For reasons I easily understand from my part in another forum of discussion, I was approached by someone intent on pinning my ears for being a “racist Islamaphobe.” Didn’t I know we all pray to the “same God?”  In summation I was told, “You should learn to respect all religion.” The last is the viper’s statement and I’ll deal with it in that order, because even though the little dialog I’ve passed along is short, it is piled high with mind bogglers. But where to begin?

The simplest is to explain that my descent into presumed racism was caused by my most adamant exception to religious injections into public political life. I don’t care how benign a belief may seem—if given political and civil power, the justification of “God’s will” soon leads to the unspeakable cruelties done over thousands of years in the name of near any “god” you care to name. The West went through a wrenching and often bloody Reformation before finally at the time of the American Revolution setting the wall between church and state as best public policy. In that other forum, I’d pointed out that Islam (as evidenced by dozens of nation-states and political councils that define civil and human rights according to religion) has a present-day history of trying to handle religious differences by formally favoring one form of worship over others. That’s what theocracy does and it cannot help but disadvantage any non-favored belief. I view any marriage of church and state with grave alarm. Politics plus religion form a dangerous pair with a known history of keeping the faithful in line by punishing in horrific ways the heretic or blasphemer. Any meandering back to those standards can cost you your head.

Now, since religion is highly emotional (just what we need more of these days) and since too few people appreciate the day-to-day value of separation and free speech, a discussion (I use the term loosely here) of church/state issues goes to the gut approach attack of accusing others of racism for opposing political religion. Now really, when people understand a topic so poorly that they mix race with religion, it’s more burden than you or I deserve to explain the obvious. Race is a status that can’t be changed. You will not find Methodist and Muslim under race on a census form. The West holds race and religion as different categories, though under a theocratic government an attempt to change one’s religion is a mortal offense able to get you killed. (There are nations with such laws. The Saudis hold Bible ownership and “preaching” other beliefs as serious crimes deserving punishment. So it seems to me systems where religious intolerance is OK is exactly what we should avoid.)

It is tedious to be the rational one forced to explain the difference between race and religion, and more tedious and burdensome yet to clarify that “same God” does not factually apply to ancestor worshipers, Baptists, Hindus, and Buddhists. These belief systems and their God or gods are not the same. Suggesting otherwise is a case, if you ask me, of a person being uncritically tickled pink with the feel and scent of their own bullshit. And even if it were primarily true for the majority of believers, it still leaves out a hell of a lot who do not believe or who fit an agnostic description. We won’t reach good public policy based on bad argument such as the “same God” or the confusion of race and religion.

I said, though, the viper bite was in the last bit about respecting all religion. That has a nice sound, does it not? It sounds like a call to love one another, and what could be wrong with that? Doesn’t the world need more love? And besides, don’t we have freedom of religion, so why can’t we respect them all? Is there a requirement to respect all? What if you think respect should be earned? If religious views cross over into the political, are they to be respected with deference, or are we free to challenge? The loving, respect-all approach is a sweetened way of introducing a blasphemy rule to enforce respect. If “respect” becomes the law, it is those beliefs and practices that are most fundamentalist and most questionable that are shielded from criticism by the weight of law. Go in that direction if you wish, but a quick look around at conditions in societies that protect religion will soon disclose how one-sided that becomes and how ill the effect if you happen to be on the wrong side of that stick.

What many a good-natured American having grown up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance needs to remember is that freedom OF religion is entirely part of freedom FROM religion. We have and enjoy the society we do because we are free to follow conscience and beliefs as we see fit without undue constraint inside a state that is overall secular. The protection of all religion is found in your and my freedom to accept or reject as we see and understand. I am free to express a finding that Buddha, Christ, or Muhammad is each or all a fraud best forgotten or remembered as sly makers of myth. Religious freedom hinges on the ability to reject all of it. Lose that and we invite the tyranny of religion to rise again. In the hands of His followers, God becomes the biggest bully, with many eager servants happy to do others the service of bullying them into enforced correctness.

Quiet, nice Minnesota has been in this fight over 100 years, when at the time of Gettysburg a state regiment lost 80 percent (highest losses of the Civil War) of its members. It’s near certain they were not all of one faith or mind, but they gave their lives to the cause of Union in the belief that freedom was better than submission.