Saturday, February 11, 2006

Faith and the Freedom of Religion

This issue has been bothering me for awhile. I have heard it reported several times now that two to three of the 9/11 hijackers attended a Christian college here in the US, where they were ridiculed and taunted by their Christian classmates for their Islamic beliefs. That's to be expected--religion and persuasion do not go hand-in-hand.

I wonder though what would have happened if in contrast, the Christian students had told these future mass-murders that if they respected the students' right to hold their Christian beliefs, the students would in turn respect their right to hold their Muslim faith--in effect, that "I'll respect your mind, if you respect mine."

Could one honestly expect such a statement from either side? Or are different faiths, by definition, irreconcilable?

I of course pull for the latter explanation. No truly consistent advocate for religion is going to turn around and say that, "well, I think sinners are an affront to God and they are all going to hell, but we still need religious freedom." The support for religious freedom is the exception to one's religious creed--not the product of it.

But how then does one explain America, where we have religion, and religious freedom? I think part of explanation can be found in the lingering embers of the Enlightenment-a time when reason and persuasion were held in high regard.

Yet I think a more honest (and disturbing) explanation is that many of religious engage in the following calculus: there may be widespread support for religion as such, but not for their particular faith. In the battle to establish a national religion for America, they would simply loose, so America must preserve its religious freedom.

Consider as evidence the passion by which the religious seek to impose the more ecumenical statements of faith though our government, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, school prayer and the national motto. The just position would be to have a government that makes no statement of faith and that is neutral toward the private beliefs of all its citizens. Yet the religious argue otherwise, saying that since the majority holds religious beliefs, these beliefs ought to be reflected in the government.

We have the neo-conservatives to thank for this new development. It is the neo-cons who have emboldened the religious wing of the Republican party and who have argued for majoritarianism and the erosion of judicial checks on the whims of the majority.

So mark my words: the most important--and most dangerous effect of the Bush presidency is the rise of religion as a political force in America.

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