The following is an opinion piece I sent in to our local paper in response to another that had been submitted earlier, as I couldn’t help but take exception to the conclusions the writer draws and her concept of ‘freedom of expression’. She certainly wasn’t speaking for me. I’m sorry that it’s a bit of a long post but I didn’t know how else to share it:
I’m sharing this opinion in response to a recent one that appeared in a recent issue of the paper titled ‘We need secular government’ by Jane Roberts, which I feel fell far short of her intentions and indeed became little more than a venting of personal bias. She was writing in response to two recent tragic events, one, the Charlie Hebdo French newspaper attack by militant extremists and the suicide of transgender Leelah Alcorn.
I can well understand what led her to write her article, but where her argument fails is over the very point she purports to advocate: freedom of expression. It’s one thing to feel solidarity with the freedom of expression that the words ‘I am Charlie’ have come to represent and want to trumpet that freedom. If this was her intention, then I salute her, as I too view it as a barbaric act which should be abhorrent to all people of all persuasions, which by reaction around the world it has been (except to its perpetrators of course), and we are all well to be reminded of the preciousness of freedom of expression.
It’s quite another thing to then use this as a platform to advocate one’s personal bias, which in her case is one of avowed adamant secularism as being the panacea of the world’s problems, as well as the only valid social stance or position. Well, that’s her ‘take’ and she is welcome to it.
But this is where her argument unravels for me, because to follow such line of reasoning leads to disavowal of the very freedom of expression advocated. How can freedom of expression be served if only one form of expression is considered valid? Are we supposed to conclude from these grappling issues that the only valid viewpoint is a secular one, that it’s no longer valid to hold a religious or non-secular point of view and that indeed such a viewpoint should no longer be tolerated or allowed? Those adhering to such ‘reasoning’ undermine the very position they purport to advocate.
The lessons I draw from such events is not that everyone should now lay down their personal beliefs or ‘isms’ (which, let’s face it, we all hold precious), and be forced in their place, to adopt some sort of universal mass-controlled secularism. That would be the very anti-thesis to draw from this. But, rather, how very dear, delicate, and in danger of being snuffed out, freedom of expression is in our world today and that we should be vigilante to guard against that happening and welcoming of any and all true forms of expression, religious or non-religious.
To those seeking to advocate such an exclusivity of thought, attitude, and position, I would say please allow others the ‘freedom’ you purport to uphold; to cherish and espouse other points of view as having a validity of their own.
As a religious person, would I like to see the world share my beliefs? Yes, of course. Would I like to see that belief imposed on others by force? –No, not on your life. I know imposition does not work. The point is true freedom can never be imposed, regulated or legislated. But it does need a certain atmosphere, a certain amount of give and take in which to grow and thrive. Not even God denies us that.
Jane, like it or not, I am religious Charlie. Shouldn’t there be room for me in your world of ‘freedom’?
Here is her opinion as it appeared:
We need secular government by Jane Roberts
When I went to the French website http://www.charliehebdo.fr on Wednesday there was nothing but a big black box and inside the box the words “Je Suis Charlie,” I am Charlie.
Well, I am Charlie.
This left-wing satirical weekly paper was the victim of terrorism today in Paris with the majority of its editorial staff gunned down in cold blood, targeted no doubt for its anti-Islam cartoons.
One had Muhammad in a passionate (obviously homosexual) embrace of Charlie. This would be the equivalent of showing the “Virgin Mary” having teen sex with some bloke.
Another was of Muhammad lamenting “It’s yucky being loved by Jihadis” i.e. fundamentalists. In this cartoon Muhammad is against all this fundamentalism done in his name.
Upcoming was an issue with a play on words Sharia and Charia i.e. Charlie.
In the Muslim world today there are many who think Sharia law, law based solely on their particular interpretation of Islam, is all that is needed for government. These people completely reject secularism, pluralism and democracy. There are strong factions of Sharia adherents in many countries, mostly in the Middle East.
In our own country there are those who tout America as a Christian nation and would like nothing better than to run the country according to their interpretation of the Bible. We are extremely fortunate to have founding fathers and authors of the Constitution who opposed any such sectarian admonitions.
Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, has written a cogent argument for secularism in his new book “The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do” His main point is that if one bases one’s views concerning public policy on one’s religion, this is a conversation stopper. Reasoned discourse goes out the window. He points out that both adherents of the right and the left are guilty of this to some degree. The debate on abortion, same-sex marriage and assisted suicide, i.e. death with dignity, are examples where some on the right invoke God to support their position. Opposition to the death penalty and to war by those on the left can come from religious persuasion. All this is illegitimate in a secular pluralistic society according to Lindsay.
The book also contains reasoned argument showing that morality does not come from religion. In human history religion has been used to justify slavery, the subjugation of women and the persecution of Jews.
Reason and common sense are better sources of morality, a morality that can be universally recognized and accepted.
One further note about secularism on a small scale. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio committed suicide just recently by stepping in front of a tractor-trailer. She was born a boy but from the age of 4 knew she was really a girl.
Her conservative Christian parents rejected her pleas to change her gender and live her life openly.
“I told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. That won’t do anything but make them hate themselves. That’s exactly what it did to me.”
Her family blew it.
They based their morality on religion, which turned into a conversation stopper. Reasoned discourse went out the window with horrible results. They needed secular understanding and morality.
People tell me they like my book recommendations. So read “Golden Boy” by Abigail Tarttelin. It’s a very moving tale of a boy with a penis and a vagina and how he and his family cope.
So let’s hear it for secularism on a world, country and family scale.
— Jane Roberts