Though I'm an agnostic secular humanist, I'm not against religion. I sometimes wish I had the comfort that comes with faith, and I sometimes envy those who have that faith. I do have a problem with organized religions that use doctrine as an excuse for hate. However, I respect everyone's right to have their own religious beliefs. Religious freedom is a hallmark of western democracy.
Of course, there isn't exactly religious freedom in the United States. You can't prevent people from being prejudiced. You have the right to believe anything you want, but there are certain places where you dare not point out that your not a Christian. This is particularly hard for people who believe in things that are beyond the "mainstream". Much of this is due to a holdover from the Dark Ages, particularly with regard to pagan beliefs. The early Christian church portrayed paganism (made up of a variety of faiths, such as Wicca and druidism, which are two different beliefs) not as a competitive religion but as an evil religion, or set of religions. This view of the pagan faiths has changed somewhat in recent years. This was shown very recently in two different events.
First, in the United States the Veterans Administration now recognizes the pentacle as a proper religious symbol that can be placed on the headstones of dead servicemen. Wiccan practitioners had requested this for a number of years, but it was only recently — with the threat of a lawsuit — that the pentacle was okayed by the VA. Since the settlement between the VA and Wiccan organizers, five headstones with the pentacle were delivered, and one request was pending. One of the headstones was for a World War II veteran, another for a Korean War veteran, and a third for a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. A pilot killed in Afghanistan in 2005 also received a Wiccan headstone.
Here is the story:
In Scotland, Edinburgh University has given the Pagan Society the go ahead to hold its annual conference at the school next month. The conference will attract Wiccans, Druids, and various other believers in the "pagan" religions. Being a Celtic country, there has always been a pagan presence in Scotland, even through the turmoil of the Reformation. With greater religious freedom, paganism has expanded in Scotland.
The Edinburgh University case is interesting because it has sparked a controversy. The school's Christian Union is complaining because they believe they were discriminated against. The Christian Union was prevented from holding a conference last year about the "dangers of homosexuality". The conference, which was intent on showing gay sex was morally wrong, went up against the university's anti-discrimination policy. The conference was allowed to go on as long as the Christian Union put up posters indicating a differing view of gays and morality. The Christian Union is protesting the pagan conference because no such "differing view" requirement was made for them. It should be noted, though, that pagans in general do not discriminate against gays. It should also be noted that the Christian Union wasn't told to put up posters saying that there were alternatives to the holy trinity, or that Christ was the son of God, or he died and was resurrected three days later. They were told to put up alternatives to the view that homosexuality was immoral.
This is a thorny issue. As much as I find Christianity's view of homosexuality and bisexuality incredibly distasteful and offensive, I'm not sure that requiring disclaimers is the right way to go. I mean, does anyone today not understand the evangelical view of homosexuality's immorality? (They may not understand that such teachings were added in the Dark Ages, and that the early Christian church performed gay marriages, but the view of gays in the evangelical movement is not new.) If you're going to give a religion freedom of expression, you have to let it freely express itself without restriction. Let the freedom of expression for other religions speak for the alternatives.
Yes, it may seem unbelievable that I'm saying this. It's what I believe. It only works, though, if the body in question is willing to allow true freedom of religion without the slightest possibility of repercussion. The local high schools got into a flap because they held a student-led prayer before graduation. I don't see a problem with that. Where I do have a problem is if a student of another faith wanted to perform a prayer and was not allowed, or even disrespected. I would hope that the same schools that allowed a Christian prayer would also allow a Hindu prayer or a Muslim prayer, or even a pagan prayer. It would be interesting to see what would happen around here if after the Christian prayer a student was allowed to say a Wiccan prayer. I wonder if the same people who applauded the prayer in school would be quite so receptive to another religion's prayer, or if they'd immediately drop into the "America is a Christian nation" argument. For now, it's just a thought experiment...
Anyway, the article about Edinburgh University can be found here:
4 Good Years
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