Professor Richard Dawkins, English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author and outspoken critic of religious belief, probably isn’t the kind of guy most conservative Americans would call an ally. After all, he has spent much of his career working to further the cause of secularism, often by harshly criticizing the beliefs and traditions of Muslims, Jews, Christians and other major and minor world religions.
But with his latest tirade against religion taking a bigger role in society, Dawkins may have a point even America’s traditionally religious conservatives can agree with.
Early this week, the professor took to Twitter to express his disgust of the attempt of a Muslim activist organization to force gender-segregated seating so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities during a University College London debate entitled “Islam or Atheism: What Makes More Sense?”.
According to the accounts of some debate attendees, single women were directed to sit in the back of the auditorium, while their male and married counterparts were told to sit in front. Put off by the not-so-subtle Sharianess of the whole situation, Professor Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who would speak that night, encouraged event organizers to scrap the sexually segregated seating plan. When he did, madness ensued. Three young male attendees were accosted by security guards in the debate hall after moving to the women’s only seating section.
Here’s how one woman in the debate hall described the scene:
After having been told the event would NOT be gender segregated, we arrived and were told that women were to sit in the back of the auditorium, while men and couples could file into the front. After watching three people be kicked out of the auditorium for not following this seating plan, Dr Krauss bravely defended his beliefs of gender equality and informed event staff that he would not participate unless they removed the segregated seating. Needless to say, the staff got their shit together pretty quickly and the event (thankfully) continued.
Zayd Tutton of the Islamic Education and Research Academy, who organized the debate, disputed these accounts and alleged the men sat near Muslim women who choose to adhere to orthodox Islamic beliefs and had segregated themselves. Of course, given the Islamic track record with relation to women’s rights, Tutton’s assertion could be deemed questionable.
Using the same logic, one might also suggest that the 15 Saudi schoolgirls who burned to death in a 2002 school fire — after “mutaween” (Saudi culture police) physically barred them from escaping because they were wearing improper Islamic dress — did so at the commission of Allah himself.
In a later statement about the event, Dawkins pointed out the height to which liberal hypocrisy reaches where political correctness and religious tolerance (or often, in the United States, the lack thereof for Christians) intersect: “Isn’t it really about time we decent, nice, liberal people stopped being so pusillanimously terrified of being thought ‘Islamophobic’ and stood up for decent, nice, liberal values?”
Dawkins’ statements should be considered an opportunity for American conservatives to reflect on their place in the cultural divide that keeps religious tolerance and government from colliding in a way similar to what has created disaster for nations since the beginning of time and perpetuates a barbaric norm in the Mideast.
Criticism could be levied rightfully against American conservatives who crusade to legislate morality on a national scale, rather than focusing on their moral agenda locally — where both their power to protect their values without forcing them upon others and their base of community support is likely stronger. That said, if homosexuality disgusts you to the point that seeing people make sexual choices out of step with the natural order makes you physically ill and you live in San Francisco (where a priest removed a picture of the Pope from a Catholic church rectory to avoid offending gays) or Miami’s South Beach, you would probably feel much better if you began researching real estate nearer the Bible Belt.
If a national vehicle exists for the hair-splitting legislative agenda of one group of faithful to ease separation of church and state, there is nothing in the Constitution barring another from using the same track to encourage an agenda that goes against everything America was intended to represent. And today, there is no shortage of potential quislings for religious fanaticism ranging from Sharia proponents to Green movement lunatics. That is why, like the 2nd, the 1st Amendment to the Nation’s Constitution reads with unbridled lucidity.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Another benefit conservatives could reap by putting aside the national moral crusade mainstreamed in the GOP in the early 1990s by Pat Buchanan — and fomented by the likes of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and such “cultural warriors” as Rush Limbaugh, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson — is the rebirth of a Party capable of winning important elections. A moral agenda for national Republican candidates runs counter to everything small government conservatives claim to stand for, explicitly the idea that Federal government serves only the purposes outlined in the Preamble to the Constitution: Unite the States, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide common defense, promote general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.
It’s time to scrap the Todd Akinses and the Richard Murdocks of the national Republican Party and opt for a more libertarian, less moral-centric version of the GOP to represent the Nation in Congress. But this doesn’t mean throwing aside all of the moral and evangelical values that many among the conservative electorate cherish; it is simply time to focus those values more heavily on State legislative and local elections.
With that strategy, Republicans — and more importantly, conservatism as a whole — can create the perfect storm. The GOP politicians then in the national spotlight would be better able to get elected and garner more support from religiously averse independents and libertarians. But once in office, they would not assault States’ rights with legislative initiatives. Meanwhile, with States’ rights safe as long as a Congress dedicated to protecting the Constitution is in place, State legislators with moral agendas would be better able to make legislative decisions based on the values of their respective constituencies.
There was a reason the Founders set up the Nation the way they did; they knew that top-down policy governing everything from the secular to the religious wouldn’t work. It’s time to start using the tools they gave us if fiscal conservatism and small government are ever again going to be tenants of national policy.