I believe in what George Carlin dismissively refers to as "The Invisible Man in the Sky." Along with this belief comes a whole host of moral and ethical codes that I apply to myself and my way of living. At the same time, I hold no ambition to, through any mechanism, force these moral tenets of mine on anybody else in any compulsory way. Someone may ask for my advice, and I'm usually happy to give it, but in no way do I aspire to force any moral outlook that isn't based on verifiable fact on anyone. I cannot prove that The Invisible Man in the Sky exists. Nor can I prove that the version of The Invisible Man in the Sky that I pray to is in any way superior to anybody else's perception of such a deity. Moreover, I cannot force my view on those who choose to not believe in deities or who pursue any other sort of religious or spiritual enlightenment. If I could prove the existence of The Invisible Man in the Sky, I'd be The Most Important Person Who Ever Lived.
But I can't and I'm not. At the same time, I don't see anyone else offering me what I would consider to be a moral, religious or spiritual alternative that, in my sole opinion, is superior to what I believe.
It's this religious freedom that the Founding Fathers of our country chose to protect in very special ways. Most of the other rules in our democratic system of government are made by majorities of representatives. If a certain percentage of our country's elected representatives think something should come to pass, it can make legislation that becomes the law of the land. I don't need to get into too much detail here.
But legislation concerning religious freedom is a tough thing indeed. The Founding Fathers gave this special attention because, in these cases, majority doesn't rule. Religious freedom, as well as the freedom of the press and other rights that can theoretically be infringed upon by an overzealous majority cannot be infringed in this way. It's NOT a majority rules situation when it comes to the bill of rights.
I'm not saying that certain rights are absolute. We know that the damage potentially caused by yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater trumps one's right to exercise free speech in that regard. We know that if your particular brand of Invisible Man in the Sky worship requires you to go around killing people with a long knife, your religious freedom gets trumped in that case.
And I'm not silly enough to fail to realize that all laws we make stem from moral laws. But the distinction between run of the mill legislation and that which effectively forces the religious codes of a majority onto the minority is one that the current administration fails to acknowledge.
It's when politicians tell me that abortion amounts to killing children and thus trumps a right for a woman to govern her own body, or when they tell me I can't buy beer before noon on a Sunday, or when they tell me content carried by the public airwaves that they willingly tune into is offensive and want to deny me the ability to see it - that's when I fly off the handle.
It's because, all of a sudden, someone else's view of what The Invisible Man in the Sky wants us to do is deemed to be more legitimate than mine.
You can see the futility of trying to find some common ground between a large number of people who have different views about The Invisible Man in the Sky and what he wants us to do. But there is common ground. And that common ground is known as reason.
I can't prove my vision of The Invisible Man in the Sky is the correct one, but neither can you. Thus, we're all permitted to entertain our own versions of morality and religion, as long as they don't cross over the boundaries of verifiable facts and the moral laws and compromises that follow logically from them.
My belief in The Invisible Man in the Sky is based on faith. That is, it's something I believe in, even in the absence of supporting fact. It's fine to have blind faith in something, but it causes harm to people when that blind faith dictates actions that infringe upon the rights of others. And when it comes down to faith versus fact when determining what we should be able to do, express, believe and think, fact should triumph every time. Otherwise we have no common ground on which to build the mechanisms by which we interact with one another.
Rather than deferring to reason when we make important decisions about our rights, we instead have countless situations in which competing tribes of people with differing versions of The Invisible Man in the Sky wrestle with one another over legitimacy. Not legitimacy of thought or expression, but legitimacy with respect to their beliefs and the favor of the rule of law. And all this is doing is turning the country into one giant pissing match, with people arguing and infringing upon one another's rights based on not facts, but things that people believe based on blind faith. It would be fine if the pissing matches were simply rhetoric, but they're not. We consistently go beyond words to actions - many times infringements of everybody else's freedoms.
Bill Maher, in a comedy routine I saw several months ago, described the triumph of "feelings over facts" in describing the prevailing values of our society. And THIS is precisely what's wrong with America today. No one who refuses to acknowledge facts can be reasoned with. That's what many of us fail to realize - when it comes time to resolve conflict, we have to base our compromises and resolutions on the facts and not on how we feel in our gut.
Lately, I've been confronted with many different situations in which I tried to resolve a conflict, but the person on the other side of the table dismissed the facts out of hand because he or she "feels" differently. It's an insurmountable obstacle when someone abandons all reason and refuses to acknowledge the common reality we share. And it's pointless to continue the debate at that point.
It's starting to happen with such alarming frequency that, lately, I've thrown up my hands and walked away from the debate entirely. It's not that feelings are unimportant, but if I'm willing to put the unverifiable aside for a moment to discuss how I should resolve a dispute in favor of trying to find some common ground we can agree on to craft a resolution, and the person I'm talking to isn't willing to do the same, the conflict cannot be resolved.
This is why reason must rule. It's the common ground upon which all conflict resolution must take place. Otherwise we're slinging around words that carry no legitimacy on the other side of the table.