June 13, 2017

Thoughts on the Anti-Sharia Demonstrations

Sharia-law-Billboard.jpg
By Matt57 - Own work, Public Domain, Link
I was asked what I thought of the recent anti-Sharia demonstrations. And since the person posing the question clearly wanted something more than a flippant "not much" sort of response, I figured I'd provide one. It will be a brief response because this is not something I've spent much time thinking about. It strikes me as a combination of fear-mongering over something that does not seem like a realistic threat (i.e., Sharia law coming to the U.S.) and an excuse to express anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry.

In writing Atheist Revolution, I have made it as clear as I can that I oppose Islam (and all the other religions). If I really thought that these demonstrations were primarily aimed at expressing opposition to Islamism, jihadism, or even regular run-of-the-mill Islam, I'd be inclined to support them just as I'd be inclined to support demonstrations aimed at expressing opposition to Christian extremism, Christian terrorism, or even regular run-of-the-mill Christianity. I still regard religious belief as irrational and detrimental to humanity. Thus, I am unlikely to have much of a problem with public expressions critical of religion. Of course, that changes when the public expressions become intimidating, bigoted toward religious persons (e.g., calling for all Muslims to be expelled from the U.S.), and the like.

Aside from these factors, the other thing that jumps out at me about at least some of the anti-Sharia demonstrators is their hypocrisy. Many of those who are conservative Christians seem perfectly eager to impose their religiously-derived idea of law on the rest of us even as they decry Islamic law. Some of those who are secular seem surprisingly willing to overlook the impact of laws based on other religions (e.g., Christianity) in their lives. But wouldn't it be far worse to live under Sharia law than contemporary Christian law as it can be found in the West? Sure, I don't think there's any question about that. But why should we put up with religious law of any sort being imposed on us? Why should we tolerate any intrusion of religion into how we are governed?

My hope for the anti-Sharia demonstrations is that they could eventually morph into something else. Initially, I'd like to see them evolve into demonstrations against religious extremism of all varieties. That is, I'd like to see them continue to call attention to the problems associated with Islamic extremism while expanding to include Christian extremism. Then I'd like to see them broaden yet again to include a more general criticism of religion and to organize around secular principles. Specifically, I'd like them to focus on removing the intrusion of religion into government.

Religious believers have the right to believe what they want. As long as they do not harm anyone, they also have the right to practice their religion as they desire. This can and often does include the infliction of religiously-prescribed taboos on themselves (e.g., Muslims are not supposed to draw Muhammed, Mormons are not supposed to drink beverages containing caffeine). There is no problem with this, as long as adherence to such taboos is voluntarily chosen and does not result in the infliction of criminal harm against violators. It becomes a problem when violators are harmed, and it becomes a problem when such taboos are imposed through law on those of us who are outside the religion and want no part of it. Thus, Muslims murdering anyone for drawing Muhammed is a problem because murder is criminal harm. Similarly, it would be a problem if Mormons enacted laws banning caffeine for all of us just as it is a problem when Southern Baptists enact laws banning alcohol for all of us.

If the anti-Sharia folks decided to stand up against religiously-derived laws more broadly and set aside the bigotry, they'd likely have my support. I suspect they'd find themselves with a lot of support from secular persons, and they'd probably also have the support of those religious believers who value the separation of church and state and have no desire to legislate their religious beliefs. But until they make a major shift in this direction, I am not inclined to support them. In any event, I am hard-pressed to see how this sort of circus is accomplishing anything positive.