The fundamental problem with religion is that it is by definition impervious to reason, and hence there can be no hope of reasonable reconciliation of religious disputes. The best we can accomplish is for people to agree to disagree. The best way of achieving that is the First Law of Social Harmony: no one should attempt to impose their religious views on others without their consent. A corollary to the First Law is that government, which is empowered to to use violence to enforce the law, should not attempt to impose any religious views on anyone. This is the essence of the First Amendment, which until this week made the United States a vibrant, diverse, and religiously peaceful nation. A violent sectarian struggle of the sort that happens regularly, maybe continuously, in the Middle East would have been unthinkable here.
The other problem with religion is that it is, again by definition, wholly unconstrained by reality. Want to believe that Mohammed was carried up to heaven by a winged horse? Or that humans speak different languages because God was afraid that we would build a tower tall enough to reach heaven? No problem. No problem, that is, until you decide to no longer adhere to the First Law. Then it becomes a problem, to wit, that most religious views are, in point of material fact, false. Sometimes this doesn't matter. If you want to believe that there's an invisible pink unicorn watching over you that is probably not going to pose an existential threat to civilization. But believing that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, with all that implies, might.
The Supreme Court has been gutting the First Law of Social Harmony for a while now. They began when they decided to impose a religious view (or at least a false one) on the people of the United States without their consent, namely, that corporations are people. Corporations are plainly not people, they are groups of people. Moreover, they are groups of people organized in a particular way for a particular purpose, namely, in a hierarchical, occasionally feudal, but almost always non-democratic way for the purpose of engaging in commerce. Corporations are a human invention, a technology, that we built for the purpose of organizing our activities to achieve a purpose. They are not a part of the natural order of things, and they are plainly not persons.
The Court elaborated on this fiction this week when it decided that corporate non-persons can have religious beliefs which are protected by the First Amendment. But, of course, in point of fact a corporation cannot have a religious belief because a corporation is not a person. No corporation ever attended a church. No corporation has ever been baptized. No corporation has ever received God's grace. Corporations do not go to the rainbow bridge when they go out of business.
The Court's hypocrisy is plainly laid out in its own rhetoric: corporate personhood for the purposes of religious protection extends only to closely held corporations. In this constraint the Court tacitly acknowledges the manifest absurdity of corporations having religious views. If the group of actual human persons running the corporation is small enough to have identifiable religious views, then that group of people may, under cover of the fiction of corporate personhood, impose their religious beliefs on their employees. But, of course, that train only runs one way.
As is so often the case, it is hard to tell which is more disturbing: that certain wealthy individuals are being granted the power to impose their beliefs on others, or that this is being done in the name of religious freedom.
There is no sport in finding logical contradictions in religious views, but it really bothers me when religious leaders can't even get their own theology right. I stumbled across this article written by Rabbi Daniel Brenner, arguing against the Hobby Lobby decision. But the reasoning is such a mess:
Jewish ethics on contraceptive use are rooted in our earliest religious texts. If you can think back to your earliest childhood encounters with the Book of Genesis, you might recall the first divine command -- Genesis 9:1 -- "be fruitful and multiply!" The rabbinic sages of the fifth and sixth century looked closely at that passage and raised a compelling question, "Was the Holy One speaking only with the 'sons of Noah' or with women and men?" The conclusion of the great rabbis? Only men are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Later rabbis clarified that being "fruitful" meant that men are obligated to have a male and a female child. The command to have a son and a daughter is a moment of indirect gender equity in a narrative that is often focused on gender difference and strict gender codes based on dress, religious duties, legal witnessing, and a host of other categories.
The rabbis of the Talmud concluded that men were commanded to have children, so any man who engages in a sexual act with a woman and uses a type of birth control that prevents him from fulfilling this command is, according to the ancient rabbis, going against divine law. (Some contemporary rabbis have allowed and encouraged condom use to prevent disease -- but this is a relatively modern position.) The classic example from the Torah is the story of Onan -- who spills his seed on the floor rather than impregnate his wife. Medieval rabbis explained that his act was an act of vanity -- he was obsessed with his wife's thin body and thought that pregnancy would ruin her. Their comments prove that even 1,500 years ago rabbis were worried about the objectification of women by men.
Since women are not, according to the rabbis, commanded to have children, then birth control, in some cases, is permitted by divine law.Here's what the Bible has to say about it:
Ge1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Ge1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.I don't see anything in there about the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" being directed specifically at men. And here's what the Bible says about Onan:
Ge38:7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
Ge38:8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
Ge38:9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
Ge38:10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
Again, not a word about "his wife's thin body." To the contrary, the reason Onan doesn't want to impregnate his wife is because she is not his wife, she is his brother's wife! The reason Onan needs to impregnate her is because his brother, Er, was killed by God and it is now his duty to impregnate her.
Again, none of this is problematic if it stays between a man and his god. But when you give business owners the power to impose this kind of insanity on everyone it's a big, big problem.