We often hear of the ‘slippery slope’ in discussion of social issues. Some argue it is necessary to ban, rather than carefully regulate, eg recreational drug use or assisted dying, to avoid starting down this slope. If ‘slippery slopes’ are indeed a justification for bans, there is another to consider: that from relatively benign and merciful religious beliefs to problematic and harmful ones.
As the head of an organisation which requires celibacy of its priests and monastics, the Pope said that people who choose to have pets over children are selfish, “a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, and takes away our humanity”. This somewhat contrasts with his 2015 comment that “Some people think that. . .in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Parenthood is about being responsible.”
And a Maltese Catholic priest has declared that ‘gayness’ is worse than being ‘possessed’. He is, of course, being charged over the publication of his comments, and has been given a formal warning by the Archbishop, but the fact that an accepted member of the Catholic Church could even hold such a view is shocking.
And, outside the Catholic Church, we have seen bizarre comments from the leader of another Christian community in Malta, who warned that a journalist and an LGBTIQ+ rights activist will end up in the “abyss of hell” and be “terrorised for eternity” because of their suggestion of links between a suspected murderer and his organisation. He has also claimed government restrictions against the unvaccinated are part of a global conspiracy which heralds “the mark of the Beast”.
If the ‘slippery slope’ argument justifies the imposition of bans, religious communities, and perhaps the Government, surely need to institute far more of them on the actions and utterances of their members, to avoid an increase in extreme religiosity, intolerance and exclusion.
In this case, as in the other cases, we disagree with the ‘slippery slope’ argument. Whilst humanists are not religious, we support Freedom of Belief and are ready to listen to the views of those with a faith, and to engage in dialogue. We hope to see sensible regulation on matters of conscience, and are therefore wary of arguments based on a ‘slippery slope’; we would never argue for a ban on any religious belief simply because it could descend into bigotry, but are very conscious of the dangers of dogmatism.
Our underlying philosophy is that tolerance, compassion, and rationality based on science are the key to a happier and more fulfilling life for all, and to a successfully functioning society. We want our children to be educated to think critically, for themselves, and to understand and welcome diversity. We therefore find misogyny; gender inequity; discrimination based on sexual orientation, ‘racial’ characteristics, or religion; or any other nonsensically divisive view, held by the religious or otherwise, abhorrent.
We therefore suggest that mainstream religious groups need more guidance and consistency from those who lead them. And in the case of those leaders with less mainstream opinions, while they have the right to Freedom of Speech, as a society we all need to become more aware of the damage such utterances and beliefs can have on society, especially the most vulnerable among us.