"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Archbishop's new clothes

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and other church leaders are set to urge senior judges to stand down from Court of Appeal hearings involving religious discrimination, claiming they should be replaced with a panel of judges who have a proven understanding of religious issues.
The move has been prompted by recent cases where Christians have been dismissed from their employment for refusing to offer services to same sex couples, and appeals to the courts have failed.
I have no sympathy with this position whatsoever. In the first place people engaging professionally with the general population, particularly when they are paid by the public purse, should not be able to withhold services from anyone on the basis of their personal prejudice and secondly, the degree of understanding of religious issues by the presiding judge is totally irrelevant.
Lord Carey is indulging in what P.Z Myers has dubbed the The Courtier’s Reply. In a hypothetical argument following the Hans Anderson tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” the Courtier maintains that the young boy* cannot accuse the Emperor of being naked because
He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat.
However regardless of the minutia of royal fashion, the Emperor is still butt naked. Similarly, regardless of which bits of obscure Christian doctorine lead people to deny services to same sex couples, it is still discriminatory.
The church must not be allowed to reframe this as discrimination against religion. Nobody is saying these people cannot hold to their belief, but if they want to work in an area of public service to which same sex couples need access, they must work within the law and not discriminate on gender grounds. If they take their dismissals to appeal, as they have every right to do, they must accept that a judge will rule in accordance with the law, not in accordance with some interpretation of scripture in which the judge requires no expertise whatsoever.

*actually used satirically to defend Richard Dawkins against the accusation that he is not an accomplished theologian

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