Once upon a time, religious leaders were able to act like bullies and dictators because they could use the muscle of the State to coerce others into accepting whatever claims that those religious leaders made.
Using the muscle of the State was necessary for such religious leaders whenever their claims contradicted the Scriptures of their faith.
People who saw with their own eyes what those Scriptures said were people willing to disagree with the religious leaders.
The religious leaders simply had to put down such people for the sake of keeping the former’s racket going.
Then an amazing thing happened. Political leaders began supporting the concept of separation of Religion and State.
Political leaders eliminated the ability of religious leaders to use the muscle of the State in order to get the latter’s way.
At the same time, copies of Scriptures became plentiful and were written in the common languages of the people. Thus, people who could read could learn on their own exactly what was stated in the Scriptures.
No longer did religious leaders have a monopoly on what was scriptural truth.
Although some religious leaders outright lied about the teachings of Scriptures, other religious leaders simply marched in groupthink as they blindly followed their fallible fleshly Human teachers, even when those teachers contradicted their own Scriptures.
For far too many religious leaders, being a part of the group was more important than being scripturally correct.
The religious laymen, however, were free from the blinders that were often worn by the religious leaders. The former could acknowledge the portions of Scriptures that the religious leaders overlooked or turned a blind eye toward.
Were the religious laymen always correct? No. Then again, the religious leaders were guilty of their own errors.
What mattered is that the laymen were no longer punished for pointing out mistakes made by the leaders.
Also, the laymen were free to ignore teaching by the leaders that contradicted the latter’s own Scriptures.
Freedom of religion meant that people could use Scriptures as a standard for determining orthodoxy, because Scriptures were objective, while religious leaders were subjective.
No longer could a religious leader get away with saying, “My interpretation of Scriptures is the correct one because I say so.”
No longer could a religious leader get away with saying, “God protects me from making doctrinal errors because I am me.”
No longer could religious leaders get away with saying, “God protects our religious organization from making doctrinal errors because our religious organization is ours.”
Such egotism on the part of a religious leader – or such collective egotism on the part of a group religious leaders – was exposed for what it was, the selfish product of the finite fleshly minds of fallible people.
Granted, people in love with a religious organization would continue to regurgitate whatever the leaders of that organization said, even when what was said contradicted the organization’s own Scriptures. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary to agree with such people or with such religious leaders.
Sadly, freedom of religion doesn’t exist everywhere in the world. Those who live where it exists should cherish it and do everything to protect it. They should also exercise such freedom by ignoring the religious zealots who insist that their religious organization is the only legitimate one and that the leader of their religious organization is the leader of an entire faith. No one person on Earth is the earthly leader of an entire faith.
Long live freedom of religion!
1. Belonging to a particular faith isn’t the same thing as belonging to a particular religious organization. A person can belong to one without belonging to the other.
2. Shi’ite and Sufi Muslims have been bullied by Sunni Muslims who insist that the Sunni branch of Islam is the only legitimate branch of Islam. Freedom of religion enables Shi’ite and Sufi Muslims in the USA to practice their faith without fear of being persecuted.
3. The members of ISIS insist that their leader is the leader of all Islam.
4. Peaceful Muslims living in the USA cite passages in the Quran which, according to them, forbid the Jihad of Islamic terrorists. Freedom of religion gives such peaceful Muslims the ability to read and to interpret the Quran themselves.
5. Islamic religious leaders in some Middle-Eastern nations can get away with being bullies and dictators because they can use the muscle of the State to coerce others into accepting whatever claims that those religious leaders make.
6. Freedom of religion is a key to eliminating Islamic terrorism, just as it was a key to eliminating the Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic terrorism of previous centuries.
Yes, Virginia, religious terrorists of previous centuries claimed to be members of the Christian faith. Indeed, the leader of one religious organization gave specific written instructions authorizing the organization to use torture on people suspected of religious heresy.
Featured Image (sans words) from following source:
© Rémi Jouan, CC-BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons.