Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Freedom of religion

Maybe I just don't understand the whole concept properly. After all, I grew up in a place the "freedom of religion" meant "you can believe in whatever you want as long as you are really quiet about it". Practicing a religion in the Soviet Union in my time was very much like being gay in the US Army: don't ask, don't tell.

It's very nice that people are free to practice whatever religion they choose, much in the same way as it is nice that people are free to wear whatever kind of pants they choose, or have sex with whatever consenting adult they choose, or vote for whatever party they choose. What I find strange is that in many countries religion has special privileges over other life choices.

I don't really mind people asking for various kinds of things, whether it's based on their religion or not. I don't mind them getting whatever they ask for, as long as it is not too much of a trouble. If Sikh cops want to wear turbans, sure, why not. If Muslim kids in school want halal food, sure, whatever, at least if there is enough of them to make it feasible (and if not, they can bring their own lunch). Vegetarians want vegetarian food, same thing. If sufficiently many people ask for something like that, why not please them?

What I don't understand is why the rest of us should consider the religious demands somehow "holier" than the secular ones, more worthy of being fulfilled, or, even worse, a separate right only for the people who really practice the religion in question. Either the religion is asking for something that cannot or should not be fulfilled, in which case it shouldn't, or it is asking for something that can be fulfilled, in which case it should also be fulfilled for anyone who is asking for it, regardless of whether an invisible guy in the sky supports the idea.

Lately the freedom of speech has been eroding here and elsewhere. There are IMO some perfectly legitimate restrictions to what one can say: incitement to crimes, slander, etc. But lately there appears to have developed a right not to be insulted, at least as a particular group of people (insults against the humankind as a whole are for some reason still OK), and the speech insulting various groups tends to be censored. I don't like it, but this is the current trend.

I would really like to know why religions, in their holy books and sermons, get to insult infidels, women, gays and whoever they want, while the rest of us are supposed to pretend to respect them? If you are not allowed to publish a webpage that collects news of crimes committed by foreigners in Finland and some rather rude personal accounts of same, how can you publish a book that calls for killing of engaged women who were raped in a city, or a book that demands that everyone who converts out of a particular religion should be killed?

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