Please Stop Celebrating the Naked Public Square

 

RFRA_Indianapolis_Protests_-_2015_-_Justin_Eagan_02-615x458Fifteen years ago, as a college undergraduate, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It’s an interesting place, and some parts are quite moving. Nearly everyone comes away haunted by the Children’s Memorial, commemorating the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust. For me though, another very memorable bit was the main museum, which told the story of the Holocaust from an angle I hadn’t seen before.

Of course, I had studied the Holocaust in school and seen the classic movies. I had heard the pious cliche (laughable when you think about it) that “this is disturbing but we study it anyway so that this can never happen again.” But when American schoolteachers cover the Holocaust, the impression they give is that the extermination of Jews just resulted from a random outpouring of wild-eyed hatred, which could as easily have fallen on short people or green-eyed people or anybody else who happened to be a little different. Yad Vashem’s narrative was much more attentive to the fact that it was not short people or green-eyed people who were hated and killed; it was Jews. And that really wasn’t a point of random happenstance.

In the end, that museum basically amounts to a kind of apologia for the State of Israel. (This also explains another slightly eerie thing about Yad Vashem, which is that it is usually packed with armed and uniform-clad IDF soldiers. I gathered a visit to the museum was a normal part of their training.) It certainly gave my 20-year-old self a lot to consider. That was the first time I understood the really interesting (and tragic) thing about the Holy Land, which is that everybody there has a victim complex and, as inconvenient as that is politically, everybody there has some justification for having a victim complex. Their “victim narratives” ring true, at least to a considerable extent.

I thought it might be nice to set the stage with that story because it’s always good to remember that other people in the world have bigger problems than us. But I still found myself reflecting on this last week, which was a tough week for me news-wise. Somehow I can’t stop reading the coverage on Indiana’s RFRA law and related events, and most of it leaves me feeling beaten down and disgusted. But here’s the thing: it’s not the liberal (mainstream) media that I find so demoralizing. Those people are just doing what they do; I expect it from them. What discourages me is the coverage I read from our side.

Over and over again, I read how shocking and unexpected it is that the left has turned out to be so intolerant. They’re betraying their principles! Who knew the left actually wanted more than just to help gays and lesbians find love and happiness? What will it take to call them back to their once-professed commitment to tolerance and respect for diversity? We should probably write a lot more articles about freedom and small government.

This sort of talk is maddening to people who share my way of thinking. See, the thing is, we figured out years ago that same-sex marriage was about much more than just letting homosexuals be happy. But everybody (frequently including fellow conservatives) told us we were paranoid and closed-minded for thinking this. We’ve known for a long time that liberal progressivism can’t be trusted to protect our fundamental rights, and most especially not our right to religious freedom. But our dour assessments mostly got us written off as pessimists or extremists, and we were told that a harmonious society requires reasonable compromises.

This writing has been on the wall for decades. As commentators like William F. Buckley and Richard John Nauhaus were explaining in the early 80s, secularism undermines the foundations that are necessary for a truly tolerant, pluralistic society. Eventually it becomes a ruthless enforcer of morally relativistic secular norms. But its primary target isn’t, you know, whatever random people happened to choose the wrong color of shirt today. It’s traditional religion. Most especially, it is religiously orthodox Jews and Christians.

We are the target. Not “freedom” or “limited government.” That’s not to say, obviously, that those concepts have no relevance here, but if you’re unwilling to look beyond such formalistic categories, you can’t really understand what’s going on in America today. It’s not random happenstance that Christians (not Muslims or Sikhs or libertarian atheists) have been in the sights of liberal progressives, and if this turn of events has taken you by surprise, you should maybe consider whether there are other things about your view of the American social and political landscape that should be revised. Because, see, some of us weren’t surprised at all.

To be clear, my purpose here is not to gloat about the prescience of particular religious conservatives I admire. That’s obviously pointless, and, hey, reading social and political trends is always extremely difficult. The better question is: what do we do now? And my first suggestion is: stop celebrating the naked public square.

The answer to our problems isn’t a doubling down on a value-neutral, “tolerant” civil society with very limited government. My objection to that solution starts right here: it isn’t possible. Enshrining moral relativism as the norm for public life was what got us to this sticky spot. For the record, Falwellesque Moral Majorityism isn’t the answer either, and if you see that as the only alternative you need to broaden your horizons a little. I recommend looking at authors like Buckley and Neuhaus, but also Kirk, Burke, and other people in that vein. I want limited government, and I care about tolerance too — but we need to think more deeply about what sort of philosophical and social foundation could actually put those goods within reach.

On a somewhat more practical level, the way to rebuff the left’s advances is not to reiterate again and again our love of formal goods like “freedom.” We need the public to appreciate who and what is really being lost here. We need to awaken their desire to see Christians (not just, you know, whoever might happen to be religious in some way) living lives of integrity. The left is so good at this, and we’re generally not, but exciting sympathy is the way to persuade the public to oppose the extremism of the progressive left.

That’s uncomfortable for many conservatives. I understand that completely. I could probably write a book on all the reasons why. But at some point we have to ask ourselves: are we fighting the war that’s happening or just the one inside our heads?

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  1. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to drum up any sympathy for Christians. We battle the common knowledge that Christianity is nothing more than moral scolds telling people to quit having whatever sex they can finagle out of a willing partner even as they do the same things. The rest of society merely shortcuts the process by forgoing the guilt, repentance, forgiveness cycle.

    • #1
  2. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by 85% of Americans believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    • #2
  3. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by 85% of Americans believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    But that other 15% has a monopoly on the megaphones…and the media…and education.

    • #3
  4. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    The King Prawn:

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    But that other 15% has a monopoly on the megaphones…and the media…and education.

    And yet, they have been utterly ineffective at moving this dial even as SSM support has achieved majority status.

    People can clearly separate the two issues.

    • #4
  5. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Rachel Lu: That was the first time I understood the really interesting (and tragic) thing about the Holy Land, which is that everybody there has a victim complex and, as inconvenient as that is politically, everybody there has some justification for having a victim complex.

    Thankfully, that Holy Land is increasingly a thing of the past. Many in Israel are  much more proactive and positive than you might think.

    • #5
  6. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Utterly ineffective? Oh, I don’t think so. And it’s early. The thing is, Frank, I want “live and let live” too, but I think it’s one of those things (like happiness, love and common sense) that you generally can’t get by aiming at it directly. The foundations are more complicated than they appear, which is why humans so often fail to achieve it even though it’s nearly always what the majority of the ordinary people want.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto

    The King Prawn:

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    But that other 15% has a monopoly on the megaphones…and the media…and education.

    And yet, they have been utterly ineffective at moving this dial even as SSM support has achieved majority status.

    People can clearly separate the two issues.

    A person can, I’m not so sure about people.

    A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky,
    dangerous animals. You know it. K – Men in Black

    • #7
  8. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    I think apologia must be the wrong word there. You mean, they tell people why they need Israel.

    As for the other thing, so long as people want facts & there is a thinking in terms of facts, you cannot get ahead of trends. You’re always caught up in this trouble–you can only lead people to where they want to get & if then they realize that’s not really where they want to be, you might be able to lead them somewhere else.

    So what could you show Americans about Christians that they might love & like to see prosper, not to say defend from the coming onslaught?

    • #8
  9. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    My take is that my religious rights are …. rights.

    I shouldn’t have to hoodwink the majority or the media or the public to “grant me” any privileges. My rights are mine. They were endowed to me by my Creator, and those rights are unalienable. I don’t need your permission.

    So much of this current debate is fought from the presumption the media and pollsters will dictate whether I should be allowed to do something, or not do something. Or that I can’t do something because the next generation is going to vote against it, and we must all bow to the inevitability of being ruled by people who currently worship Justin Bieber.

    I don’t have a Twitter account. I do not worship such a god.

    I think people who do are idiots.

    • #9
  10. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    It’s also still early on this issue. People are barely starting to understand what it’s about. Surely you can understand how religious conservatives are pretty cold at this point to call to “Lay down your culture-war arms! The secular left isn’t out to get you, or if they are the rest of us will stick up for your religious liberty!”

    Color me unimpressed. Maybe we’re not in a position to be choosy, but at this point I’d prefer the sorts of friends and allies who aren’t ashamed to be friends and advocates for *Christians*, not just for abstract concepts like “liberty”.

    • #10
  11. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    The problem, Rachel, is that even our politically like minded friends are only going to the barricades so many times for crazy. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that they have a deep philosophical respect for our religious beliefs. Their real alliance is with less concrete concepts of liberty. They look at us with the same disdain as the left but are prevented by their general love of individual liberty from calling for our ouster from polite society.

    • #11
  12. notofberkeley Member
    notofberkeley
    @mareich555

    Rachel Lu

    In the end, that museum basically amounts to a kind of apologia for the State of Israel. (This also explains another slightly eerie thing about Yad Vashem, which is that it is usually packed with armed and uniform-clad IDF soldiers. I gathered a visit to the museum was a normal part of their training.) It certainly gave my 20-year-old self a lot to consider. That was the first time I understood the really interesting (and tragic) thing about the Holy Land, which is that everybody there has a victim complex and, as inconvenient as that is politically, everybody there has some justification for having a victim complex. Their “victim narratives” ring true, at least to a considerable extent.

    Yad Vashem is not an apologia for Israel.  Israel and its Jews need no apology or reason for being and they are not victims.

    Jews have lived continuously in Israel for 4,500 years now.  The museum is not an apologia, it is a reminder as to what would happen if the Jews did not have their own country and means to defend themselves.  That is Israel’s main problem with the rest of the world: Jews proudly defending themselves.

    Frankly, your statement is pretty anti-Semitic.  It reflects the basis of the BDS movement and all the other Jew haters.  That is, Israel exists only because of the Holocaust and it was a solution to a problem inflicted on the Arabs who lived there.

    • #12
  13. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu:Utterly ineffective? Oh, I don’t think so. And it’s early. The thing is, Frank, I want “live and let live” too, but I think it’s one of those things (like happiness, love and common sense) that you generally can’t get by aiming at it directly. The foundations are more complicated than they appear, which is why humans so often fail to achieve it even though it’s nearly always what the majority of the ordinary people want.

    Can you make explicit one of these foundations?  Are you arguing that instead of fighting over religious liberty and freedom of association, that the battle should be against SSM?

    Just want to clarify.

    • #13
  14. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I think the camel’s nose was anti-discrimination laws in the first place. Freedom of Association should allow people to openly discriminate in whatever ways they want.

    The fact is that today, everyone discriminates. But we lie about it. Which leads to “micro aggressions” real and fictional.

    I see absolutely no “red line” between not allowing Jews into the country club, and not selling cake to gay lovers. Both should be legal.

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    mareich555:Yad Vashem is not an apologia for Israel. Israel and its Jews need no apology or reason for being and they are not victims.

    I agree this is a bad choice of words–but apologia does not mean apology, except in the sense in which Chesterton was an apologist for Christianity–nothing to do with saying sorry, my bad.

    Jews have lived continuously in Israel for 4,500 years now. The museum is not an apologia, it is a reminder as to what would happen if the Jews did not have their own country and means to defend themselves. That is Israel’s main problem with the rest of the world: Jews proudly defending themselves.

    I’m with you so far. Say, rather, what has happened when the Jews were not armed & scared enough to use their arms. Jews may be proudly defending themselves now, but you do not see in them any conqueror’s pride or a fond look over the border at what they might acquire… It is a reasonable fear that guides Jewish wars.

    Frankly, your statement is pretty anti-Semitic. It reflects the basis of the BDS movement and all the other Jew haters. That is, Israel exists only because of the Holocaust and it was a solution to a problem inflicted on the Arabs who lived there.

    You lost me here–this is an awful thing to say. It is both unfair to what was said in the post & to the fact that the speaker is not some kind of mindless voice for BDS or Jew hatred.

    • #15
  16. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Ah, but here’s the rub, King. Maybe I should make a separate post of this at some point, but I think the bottom line is that they need us just like we need them. Big government is like the secular church. The fruits of progressivism include both large, intrusive government and also hostility to Judeo-Christian norms. We’ll be the first to be put into ghettos (literally or figuratively) but they won’t get what they want either without us because the foundations of Western Civilization (best encapsulated by the Judeo-Christian tradition) are actually essential to combatting the naturally fascist tendencies of liberalism. Properly understood we’re a resource, not a liability, to real lovers of autonomy, small government and natural rights. But a great many conservative commentators… clearly do not appreciate this.

    • #16
  17. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu:It’s also still early on this issue. People are barely starting to understand what it’s about. Surely you can understand how religious conservatives are pretty cold at this point to call to “Lay down your culture-war arms!

    I think the proper call would be to pick winnable battles, such as religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

    • #17
  18. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Rachel Lu

    Ah, but here’s the rub, King. Maybe I should make a separate post of this at some point, but I think the bottom line is that they need us just like we need them. Big government is like the secular church. The fruits of progressivism include both large, intrusive government and also hostility to Judeo-Christian norms. We’ll be the first to be put into ghettos (literally or figuratively) but they won’t get what they want either without us because the foundations of Western Civilization (best encapsulated by the Judeo-Christian tradition) are actually essential to combatting the naturally fascist tendencies of liberalism. Properly understood we’re a resource, not a liability, to real lovers of autonomy, small government and natural rights. But a great many conservative commentators… clearly do not appreciate this.

    That’s a lot like being invited to a party only because you’re willing to bring the beer. Also, some on the right view socon/virtuecons as a threat to individual liberty and autonomy.

    • #18
  19. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Frank, small government and “live and let live” tolerance can only really be maintained when we have a real respect for human dignity and an appreciation of natural rights and natural community. That is the only really promising foundation for mounting a counter-attack against the secular left. It does relate to SSM, yes, because when you have that “thicker” appreciation I think you just come to appreciate how incoherent the notion of SSM really is. Once your conception of marriage and family is that divorced from any natural or organic reality, there isn’t much to fall back on when you’re adjudicating auxiliary questions of right and fairness (such as whether people should be tarred as bigots and sued if they won’t bake a cake for a same-sex wedding).

    This goes way beyond SSM however. It’s about a broader tendency to fall back on unhelpfully formalistic terms like “freedom” or “tolerance” rather than considering the deeper roots of the conflict (which for a lot of people have too much uncomfortable, Judeo-Christian, normative content).

    • #19
  20. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Since our whole concept of liberty stems from our Judeo-Christian heritage, if we give in to the naked public square we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater and there will be no freedom for anybody.  That’s what’s at stake, folks.

    • #20
  21. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    And my response to #17 would be: fought on those terms the battle *isn’t* winnable. Isn’t that becoming obvious now?

    • #21
  22. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto

    Rachel Lu:It’s also still early on this issue. People are barely starting to understand what it’s about. Surely you can understand how religious conservatives are pretty cold at this point to call to “Lay down your culture-war arms!

    I think the proper call would be to pick winnable battles, such as religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

    So who decides which doctrines are worth fighting for? Everyone is for religious liberty in theory but balk at it in practice.

    • #22
  23. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SoDakBoy

    Frank Soto:

    The King Prawn:

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    But that other 15% has a monopoly on the megaphones…and the media…and education.

    And yet, they have been utterly ineffective at moving this dial even as SSM support has achieved majority status.

    People can clearly separate the two issues.

    How have they been ineffective at moving the dial?  Sure, you can point to a poll that says one thing, but I can point to actual events on the ground.  I see a pair of GOP governors who capitulated rather than face the wrath of the 15%.

    • #23
  24. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Well said, Rachel.

    This is why I have never placed as much hope as other conservatives in Ayaan Hirsi Ali and similar figures for the purpose of reforming Islam. She has bought into the secular delusion.

    Religion and politics can be separate institutionally. But they cannot be separate ideologically. Any government must begin with shared assumptions about reality — our nature as individuals, our nature as a society, the meaning of life, a hierarchy of values, etc. That is religion.

    Politics concerns ethics. Religion concerns morals. Ethics is the practice of applying general moral principles to specific and complex circumstances. Both morals and ethics are unavoidable necessities of life for any human being or society.

    • #24
  25. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu:And my response to #17 would be: fought on those terms the battle *isn’t* winnable. Isn’t that becoming obvious now?

    No, as a majority of those who support SSM support the freedom of a christian to decline service to a gay wedding, as evidence by the poll I linked earlier.

    People can clearly separate these two issues.

    • #25
  26. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    SoDakBoy:

    Frank Soto:

    The King Prawn:

    Live and let live can work here, as evidenced by believing that a Christian should be able to refuse services to a Gay wedding.

    But that other 15% has a monopoly on the megaphones…and the media…and education.

    And yet, they have been utterly ineffective at moving this dial even as SSM support has achieved majority status.

    People can clearly separate the two issues.

    How have they been ineffective at moving the dial? Sure, you can point to a poll that says one thing, but I can point to actual events on the ground. I see a pair of GOP governors who capitulated rather than face the wrath of the 15%.

    That our representatives are incompetent is a separate issue from the battle for public opinion.  It should also be noted that it would be the wrath of the 8%, as that was the number who thought a christian should not be able to decline service to a gay wedding, not 15%.

    • #26
  27. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    But Frank, looking at the larger trajectory, this struggle is going very badly. Even ten years ago the idea that 15% of the population would be okay with using the state to force people to cater same-sex weddings would have sounded insane. We’re losing, hard. And the politicians know it which is why they’re caving too. These formalistic protections are just more treaties signed along the trail of tears; that method is just a slow(ish) way of losing.

    • #27
  28. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    The King Prawn:I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to drum up any sympathy for Christians. We battle the common knowledge that Christianity is nothing more than moral scolds telling people to quit having whatever sex they can finagle out of a willing partner even as they do the same things. The rest of society merely shortcuts the process by forgoing the guilt, repentance, forgiveness cycle.

    We also battle the fact that we live in a world that hates the Truth, as Jesus himself told us.  We Christians, we are supposed to be persecuted.

    • #28
  29. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    KC Mulville:I don’t have a Twitter account. I do not worship such a god.

    I think people who do are idiots.

    I am no idiot…but I do have a twitter account.

    • #29
  30. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    iWe:I think the camel’s nose was anti-discrimination laws in the first place. Freedom of Association should allow people to openly discriminate in whatever ways they want.

    I think this is exactly right.  Ask someone to tell you why discrimination should be illegal.  They generally can’t explain why, just that it should be so, because discrimination is wrong.  Aren’t you discriminating against someone when you outlaw certain kinds of discrimination?  And by outlawing some discrimination and not others, aren’t you effectively saying “You can think how you want about some things, but other things you have to think the way society says you should”?  And isn’t that really, really dangerous?

    The problem here is that you can’t explain that to people.

    • #30

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