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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Neither sacred nor naked - the oppressed now oppressors: denying a voice to blue-eyed redheads

Os Guinness proposes a global public square that is neither sacred nor naked.

In other words, the public square controlled by the Church squelches freedom of thought, and so does a public square that squelches expressions of faith. He points out unintended consequences: tolerance becomes intolerance; the oppressed become the oppressors and those who advocate freedom and diversity become illiberal.

Some of his excerpts in The Case for Civility follow:

In fact, the Enlightenment notion of a “rational consensus,” or an overarching rational standard of adjudication agreeable to all, is a fiction. There never has been, and there never will be, any rational consensus subscribed to by all reasonable people about what is the best way to live—least of all in modern pluralistic societies—unless this is taken to mean a consensus to which all good liberals subscribe. 

To be human is to have deep and abiding differences with other humans over worldviews and values. And, to underscore the point again, such differences are not private worldviews but entire ways of life that demand to be lived and heard as freely as the liberal and secularist ways of life. There are issues that cannot be settled by an appeal to reason or tradition, or by any higher standard common to all. As John Gray observes, “Contrary to the liberal idea of toleration, the fact of divergent ways of life is not a result of the frailty of reason. It embodies the truth that humans have reason to live differently.” 

In short, liberal talk of toleration and rational consensus is often fraudulent—though unwittingly so. It once again ends as a cover for the unofficial establishment of liberalism, and the cause of a curious liberal hypocrisy over diversity. Liberals trumpet the importance of diversity, but their commitment to diversity is no more consistent than nineteenth-century Protestant commitment to religious liberty for those who were not Protestant. In both cases, the principal victims of their selective toleration, also known as intolerance, are people with real differences from them. Liberals end up discounting the seriousness of difference and trashing the very diversity they tout.

Tom Paine, who is so often cited as the patron saint of secularism, was in fact nearer the mark: “Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but it is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it.”

Legal secularism is a denial of the principle of self-determination that lies behind human rights such as freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. Fundamental to personhood and to freedom is the conviction of a free and responsible mind, and therefore the ability to think for ourselves, to define ourselves, and to act true to ourselves. Human rights therefore confer the freedom to be and to do what we believe is natural and right for us as humans. Thus unintentionally but no less drastically, liberals demean human personhood when they invite people freely into the public square, but only on the condition that they leave their faith behind—in other words, when liberals ask religious believers to jettison the deepest source that makes them who they are.

In the same way, the present alliance of secularists, strict separationists, and liberal proceduralists restricts religious believers to the segregated margins of private life on behalf of their self-interested liberal myth of a neutral public square. “Public reason” is the respectable alias for secularism, and all religious beliefs are unmasked as “private prejudices.” Only the religiously naked and bare, their religious identities stripped down and disinfected in the constitutional neutrality showers, are allowed to enter the naked public square, where the liberal reigns supreme—and remains fully clothed and in command with his constitutional bullwhip. Where is the justice in this? Between the German death camps and the American naked public square lies a chasm that is morally and physically immeasurable, but the difference is one of degree, not kind.

Liberals who carelessly pick up the charge that Christian conservatives are like Ku Klux Klansmen should look in the mirror with care. History shows an all too close tie-in between the rhetoric of church-state separation and the waves of Know-Nothing nativism and anti-Catholic bigotry. It would be outrageous and quite wrong to suggest that strict separationists are nativist. But the fact is that many were, including one of the leading architects of strict separationism—Justice Hugo Black—who was certainly a Baptist, but also a member of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and virulently anti-Catholic.

For many separationists, then and now, separationism is a handy way of suppressing religious beliefs with which one disagrees and keeping them out of the mainstream of American life. As such, it should be no part of the philosophy or the policies of liberals who truly champion freedom. The historian Michael Burleigh notes that in Europe secular intellectuals such as RĂ©gis Debray and Umberto Eco are now coming to the defense of the Christian faith against silly and politically correct attempts to deny or marginalize it. “There also seems no rational reason,” he adds, “to exclude Christians—to range no further—from political debate, any more than there is to deny the vote to people with blue eyes or red hair.”

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