Religious Freedom for Loganists!

It’s hard for conservative Christians to imagine how their notions of “religious freedom” could ever come back to bite them. So I constructed a thought experiment.

This week, the Trump administration announced a rule change that will allow private adoption and foster-care agencies to receive federal grants while discriminating against LGBTQ families. This is part of a years-long campaign to exempt conservative Christians from discrimination laws, if their desire to discriminate arises from their “sincere religious beliefs”. Making them treat fairly people that they disapprove of, according to this point of view, is a violation of their “religious freedom”.

Regular readers of this blog already know my opinion about this issue: “Religious freedom” used to mean that religious minorities — Jews, Buddhists, atheists — got the same rights as the followers of more popular religions. In recent decades, though, the term has been hijacked and its meaning has flipped: Now it means that conservative Christians have special rights that apply to no one else. (As a humanistic member of a religious tradition with its roots in liberal Christianity, what laws do I get to ignore?)

It’s hard to get the beneficiaries of these special rights to see the problems they cause, though, because they usually can’t imagine being on the other side. If you’re a white, straight, native-born, male Baptist or Catholic (like several conservative members of the Supreme Court) whose religious freedom is going to victimize you?

in the real world, no one’s. So making this point requires constructing thought experiments, and even that gets tricky. I think I finally have one that I like.

Psalm 90:10 says “The days of our years are three score and ten.” Imagine a sect that decides to take that as prescriptive: People aren’t supposed to live past 70. Let’s call these people Loganists. (Critics hung that name on them because of the age discrimination in the movie Logan’s Run. The Loganists themselves hate being called that, because killing people at thirty is just nuts. But the name has stuck.)

Before continuing, let me head off some objections: I understand that the Loganist interpretation depends on taking the scriptural quote out of context, but Christian sects do that all the time. You can’t seriously claim that this is a worse misreading of scripture than many other popular misreadings. Plus, if the issues I’m about to raise would ever go to court, do you want secular judges deciding whose readings of scripture are or aren’t reasonable? Are you certain that your own interpretations would pass muster in such a setting?

Also, I know that the patriarchs of Genesis lived well past 70, and God seemed to approve of that. (Noah, for example, was 600 when God saved him from the Flood.) But dispensationalist Christians hold that God changes the rules from time to time. This is not considered a fringe belief. (For example, God used to approve of polygamy, but most non-Mormon sects believe that he no longer does. Slavery is another issue on which God seems to have changed his mind.)

In every other way, Loganists are totally indistinguishable from other Christians. Absolutely nothing points to them being unserious, and there are many examples of Loganists dying because they refused medical care after they turned 70. It’s clearly their sincere religious belief that people over 70 should not have their lives saved.

Of course, Loganists don’t go out and kill septuagenarians — that would be like murdering gays based on Leviticus 20:13. (Lots of preachers say that should happen, but they don’t go out and do it.) But Loganist healthcare professionals claim that it violates their religious freedom to force them to give lifesaving care to people over 70.

So if you believe that the religious freedom of conservative Christians means that they don’t have to obey anti-discrimination laws — they don’t have to sell cakes to gay couples or provide contraceptives to unmarried women or help gay couples adopt children or even perform an abortion on a woman who will die without it — what about Loganists and age discrimination? Would it be religious persecution to fire a Loganist EMT because he let a elderly patient die? What if he just treated younger people first, because they still have some of their Biblical three-score-and-ten coming, and a 73-year-old happened to die in line?

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  • Wade Scholine  On November 4, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    I like the question, sort of, but I hate it too. Because really it’s a bit like asking “What if the Democrats nominated someone like Trump?”

    The answer is that Democrats aren’t going to nominate “someone like Trump,” without first turning into something almost entirely unlike what they are. They would basically have to do away with their core beliefs, and I think (hope, anyway) that most current Democrats would refuse to make the transition rather going along with that.

    Similarly, “serious” Christian sects have historically held age (and the wisdom supposed to accompany it) in high regard, and place a sometimes-excessive emphasis on keeping people alive while it’s possible to (technically) do that. It’s just too big a challenge to suspension of disbelief.

    If that’s the joke and really this post is intended as a poke in the eye to anyone who takes seriously the rhetoric of “religious liberty” as currently deployed, I guess it’s a success.

  • James  On November 4, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    I agree with Wade. I hope Doug had fun with this thought experiment, because the argument is likely to be lost on “Christian” conservatives.

  • Bill Camarda  On November 4, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    When you said you were going to try this thought experiment, I thought to myself: “Well, that’s pretty realistic because there *are* Christian sects who’ve opposed medical care they perceive to be interfering with the will of God. We used to have plenty of priests who saw it as human hubris to vaccine people. If God can be viewed as not wanting us to provide each other with the best science-based healthcare we can, why can’t God be viewed as not wanting us to survive longer than his Word says is given to us?” (One might even conjure up an unusual Christian cult on the environmental left that concludes there are just too many of us filling the atmosphere with CO2 and it’s sinful to stick around too long at others’ expense, or to help others do so.)

    So I think Loganism is no more unreasonable in principle than many other faith claims taken seriously by millions. Why should some claims (and not others) be given automatic deference in the public square when they go beyond private action to damage the lives and basic rights of individuals who don’t share them?

    I don’t know if your thought experiment will go over the heads of *all* social conservatives. But an awful lot of things I think are central to life in a shared pluralist democratic society seem to go over *many* of their heads, so why not your essay, too?

  • Moz of Yarramulla  On November 5, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    I don’t think you need the thought experiment, because the real experiment exists. In the US, even. Look at the persecution of “biblical marriage” fans, for example, which as you point out involves men being allowed as many wives, concubines and sex slaves as they can support (the three categories must be treated differently).

    What is being asked for would make it legitimate for a doctor to paramedic who is a Jehova’s Witness to refuse to provide blood transfusions for patients, and for a hospital run by them to silently not offer that service to any patient. When people died as a result that would be the law working as intended.

  • thelevinelowdown  On December 28, 2019 at 3:11 am

    Thank you very much for this informative and insightful article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and hearing your thoughts! I have recently published an article on my blog about the nature of religious freedom and whether religious people should be entitled to speak freely in all situations. If you have time it would be great if you could read my article as I would be interested to hear your thoughts! Thanks 🙂


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