Bruce Lawson's personal site

Religion, equality and diversity

I don’t know whether it’s because of talking to Dutch people in The Netherlands, recently reading Richard Dawkins, or the preposterous accusations of institutional racism against my previous employer, but I’ve been thinking a lot about “Equality and Diversity” recently.

It could be because when got a taxi to the airport, my taxi driver told me that he felt so sick and sleepy because of the Ramadan fast that he was worried that he would crash.

That got me thinking. Would it be “religious discrimination” if I refused to travel with a fasting driver? There’s no way that I’d get into a vehicle with a drunk driver, or one who was driving dangerously because he was talking on his mobile all the time. A legal difference is that it’s possible to verify blood/alcohol levels, where as it’s not possible to do a test for “weak and hungry”. But I see no moral difference: all are choosing to do something that potentially endangers me.

Discriminating against someone because of their religion, like disability, race or sexual discrimination, is a no-no in today’s Equality and Diversity industry. But why? It’s obviously unfair to discriminate against things that people can’t control, like the colour of their skin, disabilities or sexuality. But religion is a lifestyle choice. No-one is born into a religion and (in the free West) a particular religion is forced on no-one. And if someone chooses a certain lifestyle, why should that be legally protected? Certainly, one’s right to choose is a legal right that I absolutely uphold—but why should the results of that choice have any legal or moral privilege?

Being gay, or female, or of a certain ethnicity has no bearing on your ability to do a job. Being disabled may, but employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments because people don’t choose to be disabled. However, some people’s ability to do their jobs can be compromised by their religious choices. My wife was refused a morning-after pill by a doctor whose religion forbade family planning. Why should that doctor be allowed to foist her religious views onto a patient—a patient whose taxes pay her salary?

In fact, why should anyone’s religious beliefs be respected? If you are a jew who will not shake hands with a woman because she might be menstruating and therefore “unclean” believes that a menstruating woman is “unclean”, why should it be discriminatory if I decided not to employ you if you display such misogyny to female colleagues or customers?

If you are a hindu who believes christians and muslims should be killed, or a christian who thinks it’s legitimate to murder abortion workers, why shouldn’t I openly treat your views with contempt?

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9 Responses to “ Religion, equality and diversity ”

Comment by David

As a jew I must correct the claim about shaking a womens hand. It has nothing to do with menstruating, it as about ALL women, and the idea that all contact between sexes is sexual in nature.

As for your claim “No-one is born into a religion”, it seems strange that nearly everyone (there are exceptions) is the same religion as their parents. This high correlation does suggest that people ARE born into a religion.

A for your main point. The law generally was brought in to handle the case where job performance was not effected. There are many examples predating the law for bigotry and bias that clearly needed dealing with. An exception for performance of job duties would make sense.

Comment by Matt Wilcox

“people ARE born into a religion”

exactly right. Religion is perpetuated by the indoctrination of children. It is amazingly rare for an adult to suddenly be converted to a religion (and of those that are it’s mostly a “to be with the person I love” thing, and not genuine at all).

And because religion activly discourages critical thinking (that’ll be the devil talking in your ear) it’s very hard or impossible to rationalise religion away from a true believer. Rationality is not a viable argument to them.

But, no religion should be offered any respect or special treatment. It’s a lifestyle choice as you said, but it should never be allowed to effect anyone who hasn’t made that choice for themselves. Which is exactly why that doctor should have their ass fired. And why the idea of religious people in power is terrifying. Imagine what Palin will do if McCain gets in and pops his clogs. The woman wants to enforce aspects of Christianity in law. That’s insane, and a step back to the middle ages.

Comment by Bill Lees

You’re quite right, of course – there is no reason whatsoever why a belief in any or all particular versions of an imaginary sky pixie should not be subject to the same rigorous scrutiny, challenge, or even ridicule (though religions have invented the concept of “blasphemy” in an attempt to shield themselves from all three of these), other than some bizarre anachronistic (in the 21st century)notion that if someone sincerely “believes” something as part of their religion, then that’s the end of the discussion.

Professro Dawkins is very fond of quoting his late friend Douglas Adams’ take on this – see:

Comment by Bruce

@David, thanks for the correction, It was an old friend, who’s Jewish, who told me that it was forbidden. He was obviously confused. Wikipedia says “The biblical regulations of Leviticus specify that a menstruating woman had to be separated from other people for seven days; anything she sat on, or lay upon, would become ritually impure during this period, and anyone who came into contact with these things, or her, during this period would also become ritually impure, until the evening came and the person making contact had washed themselves and their clothes in water”.

So my suggestion of misogyny is unfounded.

Comment by Aaron Bassett

I couldn’t agree more!
I have also never understood why its OK for religious nuts to preach to me in the street (normally telling me I’m going to burn in hell) but when I tell them that their views are non-sense and there is no magic sky pixie then I am being intolerant?

Comment by JackP

“And because religion activly discourages critical thinking..”

That’s a sloppy argument. It’s the standard hackneyed line trotted out by atheists who believe religious people are stupid and misguided. What about great philosphers, and scientist who were religious and believed that seeking the answers was trying to understand the mind of God?

Although I’m with Bruce on the job front. If your religion prevents you from carrying out some of the duties of your job, it may be inappropriate for you to take that job (depending on circumstances etc; I’d not like to generalise every case).

However, with fasting, would you also refuse to be driven by someone on a diet? Or anorexia? Or bulimia? Anorexia sufferers are probably more likely to collapse than someone fasting for religion – and it’s not so much a choice.

Oh, and I agree with Aaron. I believe we should be tolerant of others – except those who themselves are intolerant. Although it does remind me of a letter in Viz: “How come my local vicar is allowed to threaten me with an eternity in hellfire, but when I threaten to stab him up a bit with my stanley knife, he calls the police?”

But if you were to allow people to be discriminated against in the name of religion, are you not then legally opening up the option for those heretics who don’t believe whatever the current orthodoxy is (whether CofE, atheist, agnostic, pastafarian) to be subject to abuse/ pogrom?

Comment by Shez

Religion, like vegetarianism, is a ‘lifestyle choice’, but perhaps this is something of an over simplification because certain religions, particularly the Jewish faith and Islam for example, are indelibly woven into the culture and politics of those people who practice these religions. So in essence to discriminate against a religion e.g. Islam, is to discriminate against a culture. In western culture religion and state and culture are generally separated and secularism has been an increasingly powerful force and Christianity has declined (although America is ‘enjoying’ a resurgence). In that respect we don’t have to deal with the paradigm of religion being an all encompassing way of life as we have the luxury of having the choice. That is not the case with other more deeply entrenched religions where children are literally born into those religions – they don’t have a choice about it.

Personally I’m with Richard Dawkins on this one – children are too young to make an informed choice about religion and to talk about Jewish, Christian or Islamic children is a nonsense. Children are born to parents with particular religious beliefs and sadly have them foisted upon them. Same goes for vegetarians who have ‘vegetarian’ children.

I don’t have any particular respect for religion, but I respect anyone’s choice to choose or live according to religious faith. Having that level of respect does not preclude me from questioning a faith or its practices, or disagreeing strongly with them. That does not make me intolerant. But I would not discriminate against anyone who makes a choice to follow a religion, just as I would not discriminate against vegetarians.

P.S: I haven’t got a particular hang up about vegetarians.

Comment by brothercake

Is religion a lifestyle choice? I’ve tended to think of it more as a mental illness, like a kind of mild schitzophrenia.

So I wouldn’t discriminate, but I would consider the effect it has on a person when deciding whether to employ them.

In the specific case I would have asked the guy to pull over and let me out, I don’t feel safe being in the car with you if you don’t feel safe driving.

Comment by Christophe Strobbe

brothercake’s comment reminds me that the Dutch author Anna Enquist once said that she regarded religion as a collective psychosis:
“No, I see this whole religion thing as a collective psychosis. It’s actually a delusion, but it isn’t recognized as a psychiatric illness because so many people suffer from it. Of course I say this somewhat banteringly, but isn’t it strange that real qualities are attributed to something that has absolutely no foundation in reality?”

Are the inmates running the asylum?

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