I can't disagree that, since the Enlightenment, the power of religion to do evil has been significantly diminished in many parts of the world. Though I take considerable comfort from the fact that my town's central square has yet to host an auto-da-fe, it nevertheless still strikes me as fundamental to the teachings of most religions that adherents not only believe their nonsense but also act on it to one extent or another. For so long as we have religion, this characteristic, I think, establishes some irreducible minimum for its entanglement in governance.
See, I think what you're saying is correct up until the last sentence, where you make what I think is an unjustified leap. I agree that most religions insist on adherents living
the religion - not just "believing" it, but actually behaving in accordance with the rules of the religion - but I don't see I don't see any connection between that point and saying that adherents should feel justified in forcing others
to be in accordance with their religion.
When I look at the rules written into the major religions, I see nothing in any
of them about forcing others to follow their rules. Even if I focus on the religions that are most aggressive about controlling a whole society, I see that there are "escape clauses" that allow the adherents to live peacefully and tolerantly in pluralistic societies. Take Islam for example: Islam technically gives the rules to run a whole society top-to-bottom, from how the courts should be run to how people should poop. However, it also
has "escape clauses" for the case of adherents that live in countries that are not structured in accordance with the Islamic rules... and among those rules are quite explicit instructions to play nice and don't try to force Islamic ideas on the society. Muslims that live in Western nations can be very devout Muslims in a non-Islamic society by taking advantage of these "escape clauses" - they can practice their Muslim religion openly (or in private) in any way the society allows, and they aren't under any obligation to try and institute sharia courts. That's how millions of Muslims live today, peacefully, in pluralistic societies.
And the same is true for any religion. Yes, religions do
force adherents to behave in certain ways, and many do
encourage adherents to proselytize to convert others... but they do not
oblige adherents to force others to adhere to their religion's principles.
The problem you're thinking of is not a problem intrinsic to the religions, it's a social and cultural problem. The religion
does not oblige adherents to cast their votes to turn their country into a theocracy. The fact that people think it does is a cultural issue, not a religious one.
Now, in some countries, it's culturally cool to wave your religion around like a flag, daring anyone to comment on it. In other countries, it is highly
culturally discouraged. (A graphic example
.) It's not that these countries oppress
religion, but the culture has evolved the idea that religion is a very private
and personal thing, and being loud-mouthed about it is quite rude. So what if a society's culture got the idea that while there's nothing wrong with being
religious... it's very
inappropriate to press it on others? In such a society, there wouldn't be
many politicians running on religious platforms, and those that do would be considered quite fringe. And the average citizen wouldn't see voting as a way to express religious belief, and would use other things to make their decision (which could be anything from demonstrated administrative competence to the colour of the politician's skin - you don't need a perfect
world for this society to exist; it could easily exist in today's world, with all its other problems intact).
So you see, we don't need to change religions (or destroy them) to stop them from trying to lord over the rest of us. That
drive isn't in the religions themselves, it is in the way religions are viewed culturally. That's why we can have a country like Egypt which, even though it is like 80-90% Muslim, just barely
over 50% of the population supports creating an Islamic state; clearly a big chunk of the Muslim population don't like the idea of forcing Islamic rules on others. If we can change the society's attitudes to make a society where having
religion is accepted (I don't like the word "tolerated") and living
religion is accepted, but where the very idea of even accidentally
forcing others to obey your religion is horrifying, that should be good enough. That will give us a society where religion can continue to exist, and co-exist peacefully with other religions and no religion, and where we won't have issues with one religion or another trying to seize control of this or that issue.
Couldn't that work? Or am I way off base here? Assuming we could socially-engineer such attitudes into a society (which doesn't seem like a ridiculous idea), wouldn't that do the trick?
Short of abolition, I don't see any way by which secular law may strip religion of all temporal power and influence. In a popular democracy which respects liberty of conscience, the same laws that stop my neighbor from escorting me to his church at gunpoint, also prevent me from taking away his children for teaching them they are stained with original sin and from invalidating his religiously mandated vote to eliminate government funding of stem cell research. Imperfect as the bargain may be, it seems the lesser evil.
I don't think that's true. I think that's also a case of social perception. And I think the key word there is "his". "His" means very different things depending on the context.
Let me demonstrate by rewording your point, and repeating it three times. But each time I repeat it, I'm going to change the subject - just one word! Watch what happens:
- In a free and just society, no one should be able to prevent a person from taking his laptop - not capable of making decisions - to the church of his choice, programming them with his beliefs, and making them follow the rules of his religion.
- In a free and just society, no one should be able to prevent a person from taking his neighbour - not capable of making decisions - to the church of his choice, programming them with his beliefs, and making them follow the rules of his religion.
- In a free and just society, no one should be able to prevent a person from taking his child - not capable of making decisions - to the church of his choice, programming them with his beliefs, and making them follow the rules of his religion.
Now, there is clearly
something very different about the first two cases. Obviously the first case is true. There is no rational argument against letting someone take their laptop - which is their property - and programming it to follow the rules of his religion (for example, to automatically censor images, never use the name of God and display prayers five times a day, and so on). But there's something very, very problematic about the second case: no one would say that someone has the right to take their neighbour who is mentally disabled (ie, not capable of making decisions for themselves), and indoctrinate them with their religion.
What's happening here is that "his" performs multiple duties in English. It indicates both possession
(among other things). "His book" and "his brother" involve two entirely different concepts. In the first case, saying "his book" means that the book is his property, and he controls it and has full responsibility for it - and if you do anything with it without his permission, you're in the wrong. In the second case, saying "his brother" does not
mean that the brother is his property, or that he controls it or even has any responsibility for it - and if I choose to do anything with someone's brother, that someone has no damn business knowing about it, or saying anything about it. "His brother" merely describes a relationship.
In the example I gave above, "his laptop" clearly means possession - he owns the laptop and can do with it whatever he likes. Meanwhile, "his neighbour" most certainly does not mean possession - he cannot simply decide to take his disabled neighbour and indoctrinate them. "His neighbour" just refers to a relationship, not ownership.
So my challenge to you is: what does "his" mean in the third case? Does it mean the child is his possession? Or does it merely describe a relation? Is the third case more like the first - where the subject is a possession of the person - or the second - where the subject is another person (albeit a person not capable of making decisions for themselves) who is not "owned" by the person (and the "his" just describes a relationship)?
You see, if you say that he has the right to indoctrinate the child however he pleases, then you're saying the child is more like a possession - like the laptop - than a person - like the neighbour. Think about that.
Personally, I don't put the child in the same category as the guy's other possessions - I put the neighbour and the child in the same category. They're both people, not possessions, and while both are incapable of making decisions on their own, that doesn't mean that their neighbours, their brothers, their aunts, their cable provider - anyone who can claim a "his" (or "her" relationship with them) - have a right to make decisions for them. The case for all
people incapable of making decisions on their own - whether they're actual children or just mentally and psychologically equivalent to children - should be the same: the society should set universal standards for care and education - they shouldn't be set by whoever happens to hold the figurative leash. So we should
be able to say to anyone
raising a child - whether they're a biological parent, an adopted one, or an employee at an institution for kids with no home - that they can't deny the child a proper education, and they can't psychologically torment the child with visions of Hell. That is not
a violation of anyone's freedom, because no one really
has the freedom to treat people like possessions. That is protecting
the freedom of the child (and the mentally disabled neighbour, to boot) - they should not be denied their
right to a proper education, and freedom from abuse, including psychological abuse.
It's a radically different way to think, I know. But we've already taken enormous
strides in that direction.
I was reading 'The Dancing Wu Li Masters' today - it's actually a book on quantum physics - and the chapter was talking about the whole 'observation/collapse of wave-forms' phenomenon. In English that amounts to: 'until something is observed, there's no real way to tell what happened.'
The question was posed: What is observing the universe? The answer was: We are, and as we are part of the universe, it can be said that the universe is observing itself.
Ah... honestly... that all sounds like complete nonsense. In fact, it sounds like a very popular form of nonsense, which is just new age mysticism wrapped up in sciencey-sounding language by sticking the word "quantum" in front of it - the kind of thing that hucksters like Deepak Chopra sell.
There are hundreds of frauds and pseudoscientists making nonsense arguments about wavefunction collapse and the observer effect in quantum mechanics... with the catch being that the observer effect in quantum physics is something entirely
different, and completely unrelated, to the observer effect everywhere else in science. Most of them are pulling a fast one using equivocation about the idea of observation and measurement. The language
of quantum physics talks about observers and measurement... but when the pseudoscientists pushing their books get their mitts on it, you get a case of "you keep using that word - I don't think it means what you think it does." There is no need for an observer
to observe a wavefunction. "Observing" a quantum event doesn't mean that some sapient intelligence has to "see" it. The wavefunction of a quark can be "observed" - in quantum physics terms - by another quark that gets entangled with it. In other words, if you have an electron way out in intergalactic space - millions of light years away from any sapient "eyes" - that electron's wavefunction could be collapsed by a stray photon that hits it. The photon observes the electron, and collapses its wavefunction (and vice versa
). No "being" actually observes anything; "observe" is used analogously, not literally. To interpret "observer" as used in quantum mechanics to mean the same thing that "observer" means in common language ("someone who observes"), and concluding that the universe must therefore have someone watching it, is about as ridiculous as doing the same for "actor" as used in computing
, and concluding that actors in computer software must therefore have six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.
The charlatans like to pick on this word - "observe" - and use it in a literal
sense to argue for various nonsense, like that God must exist, or that the universe is conscious, and so on and so forth, but it's all just a sneaky trick. Quantum physicists only use the word in analogy, not in a literal sense. Indeed, even if there were no intelligence anywhere in the universe - or outside of it - observing things, wavefunctions would still be collapsing (or appear to be) just as much as they are now. If you think about it, how could it possibly make sense that collapse requires consciousness to observe? Because:
- If wavefunction collapse required a sapient observer, how did wavefunctions collapse before sapience evolved in the universe?
- And if wavefunctions didn't collapse before sapience evolved, then how could sapience have evolved at all? (Indeed, how could any specific event have happened?)
- The common answer among the new age mystics pushing this stuff is that "the universe itself is conscious" - which is really just a sciencey-sounding way of saying "Goddidit" (or, more specifically, "God" is the sapience doing the observations to cause wavefunction collapse before sapience evolved in the universe). But if that is true, and the universe (or "God") is observing and collapsing wavefunctions, then how could there be any uncollapsed wavefunctions anywhere?
- Is the universe (or "God") selectively deciding which stuff to observe and to not observe in such a precise way as to make all our experiments work the same way every time?
See? It all makes no sense.
I can try to explain wavefunctions, wavefunction collapse, measurement, decoherence, Schrödinger's cat and all that in a non-mystical way, but it would take a while, and get really complicated - especially if I get into explaining all the alternate hypotheses. Not to mention that this is all still cutting-edge physics, so there's still a lot we don't understand. I will if you'd like, though, and I think it's worth it because there's some really
freaky stuff in the real science (like how about experiments that show you can send messages backward in time!!!), but for now, from just the conclusion you mention about us observing the universe having something to do with wavefunction collapse, it sure sounds to me that that book would be of more value in the bathroom after Mexican dinner night than as reading material.