It is widely accepted among the religious that religious thought has exerted a great influence on our history and culture, forming the basis or background for many of our democratic institutions and practices. Part of that cultural heritage is an emphasis on personal freedom, especial religious freedom.
In general, the influence of religion on our society is considered benevolent, though some see it very differently. Frequently these days, we encounter those who strongly oppose the idea of religion’s benevolence and do so vociferously in books and the media. Such opponents to the conventional wisdom tend to raise hackles and to cause considerable discomfort in calling for a different kind of freedom, freedom from the undue and perceived negative effects of religion.
It is easy and fairly common for the religious to dismiss, as resulting from willful ignorance or evil intentions, the arguments and comments of the opponents of their religion. That is quite natural since anything seen as an attack on my basic belief system, the ideals by which I attempt to order and assess my life, quickly becomes intolerable. In addition most religious systems are structured to be self maintaining by vigorously opposing and suppressing, if necessary, thoughts and precepts which challenge their authenticity and authority. Thus we easily find ourselves in the current state, where open discussion of religion is widely avoided and differences of opinion go unexplored and countless questions go unansweredor never raised at all. This reluctant silence on the issue of religious differences may be comforting for the religious traditionalists, but I feel that it is devastating for others. These others would include many within the religious groups themselves and many more outside formal religious circles. A contrived silence on all religious issues of substance prevents these non-traditionalists from ever getting their “day in court”. False assumption, based on traditional doctrines, then continue to generate an oppressive atmosphere for all those who cannot embrace accepted religious thought.
Breaking the silence which perpetuates religious traditionalism is an essential step for the benefit of this collection of outsiders, which I fully believe is the majority of our fellowmen. The traditionalists can tune out of the discussion if it becomes too uncomfortable, but they should not expect others of a different mindset to remain silent in deference to the feelings of the traditional few. Otherwise one group’s personal preference and prejudice is elevated above the freedom of thought and expression of the majority. That is hardly worthy of a nation conceived in liberty, which supposedly includes religious freedom as well as political.