Group Encourages Thoughtful Dialogue

By Mike Dishnow, November 27, 2011

The La Crosse Area Freethought Society is a valuable addition to the public forum.

Yes, there is the danger that our group simply becomes one more example of tribalism, the notion of us versus them, and I sometimes question when the more militant of my fellow travelers speak or write in an overly confrontational manner.

While their words are in keeping with the political and cultural climate today in the U.S., I wonder if it does anything other than further divide us. I support them in that “coming out of the closet” is for us as important as it was for the females, blacks and gays to say, “Enough is enough. We have the same right to self determination and fairness as anyone else. We will not stand for anything less.”

Freedom of religion and its corollary, freedom from religion, is a fundamental human right guaranteed by our Constitution. One could easily argue that it is even more basic than that — being a natural law that supersedes manmade constitutions.

Religious views are counterproductive when they retard the advances of science and education. Our environment, health and medical well-being, and the future of our species suffer. When religion is a cloak to shield its members from charges of bias and intolerance, everyone suffers. Pick up any newspaper, watch the nightly news or travel with your ears and eyes open, and you will see blatant examples of this behavior exhibited. They surface in our nation and around the world each day.

Certain religious groups in our nation are wont to send missionaries around the world to convert the natives, to “save them” as it were. Untold harm is usually the result the host culture experiences.

They have their own beliefs, developed in the crucible of their own history and cultural development. They neither need nor want ours. Leave your religious tracts behind, do great good by helping with food, shelter and medical needs or teaching modern agricultural science.

It does not help our society when religion is above the fray and contrasting views are not welcome. Our organization is subject to scrutiny by outside observers.

Religious beliefs and practices are no different. A society and the people within will make better decisions when they are well informed.

I long for the time when our cultural values will have evolved to the point of other modern nations. When I share some of this with the teachers and friends I work with in Taiwan, they say, “In Taiwan, religious views are a personal matter, and we do not talk about them.”

How refreshing — a place where it simply does not matter, a place where religious and philosophical views are the domain of the individual and not a public and political issue.

There is Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and other persuasions in Taiwan. If I ask my friends there about their religious or philosophical views, they will tell me. If I do not ask, no one ever brings up the subject.

One Buddhist friend explains it this way: “We do not try to convince others to follow our ways. They have their own. If you ask me about Buddhism, I will answer your questions, otherwise I will not bring it up.”

Why is it that the United States, the nation with guaranteed religious freedom in its Constitution, has so many who cannot keep their views private? Why do so many of our politicians wear their religions on their sleeves? What makes us think we have the right to send Christian missionaries throughout the world to interfere and cause problems for those with diverging cultural views?

It is easy to infer that it is the comparative youth of our nation. Perhaps, we have not reached maturity. We could learn a lot from observing the way most other nations approach religion.

When is the last time you had a Buddhist or Taoist missionary come to your door?

The ideal that our forefathers sought was the freedom of individual conscience. The ideal that they sought was the time when being a Christian, Buddhist, atheist or agnostic, or any other philosophical persuasion, became of no more consequence than the color of one’s eyes.

Only then will we be able to say that in America we have the freedom to think for ourselves and not pay a hefty price if we are not in the majority or have philosophical views diverging from the mainstream.

My friend, Luke Lin, reviewed this column and responded: “I totally agree with you. I feel honored to see my words in your article. I think it is true that in Taiwan we are more tolerant. As long as one’s conduct is commendable, one deserves people’s respect. We do not despise or respect someone because of the religion he or she believes in.”

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