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Bernie Sanders and American Laicite

26 Jun

Love this post from my fb friend David Koyzis, whose book Political Visions and Illusions (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001HL0E0M/ref=dp-kindle-redirect…) I continuously recommend to students. It touches directly on the subject matter of my own research with Mike Lavender on a church/state phenomena we think America is currently experiencing; a concept we call “American Laicite” (the tendency in American political and social institutions to depart from either a strict separation model, where religion is excluded from public life or accommodationist model, where religion is indiscriminately included in public life, towards a selective accommodationist model where religion is included, and can avoid chastisement or penalties, so long as it accommodates itself to a higher creed driven by an alternate secular, humanist, or progressive worldview or sorts.

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a latecomer to the Democratic Party, positioned himself as a voice for the downtrodden against big moneyed interests, something that many Americans, especially the young, found deeply attractive. In so doing, Sanders drew on a deep tradition of social justice with biblical roots, as evidenced in his powerful address to Liberty University two years ago. Recognizing that “there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little,” he laudably demonstrated his concern for the economically disadvantaged in our society. However, judging from his questioning last week of Russell Vought, the President’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders appears not to understand that there is no justice where religious liberty lacks protection.

At issue was a blog post Vought had written as an alumnus of Wheaton College, a Christian university near Chicago, in response to a controversy involving one of its faculty members. The offending passage was this: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” While it may sound harsh to a nonchristian, Vought was in no way suggesting that Muslims cannot be good citizens or should be treated severely by the governing authorities. He was simply reiterating what the vast majority of Christians have believed for two millennia: that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:7).

But this appears not to satisfy Sanders, who has shown himself in this respect to be a good student of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Genevan political philosopher who famously proposes an ostensibly tolerant civil religion at the end of Book IV of his Social Contract.

There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.

The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults we have rejected.

Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to my mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect; and as soon as it has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the temporal sphere: thenceforce priests are the real masters, and kings only their ministers.

One needn’t dig too far beneath the surface to discern rather quickly that Rousseau’s offer of tolerance could scarcely be more intolerant. Anyone who believes that God has revealed himself in specific ways to specific people and that even the state derives its authority from God cannot be a good citizen of the republic.

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Lest we forget about the last 8 years regarding religious liberty. A summary

19 Jan

From Andrew Walker and Josh Wester in the National Review:

For eight years, the Obama administration brought fundamental change to American life. As the administration comes to an end, it is appropriate to evaluate its legacy. And though many such assessments will be written, among the most important issues to consider is the Obama administration’s record on religious liberty. As we’ll argue based on episodes throughout President Obama’s time in office, this administration oversaw an unprecedented effort to intentionally malign and dethrone religious liberty as a central pillar in American political and civil life. Notwithstanding this overall record, and though neither of us is a political supporter of Obama, we applaud the efforts made by the administration in a few areas to champion religious liberty. In 2008, Obama was a U.S. senator and presidential candidate publicly opposed to same-sex marriage. Much has changed in eight years. For the foreseeable future, the legacy of the Obama administration will rest on two alliterative, colossal initiatives that have left an indelible crater on the landscape of religious liberty: Obamacare and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443933/obama-administration-has-troubled-religious-liberty-legacy

Do Christian colleges have a right to be Christian colleges?

5 May

From Adam Macleod:

Gordon College is still under attack for being an intentionally Christian college. For nearly two years, cultural elites in Massachusetts, led by The Boston Globe, have been waging a sustained campaign of accusation and coercion in an effort to force the college to abandon the self-consciously Christian identity expressed in its life and conduct statement.

The attack appeared existential at one time, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges announced that it would review Gordon’s accreditation. Yet to its lasting credit, the college has remained steadfast in its witness. After a well-organized and vocal objection by the college’s supportersand other friends of conscience, the NEASC quietly backed down.

Still the attacks continue. Most recently, a former Gordon philosophy professor, Lauren Barthold, has filed suit against Gordon alleging unlawful discrimination. Her complaint is signed by lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union. The college denies her allegations, explaining that she was disciplined by her colleagues on the faculty not on a legally prohibited basis but because she wrote in a newspaper calling for outsiders to impose economic sanctions on the college. She encouraged others to pressure the college to abandon its Christian moral ideals.

The ACLU’s complaint does not contradict that account. And if recent history is any indication, the full facts will vindicate Gordon College once they surface. None of the accusations leveled against Gordon over the last two years has turned out to be true, except the charge that members of the Gordon College community choose to live biblically. Gordon has not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Indeed, Professor Barthold acknowledges the “many . . . LGBTQ-identified students who have found deep friendships, intellectual growth and spiritual support [at Gordon].”

So, this case is not about Gordon discriminating. This case is about Gordon’s right to be excellent in ways that other Massachusetts colleges and universities are not. The issue is whether Massachusetts courts will preserve the liberty of Gordon’s faculty, staff, and students to maintain an educational community that is unique in its moral commitments. On this point Gordon College can claim an unlikely ally. If the judges of Massachusetts read the writings of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then they will learn that Gordon College has the right to be differently excellent.

The Constitutional Right to Exclude

In its 2010 decision in the case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court of the United States declared and upheld the right of a state university to discriminate against unwanted student groups by excluding them from campus life. The unwanted student groups in Martinez were (who else?) religious groups that require members to live according to moral truths.

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What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

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How have the parties changed?

23 Mar

From the WSJ:

Partisanship is up. Voting by independents, less so. Those and other insights come from a look at the primary-election voter pools of the two parties in the states that have held contests through March 15. The data also show that the Democratic electorate is substantially more female than male, whereas the GOP electorate shows more gender balance. Democratic comparisons are to 2008, the party’s last competitive primary season.

ENLARGE

The Disenfranchisement of Rural America; the politics of place in the new empire

1 Mar

The Disenfranchisement of Rural America

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anyone who pays even passing attention to American politics is familiar with the map (Figure 1) of the United States showing states in which a majority of voters favored President Obama (colored blue) and those where Romney garnered the most votes (in red). This map conveys three dominant messages: first, that states can be meaningfully described as either red or blue; second, that the West Coast, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast are solidly blue, and the rest of the country is mostly red; and third, that, geographically speaking, more of the country is red than blue.

  The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman    Figure 1

Those concerned about how Romney lost in what appears to be a mostly red country should refer themselves to Figure 2, in which the states are distorted to reflect their populations. More populous states have more votes in the Electoral College than do sparsely populated states.

  The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman    Figure 2

But a third map (Figure 3) showing the nation’s 3,035 counties in the same color scheme reveals that portraying states as either blue or red obscures much of what we might want to know about the states and the voters who inhabit them. On this map, we see that most of the blue states are in fact mostly red. The reality of vast expanses of red in some of the bluest of states should concern us if we truly care about self-governance.

  The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman    Figure 3

The Fate of Self-Governance

With each passing election, rural and small town Americans have ever less influence on their state and national governments and ever declining control over the governance of their own communities. Their lives are increasingly controlled from distant state capitals and from the even more distant Washington, D.C., by politicians with little incentive to pay attention to their country cousins. To some extent, their disenfranchisement is the inevitable result of a century of urbanization and economic centralization. But the erosion of self-governance in rural America is also the result of a generally well intentioned but simplistic understanding of democracy and the associated elimination of institutional protections of local democratic governance.

Two ideas have been central to this effective disenfranchisement of rural America. First, that one person/one vote is an inviolable principle of democratic government under the United States Constitution. Second, that the winners of elections owe allegiance only to those who voted for them, no matter how close the margin of victory.

Consider the claim made by supporters of President Obama’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy in response to those wishing to preserve all of the tax rates enacted under President Bush. “The people have spoken. We won the election. You lost. Case closed.” Had Mitt Romney won the election, Republicans would have offered a similar response to opponents of spending cuts and entitlement reform.

For some, this glib argument is like spiking the ball in the end zone—an ill-mannered, in-your-face celebration of points scored in an ongoing contest. Notwithstanding the sometimes wildly fluctuating views of the electorate, as evidenced by pre- and post-election polls, elections have increasingly come to justify claims of total victory for the winner. The winner sees no need for compromise, making it the loser’s role to obstruct such triumphalism in every way possible, and hope to prevail in the next election. Little wonder that bipartisan solutions have become elusive, and that those willing to compromise are condemned by their partisan peers as unprincipled, and unworthy of public office.

Of course, anyone with even a cursory understanding of American politics understands that elections seldom, if ever, settle matters in dispute. What we learn when the people speak at the ballot box is that the electorate is often narrowly divided on the candidates and issues. President Obama’s 51.4 percent of the popular vote is considered a convincing victory. But the fact is that 48.6 percent of the voters (59,134,475 individuals) preferred someone else.

In the democratic selection of public officials, there is no practical alternative to election by simple majority, or even by plurality. Someone must fill each office, and that cannot be accomplished reliably with supermajority requirements. Representative bodies can, and occasionally do, require a supermajority for enactment of legislation. But, as a general rule, little is accomplished if more than a simple majority is required. (Witness the United States Senate, where the filibuster, as now employed, effectively requires a 3/5 supermajority and little is accomplished.)

Constitutional Controls on the Tyranny of the Majority

As political scientist Martin Diamond once observed, democracy is the least worst form of government yet designed by man. The designers of America’s democratic republic well understood the shortcomings of direct democracy, notably the risk of majoritarian tyranny. Among their constitutional protections against the tyranny of the majority was the creation of a federal system that recognized multiple majorities as legitimate law makers, majorities that would also moderate the selection of the president and the enactment of laws by Congress.

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How about a military policy which affirms rather than denies femininity and masculinity?

8 Feb

From D.C. Mcallister

Three candidates were exposed in the GOP debate Saturday night for falling for political correctness when they said women should be required to register with Selective Service, which means our daughters would be drafted along with our sons in time of war.

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie each supported registering our daughters when asked about recent changes in Department of Defense policy regarding women in combat. The other candidates were not asked their views, though Sen. Ted Cruz sent out a press release following the debate saying it is immoral to draft women.
“We have had enough with political correctness, especially in the military,” Cruz said. “Political correctness is dangerous. And the idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think, is wrong. It is immoral. I’m the father of two little girls, they are capable of doing anything they desire, but the idea that their government would forcibly put them in a foxhole doesn’t make any sense at all.”

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