Freedom of Religion

| 30/05/2008

By Gordon Barlow – Posted Friday, 30 May 2008

In the modern world, ancient religions retain a strong hold – together
with their holy texts and the priests etc who interpret them. 
Conversions from one religion to another are rare; even conversions
from one sect to another within the same religion are rare.  And
where conversions are rare, so is tolerance of the competition.

Religions are essentially tribal.  Most times, a religion is the
cement that holds a tribe together against the centrifugal forces of
secular education and exposure to foreign ideas.  The word
“religion” derives from the same ancient root as “law”. 
Religions began as manifestations of the laws of ancient tribes. 

Tribal laws were the laws of the tribal gods; enemy tribes had enemy
gods, with different and inferior laws.  By and large, that is
still the case today. 

Today we have coalitions of tribes called nations; and in much of the
world tribal gods have been joined together in what is reckoned to be
a single god, called (in English) God.  In some nations, there
are communities that draw no distinction between social laws and
religious laws.  Their clergies interpret their gods’ laws and
apply them to the everyday lives of all members of the

In “Islamic” countries, all political decisions are overseen by the
priestly caste.  “Islam” literally means “submission [to God]”,
and of course it’s only the priests who know the mind of God. 
Most Christian communities, too, rely on their clergies to interpret
the mind and will of God.  In the US, they lay down the law to
church congregations larger than the entire electorate of

A religious believer’s primary loyalty is to his tribal community and
its god.  It is extremely hard for a devotee to turn his back on
his religion and tribe.  That would amount to treason to both of
those entities.  In the Bible the essential Commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” – and, it is understood,
“… or their laws before my laws“. 

When a community is fiercely loyal to its traditional gods and laws,
it’s highly unlikely to abandon them for any outside body of
rules.  That would be heresy.  Hence, tribal Caymanians’
insistence that a Constitutional Bill of Rights be “Caymanised”, so as
to ensure that the legal rights are fully compatible with their
religious laws. 

Individuals who have somehow cast off their inherited tribal loyalties
and religions find it hard to sympathise with religious stubbornness,
and impossible to concede any claim to exemption from international
standards of human rights.  The result is a stand-off, with each
side despising the other. 

I’m afraid the composers of the Universal Declaration took religion
much too lightly as an opponent of secular human rights.  Everyone has the right to freedom of religion, it says.  By
implication, it expects religions to be tolerant, whereas religions by
their nature are not tolerant. 

Least of all are they tolerant of any competitors, whether religious
or humanist belief-systems.  The Declaration says they ought to
be tolerant so that they themselves will be tolerated.  Well,
good luck.  There are some religions that buy into that argument,
but not many.

Judging by their reaction to The Gay Kiss, Cayman’s religious
spokesmen are decades away from being ready to tolerate any departure
from their god’s laws.  Their god will have no truck with non-
Caymanian standards of behaviour: universal human rights be
damned.  It’s going to be a tough sell.

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