I suggested at the end of last week that religious liberty is incredibly important as we seek to answer the question about how we ought to promote the right exercise of freedom. We don’t want to force people to act in certain ways, but we want to have them use their freedom for good. That is the ideal. That way, it does not violate the human good of freedom while simultaneously limiting the bad outcomes that emerge from the abuse of freedom.
Before I dive into this topic, I can imagine the immediate response from some people is going to be that religion is really what holds us back. It is what is responsible for so many evils around the world that we would be better without it. I would strongly disagree however because I think that people who would condemn religion in this way misunderstand what a religion actually is.
If you just Google “religion”, you’re going to get the following definition from Google itself. “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” I have yet to meet anyone who does not have a belief in some type of superhuman controlling power. They might believe in God or some other type of supernatural being. They might believe in fate. They might believe in karma. In fact, they might not believe in anything that pure determinism where we are simply reaction machines to respond to the environment we find ourselves in.
We all appeal to some type of ideology that has a dimension beyond human control. I would argue that even an atheist has a religion. The belief in the superhuman controlling power of nature is inherent to any type of naturalistic worldview.
If we’re going to get rid of religion, we are going to have to go against what is obvious to all of us. There are things in this world that we do not control, and those higher powers need some type of explanation. The explanation could be purely natural. We see physicists trying to do this all the time as they try to discover our universe came out of nothing with no supernatural intervention. We see religious believers doing this to try to understand what kind of God exists and how that God is involved with the world as we know it.
Therefore, before you automatically discount this pursuit of religious liberty because you want to believe that all religions are bad and should be prohibited anyway, consider your own religious beliefs. We all have these beliefs about what is really controlling the universe, even if it is just a belief in the laws of physics themselves. That is still a religious commitment as an appeal to a superhuman controlling source.
Not all religions are created equal though, and if we are trying to promote freedom and goodness, I think we need to narrow down the field a little bit. What is the best way to encourage people to choose that which is good for its own sake because they want to?