In recent days, at the hearings on the constitutionality of Bill 21 in the Court of Appeal, much has been said about individual rights, collective rights and the Constitution. I believe that we should also, if not above all, talk about religion. This is the heart of the matter.
The frenetic individualism of the world we live in is the main ally of religions today. In the name of defending personal beliefs, we forget that the State must stay away from religions for their good and for ours.
What is religion?
Religion is primarily the link between a person and his God. A priori, it therefore falls within the private sphere, the State should not get involved. However, religions are also embodied in institutions and practices that are part of the public sphere. Let’s examine all of this.
In philosophy, religion could be summed up very generally as a belief in something whose existence is not proven. It is an explanation of the origin of the world. From beyond. Of the meaning of life.
For this aspect of the question, the role of the State is only to preserve freedom of conscience, that is to say, to protect the right of everyone to believe in what they want and, equally important, that of not to beleive.
It is necessary to underline an important principle: no religion can claim to be more credible, more valid, more true than another. All religions are equal. They are all equal in the sense that none of their beliefs can be validated or invalidated, precisely because they are beliefs. Reincarnation, the Immaculate Conception, karma, our creation by extraterrestrials, the existence of heaven or hell, the number and powers of gods, etc. All of this is belief, all of this is valid, none of this is demonstrable or invalid.
To protect these beliefs from each other and to protect the right to have none, many states choose to be secular. This is the objective of Law 21.
Religion is also a set of practices. Ritual practices, food, clothing, sometimes included in the religious canon, sometimes from tradition. There are practices that some States, including ours, choose to oppose: child marriage, physical punishment, absence of education other than religious for children, authority of the spouse, inheritance inequalities, polygamy and other practices that we find unacceptable.
We therefore often “impede” the exercise of religion. It is by means of the least evil of decision-making systems, democracy, that we determine that a practice that some consider to be required by their god should be prohibited.
Religion is also framed by institutions that interpret its texts, define its practices and promote it. These institutions have opinions on the organization of society, they convey values, they sometimes enter squarely into the political arena.
The religious lobby, particularly in the United States, is pushing back abortion or even demanding the withdrawal from school libraries of books illustrating the reality of sexual minorities. The religious lobby is rolling back the rights of sexual minorities in Turkey, Russia and elsewhere.
All over the world, lobbies and religious fanaticism are attacking freedom of expression. The craftsmen of Charlie Hebdo, Samuel Paty, Salman Rushdie have become symbols of this fight against obscurantism. The right to make sometimes shocking assertions is at the heart of pluralism. However, the right to criticize religions, a right won after a hard fight, is declining.
Organized religion is almost always sexist. Theocracies around the world are all synonymous with the oppression of women. All. Without exception. The three major monotheistic religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), each in its own way, treat men and women differently and do not give pride of place to women. As Pauline Marois recently asserted, “secularism does not in itself guarantee the liberation and equality of women, but it is an essential ingredient”.
The religious lobby is also the adversary of science. Even today, almost everywhere in the world, scientific conclusions are put on the same footing as religious dogma. That too is obscurantism from which we must protect ourselves by distancing the State from religions.
Because of this political commitment of religions, a commitment that has always existed, the State must ensure that they are not present within it, that they can only influence it in the appropriate democratic forums.
Because all beliefs are equal, because certain religious practices must be regulated, because religions are involved in politics, we must distinguish the citizen from the believer. This is secularism: distinguishing the citizen from the believer. It is to affirm that as a Christian, as a Raelian, as an atheist, as a Shintoist, as an animist, as a Mormon, as a Jew, etc., a person has no rights, but as a citizen, she has them all. It is a valid, humanist choice of society, which deserves to be defended.
To read on Sunday: “Religion is the opposite of school”
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We need to talk about religion
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