Thomas Jefferson liked to think, and for him free thought was more than just an inalienable human right. It was an essential part for humanity to make progress. How infidels of the past were viewed he was all too aware was how his compatriots (and fellow slave owners) would be viewed in the future. Religious freedom is an essential liberty, and in the Virginia Statute he created made this clear:
II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
It was not just a revolutionary thought then, written by the man who would become the intellectual provocateur with Thomas Paine for Independence. It still speaks to us that when we think of that wall of separation between church and state, and how a secular society functions.
No one should suffer on account of their religious opinions or beliefs, all shall be free to profess, and maintain their opinion in matters of religion.
The historical underpinning of religious freedom was to safeguard the plurality of religious thought – and the protection of infidels. As Jefferson argued to his nephew the inquiry into the nature or existence of God was one any such being if He existed would welcome, and without impediment such thought should be allowed by humanity.
We live in an age now where Alain de Botton can call the existence or non existence of God boring – like Jefferson he wants to separate the gold from the religious superstitious faith experience. Yet, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges whether you genuinely think there is or is not a God fundamentally changes the nature of your existence on earth – belief for him is wrongly making sense of the world for what appear to be valid reasons, a delusion. Peter Hitchens believes noting that there is no scientific evidence for God, and no divine mandate for humans to enforce on others but for him it makes sense to believe, so chooses to. Lawrence Krauss argues that you can have a universe from nothing.
The debate goes on, and the scientific advances in thought and empirical evidence gathering would have enraptured Jefferson as I imagine the debate today would have. However religion is still with us. Those values of religious freedom are still valid now.
So when we go on twitter we can express our religious opinion, and be challenged in that opinion. We can refuse to justify ourselves to anyone for our personal beliefs and we can can freely chose to argue for them.
We may never force anyone via the state or other coercion to suffer for their belief by those that do not chose to hold them, whether they be a minority of one or the majority. This secularism has remained from childhood student of Jehovah’s Witness to Atheist blogger.
Jefferson’s memorial is not just a monument for atheists, like the group I led above after the Atheist Alliance International Conference in 2007, starting at the memorial site onto the White House in support of religious freedom and the OUT campaign as atheists.
It is for all of humanity – and we have still to live in a world where those of faith, infidels and apostates have the religious freedoms that Jefferson wanted to be remembered for espousing.
Secularism is for the religious and the non religious – the cause of religious freedom should unite lovers of liberty and free thought alike.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog