Monday, August 13, 2012

Religious Authority and "Forcing Religious Views"

Religious authorities (such as the Catholic Magisterium) are often accused of forcing their members to believe in specific religious teachings. They are also accused of seeking to "force" their views on others through political means.
In modern America, the first argument is wrong, and the second argument is a characteristic of the political process.
Religious authorities do not and indeed cannot force anyone to believe ANYTHING in modern America. Individuals are free to accept and reject the teaching of religious authorities as they wish.
The concept of force necessitates that one is impelled to do something by an external power. And religious authorities do not possess external means to impel obedience.
The “force” applied by churches is merely the threat of a) the social stigma of leaving a particular institution and b) future punishment in an afterlife. In a purely material sense, the force applied by churches on their members is non-existent.
Religious authorities can, however, assert that there are consequences for specific actions. They can and do claim that there are penalties, meted out by a supernatural power, for certain behaviors. But they actively cannot compel people to remain in their faith.
Those who wish to leave a specific church are perfectly free to do so in America, and face no penalty for doing so.  
This would not have been true years ago, when religious authorities and states were more unified. The Inquisition tried individuals and handed those it judged guilty over to secular authorities, for them to be dealt with accordingly. Protestant Geneva linked state and Church in a theocratic body, harshly punishing those it deemed malefactors.
In modern democratic states, the only way religious authorities can “force” anyone to do anything is to lobby the government and “force” their views on others through the political process. 
Governments can force individuals to do things or face penalties through its police power. If certain laws are not obeyed, the government can jail individuals or fine them. 
It is a clear misunderstanding of the word "force" when people claim that religious authorities “force” people to obey certain rules and believe certain doctrines. (And it is ironic from the same people who also claim that 98% percent of Catholic women use birth control and disobey the Catholic Church’s teachings!)
The complaint about religious authorities using “force” is in reality a complaint that secular views are not actively being “forced” upon others through the political process. The remedy for secularists is simple – gain political power!

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