Randy Cohen writes a column, “The Ethicist”, for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He also has a NYT blog where he hashes out ethical issues. Earlier this week he made some excellent points about religion in the public sphere, some that I think are key to one big thing so many of us non-believers would like to change. The short version is that religion, like every other idea on the planet, is subject to the rough and tumble of the marketplace of ideas. It deserves no special protection or place of privilege when it comes to ridicule, satire, or other kind of harsh criticism.
For Cohen, the issue came up both in an overwhelming response he got to a question he answered in “The Ethicist” as well as the tepid reaction to the Catholic Church’s recent olive branch to splintered Anglicans who aren’t too keen about women or homosexuals being priests. He observes:
My political beliefs, my ideas about social justice, are as deeply held as my critics’ religious beliefs, but I don’t ask them to treat me with reverence, only civility. They should not expect me to walk on tiptoe. It is not as if religious institutions occupy a precarious perch in American life. It is not the proclaimed Christian but the nonbeliever who is unelectable to high office in this era when politicians of every party and denomination make a public display of their faith.True that. The persecution complex on display by many Christians in the country (jedi jawa had a recent example) is astounding when you consider that upwards of 75% of Americans identify at Christian and they control nearly every organ of government from the bottom up.
The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. It also protects freedom of speech, which means that folks get to say what they want to about the beliefs of other folks. That's how it should be. Let the best thoughts win.