The Dictatorship of Relativism and “Sincerely Held Beliefs”

One of the major themes in the pontificate of Benedict XVI was the notion of “the dictatorship of relativism” in which society recognizes no objective moral truths and each person is free to define his or her own truth. The dictatorship of relativism is supposedly the result of the secularization of formerly Christian societies that exalt human reason and passing intellectual fads over timeless religious truths. Supposedly the only thing that is taboo in the dictatorship of relativism is proclaiming that objective morality exists. This line of thinking was once quite attractive to me, but I became disillusioned with it once I realized that for conservotrad Catholics, the only things that are always wrong in all times and all places are abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex (slavery, racism, and the odd genocide are okay, as long as your group isn’t affected). However, after the Hobby Lobby decision, I now realize that the real dictatorship of relativity is found in the demand for so-called “religious liberty.”

The basis for the push among religious conservatives for “religious liberty” (AKA the right to discriminate) is that their deity has “laid in on their heart” that they must be exempt from following certain laws that are supposedly objectionable to said deity. They don’t have to provide any evidence that their desire to be above the law has any basis in reality, because the mere fact that they have a “sincerely held belief” is enough to excuse their position from further scrutiny. For example, the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby have a “sincerely held belief” that IUDs and emergency contraception cause abortions. This belief is not supposed by scientific evidence, but the mere fact that this opinion is religious in nature and “sincerely held” is enough for them to impose it upon their employees, whether they share these views or not. One would think that a large company would need to have a good reason for its sudden about face on the issue of IUDs and emergency contraception (both of which do prevent real actual abortions), but no, all the Green family needed to do was say “Jesus says so” and that was good enough for the Supreme Court.

It’s odd that the same crowd who claim to be desperate for “religious liberty” are at the same time passing anti-Sharia laws that simultaneously deprive others of their own religious freedom. If religious conservatives are serious about “religious liberty,” then shouldn’t that extent to Muslims as well? Theoretically it would, but in the context of American conservatism, the only kind of religion that matters is “traditional Christianity” as practiced by white people. It’s particularly ironic that you see so many conservotrads jumping on the anti-Sharia, given that roughly a hundred years ago, there was the same kind of panic over Catholic immigrants who were getting their marching order from Rome (this is what happens when you take “The Syllabus of Errors” seriously). I’m sure they would say that that was totally different because white people.

The writers at “First Things,” “Crisis” magazine, and other conservotrad media outlets think that “religious liberty” bills would be a net boon to conservative Christians, perhaps assuming that the power of the Christian supermajority will prevent those from minority religions from trying to assert themselves. However, once Muslims start complaining about their “religious liberty” is being violated by the anti-Sharia laws, I bet the conservotrads will be singing a different tune. I hope that the Satanic Temple that has been in the news lately will show up the ridiculousness of these “religious liberty” laws by filing suit about something. Recent history has shown that when the public square is really opened up to the entire public, that religious conservatives don’t want to play anymore (see how the Satanic Temple did a wonderful smackdown of the odious “Good News Club”: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/satanic-temple-florida-religious-materials-schools). Better yet, I think the Hare Krishnas need to go to court and demand that they be allowed to proselytize in airports again because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs” that require them to spread the good news about Lord Krishna.

In allowing people to opt out of following laws because of “religious liberty,” the dictatorship of relativism prophesied by Benedict XVI. Since there are all types of religions and even more types of believers, “religious liberty” laws create an environment in which each adherent has his or her own “truth” that can’t be challenged, either in a court of law or from a commonsense standpoint, because it’s a “sincerely held belief,” and therefore above questioning by mere mortals. The entire point of having a secular law code is for everyone to be subject to the same law regardless of their station in life, race, creed, etc. Once you start putting in exceptions for certain types of religionists, what you have is more akin to the ancien regime law codes where the various estates had their own sets of laws. Then again, given how many conservotrads pine for the “good old days” of throne and altar politics, maybe that’s the point.

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