Thursday, February 12, 2009

The morality of using the State.

The theocratic Right really is absolutely clueless. Consider this situation and their response.

A theater company, Ion Theatre, is described as a “small but well-regarded young theater company.” They were leasing space for their performances in a building owned The Caster Companies. Caster is a family run business whose chairman is Terrence Caster. Caster also donated $700,000 to the campaign to take marriage rights away from gay couples.

The people at Ion felt that their rent was helping pay for the Prop 8 campaign. The theater group then decided that they will not continue using this space and would seek out space from someone who wasn’t as set on denying other people their equal rights. They were overly civil about it as well saying: “We don’t mean him [the owner] any malice; we don’t mean him any harm.” But the theater company also says that, other than the Prop 8 donation, they were “99 percent sure” they would have stayed where they were.

Terrence Caster simply refused to comment. But his son, a company official, spouted off about Jesus and God. “As a Christian, I know God reveals the value of each person through the work of his son, Jesus Christ. I know he loves everyone equally.” Apparently Jesus can love everyone equally but Caster can’t grant everyone equality of rights.

There seems to be an assumption made by religious folks that the moment they mention religion it justifies virtually anything they do to other people. There is a difference between having a personal morality that you apply to yourself and using the State to force those values on others. Prop 8 was not about personal values but whether or not the State would deny gay couples equality before the law in marriage rights. This was not what one believes but what one does to others. Admittedly they did it through the State but they did it nonetheless.

One of the major moral confusions that people have is that they believe that when government acts on their behalf they are not responsible for what it does. Even most the supporters of Prop 8 wouldn’t think of tearing up marriage licenses for gay couples. They just have no problem when the State does the ripping up on their instructions. People who wouldn’t kill another person advocate that the State do the killing for them. People who would never stick their hands into your wallet think it is fine to hire the State to do the same.

What is doubly baffling is that these people like to present themselves as moral – advocates of basic human decency. Yet they have no hesitation to hire the State to act in a manner that they would find reprehensible themselves. They believe that voting is a magic means of relieving themselves of any personal responsibility for treating others in a shitty way.

There is virtually no demand to control churches and require them to change their doctrines (absurd as they may be) in order to avoid a discriminatory position. They are free to discriminate as far as I’m concerned. But when they change the laws of the state in order to deprive others of rights they demand for themselves that is no longer private discrimination. That is an all-out assault on the dignity and rights of others. And hiding behind religion is no excuse.

I know of people who hate blacks, hate Jews, hate homosexuals, etc. And many such people come up with religious bullshit to justify it. People like to think that the creator of the universe shares their petty little prejudices, it makes them feel better about being assholes. Religion can justify anything --- and has. The Klan didn’t hesitate to use religion to justify the disgusting way that they treated black Americans. Nazis pointed to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism to justify the concentration camps and worse.

The religious among us seem to believe that calling a belief religious means they can now trump the rights of others. Because they religiously believe that gay people should be treated worse than other people it has to be that way. It is bad when they act that way privately, but it is their right to do so – that is there moral right to do so. But when they put that into law they are not privately acting but using the force of government to deprive others of their rights. For that there is no moral justification whatsoever. They have the legal right (that is legal ability) to do that. But there is no moral justification for it. They are not being moral when they deny others equality before the law.

Consider the two sides of the equation in this conflict between Ion and Caster. Ion is moving to other premises. They are not making any move to deny Caster or his company equal rights. Ion is not petitioning government to make Caster’s company illegal. They are acting entirely in the private sphere and withdrawing their sanction on a company that they find bigoted. Caster, on the other hand, did not merely wish to disapprove of gay marriages. He didn’t just want the right to withdraw his approval. He wanted to use government power to monopolize marriage rights so as to exclude this particular group of people.

Ion Theater is acting morally. They are disapproving of Caster’s bigotry without attempting to use any force, directly or indirectly, against Caster. Refusing to purchase services from Caster is not force of any kind. Mr. Caster should be free to do the same to gay couples, if he doesn’t approve of their relationships. Where Ion kept their misgivings about Caster in the private sphere, by voluntarily withdrawing their exchange, Caster did the opposite. He didn’t just attempt to express his personal misgivings about relationships he opposes. He went straight to government and sought to use the force of law to strip one group of people of their rights.

I know Mr. Caster thinks he is being moral. I think he is a criminal in the moral sense of the word, not the legal sense. Law and morality often diverge and they have in this case. Legally a Wal-Mart may have the right to use eminent domain to steal your home for a shopping center; morally they have no such right. They have the legal right to act this way but not the moral right.

They also believe that justifying their prejudices by calling them religious means no one is allowed to question them, ridicule them, or debate with them. They actually think that invoking theology gives them a pass from rational debate. Since religion is “faith” it can mean anything. There are morons who think crystals have healing powers. That is a religious belief and they are entitled to hold it. But their right to their religion stops if they then try to use State power to outlaw science-based medicine.

If the crystal advocates did try to ban medicine everyone would see this clearly as an attempt to force a weird religious belief on others. But, when the religion invokes Jesus and the thing being banned is gay marriage, people mist over and think that there is a fundamental difference. The reason they think this is that believe their religious beliefs (Jesus) are true while the other religious belief (crystals) is not. Yet in principle the two beliefs are the same. Both are assertions of faith and neither has the right to impose that faith on unwilling participants.

The simple answer to Christians who oppose same-sex marriage is to marry someone of the opposite sex. Of course, what they want is not to practice their own religion in peace, but to force you to practice it unwillingly. They say same-sex marriage is sinful so they demand the right to exclude same-sex couples. But how would they feel if the rest of us adopted that principle. I believe they are immoral, small-minded, bigots. Since I believe that does that mean I have the right to try to use the State to shut down their churches and schools? I would say I don’t. But by their premise I would have that right.

If we can deny others the same rights we claim for ourselves, merely on the assertion that we have a divine revelation justifying it, then there would be no limitations on what government may do. This concept would negate the very idea that there are such things as human rights. It is a totalitarian principle. But this is not surprising. The irrational and the authoritarian have long walked hand in hand.

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