It was the culmination of a two-year program of uncontrolled bullying at a supposedly “good” Australian GPS school that included the more usual name-calling, chair-saving (as in “sorry you can’t sit there I’m minding it for someone” who never comes), mockery and outright theft together with a complex campaign of psychological warfare and periodically, piss in my locker. I had to put up with it for a further two years until I dropped out at the end of year eleven.
During this time my “friends” would helpfully sit me down every six months or so and try to explain what I needed to do in order to fit in better. Pretend to be less smart. Join in the cliques. Pass.
There was just one problem – I couldn’t. Not wouldn’t. Couldn’t.
I wasn’t concerned by principles (religious or profane) or some growing teenage awareness of my rights to freedom and liberty, I simply found it constitutionally impossible to be other than myself. Faking it would have been WRONG. I can play perfectly well with others it’s just that most of the time I don’t actually want to and I’ll be quite frank about it.
Was it just that I was so obviously a loner? I wasn’t obviously disabled then or over-performing academically. I would come third or fourth in the swimming carnival but wasn’t good enough for the school team. I wasn’t overweight and we all had to wear the same uniform so it wasn’t my choice of clothes, and it certainly wasn’t my sexuality as I’m a pretty extreme hetero-normative who has never fancied another girl in her life. I was utterly average in every way. I still have no real idea why the hate campaign continued for so long, or why it got to the stage where staff began joining in, but once I’d become the target it was apparently impossible to simply leave me alone.
It felt particularly unfair as the “difference” wasn’t my fault. It was never a choice on my part, just an observable fact. I was probably the last student in that school’s history to be given detention for “dumb insolence” (no I’m NOT that old, I’m apparently just that expressive). In fact the only other area in which I felt something similar is religion. I had a pretty clear view pretty early on about what I believed as well as who I was, though it took me a while to discover that it was actually called “being a Quaker” rather than “having an attitude problem”.
It’s also why I get such a laugh at part of Pilate’s address from the bench in Bring Laws and Gods where he’s talking to counsel after a witness has been excused.
‘The Jerusalem Temple offers services and sets prices. If they set those prices in our currency then there would be no problem at all, but they demand scrip and control the exchange rate. That’s just another way of setting a high price.’
‘That’s not the point. If people don’t want to pay that high price, they should worship a god that accepts cheaper offerings. The god-market is competitive. Your client’s attacking the right of merchants to set prices.’
Claudia repressed a strong desire to collapse in a fit of the giggles. She’d suspected her husband would say something like this when the money making exercise otherwise known as the Jerusalem Temple had first been exposed to public scrutiny in the wake of the riot.
‘There aren’t a great number of alternatives in Jerusalem, Procurator.’
‘Are you suggesting that the Temple is a coercive monopoly, Don Linnaeus?’
‘I am, Procurator. Jews are born to their religion, and in this city at least, the law suppresses alternatives. And if they want to make sacrifice, they have to come here.’
As Pilate doesn’t seem to understand, religion isn’t always voluntary. For a start there’s fashionable speculation even by prominent athiests like Richard Dawkins that religious belief may in fact be an evolutionary adaptation. Archaeological evidence certainly shows that Early Man has been burying his dead with prized tools and food for a journey, for anywhere up to the last 350,000 years – which would seem to suggest that they at least accepted the possibility of some kind of life AFTER death. Historic thinkers like Jefferson have been careful to make a clear distinction between what we’d now consider “spirituality” and specific church doctrine. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson describes him as having
… little use for the “sectarian dogmas” which were commonly called “religion,” yet he believed that “the moral precepts, innate in man,” were essential. The latter constituted “true religion.”
Gods and churches may come and go over the eons as mankind’s understanding has evolved, but religion lives on. These days sectarianism can be generated over issues as ephemeral as sporting teams but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that historically, most wars have been over religion and theological differences (with the possible exception of the pagan Far East). Internecine rivalry has been especially bloody in intra-religious schisms, such as Catholic/Protestant Christianity or Shia/Sunni Islam. The Christian Reformation was so bloody that the Anglosphere (particularly US founding fathers like Jefferson) have been determined to separate the institutions of The Church from those of The State ever since, having witnessed the bloody results when one makes a tool of the other.
The argument becomes one of how to balance the conflicting rights of one group over another without the bodycount. My Jurisprude-in-residence (SL) has tried to explain to me that this is simply a matter of Claim Rights vs Liberty Rights…
A claim right is a right which entails responsibilities, duties, or obligations on other parties regarding the right-holder. In contrast, a liberty right is a right which does not entail obligations on other parties, but rather only freedom or permission for the right-holder. The distinction between these two senses of “rights” originates in American jurist Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld’s analysis thereof in his seminal work Fundamental Legal Conceptions, As Applied in Judicial Reasoning and Other Legal Essays.
Liberty rights and claim rights are the inverse of one another: a person has a liberty right permitting him to do something only if there is no other person who has a claim right forbidding him from doing so; and likewise, if a person has a claim right against someone else, that other person’s liberty is thus limited. This is because the deontic concepts of obligation and permission are De Morgan dual; a person is permitted to do all and only the things he is not obliged to refrain from, and obliged to do all and only the things he is not permitted to refrain from.
In the case of competing religious values, belief itself would be a Liberty Right but your specific theism and related practices might potentially be downgraded to a Claim Right in the interest of public order.
SL and I have disagreed about the negotiation of minority group rights where Islam and Assistance Dogs are concerned for example. Her argument is that it becomes a question of capacity – the Liberty Right to religious belief has to be downgraded to a Claim Right in this instance because the Muslim belief that dogs are “unclean” is trumped by the rights of disabled people to have a life, basically because you can choose your religion whereas “no one has ever said please God, make me disabled”. I have to disagree with her on this. For a start because there are recognised sexual fetishes around disability and amputees (sometimes mistaken for apotemnophilia which is actually a form of Body Integrity Identity Disorder) but mainly because I’m honestly not sure how voluntary religion actually is. For example I have absolutely no idea how it is possible for someone to “convert” to a religion in order to marry the love of their life. If I believed in what Catholics believed then I’d be Catholic (or Jewish, or Muslim etc), not a Quaker. For some of us religion isn’t software that you install as you go along in life, it’s more like an operating system that provides the platform on which you build and install all your IRL apps.
I’ve been thinking about these issues this week whilst financial warfare has raged across the Australian blogosphere over what appears to be a conflict about the opinions of two minorities about each other – those who are Christian and those who are LGBT. Easy argument you might think – you can choose your religion but you can’t choose your sexual orientation therefore Christians should just shut up and cede the Claim Right of religious belief to the trumping Liberty Right of the LGBT community to a peaceful and equal life.
Peace and Equality are two of the four Quaker testimonies – the Religious Society of Friends actually has no creed beyond the universal agreement “That there is that of God in everyone” – so I’m all for a peaceful and equal life. But in fact I believe in equality not because I am a Quaker, rather, I am a Quaker because I believe in equality. That is significant. In 2009 we became the first church to publicly support gay marriage which is unusual given the traditional hostility of the three main monotheisms towards same-sex attraction. Personally I feel extremely offended by Muslim behaviour towards my dog… but I have difficulty denying them the Liberty Right to feel that way even though we disagree. I wish I had a solution.
But I’d like to suggest an experiment to those in the LGBT community who’d like to see Christians like those commenting on the Muehlenberg article over at OnLineOpinion excluded from public discourse entirely. What if people like Muehlenberg don’t believe that homosexuality is a perversion or abomination because that’s what their specific scriptures tell them, but from a deep instinct that same-sex attraction is WRONG? What if that instinct comes from the same well of conscience and conviction that your understanding of your own sexuality comes from? And if it does, or even might, how does this make you any better than those who want to bully you for being “a fag”?
I really despise bullies… because it’s been my experience that when we can’t live with difference, people are inclined to die.