A colleague of mine quipped the other day that the only religion he believes in is his own. "Sure," I countered. "You piously believe in your own opinion."
Which pretty much sums up every debate I've ever had on religion. Liberals will tell you Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jewish hippie who hated money and communed with the outcasts of Roman society. He threatened the status quo and was executed for it. From this narrative "real Christianity" means challenging authority and helping the poor and the disenfranchised. It's an all-inclusive religion based on tolerance and peace. Also they're vehemently opposed to capital punishment.
Conservatives will tell you Jesus battled Satan. They see Satan everywhere: Muslims, Jews, Communists, single women, sex, homosexuals, hippies, Satanists, Atheists, rock music, rap music, facial hair, the Pope, Obama, government spending, China, drug use and (the one I'm totally on board with) yoga. In their Bible there's war and punishment. There are rules, and if you follow them you don't incur god's wrath. It's simple, it's rigid and it's biblical. "Tolerance" is code for Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. Also, Jesus loved guns.
In the 1700-year history of Christianity there have been revitalizations, revisions, reformations and Mormons. Christianity is eternally getting back to the true meaning of Truth. It's a battle over who holds the deed to the proverbial Garden of Eden.
The point is: Religion has the charm of conforming to one's opinion. Christendom has been splintered since the moment it was dubbed Christendom.
The reason? Religion is subjective.
Every group thinks they are the ones doing it right; others are mistaken. Church is a marinade of confirmation bias.
Nowhere is this more tangible than the debate over same sex marriage. Those who have a visceral dislike of homosexuality have decided their version of Christ would also condemn gay rights. Those who think love is the ultimate virtue think their version of Christ is pro-all-marriage. Those who oppose it will point out parts of the Bible that agree with them. Those who are for it will point out the parts of the Bible that agree with them.
Religion and opinion could be synonyms in most instances.
(Author's note: I will get emails this week telling me that I'm wrong about Christianity and that the real Christianity is something that the writer believes in. The letters will tell me I've missed the mark and try to persuade me to their belief of their beliefs. It will happen. It'll come from very nice, well-meaning people without a sense of irony.)
Which is why a piece of legislation like Kentucky's House Bill 279, also known as the Religion Freedom Act, should give us all pause. The state's House Democrats overrode the Governor's veto to pass the law this week. The real push, I suspect, to fast track this bill comes from church leaders who are paranoid they could lose their tax-exempt status if they openly denounce homosexuality, so they clamored for a shield. The (now) law reads there should be no burden placed on a person's "freedom of religion." It then specifies: "A 'burden' shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities."
The faithful don't want to be discriminated against for discriminating. Of course they don't, being discriminated against is awful.
HB 279 is opposed by anyone who's ever been on the wrong side of vehemence. It gives Kentuckians the right to ignore laws they disagree with based on their opinion/religion. It's the right to act on prejudice. Or as one supporter told a Focus on the Family affiliate, the bill's aim is "to practice their beliefs in the open."
So the question is where does my religious opinion end and your civil rights begin? Does my conviction trump your liberties? It's a showdown of rites versus rights.
When it comes to equal protection my faith is in the U.S. Constitution rather than the Bible.
Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and fill-in host at The Young Turks. Tina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.