Faith as a Weapon: A Back-to-the-Body Perspective

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Faith in the United States of America has been a shield, a protection. I believe it was never the Nation’s Founders’ intention to use religious belief as a weapon or as a means to disparage or offend other people. In this article, I consider the bills proposing religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas, but I will not spew the boringly predictable partisan line of either persuasion (the side that purports to defend “religious rights,” and the side the vows to protect “human rights”). Instead, I will look at this matter from the only point of view that can unite us all—namely, the “Back-to-the-Body Perspective.”

Nation as a Mirror of the Body

A nation—such as France, Germany, the United States, or India—is made up of several layers of community. The usefulness and genius of the “Back-to-the-Body Perspective” is that this way of analysis gives us a structure from which to assess a reality (such as the communities of a nation) or an issue (such as religious freedom). The body has three realms: stomach, brain, and heart. Any organization, such as a nation, can succeed only to the extent that it mirrors the body—so propounds the “Back-to-the-Body Perspective.”

Well then, is it possible to analyze the layers of a nation’s communities from the perspective of stomach/brain/heart? It turns out that this analysis is not only possible but quite elucidative. And when we are dealing with an issue that is so passionate and engaging that even the likes of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., saw it fit to sharpen his sword and come out swinging, then elucidation may be a good thing.

Communities of Stomach, Brain, and Heart

As humans, then, we live in a web of communities, with connections that bind us on three levels: the stomach, the brain, and the heart. The stomach is a metonymy for “thriving life” and all that life needs in order to subsist on earth. This community is beyond nation. This is a global community. When I walk into a Chinese restaurant, it is immaterial whether the chef at that restaurant speaks English or not; is a Christian, a Buddhist, or even a believer of no religion; likes Jazz, appreciates French literature, or enjoys modern art. None of that is at issue here. What is important is that this chef knows good food, knows how to cook good food, and perhaps even has a few tricks up his/her sleeve in terms of delicious cooking that will whet and satisfy my appetite. This is the wonder of the community of the stomach. The paramount value here is thriving life.

More restrictive is the community of the brain. The paramount value for the brain is freedom. Here is where the nation comes into play.

Ich bin deutscher; je suis français; sono italiano; eu sou brasileiro; I am a citizen of the United States of America; watashi wa nihonjin desu… and so forth. What does that mean?

It means that I belong to a community of laws and rights, that I am expected to abide by certain rules, and that I can expect others will likewise abide by the same rules. If there is a need to redress some grievance, I can make use of a justice apparatus that will treat me with fairness. Fairness, justice, equality–these are values of the brain. You can see now why I call the nation “a community of the brain.”

A Freedom Fighter

A Freedom Fighter

But we, as humans, build other links that bind on a different level. This is the level of the heart. Here the connection is not based on thriving life or on the establishment of institutions to exercise freedom as a citizen. Rather, the connections here pull at the heart’s strings. This is a community in which the members “feel” in a certain way.

Religion is a community of the heart. The veterans from a certain war is a community of the heart. Various societies formed to explore different interests are communities of the heart. The gay life style is a community of the heart.

Conflicts Among Communities

What if there is a conflict among communities? In the case of conflict, there is a general but flexible standard of priority: life is first; freedom is second; and heart is third. This standard is flexible because, in certain cases, it may be worthwhile to sacrifice life for the sake of freedom or for the sake of a value of the heart. But generally speaking, life is the paramount value.

Likewise important are the bonds that form a nation, namely, the bonds of freedom. Generally speaking, the bonds of nation have a greater value than the bonds of the heart. Thus, in the battlefield, it is not important whether the person standing next to you is a Methodist, or a Jew, or a Sunni—but rather that this person is a citizen like you, who stands with you to defend freedom and the nation. At this point, I should circle back to Indiana and Arkansas.

Religious Freedom Law in Indiana and Arkansas

Let me preface my comments by saying that the fact that the proposed freedom of religion law is similar to the federal law passed by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1993 or that it mirrors similar laws in 20 other states does not provide a definitive argument. Laws are blunt instruments; times change; circumstances evolve. At issue is whether the freedom of religion law could allow people to deny service to certain individuals on the grounds that their life style offends a person’s religious feelings. If it does, then this is an aberration.

Hearts bind to form community.

Hearts bind to form community.

The essence of the freedom of religion law is this: you tell the citizens of of a certain State you cannot be denied the rights of a citizen just because I believe in such-and-such religion. “I am a good citizen; I obey all the State’s laws; and I want to be treated as a citizen. Yes, I have my religion, but that has nothing to do with being a citizen.”

That is all well and good; it is proper; it is as it should be. A state that has such a law is culturally richer for it.

But it would be an aberration if the members of a particular religion would, instead, say, “I am a member of such-and-such religion—and this gives me the power to deny your right as a citizen, if my religious feelings do not accept your life style.” On this basis, a person could deny service to a gay couple, for example. So, we went from defending a person’s religious rights against government action to allowing a person to harass another based on religion.

In a State, individuals live with one another within a framework of laws and rights, even though they may belong to different “communities of the heart.” Thus, an individual may belong to a gay community or to a religious organization. The gay community and the religious organizations are “communities of the heart.” We can live together in peace, if the members of the myriad organizations all respect one another as citizens with common rights and obligations.

Thus, I commend the governors of Indiana and Arkansas for having called on their legislatures to “fix” the religious freedom law so as not to allow unlawful discrimination.

I conclude with a quote:

Africans were desperate for legal help in government buildings: it was a crime to walk through a Whites Only door, a crime to ride a Whites Only bus, a crime to use a Whites Only drinking fountain, a crime to walk on a Whites Only beach, a crime to be on the streets past eleven, a crime not to have a pass book and a crime to have the wrong signature in that book, a crime to be unemployed and a crime to be employed in the wrong place, a crime to live in certain places and a crime to have no place to live.
— Excerpt From: Nelson Mandela. Long Walk to Freedom. iBooks.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
April 2, 2015

Photo Credits: 

Photo: A Freedom Fighter; Author: Wally Gobetz ; Source: Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Photo: Thomas Jefferson; Author: Tony Fischer; Source: Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Photo: Hearts Form Community; Author: UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS; Source: Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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