Friday, September 19, 2008

The tyranny of secular refusal to adhere to religious dogma

Yesterday, Autumn posted a diary at Pam's in which she raised the issue of Conservative Republican David Benkof's decision to stop supporting California's Proposition 8. The reason Benkoff's Benkof's change of heart is so interesting, is the fact that he's not about to vote against Proposition 8 because he now realizes that it would be wrong to deny gay people the same right to marry as straight people have, he's against it because the Pro-Proposition 8 bigots believe in spreading the hate:
I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, so I supported the man-woman marriage Proposition 8 in California - until I discovered the Proposition 8 campaign tolerates discrimination against Jews.'s legal counsel, the Alliance Defense Fund, has in effect a "No Jews Need Apply" policy for legal and even secretarial positions. They say they're not a law firm, they're a "ministry" and thus have a right to discriminate against Jews and other non-Christians. But even if that's true, Proposition 8 had hundreds of law firms to choose from. The fact they chose one that refuses to hire a Jew like me is very disturbing. Interestingly, Jesus himself was a Jew, so when a group has a policy that would lead them to refuse to hire their own Messiah, you know something's seriously wrong.
The post started an interesting firestorm of comments starting with my comment that Benkof should be ashamed of himself and degenerating into a weird argument in which Benkof had to explain that he's not "ex-gay" - he's still gay, just not a practicing homosexual (the gay verion of being a secular Jew or something along those lines). It also spawned a thread in which Benkof had the stones to join the christotheocratic chorus decrying "secularists" for refusing to be forced to accept religiously based legislation as a way to impose religion on non-adherents:

As for "forced," you want to have your secular beliefs forced on me. All I'm doing is using my one vote and my freedom of speech and the press to get the laws to represent my values. You do the same. Are you saying only you should have input into the laws? I really don't understand.

In a nutshell, anyone who supports allowing the US government to enact bible-based legislation because it happens to conform to their personal/religious views is condoning theocracy. In other words, one does not have to support a forced conversion to be suppressing the religious freedom of another. Your right to religious expression does not supersede my right to religious freedom.

Those of us who object to Proposition 8 as the imposition of the religious dogma of others on non-adherents are not, in any way, forcing those who object to Same Sex Marriage (SSM) to condone, partake in or otherwise support the marriage of gay people. As a gay man whose religious views are inconsistent with his own nature, Mr. Benkof can apply his conscientious objection to homosexuality and SSM by living in accordance with his understanding of the tenets of his religion; by not indulging whatever feelings or attractions he has to men and by not supporting any gay acquaintances who choose to marry. Benkof may be doing the right thing in exposing the bigotry of "" but his complaints about their practices and beliefs are, in fact, as much as an indictment of himself as they are of the organization he now holds in contempt.

In this, it's probably appropriate to reflect on the JFK's address to the Southern Baptist Leaders a little over 48 years ago:

But let me stress again that these are my views -- for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected -- on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office, and I hope any other conscientious public servant would do likewise.

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Steve in MD said...

It's about time that churches no longer be above the law, eg in hiring people, other then specific religious ministers.

And it is about time that those who use hatred against minorities, and in effect commit murder by proxy, be held accountable for their crimes, as well as those who actually physically commit the crime.

David Benkof said...


You raise some interesting points and they deserve responses. I hope we can continue to take each other's ideas seriously and see what comes of some honest debate. I want to remind you, however, that until Prop. 8 loses I'm not debating SSM because I don't want to help that ballot initiative, even inadvertently. And please note there is one f in my last name Benkof. Oh- and I thought your line "he's still gay, just not a practicing homosexual (the gay verion of being a secular Jew or something along those lines)" was funny and clever.

It's interesting that you refer to "the tyrrany of secular refusal to adhere to religious dogma," given that I said nothing of the sort. But I do believe there is some tyranny on the part of secularists when it comes to their positions on religious-impacted issues we differ on. I'll explain below.

So I have a few questions for you - serious, not sarcastic - to clarify your position before I can intelligently dialogue further:

1. The dictionary defines theocracy as "a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities." I haven't heard anyone advocate that. Is that still the word you mean?

2. If the people directly or through their representatives vote, say, for a 7-day week instead of a 5- or 6-day week because a majority believes G-d created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh, is that an expression of theocracy in your view?

3. If my view on a certain issue, such as abortion, is informed by my understanding of the Bible, what should I do? Should I vote against my conscience? Or should I not be allowed to vote based on the Bible? How do we determine who's voting for what reasons? Or should people like me not be allowed to vote at all?

4. Is it legitimate in your view for someone to vote based on their understanding of The Autobiography of Malcolm X? based on Jon Stewart's "news" reports? based on their horoscope? If yes to any of the above, what's wrong with voting based on the Bible?

Finally, you quote JFK. But he wasn't discussing how he would vote. He was asking for people's votes based on a description of how he would govern. He didn't condemn those who would do differently. I'm sorry if I feel I answer to a Higher Authority than the last good Democratic president.

As to tyranny - if I'm expected to vote based on your values rather than mine, that's tyranny. If I'm not allowed to vote based on my values, that's absolute tyranny.

I look forward to your responses. I think there's a lot we could learn from each other.

Ol Cranky said...


the title tied in my thoughts and were a result of our exchange at Pam's regarding you wanting legislation that reflected your values. This included your statement that others want their secular values forced on you.

1. The dictionary defines theocracy as "a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities." I haven't heard anyone advocate that. Is that still the word you mean?

Do you not hear it when people fight Prop 8 and other issues with the argument that SSM is against G-d's will, homosexuality is a sin according to the bible, etc? Do you not notice when the religious fundamentalists/orthodox infuse their religion into politics, government, etc. that their fight to live in country where everyone has to live in accordance with laws that are consistent with their values (as in their bible, their G-d, etc.)?

2. the imposition of the 7 day work week we have this little thing called that Constitution and, while BushCo loves to use it like toilet paper, it does afford us some rights vis-a-vis religious practice. Additionally, every state has employment laws (including Pennsylvania, which is rather draconian when it comes to treatment of employees) that protect those rights: employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employees religious practice. Allowing employees not to work on their Sabbath or religious holidays is reasonable accommodation; letting them impose their religious beliefs on another an interfere with medical care is not.

3. abortion and the inconsistency with religious beliefs and wanting those beliefs codified into law
This, as we all know, is a tricky issue. Issues that are strictly moral in nature, really shouldn't be a matter for the majority to vote on, they should be something people address by living in accordance to their conscience. Majority rules bases on the deeply held, biblical inspired, religious beliefs have lead humans to some awful pieces of legislation and acts of government. Elected officials, government employees and those in positions interpreting and applying secular law have to understand that, in accepting those roles, they are acting for all of their constituents, not just the ones that have the same beliefs. If you want to decrease abortion, work to decrease the demand. If the "pro-life" movement understood this as a whole, we'd be working together and be able to get to a point where unintentional pregnancies are not common, abortions are rare and pretty much performed for medical reasons (I will be damned if I'm going to let someone force me to give birth to a child so it can be tortured before it mercifully dies when my judgment tells me I should withdraw life support to stop/prevent suffering).

4 voting based on the bibleif you're going to vote based on your understanding of the bible (and, while the fundies say they are literal, it's still an interpretation) understand the ramifications of that. The fundies do and they fully accept them because their desire is to force others to live in accordance with their religious dogma. Understand that if you do the same, you may be forced to publicly live as a Christian - while some of their fundamentalist beliefs are consistent with your Orthodox ones, not all are. I guess I take a more traditionally libertarian view on this - we should only be voting to enact legislation that is truly necessary to ensure equal rights and protection under the law, we shouldn't be voting to legislate the morals of others.

I think you can see from the above why I quote JFK. We vote to impact governance.

I'm not forcing you to vote in accordance to my values. (FYI while I am not Orthodox, we may have some very similar values) Frankly, I'm not forcing you to do anything. I think that's my point. You can live in accordance to your values without them being forced on you by legislation. When it comes to a government issued marriage license and the rights and responsibilities that go with that, the gender, religion, color of those signing that contract and how they live has nothing to do with you. Marriage is a social construct and the licenses do not serve as state condonation of a marriage, just as evidence that two people have entered into the contract. While you're in a somewhat unique situation being bi (at least I hope you're bi if you're pursuing relationships with women), the legality of homosexuality/"homosexual acts" or adultery or divorce or eating shellfish or mixing fabrics has little impact on you as well. They are all equally offensive to you and inconsistent with your values. Would you now advocate putting these up to a vote in the hopes you could outlaw them to have laws that match your deeply held values?


PS/In my defense, I only misspelled your last name once. There must be some reason why I feel compelled to add an extra f ;>