Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Freedom of Religion

In the last post I was thinking about secularism and how it can masquerade as a world view that is above all religions but really is more comparable to a religion. One of the big implications of not seeing secularism as a religion is when it comes to freedom of religion. One key element to freedom of religion as Americans see it is the non-establishment of a state religion. Certainly Muslim nations claim to have freedom of religion but they mean something different by it. It means they allow you to not be Muslim but you are still not allow to do anything that could threaten Islam as the dominate religion. So, for example, you may not evangelize. You may not tell Muslims they should become Christian. Americans would see that as a basic part of freedom of religion but Muslim nations do not.

The trouble is that because secularism is not see as a religion nobody worries about it becoming the state established religion. The danger is very real. What will happen and is already happening is freedom of religion is being redefined by the state religion. Just like Islam defines the limits of Christian freedom in Islamic states secularism will define the limits of Christian freedom in secular states. What will that look like? We are seeing some of it already. Pro-life and pro-marriage people are being punished. They are losing jobs. Their opinions are being declared to be invalid. Why? Because they have violated the limit secularism has put on Christianity.

We are seeing a push to insure all children are educated in the state religion. They are getting bolder and bolder in demanding teaching that directly contradicts Christianity. Why? Because children need to be secular. They don't want them to have absolute truths that govern all areas of their lives. In fact, they need to understand that as an absolute truth that should ... you know.

Where this ends is the same place it has ended for many Christians in Muslim nations. They live as a permanent underclass. There is always a certain amount of anti-Christian hatred that is tolerated. Then from time to time it boils over into violent rage. That too is seen by society as unfortunate but not as outrageous behavior. Crimes against Christians are more understandable.

How close are we to that in the west? It is coming fast. Can Christians really be persecuted in a majority Christian country? Most people who say their religion is Christianity actually have more allegiance to secularism. So the real religion that offends is a minority. Secularism does control almost the entire establishment.

What is the answer? It is not to try and establish Christianity as the state religion instead. It is to recognize that religion needs to play a major role in public debate but in a pluralistic way. We need to actually learn to engage in moral reasoning. Not just see what the religious people are saying and do the opposite. There is a basis on which civilized people can have public debate about how to acknowledge the transcendent in public life. Secularism promised that but does not deliver. Natural law is a much more reasonable place to start. We need to start somewhere but starting with the doctrine that all doctrines should be ignored is doomed to failure. The only question is how low we will sink before we see that failure.


  1. You bring up some great thoughts, Randy! This is the best time of the year to engage in serious reflections on liberty — the time between Memorial Day and Independence Day, which also embraces Flag Day and D-Day. It's not enough that we scream when our religious freedoms are trampled on; we must have an articulated idea of religious liberty we can present as a replacement for the secularist state religion being imposed on us. Thanks for pounding out the broad outlines.

  2. Actually I am Canadian. The only day that gets mentioned up here is D-Day. So I didn't have the time of year in mind. I mentioned America specifically because Europe has allowed the establishment of religion. England is Anglican. France is Catholic. Sweden is Lutheran. Oddly enough it has only increased the rate of secularism. The big churches have become more secular more quickly. They tend to lose the gospel. Only the catholic church has come back to anything close to orthodox Christianity. But that is another topic. So I restricted my comments in this post to the US.

  3. This reminds me of a favorite Pope Leo XIII quote of mine:

    There are others [i.e. "conservatives"], somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. (Leo XIII, Libertas, 18)

    Thus, the Solution to the problem you outline is to not separate (true) Church and State - which as you point out is equivalent to marriage of Secular Church and State.

    If the state is not guided by a divine standard, then the only two options are (a) guessing at what is or is not sin, if not outright protecting and promoting sin, or (b) getting stuck in an endless time philosophizing on whether or not something is right, defeating the purpose of legislation (which is to guide day to day life).

    It's essentially the secular version of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.