What’s “Religion,” Anyway?




Here we go again. Was Ben Carson a bigot to say he would not want a Muslim President? Muslim-Americans are calling on him to drop out of the 2016 presidential race, and I can understand how they feel. But this is just another round in an age-old debate.

I am old enough to remember how uneasy some Americans felt at having John Kennedy as President. He was a Roman Catholic, after all, and didn’t Catholics owe more loyalty to the Pope than to their country?

And you know Mitt Romney’s religion was one reason he failed to win the presidency. A lot of Americans don’t want some Mormon with their sin-stopping underwear in the White House. Don’t Mormons believe in polygamy? How could you have a President like that?

I am not going to try to make sense of religion. I think the bottom line is that religion is a belief system that does not rely on logic. You believe religious doctrines because you believe them, and that’s that.

I guess freedom from logic gives us a nice warm feeling. Logic is mean.

Many Jamaicans believe in the sacrament of the “wisdom weed” (lower picture). They honestly take that woozy, floating sense you get from a toke as a gift of enlightenment from God – or Jah, as they know Him.

Perhaps these Jamaicans – and their fellow-Rastafarians – will some day be able to participate in their sacrament everywhere in America without fear of arrest. Marijuana is becoming increasingly legal across the country. But they would have to be careful here in Lakeland, Florida today. The “wisdom weed” is illegal here – religion or no religion.

And, getting back to the Carson controversy, I doubt that American voters are ready for a Rastafarian President.

The implications of religious freedom are being tested in many other ways. Should Kim Davis (top photo) be permitted to reject legal mariage license applications because of her “Christian” religion? Should company owners be free to refuse their employees legally mandated birth control on religious grounds? Should the federal government defund Planned Parenthood?

To those of us who view all religious dogma with varying degrees of skepticism, it seems so obvious. “Freedom” means being free to do anything that does not abridge the freedom of somebody else. It does not mean being free to control what others do – or don’t do.

Unless, of course, they’re breaking the law. Montezuma would not be free to sacrifice those virgins in today’s America. Virgins have rights under the law, too.

As for Carson’s comment, does he not know that every American President – regardless of faith – swears to abide by the Constitution of the United States? Isn’t that a pledge to reject Shariah law if it conflicts with the Constitution?

But I guess that doesn’t matter. I don’t think a Muslim could be elected President in this country at this stage in history. There’s just too much prejudice against Muslims.

But I don’t think an Atheist could get elected either – not a professed Atheist anyway.

Freedom of religion is still just a nice-sounding phrase, not a practical concept. Indeed, “freedom” is just a nice-sounding word. Mankind has a long way to go before that kind of enlightenment is achieved. In the meantime, we strruggle toward the light.

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