Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Religio Licita


In ancient Rome, there was a concept of law known as Religio Licita. Basically, it meant that only certain religions were legal, and the rest were outlawed. Now, most of the time, Rome was very lenient with its approval of religions, but every once in a while, a religion would cross the line, and be banned.

This is, interestingly, why the Apostle Paul wrote so approvingly of slavery. He was deathly afraid that Christianity would be outlawed by the Roman government. This was a real possibility because Christians were speaking out against the ownership of slaves, and slave labor was the backbone of the entire Roman economy! So, to make sure that Christianity wasn’t banned, he wrote repeatedly that Christians were not in favor of slave rebellion, and should not become so. He wrote in Colossians 3:22, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence toward the Lord.”  He repeated this in Ephesians 6:5, and the entire book of Titus is essentially a letter written by Paul to a Roman citizen about his runaway slave, Onesimus, apologizing for him running away, and asking him to take him back into service!

Paul's tactic worked. Christianity was declared Religio Licita. At least, at first. A generation or two after Paul, when Nero was the Roman Emperor, Christianity became a convenient political scapegoat, and was banned anyway. Christians all over the Empire were arrested and thrown to lions in the arena. The passages Paul wrote which endorsed slavery later became the foundation of the slave trade in Europe, created the belief by states in the southern United States that God favored their side in the Civil War, and was the foundation behind current lingering racist attitudes which are still at work in today’s politics, particularly in the Tea Party movement. But I digress.

The concept of Religio Licita was deliberately abandoned when our nation was founded. Legalized religion was replaced with the concept of absolute religious freedom for all. Certainly we can all agree with the wisdom of this move. But lately, religion has become so virulent and violent that I wonder, is it possibly time to revisit this old idea? Should at least some religious doctrines be declared illegal?

Take the following off-the-wall scenario for example: Say there’s an offshoot Satanist group which has broken off from traditional LaVeyan orthodoxy and formed its own cult. One of its members gives birth to a baby, which is then offered to Satan as a human sacrifice soon thereafter. Should this be against the law?

I think we can all agree that in this crazy, hypothetical situation, both the written law and natural law have been violated. A baby has no ability to think for itself, and cannot make a rational choice. It cannot decide that it wants to give its life freely to its parents’ religion. So killing it would definitely be murder.

Ah, but wait! The cult says, “First amendment! We have the right to do this under our freedom of religion!”

Do they?

I answer no. I think we all would agree. Why? Because we realize that when human liberty and religious liberty clash, human liberty must win out.

That’s so key that I feel I should say it again: When human liberty and religious liberty clash, human liberty must win out.

But this idea has consequences, and nobody wants to talk about them. We can all deduce, based on the above, that if  Muslims think that their religion says that infidels should be slain in a terrorist attack, that this is illegal. Or if Muslims say, based on their scriptures, that apostates from their religion must be put to death (Koran, 4:89), that practice must be forbidden under the law. We can probably even deduce that burying women under sheets of dark cloth is an illegal act, to say nothing of being outright silly. Human freedom outweighs religious freedom.

Well, okay. But now apply this to Christianity. What if a Christian wants to kill a Pagan on the basis of the biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not allow a witch to live,”? (Exodus 22:18) Or maybe wants to kill a rebellious child? (Leviticus 20:9) What about all those Bible passages above that endorse slavery?

It seems the same principle makes certain Christian doctrines illegal, too! That includes forcing others, who don't belong to your religion, to accept a definition of marriage which your religion might not endorse, or defining the onset of a living being at conception rather than later brain development based solely upon dogma. It includes religious edicts against contraception which dictate that certain affiliate hospitals not distribute that contraception, even to people who do not belong to that particular religion, and even when said hospitals are run in a non-sectarian manner in all other instances. It includes using taxpayer funded schools to teach silly creationism to children who belong to someone else.

In short, if your religion violates human freedom, it should be against the law.

Don’t get me wrong. Someone can still be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever. But if they want to be any of those things and simultaneously hold to a doctrine which violates human freedom, then that doctrine is illegal. The only time an entire religion should be made illegal is if the entire core doctrine violates human freedom.

What got me thinking about all this was the riots taking place right now in Egypt. People there are tearing up American flags and hoisting up the flag of Islamicism over the U.S. embassy. And why? Because one, little YouTube video is apparently insulting towards the prophet Mohammed. The riots are essentially saying that their religion trumps not only human freedom, but freedom of speech as well.

Bullshit! That’s illegal! Or, at least, it should be.

It is not Religio Licita.

So here, finally, is my point: We need to send a hard, stinging message that is felt throughout all religions, but especially Islam. That message is, “If you want your religion to be legal, then it must abandon ALL illegal violations of human freedom! No more ‘honor killings,’ no more sanctioning of terrorism. No more oppression of women.”

In fact, we should even lead by example, showing them how it’s done, by legalizing gay marriage, marijuana and stem cell research.


Eric

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