And so of course your culture emerges from your beliefs. And those beliefs, once they become religious doctrine, purport to tell the religious among you not only what humans should want and desire, but what God wants and desires. And this shows up in many important ways as your society creates itself.
Neale: Can you give me an example?
I can give you an excellent one: Same-sex marriage.
Neale: Oh, boy.
Yes, well, do you want to be noncontroversial, or do you want to clearly understand?
Neale: I want to clearly understand.
Then get ready to shake the apple cart.
Neale: Go ahead.
Many societies have laws against same-sex marriage, and very few have laws supporting it. Yet there is no sound reason in civil law why this should be true. No one is being hurt or damaged by such liaisons.
Neale: There are those who would disagree. They would say that it damages our moral fiber. As a society, they would say, we are damaged, and that plays its trickle-down effect in every area of our lives. Nothing good and natural has to be honored, every decent value we hold can be cast aside with impunity. This kills us, morally. That would be the argument they would make.
So same-gender life partnership should be prohibited by civil law based on the fact that it is "immoral"?
Neale: Yes, that is the argument.
And so society should pass laws prohibiting all "immoral" behavior?
Neale: Well, we'll never be able to do that. We couldn’t write enough laws to do that.
Oh, yes, you could. You could pass laws against whatever you felt was "immoral."
You could pass laws against drawing or displaying pictures of people or animals ("graven images"), against playing music (other than sacred music) in a place of business, against being unshaven, against females leaving their home without being accompanied by a male blood relative, and even against fe-males being seen in public with-out a head-to-toe covering over their body.
And you could build severe consequences into those laws, such as being flogged in public, right then and there, at the moment the infraction is discovered, by the Morals Police.
Neale: Well, now, wait a minute. That's going a bit too far.
Oh, yes? Says who? What if everyone in your society agreed?
Neale: Everyone in a society would not agree to such arbitrary and capricious laws.
But what if a minority of powerful fundamentalists sim-ply took charge and forced the society to obey its laws based on "morality”?
Neale: I see your point.
Or what if the majority of people were convinced of the "rightness" or "wrongness" of something like, say, same-gender unions because people in highly influential places simply told them it was wrong?
Neale: You know, there was a time when I would have said, "But who would tell them that? Who would support morality by legislation like that?" These days, however, I find the answer in my daily newspaper….
VATICAN CITY (July 31, 2003)—The Vatican launched a global campaign against gay marriages Thursday, warning Catholic politicians that support of same-sex unions was "gravely immoral," and urging non-Catholics to join the offensive.
You see from this news story that your objections are not based in civil law. Your objections are based in a moral judgment that you have made—and that moral judgment comes from your understanding of what you think that God wants with regard to all of this.
Neale: Or, rather, what God doesn't want.
Yes. The taboo against same-sex marriage, to use the current example, is a spiritual restriction, based on the idea that God has a preference in the matter of how individuals behave sexually in the privacy of their own homes.
This is the same thinking that kept laws on the books for many years prohibiting certain specific sexual practices while not prohibiting others, and even prohibiting "mixed marriages" between races. If the pope told you that God had nothing against any of this, it would send shock waves through your legal system, destroying all moral justification for many of your laws, past and present. Of course, the present pope will never tell you this, so I am going to have to tell you this.
Neale: Are you saying, categorically, here and now, that God has nothing against homosexuality, or gay marriages?
I am saying what I have always said. God has no preference and makes no judgment
with regard to human behavior. I know you think that God does, and I know that the idea that God doesn't really ruins everything, but that's the truth.
You have made a judgment about homosexuality, and this is an excellent example of how religions and their teachings be-come part of the nonreligious, civil-society culture and experience of human beings, be they believers in God or not.