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Religion and the free marketplace of ideas

In the second half of the 20th Century, beginning in the 1950's, American Christians were forced to confront racial discrimination within their church congregations; particularly in the South where Ku Klux Klan members held influential positions within local communities and churches.

Why would this be a subject for a website dedicated to American Energy Independence?

Because of oil — oil wealth in the Middle East — and the rise of Islamic militancy, which has been linked directly to Middle East oil wealth.

Imagine what the world might have become if, in the 1950's, the Ku Klux Klan had been given billions of dollars, with unlimited access to international media, and a safe haven (a protected foreign state) where they could recruit and train their followers without interference.

Well, we know what would have happened, because it was played out in the 1930's — in Europe, where it was called Nazism.

Fortunately, Islamic militants today do not have the technology, military organization, or national support that Adolf Hitler had at his disposal. But Islamic militants can be compared to the American Ku Klux Klan during the early 20th Century, where Southern white preachers openly disdained black people and, under hooded robes, participated in violent acts against blacks, Jews and anyone who was not like them.

Today, we are witnessing similar behavior by Muslim clerics (preachers).

And, we are also witnessing a similar acceptance of this behavior by “mainstream” Muslims who are allowing it to continue, much like the 20th century mainstream American Christians who allowed the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize the “infidels” of their day. Of course, most Muslims will publicly say they disapprove of the behavior of Islamic militants, but then most Christians publicly disapproved of the KKK.

The history of the civil rights movement in America demonstrates that it will not be easy for Muslims to change their behavior. But, perhaps they can learn from the history of Christianity in America.

America's Christian history is a story of intolerance and violence. A dark story transformed by democracy, individual freedom, non-violent civil disobedience, the rule of law — and preachers who had the courage to lead their congregations away from intolerance and violence, toward God's love, mercy and redemption.

To help understand Islamic fundamentalism today, Americans need only look to their own history and the dark struggle of Christianity's past—its political ties with European Monarchies, the Inquisitions, the Salem witch trials, the Ku Klux Klan.

There is no reason why Muslim countries, today, cannot do what historically Christian countries have already done—free themselves from the constrains of retrograde religious authority by establishing a modern legal system governed by the rule of law.

Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa are Islamic Republics. An Islamic Republic is a Theocracy, a nation ruled by religious clerics [Although many Muslim countries claim to have various degrees of freedom, they continue to submit to the will of their religious leaders, resulting in a legal system that is equal to a Theocracy]. In contrast, the historically Christian countries of Europe and America have separated the religious authority of the church from the legal system that governs the people, thereby ending Christian Theocracy in the western world.

The nations comprising the western world are no longer defined by religious beliefs—citizens of western societies are free to individually choose and practice their own beliefs without fear of state censorship. Islamic fundamentalists, supporters of Islamic Republics, view western nations as a threat to their theocratic rule.

The religious customs practiced by extreme Muslim fundamentalists today can be compared to Christianity during the Medieval Inquisition, where religion was forced on the people, women were regarded as property, dissidents were burned at the stake, and theocratic leaders ruled. Much like the world that Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda call Islam.

Religious intolerance has its roots in cultural identity

When religion is accepted as an ethnic or cultural heritage it creates an “us vs. them” group identity. Within the group identity, personal identity becomes dominated by the collective thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the religious group. If it is a peaceful group, then the resulting conformity can be a good thing, but if it is an intolerant, violent group then the results can be terrifying.

Islamic terrorism exists today because the modern world buys oil unconditionally from countries that deny their citizens religious freedom—suppressing the right to openly question and debate religious customs, doctrine and authority.

Religion should not be something a person is born to, or belongs to because of their ethnic or cultural identity. Religious belief should be something a person chooses when he, or she, individually begins thinking deeply and spiritually about life.

Religion is not the same as Spiritual.

Religion is a repository of belief—an organized system of spiritual knowledge derived from the personal thoughts and individual creativity of men and women believed to be prophets or messengers of Divine revelation.

Spiritual is the essence of consciousness—the intangible layer of being where personal thoughts and individual creativity originate. Spiritual individuality is awakened and shaped by the personal act of subjectively exploring and contemplating knowledge, values, experiences, relationships, emotions, thoughts, and creativity—an exercise of the soul that culminates in the formation and acceptance of personal belief. Belief, religious or otherwise, acquired by any other means is merely the acceptance or expression of cultural or group identity; resulting in the suppression or absence of spiritual individuality.

Hard-line religious fundamentalists will always try to force their beliefs on others, if they can get away with it. That is why the right of individuals to explore and choose their own beliefs should be a condition of foreign aid and international trade.

The free marketplace of ideas

The burden of proof of the truth or goodness of a religion should be on the believer: in other words, the proof required to persuade anyone to accept a Religious belief should be found in the example demonstrated by the social and private behavior of the followers of such beliefs.

If a religion fails to cause its followers to become better persons and citizens, then what good is it? But, who decides when a believer (or follower) is a “better” person — the government or the individual? Let the free “marketplace of ideas” decide! Let the people be consumers of ideas. When people are given freedom to choose, they won’t “buy” into a belief unless they see its value demonstrated in the lives of other people.

The Right or Wrong of any religious belief should not be upheld by a government. All religious authority should be separated from the legal system of every nation. Every nation should offer to its citizens the legal protection of individual religious belief—as well as the right to question, debate and reject religious belief.

A religion that is forced—or in anyway protected or endorsed by government—has already failed the test of proof in the lives of believers, because such a religion has not been allowed to be tested in the free marketplace of ideas. It has not proven that it can exist on its own, without coercion, or exist successfully in competition with other beliefs (atheism is also a belief — atheism was a coerced belief in the Soviet Union).

Governments should not support, promote or give preference to any specific religion, or any belief system, including atheism.

All governments throughout the world should protect the personal right of every individual to freely practice the religion—or belief system—of their choice; limited only by public health regulations based on modern science, and by public safety and decency statutes that apply equally to both men and women.

Those who view religion primarily as an ethnic equivalence, or cultural identity, might not like the free marketplace of ideas.

It is important to acknowledge that Religion does have an external social organization and cultural identity, but it is also important to view religion as a personal state of mind originating from an individual's subjective perception* (personal belief); because that way offers a path to change.

Individuals will more readily accept and explore the opportunity for change than would organizations and cultures; especially with the development and expanding reach of modern personalized communication technology. Whereas the political structure of religion (the external social organization and cultural identity) will not yield to change easily, because it offers too much power to the religious leaders and politicians that align themselves with religious authority.

*Individual subjective perceptions give each human personality his or her uniqueness—without individual subjective perceptions and experiences a personality would be like a robot.

The free marketplace of ideas will provide young minds with access to new ideas where they can “buy” them, try them out, and perhaps exchange what they already possess for other ideas and beliefs.

In order for a religious belief or cosmology of any kind, including atheism, to be alive and growing (not rigid), it must exist in the mind as an individual choice, protected and nurtured by open and free discourse, rather than as a product of ethnic, political or cultural legacy.

Imagine the possibilities that modern civilization could achieve if the world was truly a free marketplace of ideas.

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