Friday, 4 July 2014

Beliefs 1

Unless you live under a rock, you can't have failed to have heard about "The Hobby Lobby Decision".

Briefly, Hobby Lobby, a large arts and craft chain store in the US, has got permission from the US Supreme Court to be exempt from providing certain contraceptive options under its health insurance plan for employees. It is a controversial issue for several reasons, not least that this company invests heavily in pharmaceutical corporations that make said contraceptives, and that it opens the floodgates to other companies who wish to do the same. Also, many of us question the sincerity of these alleged "beliefs".

I have permission to share the following quote from a Facebook debate contributor:

'This is a ruse to stop what the right considers "creeping socialism". They don't give a f*ck about birth control. It was just a hook to hang their hat on.''

But the burning issue for many people is why the religious beliefs of the owners of a company should trump the rights of female employees to make their own choices regarding contraception.

There have been plenty of jokes involving possible absurd scenarios if this decision were to be used as the basis for others, if you haven't seen any, here's the one I thought was the most thorough:

Humour is often used to point out the irrationality of such decisions, but if you prefer a more serious look at it, look no further than Forbes:

Why do "Beliefs" have any power at all?

I think we first have to look at what "Beliefs" are, in this sense. They are opinions that individuals hold very dear.

While on the face of it, it seems rather strange that opinions should be protected by law, it's important to remember that laws are simply responses to opinions that are widely agreed upon. If enough people agree that a behaviour is wrong and completely unacceptable in our society, we make it illegal. What is illegal now may not have been 200 years ago, and vice versa. The same applies from place to place.

A simple example is the laws relating to absinthe. This was banned in Switzerland in 1905. So prior to that was legal, and afterwards it was not. Now, moves are afoot to lift this ban. Similar situations have occurred in other countries...some have lifted the ban, others haven't. It was never banned in Britain at all.

And these bans, and lifting thereof, came about because enough people decided it should be so, based on their opinions of the danger of absinthe.

As soon as religion enters the picture, the word opinion is not used. It is always then a "Belief".

And in fact many laws that used to be, or still are around, in various places, are indeed based on religious beliefs. In some countries religious law is the only law. Meanwhile in China where religion is de facto banned itself, many of the laws nevertheless are identical to laws taught by various religions. Some things are just so obviously wrong, such as murder and theft, that they are going to be included no matter what.

But quite often the law is complex and based on precedent - previous decisions - which are based on previous decisions, which are based on previous decisions....back as far as you like.

In our enlightened times we have two interesting and conflicting situations in law. One is that we don't base our laws on religion, and the other is that we afford religions and believers certain rights. Religious freedom.

It is this combination that leads us to situations where one man's religious beliefs CAN become law. But of course, that doesn't mean everyone agrees. The US Supreme court of 9 had 4 dissenters in this decision, but the majority won. Why? Well, the honest answer, when all is said and done, is religious bias. It shouldn't happen, but when humans are involved, bias is inevitable.

There are obviously better solutions, such as taking decisions about health care out of the hands of employers altogether, but that's a whole other issue, and I'd like to move on here.

People with "Beliefs" seem to think it gives them certain rights and privileges. And sometimes, it does. But usually only because somebody gave it to them. Generally, they then take advantage of it.

So let's look at what beliefs are again? They are opinions. Their source is irrelevant. Beliefs are just a subset of opinions.

Oh, they say, but these are dearly-held beliefs, religious and/or cultural, and very meaningful and sincere.


To the headhunters of antiquity, their practices were dearly-held beliefs, religious and/or cultural, and very meaningful and sincere. Prevented from doing it they surely suffered great spiritual anguish. Their entire belief system was torn apart by having a key part of it forbidden. And the explorers and missionaries and colonists said "so what?" to all that, and "civilized" them.

I'm not arguing that head-hunting is a good thing. I think it's awful. My point is that just because something is a dearly-held belief, religious and/or cultural, and very meaningful and sincere, doesn't give its practitioners any kind of rights at all. There has to be an agreement by all concerned that they can continue. What I think is neither here nor there. But if the vast majority think it's awful, they'll find a way to stop it.

On the other hand, generally, if the activity seems harmless, we allow them to carry on. Sometimes if we think it's maybe a bit harmful but none of our business, we still let them carry on. There is far more religious freedom in this world than many people think.

A good example is the wearing of the burqa. Here in Canada we currently allow this because we haven't reached a consensus that it's harmful, even though some people think it oppresses some women. We have decided, as a society, that to ban it oppresses other women, and presumably those responsible for such decisions have done the math and decided the greater harm would be to ban it.

France came to a different decision. They decided that more women were oppressed by burqas than would be oppressed by the ban, and they banned it. The argument isn't over, and with this, just as in all such decisions, it's never as simple as it looks. With French burqas, as with Hobby Lobby, there are other factors involved that have nothing to do with religious beliefs at all. We must always be aware of that.

But even when it is sincere, why should the beliefs of an individual or group have any extra power than the beliefs of any other individual or group?

To put it simply, why should your opinions affect me?

There is this wacky idea that religious beliefs should be respected. Why? As a matter of fact, most of the time, people with beliefs are given a lot of respect and tolerance, but they seem to think it's some sort of right. This is bogus.

You have a right not to be persecuted for these beliefs, definitely, but that's as far as it goes.

Now would be a good time to look at a piece written by the Rev. Emily C. Heath of the United Church of Christ regarding religious liberty:

 How to tell if your "Religious Liberties" are being threatened

Quick quiz to tell if your religious liberties are being threatened!

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.
B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

4. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.
B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

5. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

6. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read or possess religious books or material.
B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies and websites that I do not like.

7. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.
B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

8. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.
B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

9. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.
B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

10. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.
B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

She ended by saying:

"Religious liberty is never secured by a campaign of religious superiority. The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less."

To sum up, if you don't approve of something that your beliefs forbid, then don't do it. And mind your own damn business. 

I have a lot more to say, but this is already long enough, so I'll call it part one and return Monday. 


  1. Oh, so that's what all the fuss is about. I really didn't know. And if I did I'd still have been more concerned about, say, Ukraine or Iraq or Somalia than this. But then I don't even live in the Western Hemisphere, let alone somewhere this is actually something that might be a problem.

    1. Oh this is much bigger news than anything really important. On one level women's rights are important, so yes, but the reason it's such a hot topic is that it was welcomed so warmly by the religious right, and they make a lot of noise, so their opponents have to make a similar amount of noise to keep them in check. It gets...........noisy.

  2. Melanie wrote: "But the burning issue for many people is why the religious beliefs of the owners of a company should trump the rights of female employees to make their own choices regarding contraception."

    I have seen many replies to this that amount to: "No one is keeping you from using any type of birth control you want - just pay for it yourself." (I disagree with this stance, but that is no surprise.)

    1. This all comes from the idea that health insurance provided by employers is some sort of special treat. In fact, it's part of an employees compensation right along with his pay. Removing part pf his compensation from source A (insurance package) should require an addition to source B (wages). So, then the employee should be paid extra. The employer would not want to do this, as it's cheaper to pay for the insurance than to give enough extra wages to cover the prescription.