“Forcing” Beliefs on People

Just a quick rant about something that’s caught my attention lately. I keep hearing people complain about others trying to “force their beliefs” on them.

If you dared to vote for California’s Proposition 8, you’re trying to force your beliefs on others, some say. If you have the audacity to ask people if you can share your beliefs with them, or let your beliefs inform how you live your public life, you’re also trying to force your beliefs on others.

I want to argue against such convenient double standards, but you know what? I think it might be healthier to address it from the other direction.

Yes, I’m trying to “force” my beliefs on you. If by “force” you mean that I’m striving to influence the world, by legislation and by individual conversion, to ways of life that I deeply feel to be preferable, then yes, absolutely I am.

And so are you. We all are. That’s the beauty of our free society. The marketplace of ideas guarantees that we get to do these things. Nobody gets to physically coerce anybody else, nor do we get to harass or punish others for choosing not to adopt our beliefs, or for supporting a contrary position, but that’s the nature of the civilized world: you get to think and say what you want, but others get to, also. You don’t have to listen to them, but you can’t shut them down.

When I voted for a traditional marriage amendment to my state’s constitution, was I trying to force my beliefs on you? Within the framework that such things have always been inherently appropriate in our nation, yes. When you voted for Obama, you were trying to force a set of leftist beliefs on me. And you won. And you know what? That’s OK, because that’s how the system works.

So if you don’t like some policy or belief that someone else is stumping for, you get to ignore them or debate them, but you do not have the right to censor them.

There is such a thing as the American Way, and that’s it.


Reposted from February 2009


8 comments on ““Forcing” Beliefs on People

  1. If you take an action in consequence of your belief, that inhibits the freedom of another person to exercise the same rights you have, then that act should be declared unconstitutional. If however, you take an action in consequence of your belief, that expands the freedom of others without infringing on anyone else’s freedoms, then there is nothing wrong with that act – in fact, that is the American Way.

    We are all free to say what we believe and try to convince others we are right, but when we attempt to use the government’s coercive power to deny others the rights we enjoy, then we have stepped over the line.

  2. I share my beliefs, only when asked. To do otherwise is to suggest that people really care about what I think: They do not. I steer clear of religious hubris.

  3. Ann, I like the phase “religious hubris.” But just to be sure I understood it I looked up the word ‘hubris’ on Mr. Wiki.

    extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance.

    With that definition, I agree, love trumps all and keeps us from being haughty or arrogant.

  4. “…love thy neighbor as thyself” was the commandment. And it applies even, when we disagree with the neighbor. (Otherwise perfectly decent and reasonable people can disagree on this or that.)

    I would love to learn that Christlike love, which is always inclusive. Even when you’re caught in the act of a serious sin, he behaved lovingly; nevertheless, he also told her to “sin no more.”

    Most people ask questions now and then. I always try to tell them what they asked, not the full missionary discussions. But no one can hide one’s beliefs, because they will be seen in the way one behaves towards others.

    Still and all, as we are visiting Prop 8, I’d like someone to answer one simple question: What is the magic in the word “marriage” that you so much covet it, even when offered a domestic partnership fully equal to marriage legally?

    Some say, that if you voted for Prop 8, you wanted to force your beliefs on others. I call bs, quite frankly (I didn’t vote for it). Because if Prop 8 would have lost, then it would have similarly meant that the “yes” voters (and others, who supported them) would have been “forced” to believe exactly what? (That is the interesting semantic point here.)

    If you say that reserving the word “marriage” for heterosexual couples is oppression, then isn’t it just as much oppressive if you force them to believe, like you, that the Marriage instituted by God, actually means nothing at all? Or that a homosexual partnership is exactly the same as a heterosexual partnership?

    Just like some fervent feminists seem to believe that there is no difference between men and women, they say gay couples are no different than straight ones. Really? I would say that any reasonable person without a preconceived idea would say that okay, the emotional partnership may be the same, but the sexual one quite certainly is different.

    Different is not always wrong, okay?

    Small print disclaimer: I do not think that a homosexual act is any greater sin really than any other adulterous or fornicatory act; the law of Chastity means that you reserve all such congress between a man and a woman, who are legally and lawfully married. That lawfully there, by the way, means that the law of God has also sanctioned it. Thus, just any marriage performed in a magistrate office or such may not be according to that law; this means that even if you call it “marriage” it is a fornicatory relationship. Period.

    Sorry for such honesty, but I am getting tired of having this stuffed down my throat every day of the week.

  5. There is an unfortunate conflation of the right to act and the right to believe going on in this post. Do you actually think that you can be forced to believe anything? Conservatives consistently attempt to defend the narrowing of the rights of others to act as justified by their right to believe. This, understandably, drives liberals up the wall.

    Velska, I’m afraid I have to call bs on your bs, and explain something a little more plainly that Charles D already did a magnificent job of explaining succinctly.

    There are two types of rights: the right to believe and the right to act.

    Let’s examine how those work in the lives of the two highlighted groups in prop 8.

    Heterosexual members of the religious right (sometimes Mormon):
    Right to marry the person they are inclined to be with: YES
    Right to believe whatever they want about other people: YES

    Gays seeking secular marriage equality:
    Right to marry the person they are inclined to be with: NO
    Right to believe whatever they want about other people: YES

    When the fight is over and gay marriage is finally recognized everywhere, the score will not have changed for the hetero/Mormon camp:

    But for the gay camp, the scene changes dramatically:

    You have a right to believe whatever you like, but when what you believe limits what I am allowed to do, we have a serious problem.

    There is a strong parallel here to the thinking of Southern conservatives during the racial Civil Rights era; a lot of complaining about the fact that their right to inhibit the rights of others was being violated. For some reason my sympathy is not piqued by their plight.

    DIfferent may not always be wrong, but DIFFERENT IS NEVER EQUAL (a lesson we should have learned during the Civil Rights fight in the 60’s, but which apparently needs to be learned again).

  6. Thanks for the thoughts–you make good points. Still, you’re assuming that the driving motive for those who disagree with you is merely the impulse to impose their values on others in ways that restrict their freedom. You mention the “right” for gay marriage; I’d say that no such right exists. I’m sure you’d agree that a right doesn’t automatically exist merely because someone says it does.

    Clearly, you think that those who oppose gay marriage are just being prudish bedroom police, since it doesn’t affect anybody. Social conservatives would argue that gay marriage does, in fact, affect society. Drastically. You might disagree, but that’s at least where the debate should be focused.

  7. In America, rights automatically exist unless someone says they don’t; and when they don’t, they better have darn good reasons to be restricting the liberty of others.

    And in a secular society those reasons had better not be grounded in religious ideals, otherwise they can (and will) be eventually ruled unconstitutional.

    D&C 134:9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

  8. Again, I think there are unproven assumptions behind these assertions–your comment implies that there is a right to gay marriage–such an assertion is specious. Yes, the 9th amendment says that rights are impossible to enumerate, but they’re not infinite. As I said before, merely saying that a right exists doesn’t mean that it does. A more productive dicussion would be focused on whether or not that’s a legitmiate right.

    Of course reasons can be prmpted by and grounded in religious ideals–any law based on the sanctity of life or property could be said to stem from religious ideals at some point in time! Saying that people of faith are not allowed to exercise their conscience in the public forum would itself be unconstitutional–a violation of the first amendment’s “free exercise” clause.

    The quote given (good one, by the way!), is of the same essence as the first amendment–no organization is to get special positive or negative treatment. It hardly says that we believe we need to ignore our conscinces when we vote.

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