high road and low road, shouldn't Gods always know the difference?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
This essay appeared in Charles W. Hedrick, House of Faith or Enchanted Forest. American Popular Belief in an Age of Reason (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 12-13.