Last night, a friend of mine said (the following is a paraphrase),
My heart nearly broke. I keep hearing these impassioned sentiments more and more frequently from thoughtful people who wish to be tolerant. And on the other side (argh. sides), I hear religious people feeling more and more attacked. The more they hear that they are evil and hateful and intolerant, the more worried they get that their rights are being taken away.
This morning, I woke up to read this:
(Just as a side note, we're taking applications.)
When people (as in the final link to Canadian immigration law) suggest that religious intolerance perpetrated by Christians is so great that they must leave their country, I know something is wrong.
People say that Christian fundamentalists are causing all sorts of intolerance and hate, and that they [insert evil]. Yet this seems very odd to me. I grew up in the theological movement of American Christian Fundamentalism. One of the most discussed issues within this movement is contradictory to people's views: Christian fundamentalism these days exists largely as a bunch of elderly people in churches whose attendance is dropping rapidly. American Christian Fundamentalism has been rapidly declining for decades.
One might look to the evangelical movement. But people from that movement seem very tolerant. In fact, many evangelicals won't settle for mere tolerance, advocating kindness toward people with different views, backgrounds, and lifestyles.
I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but one of the charges levied against American evangelicals is that they are rather too materlialistic and not dedicated enough to religious devotion. In my limited experience, I don't see American Chrisitianity getting stronger. I see it diminishing rapidly. I know hundreds of young people who grew up in American Evangelical homes, now attending college, for whom parties are more important than church. Many students don't bother to attend church, a practice which for thousands of years has been considered lower than the baseline of religious devotion, since church-going can't save anyone.
Maybe it's just a northeast thing, but I see American Christianity pooling, aggregating, churning as it is on its decline from its previous prominence. This is why you see Protestants working with Catholics; their individual power is decreasing, and just like the big Telecoms, they need each other to accomplish physical ends (humanitarian efforts, political efforts, etc.), which is affecting their theology.
People who think that American thought is being invaded by theocrats must not get out much.
I have a theory about this, but it is very nascent. As I look at the political situation right now, I see an odd thing. People on the Right (argh, plurality-based labels) think that people on the Left are conspiring to take away their rights. People on the Left (argh, stupid parties for splitting us to imaginary sides) think that people on the Right are conspiring to take away their rights.
It's possible that both are true. If so, I think that both sides are overreacting to the goals of each other. It's possible that both are false. If so, both sides are overreacting to the goals of each other.
Consider the plausible hypothetical situation:
A religious friend once suggested that the following statements be displayed prominently on government property:
A non-religious frend, when she heard this, became worried. She suggested that the the previous statement be removed and replaced with this statement:
The truth is this: both statements are very prominently displayed on one of the most important memorials in Washington D.C.: the Jefferson Memorial. They co-exist side-by-side. The entire quote reads thus:
This quote by Jefferson perfectly sums up my religious beliefs about government (my views about politics are considerably harsher. Politics and government are not the same, even if the press and populace seem to think otherwise).
I shared this quote with someone who would consider herself on the left if she thought the left were at all organized. The quote grated with her, since it talked of a creator, talked of "The Holy Author of our Religion," and suggested that there is "but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively." Thus, the quote was rather ominous for her. She shrugged it off, saying that such was the case when Jefferson was around.
I believe that Jefferson's philosophy is the best political philosophy of religion for all honest Christians. It is my own. [If you are not a Christian, read the following statements carefully, because a belief in a single creator and a single moral code is what impels me to encourage your individual freedom].
If I am to believe in the Christian God, I must believe that He created the mind. The idea of life as His Creation, in some ways His property, is central to Christian Theology. I must also believe that He created the mind to be free. Even Calvinists who believe that God exercises great control over the mind must accept the idea that within man's relation to man, the mind must be free. The Catholic rule of centuries and the Protestant Reformation (and accompanying fiascos, errors, and oppression by Catholics and Protestant groups) is a clear indiciation of the horrors that occur when anyone attempts by "punishment or burthens" to influence the mind. This is clearly not the will of God.
If Christianity is a religion of Grace to the willing, then compelling people to frequent or support worship and ministry is futile; it is a way to confuse people from actually finding God. Even for Calvinists, humans should not compel humans to follow God. Only God can.
I have never met a Christian who believed that people should suffer "on account of [their] religious opinions or beliefs." In fact, even the most intolerant Christians I know are firm supporters of equality of religious freedom. Christians know what happens when people are made to suffer for their faith. It's not a pretty sight.
The next two statements by Jefferson are key:
"But all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion."
This basic free-speech right is the one that honest, thoughtful non-Christians get worried about. Thus, they attempt to curtail this right, since they worry that it might become a license for people to compel, burden, and cause ideological suffering in religious matters. In the attempt to bolster equality of religious existence, they would substitute the act of "explanation" (as one would a cultural custom) for the more controversial act of professing and arguing religious opinions. It becomes even more ominous for non-religious people when they hear religious people say things like:
To people in a pluralistic society, talk like this begins to sound like ideological conquest and control. So they react to such views, trying to put them in check.
Religious people, on the other hand, see reactionary, equality-purposed efforts as an attempt to silence them, an attempt to influence minds by "temporal punishments or burthens." They fear a world where people are not compelled to support religion, but where people are compelled to avoid religion. They see religion as a thing of blood and fire, a life of spiritual intensity. But the only socially acceptable way to describe religion in non-religious circles is this: as an anthropological or social phenomenon/function. From the perspective of religious people, social and civil norms that encourage equality don't actually do so. Instead of encouraging free discussion and debate, American pluralists don't want conflict (argh. American college students. It's a problem. They don't like to discuss, they don't like argumentation). Free and fair argument/discussion about religion is viewed as dangerous, unfair, and coercive. When religious people see this, they become very worried about their religious freedom. They react to such views, trying to put them in check.
I think that a balance is necessary. Yes. All people of all views should be allowed to exercise their religion (within the boundaries of a fair civil law: Kool-aid doesn't count as religious expression). No one should be "compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry" or "otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinionrs or belief." Religion should be accepted as a part of American society. It is who many of us are. To ban public support of the efforts of religious people is to give advantage to people who are not religious.
The previous example brings me to Jefferon's last statement: "I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively." Many people in our time see this as a dangerous idea. This is not a dangerous idea. I believe it myself.
If you don't like Jefferson's concept of a single morality, that's fine. But don't read the sentence by itself. Read it in the context of the rest of Jefferson's quote, a context which emphasizes the freedom of the mind, its right to be free from burden, punishment, and compulsion. Read about Jefferson's single moral code in the context of statements like: "all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion."
I am a theologically conservative Christian. I keep myself as strictly as possible to the teachings of the Bible, which I consider to contain the only (but not comprehensive) absolute code of morality for men, whether acting singly or collectively. I know that the only way people can follow this code is through Divine intervention, not through coercion or punishment. Because I believe in God, in God's loving grace, and in His justice, I will do my best to profess and by argument maintain what I believe. I expect no less of others. I will never silence another's right to do the same, since it is by such rights that I maintain so precious a balance of freedom. If I am to bring someone to God, it will not be by the enactment of a law (although it is my right in a democratic system to propose civil laws based on my beliefs, if I am willing to abide by the will of the civil majority) but rather by the act of a free mind making a conscious choice.
It is this single moral code which causes me to reject the peer pressure of selfish American materialism. It is this single moral code which bids me consider myself in part a citizen of the world. It is a single moral code that makes me keep an open mind, always gaining more information and perspectives from many people and places, so I may wisely apply the principles of my moral code.
I gain from my single moral code a wish for brotherhood which tears me apart when I hear people tear each other apart over misunderstanding and the actions/reactions caused by misunderstanding.
During the 90s, religious people fearmongered themselves about "the left," thus gaining the political momentum to be part of Republican political gains (btw, it wasn't all hype. Growing up, I knew people who were thrown in jail for choosing to educate their children at home in accordance with religious beliefs. This worried me, since I was educated at home). "The Right" convinced itself that liberal bias was causing "the media" to be controlled by the political establishment.
Now, nonreligious people are fearmongering themselves about "the right," and will probably gain the political momentum to be part of Democrat political gains (argh. Two party system. Eurasia, Eastasia, etc. Mind control always needs a dire fight, and the left and right have certainly maintained ideological war). "The Left" is convincing itself that religious or conservative bias is causing "the media" to be controlled by the political establishment.
I think that people from both sides of the religious issues are failing to see the legitimate concerns of each other. Like industrial nations during WWII, they are villifying the enemy to gain more ideological conformity and enthusiasm to their side. The press, of course (including bloggers -- oh most definitely including bloggers) gain more exposure through describing conflict rather than success, thus intensifying the problem.
Have some balance. Respect the need for equal freedom, the freedom to hold one's opinions, and the freedom to argue one's opinions. Secular views are not neutral views, just as religious ones are not neutral. We must be careful that in our attempt to gain equality, we do not commit the reciprocal of our opponents. We must be careful that when we exercise a right, we do not violate the principles which granted us such rights to begin.