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How the French debate on SSM thwarts the stereotypes of American progressives

6 Jun

From Dr. Robert Lopez:

If the recent French mobilizations against same-sex marriage have taught us anything, it’s this: The LGBT lobby has misrepresented its cause’s relationship to time and history. Illinois Democrat Greg Harris stated in a National Public Radio piece what the lobby has been claiming for years:

Folks know this will be a vote that history will remember . . . And I think a lot of folks are deciding they’re going to want to be remembered on the right side of history.

The proponents of same-sex marriage like polls. A Gallup poll published in mid-May showed public support for their cause rising from 27 percent in 1996 to 53 percent this year. Pew’s survey data reflect a more modest rise, from 35 percent in 2001 to 49 percent in 2013, but the upward march is still clear. In April 2013, the Williams Institute published a state-by-state analysis that reflected a steady growth in the number of states, such as New York, in which more than 50 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage.

Less often mentioned are certain caveats in all these polls. For instance, in Gallup’s poll respondents were asked to choose between supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, without being offered a third option such as civil unions. The data from the Williams Institute show that liberal California is still only at 50 percent for same-sex marriage, perhaps because the state has domestic partnerships already. Minnesota residents only supported same-sex marriage by 43 percent, despite their popular vote to reject a constitutional ban in 2012 and despite the legislature’s hurried process of legalizing it in the state.

Nevertheless, two assumptions have determined the way pundits have interpreted these data.

One assumption is that the increase in support will be consistent over time rather than fickle. We can name this the Inevitability Assumption, a quasi-Marxian or at least Hegelian view that History is beckoning in one direction and there will be no turning back.

The second assumption is that more people accept same-sex marriage because they have more reliable information about what it entails. This is theEnlightenment Assumption, the notion that there is a transcendental benevolence in same-sex marriage, which can rely on the good and the true, if not the beautiful, to be vindicated by the diffusion of knowledge.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times offers a digestible version of the Enlightenment Assumption: “Knowing a gay person is a key factor in rising support of gay marriage.” The example of Ohio Senator Rob Portman is Exhibit A for this line of reasoning: All Portman had to do was put a face on the issue, in the form of his gay son’s visage, to be persuaded to the cause.

If we combine the Inevitability Assumption and the Enlightenment Assumption, the resulting concoction is the message that predominates in American propaganda: Gay marriage is on the right side of history because history will take us in only one direction, based on the most fundamental of human goods: knowledge of the truth.

Assumptions and Fallacies

These assumptions are in fact fallacies. More than any other populace, the French have laid them bare with their four massive “manifs” or mobilizations (November 17January 13March 24, and May 26).

These four mobilizations are credited as the largest mass uprising in France since the famous revolts of May 1968. As many as 60 percent of French respondents supported same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, but the level of support now hovers around only 39 percent, with 54 percent supporting “civil unions” only. It is no wonder that the French government has had to shield itself and its LGBT benefactors from outrage with an increasingly totalitarian modus operandi encompassing tear gas and other familiar police-state tactics.

The French resistance to same-sex marriage has demonstrated that an ostensibly progressive nation that had little issue with homosexuality as a moral question can change its mind, not based on ignorance of reality, but based on knowing more about what same-sex marriage really means. 

Sorry, LGBT lobby, the French are sending your soufflé back to the kitchen.

The French had little issue with the PACS, or domestic partnerships, passed in the 1990s. The nation is not a die-hard right-wing country, as we know from the fact that Socialists took over the government in 2012.

Yet millions of French citizens stormed the streets of Paris and dozens of other cities to block same-sex marriage. Despite attempts by the international press to paint the “Manif pour Tous” and the “French Spring” as a band of intolerant Catholic reactionaries, polls show that a comfortable majority of the French people share their view of the same-sex marriage law, even if some within that majority are not eager to join in the street protests.

The drop in support for same-sex marriage came with education and broader public debate. As the French knew more gay people individually and learned more about the ramifications of their legalized marriage on the community at large—especially children and poor communities overseas targeted foradoption and surrogacy—they liked the idea of same-sex marriage less and less.

The text of the law that passed bears the scars of a public backlash. For instance, both insemination rights for lesbian couples and gestational surrogacy rights for gay men had to be scrapped by President François Hollande’s government because of their horrendous unpopularity. (Both insemination and surrogacy are subject to broader bans in France than in the United States.)

Adoption was included in the final bill that went through the French parliament, over the strenuous objections of adoptees of all stripes, ranging from a fifteen-year-old writing in Boulevard Voltaire to Cyril Langelot toBenoît Talleu, an eloquent Franco-Vietnamese teen who addressed 700,000 French marchers on January 13.

Benoît’s adoptive father, Franck Talleu, was inexplicably arrested two and a half months after his son’s famous speech. Police detained him for wearing a sweatshirt with the children’s rights blazon on it. The arrest was widely viewed in France as proof that the Hollande regime had to employ invasive practices to cover up the unpopularity of its pro-LGBT proposals.

While same-sex adoption survived massive protests, its chances are going to be rather slim because of the long waiting list of heterosexual couples looking to adopt. Since France’s public controversy, now Russia has refused to authorize any more adoptions into the country and India has blocked surrogacy by same-sex couples. It will be more difficult for same-sex couples to mask their purchase of babies through surrogates abroad as international adoption.

The French attorney general Christiane Taubira tried to skirt the French ban on surrogacy with a memo allowing the government to treat overseas babies conceived by surrogate mothers as adoptees eligible for citizenship. Instead of quiet acquiescence to this sleight, she sparked mass protests against themerchandizing of women’s wombs. The shocking turn in the Washington Post,with an unprecedented column criticizing surrogacy by Kathleen Parker, might be evidence that the French street revolution set off a chain reaction that eventually brought even a super gay-friendly American publication like the Post to face the grim business behind same-sex parenting.

The French government’s attempts to scrub these controversial aspects of the same-sex marriage bill quietly didn’t work. As the public contemplated the problems with sperm banking and surrogacy, they grew increasingly suspicious of everything the LGBT lobby was promoting about its “families.” This happened despite all the assurances from Hollande’s ministers that the marriage bill would not lead to a boost in artificial reproductive technology.

Fallacy #1: The Inevitability Assumption

France proves that no opinion trend on any graph can be taken for granted as perpetual. In the United States we knew this already; we simply weren’t aware that we knew it. We know from the abortion debate that what seems like a steady march of acceptance can actually grind to a halt or reverse.

The Gallup polls on abortion show how unpredictable the trends in opinion can be, for the number of “pro-choice” Americans peaked in 1996 at 56 percent, then declined to 45 percent today, while pro-life opinion gained significant ground, albeit in fits and starts (only 33 percent of Americans were pro-life in 1996, compared to 48 percent today).

If we take a step back and examine how the international LGBT lobby has fought for same-sex marriage, we see that the lobby’s leaders must be equally aware that nothing is inevitable about acceptance of same-sex marriage, regardless of what they say publicly. Rather than patience, haste has characterized their tactics.

It would not be necessary to push the case for same-sex marriage so fervently in the Supreme Court if the electoral victories in Maine, Washington, and Maryland were truly confidence-inspiring signs of the movement’s inexorable march toward mass public approval. Nor would it have been necessary for the lobby to rush same-sex marriage through the Minnesota legislature when polls showed that fewer than 45 percent of the state’s voters really wanted to redefine marriage.

In France, the same sense of haste was also evident. Debate was noticeably cut short by the government. During the hearings leading up to the introduction of the bill in Parliament, only religious groups were invited to expressobjections. On February 15, 2013, when 700,000 petitions were presented to the nation’s Economic, Social and Environmental Committee (CESE) asking for full research into the impacts of the same-sex marriage bill, the French government committed a possibly unconstitutional act and deemed the petitions “unacceptable.”

The process of passing the law also quickened. The vote in the Senate was held ahead of schedule and only conducted with a show of hands, so that it was impossible to record which parliamentarians voted for the law and which voted against it.

Fallacy #2: The Enlightenment Assumption

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How Christianity lost its cultural influence; what that means for culture; how it can regain it – Dr. Greg Forster

1 Jun

Shared by Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds:

An Interview with Greg Forster: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It

May 29, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Greg Forster, an articulate and fascinating thinker, to talk about his new book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It, in the Cultural Renewal series, edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen. (You can read Keller’s foreword here.)

00:10 – How did Christianity lose its cultural influence?
00:49 – What are the two ways that Christianity has related to culture in history?
11:21 – Why did you title the book Joy for the World? Why is joy central to our witness?
14:54 – What can pastors do to help their people joyfully influence culture?

You can read a sample from the book or find out more information about it.

Conservatives must qualify Reagan: government is not the problem. Great essay from Roger Scruton

14 May

From First Things:

The Good of Government

American conservatives need a positive view of government.

In his first inaugural address, President Reagan announced that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and his remark struck a chord in the hearts of his conservative supporters. American conservatives, called upon to define their position, reiterate the message that there is “too much government.” The seemingly unstoppable expansion of regulations; the increasing control over what happens in the workplace, in the public square, and even in the family; the constant manufacturing of new crimes and misdemeanors, aimed at controlling how we associate and with whom; the attempts to limit First and Second Amendment rights—these developments are viewed by many conservatives with alarm. They seem to be taking America in a new direction, away from the free association of self-governing individuals envisaged by the founders, toward a society of obedient dependents, who exchange their freedom and their responsibilities for a perpetual lien on the public purse. And you only have to look at Europe to see the result.

The European countries are governed by a political class that can escape from accountability behind the closed doors of the European institutions. Those institutions deliver an unending flow of laws and regulations covering all aspects of life, from the hours of work to the rights of sexual minorities. Everywhere in the European Union a regime of political correctness makes it difficult either to maintain, or to live by, precepts that violate the state-imposed orthodoxies. Non-discrimination laws force many religious people to go against the teachings of their faith in the matters of homosexuality, public preaching, and the display of religious symbols. Activists in the European Parliament seek to impose on all states of the Union, regardless of culture, faith, or sovereignty, an unqualified right to abortion, together with forms of “sex education” calculated to prepare young people as commodities in the sexual market, rather than as responsible adults seeking commitment and love.

A kind of hysteria of repudiation rages in European opinion-forming circles, picking one by one on the old and settled customs of a two-thousand-year-old civilization, and forbidding them or distorting them into some barely recognizable caricature. And all this goes with a gradual transfer of economic life from private enterprise to central government, so that in France and Italy more than half of citizens are net recipients of income from the state while small businesses struggle to comply with a regime of regulations that seems designed on purpose to suppress them.

Many of those developments are being replicated in America. The welfare state has expanded beyond the limits envisaged in the New Deal, and the Supreme Court is now increasingly used to impose the morality of a liberal elite on the American people, whether they like it or not. These developments add to the sense among conservatives that government is taking over. America, they fear, is rapidly surrendering the rights and freedoms of its citizens in exchange for the false security of an all-controlling state. Those tasks that only governments can perform—defense of the realm, the maintenance of law and order, the repair of infrastructure, and the coordination of relief in emergencies—are forced to compete for their budgets with activities that free citizens, left to themselves, might have managed far more efficiently through the associations of volunteers, backed up where necessary by private insurance. Wasn’t it those associations of volunteers that redeemed, for Alexis de Tocqueville, the American experiment, by showing that democracy is not a form of disorder but another kind of order, and one that could reconcile the freedom of the individual with obedience to an overarching law?

The emasculated society of Europe serves, then, as a warning to conservatives, and reinforces their belief that America must reverse the trend of modern politics, which has involved the increasing assumption by the state of powers and responsibilities that belong to civil society. Such has been the call of the Tea Party movement, and it is this same call that animated the Republican caucus in Congress as it prolonged the fight against Obamacare, to the point where, by jeopardizing the fiscal probity of the nation, it antagonized the American people. It is therefore pertinent to consider not only the bad side of government—which Americans can easily recognize—but also the good. For American conservatives are in danger of appearing as though they had no positive idea of government at all, and were in the business simply of opposing all new federal programs, however necessary they may be to the future and security of the nation. Most of all, they seem to be losing sight of the truth that government is not only natural to the human condition, but an expression of those extended loyalties over time, which bind generation to generation in a relation of mutual commitment.

The truth is that government, of one kind or another, is manifest in all our attempts to live in peace with our fellows. We have rights that shield us from those who are appointed to rule us—many of them ancient common-law rights, like that defined by habeas corpus. But those rights are real personal possessions only because government is there to enforce them—and if necessary to enforce them against itself. Government is not what so many conservatives believe it to be, and what people on the left always believe it to be when it is in hands other than their own—namely a system of power and domination. Government is a search for order, and for power only insofar as power is required by order. It is present in the family, in the village, in the free associations of neighbors, and in the “little platoons” extolled by Burke and Tocqueville. It is there in the first movement of affection and good will, from which the bonds of society grow. For it is simply the other side of freedom, and the thing that makes freedom possible.

Rousseau told us that we are “born free,” arguing that we have only to remove the chains imposed by the social order in order to enjoy our full natural potential. Although American conservatives have been skeptical of that idea, and indeed stood against its destructive influence during the time of the ’60s radicals, they nevertheless also have a sneaking tendency to adhere to it. They are heirs to the pioneer culture. They idolize the solitary entrepreneur, who takes the burden of his projects on his own shoulders and makes space for the rest of us as we timidly advance in his wake. This figure, blown up to mythic proportions in the novels of Ayn Rand, has, in less fraught varieties, a rightful place in the American story. But the story misleads people into imagining that the free individual exists in the state of nature, and that we become free by removing the shackles of government. That is the opposite of the truth.

We are not, in the state of nature, free; still less are we individuals, endowed with rights and duties, and able to take charge of our lives. We are free by nature because we can become free, in the course of our development. And this development depends at every point upon the networks and relations that bind us to the larger social world. Only certain kinds of social networks encourage people to see themselves as individuals, shielded by their rights and bound together by their duties. Only in certain conditions are people united in society not by organic necessity but by free consent. To put it simply, the human individual is a social construct. And the emergence of the individual in the course of history is part of what distinguishes our civilization from so many of the other social ventures of mankind.

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Are ssm advocates who reject the way Brendon Eich was treated condescending?

5 May

From Anderson and George:

Historically and across cultures, marriage has been the institution that unites a man and woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to children born of their union, providing their offspring with the distinctive contributions of paternal and maternal care and influence. That understanding of marriage shaped its structuring norms, including the norm of sexual complementarity that has been found always and everywhere.

Yesterday this understanding of marriage was common sense; today it is dangerous heresy to an ever-more Inquisitorial cultural elite: Support for marriage as a male-female union has swiftly become, among the mandarins of culture, the most hated position on the most heated question.

In April, more than 50 scholars and leaders, all self-identified same-sex marriage supporters, called their allies to higher moral ground. Prompted by the bullying of Brendan Eich and his resignation as CEO of Mozilla for his 2008 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, they wrote to decry the “deeply illiberal impulse” to “punish rather than to criticize or to persuade” political dissenters. Because “opposition to gay marriage” can be “expressed respectfully,” they urged, it should not be “a punishable offense.” No one should lose a job for “holding a wrong opinion.” Trying to purge the workplace or the public square of dissent is, as they see it, political “oppress[ion].”

As supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife, we applaud the signatories’ support for a free society. In any healthy civic order, citizens will be able to disagree with each other even about important matters without intimidation and recrimination. The right to dissent will be honored and those who express dissent will be respected not bullied into submission or silence. We thank the signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” for their defense of civility.

We also agree with them that the future of marriage needs to be a matter of robust public debate. That’s why it’s important for these and other supporters of same-sex marriage — indeed for all Americans — to engage the serious arguments in this debate.

We write to make three points.

1. It is rational to support marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and supporters of same-sex marriage should stand up and say so, condemning attempts to disparage belief in marriage as a conjugal partnership as irrational — the moral and intellectual equivalent of racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry.

The statement issued last month falls short of such a declaration, lacking a clear acknowledgment that those with the contrary view hold a rationally defensible position.

The distinguished political theorist Peter Berkowitz faulted the authors of the statement for precisely this failure:

The signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” do not go so far as to acknowledge the merit in arguments against same-sex marriage. … their public statement indicates that in their view their opponents have little to say that is reasonable. Unwavering in their commitment to same-sex marriage, they imply that those who disagree are at best benighted, ignorant, or confused.

Indeed, by suggesting that support for marriage as a union of husband and wife is simply opposition to the cause of “gay equality,” the signatories seem to share — and certainly say nothing to reject — the idea that opposition cannot be rational; that only ignorance or animus could motivate it; that it is ultimately a matter of bigotry.

Yet these are precisely the false and pernicious ideas that motivated the persecutors of Brendan Eich.

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The closing of the Academic Mind – The Federalist

23 Apr

Scathing…

Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn recently proposed in The Harvard Crimson that academics should be stopped if their research is deemed oppressive. Arguing that “academic justice” should replace “academic freedom,” she writes: “If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’?”

In other words, Korn would have the university cease to be a forum for open debate and free inquiry in the name of justice, as defined by mainstream liberal academia.

Unfortunately, this is already a reality in most universities across America, where academics and university administrators alike are trying, often successfully, to discredit and prohibit certain ideas and ways of thinking. Particularly in the humanities, many ideas are no longer considered legitimate, and debate over them is de facto non-existent. In order to delegitimize researchers who are out of line, academics brand them with one of several terms that have emerged from social science theory.

Most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour.

The first term, “hegemonic,” is frequently used in history courses, literary criticism, and gender studies. Hegemony, of course, is a legitimate word that is often useful in describing consistency and uniformity. However, most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour. It strongly implies that you are close-minded and perhaps even bigoted. This term may be applied to offences ranging from referencing the habits or dress of a cultural group to discussing the views held by a religion (and daring to question them—so long as the religion in question is not Christianity).

To do these things is to “essentialize” those people by speaking about them broadly and being so bold as to imply that they may share a practice or belief in a general sense. It is the insult of those who would have every department in academia broken down into sub-departments ad infinitum in order to avoid saying anything general about anything, resulting in verbal and intellectual paralysis.

This strategy of labeling has been particularly successful in its application to middle-eastern and Islamic studies. Any author, or student, who does not join in the liberal narrative about Islamic culture—which includes unwavering support for Palestinians, the absolute equality of men and women in Islam, and an insistence on the peaceful nature of the religion despite any violent tendencies in its foundation— will find themselves labeled an “orientalist.”

Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.

Edward Said popularized this term in his 1978 post-colonial work Orientalism. According to many of my colleagues, an orientalist is a person who writes about the Middle East from a “western perspective,” which is when one does not unquestioningly support and affirm Middle Eastern and Islamic culture. This does not mean that westerners are excluded from writing about the Middle East and Islam. A westerner can do so successfully so long as their research is void of criticism. Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.

Sadly, this is precisely what has happened to the work of Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s most renowned Middle East scholars. Because he has written about clashes between Islam and the West, and is willing to look at the Middle East outside the utopian academic optic, Lewis has been “dis-credited” and replaced with authors like Tariq Ramadan in college or graduate course syllabi. Similarly, Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown universities, has been dismissed as “not a historian” by some academics, presumably because of his pro-Israeli stance. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, an associate professor at Reed College, strips the scholar Daniel Pipes of his status as a historian, writing that he is a “historian of Islam turned pro-Israel activist,” implying that the two are mutually exclusive.

The effect of discrediting one’s opponents in this way—rather than engaging and debating their ideas—is to create an academia where there is only one right way to think. If you dissent, you will be blackballed and labeled as hegemonic or orientalist.

The effect of discrediting one’s opponents in this way—rather than engaging and debating their ideas—is to create an academia where there is only one right way to think.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Brandeis University’s withdrawal of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently because of her “controversial” stance on women’s rights in Muslim society, which mostly consists of objecting to things like female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor killings. Rather than defending Hirsi Ali, or at the very least welcoming the debate that her presence would bring, Brandeis chose to shut her out. This was done at the behest of Brandeis faculty, students, and the Council of American-Islamic Relations, all of whom claim she is Islamaphobic.

The censorial climate of academia extends beyond tenured professors and touches the students, both in undergraduate and graduate school. They are being taught what is and is not an “acceptable” way of thinking rather than being encouraged to think through difficult questions on their own.

(I recently met a fellow graduate student from a Muslim-majority country who confessed that she is disgusted with the way women are treated in her home country. She finds the inequality unacceptable. However, she felt the need to make a caveat: “I know as an academic and a Muslim I shouldn’t say this…”)

The trouble is, very few in academia will even engage supposedly orientalist and hegemonic views. How can one argue against a room full of graduate students—and a professor—who dismiss such views out of hand and label dissenters with epithets that are tantamount to “racist” in academic parlance?

Korn’s dream of a “just” academic utopia is already being realized. But like many utopian visions, there is a dark underbelly.

Korn’s dream of a “just” academic utopia is already being realized. But like many utopian visions, there is a dark underbelly. Anyone who does not ascribe to the dogma of “academic justice” can expect to be shunned and muzzled—as Brandeis demonstrated recently. The irony is that in its effort to eliminate allegedly close-minded and bigoted views, the university itself has become illiberal, dogmatic, and intellectually hegemonic.

If we shut the doors on academic freedom, the acceptable territory of research and discourse will continue to shrink over time, and the self-censorial dogma of the academy will inevitably trickle out beyond the boundaries of the university campus, threatening freedom of speech—and thought—in society at large.

M.G. Oprea is a PhD candidate in French linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin.

The New Atheists tried, but failed, to establish a Godless morality. Mature thinkers move on (or back)

18 Apr

From Theo Hobson:

Like any movement or religion, atheism has ambitions. Over the years it has grown and developed until it has become about far more than just not believing in God: today atheism aspires to a moral system too. It comes with an idea of how to behave that’s really very close to traditional secular humanism, and offers a sense of community and values. Atheism has crept so close to religion these days that it’s de rigueur for political atheists like Ed Miliband to boast about a dual identity: a secular allegiance to a religions tradition, in his case Judaism. They don’t of course believe any of the mumbo jumbo about God, prophets and angels.

But as pleasant and rational as this all sounds, the new atheists are now hitting the intellectual buffers. The problem that confronts them is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots. Put another way: when God is rejected, the stakes are gulpingly high; the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question.

This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche — and for all the different atheist thinkers and philosophers since, it remains just as true today. It’s all very well to say that blind faith is a bad idea, and that we should move beyond it to a more enlightened ethical system, but this raises the question of what we mean by good and bad, and those ideas are irrevocably rooted in Christianity. Nietzsche saw this, and had the courage to seek a new ethos amid the collapse of all modern systems of meaning. Did he find one? Yes, in pagan power-worship — the sort that eventually led to fascism. We think of him as mad and bad — but he was brave. Imagine Ed Miliband trying to follow in this tradition, gazing into the abyss of all meaning, the dark crucible of nihilism.

The trouble is that too many atheists simply assume the truth of secular humanism, that it is the axiomatic ideology: just there, our natural condition, once religious error is removed. They think morality just comes naturally. It bubbles up, it’s instinctive, not taught as part of a cultural tradition. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins tries to strengthen this claim using his biological expertise, arguing that humans have evolved to be altruistic because it ultimately helps their genes to survive. But in the end, he admits that no firm case can be made concerning the evolutionary basis of morality. He’s just gesturing with his expertise, rather than really applying it to the issue at hand.

Here’s his muddle. On one hand he believes that morality, being natural, is a constant thing, stable throughout history. On the other hand, he believes in moral progress. To square the circle he plunges out of his depth, explaining that different ages have different ideas of morality, and that in recent times there has happily been a major advance in our moral conventions: above all, the principle of equality has triumphed. Such changes ‘certainly have not come from religion’, he snaps. He instead points to better education about our ‘common humanity with members of other races and with the other sex — both deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution’. But biological science, especially evolution, can be used to authorise eugenics and racism. The real issue is the triumph of an ideology of equality, of humanism. Instead of asking what this tradition is, and where it comes from, he treats it as axiomatic. This is just the natural human morality, he wants us to think, and in our times we are fortunate to see a particularly full expression of it.

The Rest Here

Quakerism and religious freedom in America

17 Apr

From Thomas Kidd:

As I noted in a recent post for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Founding Fathers were quite familiar with the concept of religious exemptions from laws. In the eighteenth century, among the groups most often calling for such exemptions were the Quakers. The Quakers were pacifists who would not serve in the colonial militias, and they also would not take oaths in court, or ones to serve in political office. The Quaker exemption on oaths even made it into the language of the Constitution’s presidential oath of office, in which he says “I swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” Quakers would only “affirm” their intentions, refusing to swear because of the seeming prohibition against swearing by Christ in Matthew 5.

William Penn

Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. I have recently been working on a chapter on the Middle Colonies for a book on early American history that I am writing for Yale University Press. One of the books I am consulting is John Smolenski’s Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (2010). While Smolenski’s excellent book is primarily written for scholarly experts, it includes fascinating details about the Quakers’ early theological and social struggles, both in England and in Pennsylvania.

William Penn converted to Quakerism in 1667, when he was twenty-three years old, and soon began publishing on behalf of his new faith, and criticizing the English government for its suppression of those who stood outside the established Anglican Church. Penn then became the target of that oppressive church-state power, and he landed in Newgate Prison for almost a year in the late 1660s. His participation in an outdoor worship meeting in London in 1670 earned him a second detention, and a trial for disturbing the peace.

Penn and his Quaker co-defendant argued that public worship did not entail disturbing the peace, and surprisingly, the jury agreed. The judge in the case, expecting a verdict against the Quakers, angrily ordered that the jury members be detained overnight, with no food, drink, or even a “Chamber-Pot, though desired.” Eventually the Quakers and the jury were vindicated and released, which in itself was an important milestone in the independence of juries under Anglo-American law.

Quakers published a popular account of the trial, in which Penn argued that the charges against him violated the rights of Englishmen as established in the fundamental law of Magna Carta. [This piqued my interest, as my family and I have seen copies of Magna Carta at both the British Library and, over Spring Break, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, an exhibit well worth your time.] Punishing people for worshiping God according to their consciences was “destructive of the Great Charter,” Penn insisted.

When Penn founded Pennsylvania, it joined Roger Williams’ Rhode Island as the second American colony that offered liberty of conscience to all with no established, tax-supported church. As much as I (as a Baptist myself) admire the contributions of Baptists in fighting for America’s tradition of religious liberty, the work of many kinds of dissenters helped to build that tradition. It is fascinating to see how the Quakers’ convictions, and Penn’s claim on the 13th century precedent of Magna Carta, helped to establish the principle that the government should not punish people for living out their religious convictions. By the time of the Revolution, the Founders had also come to believe that in the case when a legislature passes a law (or, befitting modern circumstances, a bureaucratic agency issues a mandate) that violates the consciences of such dissenters, the government has a special obligation to offer accommodations or exemptions, so as not to coerce anyone into acting against deeply-held beliefs.

Source

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