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A Frenchie travelling the world...

19 December 2006

What is religion?

Dear readers,

I admit it, the topic is catchy... But it was triggered in my case, on top of a heavy past, by the news in the French media that the Parliament had issued a third report on sectarian organisations. This is a typical French exercise. But not the soundest one, I think. This third issue, was focussing on an even catchier issue: children involved in sects and cults. The title was already announcing the content: "Stolen childhood, minor victims of sects". But the controversy was immediate... The Jeovah Witnesses, claiming they had not been consulted, accused the report of partiality, without having read it, while one of the French MP's having participated in the commission refused to sign the report.

What caused such a trouble? France is probably the most secular country in the World, and that is one of the reason. More than 60% of the French view themselves as atheist or agnosticist, and if most of them are nominally Catholics, the whole country has a strong and proud tradition of anti-religious institutions and mentality. A current debate in French philosophy is to define it as the studying of salvation without God (Luc Ferry). French State and religion are legally separated in the strictest ways, at least in theory, and various laws as well as the constitution are making sure that they stay that way. This is all good, in theory, and as a product of such a society, I certainly approve.

This said, the government method as well as its approach of "fringe religious organisations" seem to me extremely dangerous. First, I already said on this blog that I consider freedom as absolutely paramount and for this reason, freedom of religion (even a religion of wackos) should be protected absolutely. France is far from this in many ways, and not the least because some religions are better protected than others. Namely, Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism are protected and favored. Islam is discriminated in many subtle ways, and other religions are simply considered as nefarious, suspect a priori. In my book, religions in general are suspect, and for this reason the State should ignore them all without any distinction. Anything else is discriminatory. French language ignores the distinction English makes between sects and cults. Anything outside the four religions previously quoted is considered a sect in France, and fought with zeal. There is even a special commission of the Parliament (the one which produced this report) to list and file all sects on the French territory, monitor their activities, etc.

Second, the method used by this commission is ridiculous. Most of its activity has been reduced to the sending of a questionnaire to several religious groups, a (very mediatised) visit to one of them, where children are raised outside the rest of the world and... that's it. No contradictory debate, no other intervention than from people opposed to these groups (the usual suspects were of course present, including the infamous "doctor" Abgral, a well known lunatic) and no legal discussion were really included. This commission has, from the beginning, taken an ideological point of view, based on feelings rather than rational, hearsay rather than legal facts.

My point is that, children involved or not, an ideological group, religious or not, should be assessed by the authorities of a democracy based on the sole facts. Is the group, as such (a moral person) breaking the law or not? Are some of its members (prominent ones or secondary characters) breaking the law or not? Are some abuses being committed? If yes, the group should be banned or dissolved, or the members in question prosecuted. Point. All the rest is clear violation of Human Rights as well as the Constitution...

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