Sunday, July 6, 2014
The Place of Religion in American Society
A Brief Comment on Religion and Postmodern Contempt
Now that I am finished with my practical education in welding technology, I can return to my impractical studies of philosophy and theology. After all, according to many atheistic commentators, or even just whimsical and overly sarcastic commentators in general, philosophy and theology are the weakest of disciplines. However, this rarely brings a tear to my eye, but rather invokes an inner sigh as I reflect upon how confused our culture has become. I'm happy that I've taken a break from the blog world, as it has allowed me to sit quietly and carefully observe the 'mood' of our times.
I've gathered much from my observations and it shouldn't shock you to find that I am disappointed with where we are heading. The emotionalism that flows through young adults is disturbing. I can't think of a single outspoken person aligned with the progressive movement who doesn't resort to calling anyone opposed to their grand vision as being 'bigoted', 'intolerant', 'on the wrong side of history', 'fundamental', 'extremist', etc. They have assumed that their position is true and common sense, which consequently shuts off most routes for constructive dialogue. Yes, we all start from some worldview as our assumption, but when that worldview sees 'constructive dialogue' as a threat, something hateful, then all sorts of dangerous absurdities begin to arise. [That last sentence is aimed at some Christians as well.]
Thanks to the current 'mood' of our times, the terms 'religion' and 'religious' carry an unfashionably negative connotation. When many think of religion they think of oppression, power hunger, hypocrisy, hatred, rational suppression, and false piety. Religion is blamed for mass atrocities, illiteracy, close-mindedness, and halting social progress. On and on the accusations go, but the fundamental problem with all these criticisms arise from a complete lack of understanding of what the word 'religion' means.
A religion is not, despite the common rhetoric, a blanketed shotgun term. Rarely does it make sense to use the word in such a way. Islam and Buddhism share almost nothing in common, yet the all-knowing commentators will use the word religion to describe both in a single critiquing stroke. The last time I checked, truth excludes and each religion makes various, often contradictory, truth claims about reality. For example, the sentence "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is either true or false. Islam is inclined to think the latter option is correct. Christianity, obviously, would maintain the former option. Which is true? A "free-thinking" progressive person might evade the question all together and erroneously suggest that all religions teach the same thing and only differ in emotional expression. For the postmodern disciple "Jesus Christ died on a cross" is really an emotional expression which gives the believer purpose. This is a safe thing to say as it appears to agree with Christianity and as a result avoids hostile confrontations, yet is only camouflaged sophistry.
Am I being bigoted when I say that Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, is seated at the right hand of God, is the Son of God, and is the only way to come to God and receive forgiveness? Again, the postmodern disciple will attempt to relativize my claims. "No, no, what Max really means to say is that Jesus was a wise man who taught many moral things and who also gives him a purpose in life." Surely, I cannot utter such an offensive claim as suggesting that only Christianity is true! Well, I am and I did. I mean what I say to the dismay of progressives.
I'm not merely stating what makes me 'feel good' or gives me purpose. Obviously I know my own intentions more than anyone else could possibly know (more on this later). So to reduce what I say into emotional, subjective, babble is more offensive than proposing that what I believe is false. I respect the person who disagrees wholeheartedly with Christianity and is bold enough to call it false. They are in no way being bigoted or hateful towards me. My faith isn't above criticism or evaluation, but it certainly is above the unwarranted contempt and lazy analysis by the progressive movement.
What is the difference between a philosophy of life and a religion? It's rare to ever get a straight answer on this topic from my opposition. That's telling. To start, both are worldviews, that is, a web of interconnected beliefs that make claims about reality as a whole. A philosophy of life is a worldview that is derived from within the sphere of reason. They often are developed over many years of trail and error, success and failure. Philosophies of life can even include a personal ethic or even a model to achieve personal happiness. A religion might contain some or all of what a philosophy of life has. However, one property separates them: A religion is a worldview which bases its core claims on revelation.
Revelation is simply revealed information by another person. This includes everything from intentionality, subjective preferences, points of view, emotions; basically everything that's necessary to know what it's like to be, for example, Maxon Bruno. Despite what materialists claim, the brain does not equal the mind. I have privileged access to my thoughts and intentions. My thought about an apple does not equal a certain firing of neurons in my brain, because chemical properties are not the same as mental properties, however arranged or expressed. Due to this reality, reason (science) cannot have direct access to this knowledge. There is no way to prove scientifically, for example, that my intentions for giving money to a homeless person was to honor God rather than trying to score a date with an attractive humanitarian watching from a distance.
Faith is the means by which we believe in revelation. I have faith that you will fulfill your promise, or faith in your good intentions. I typically don't like reducing faith into a mere trust in something. A scientist doesn't have faith that a certain chemical reaction will take place, because he stands in a direct observable relation to the reaction such that he could have access to all the relevant variables. Probabilities are within the realm of reason, not faith. I would even hesitate to use faith for our philosophical presuppositions, such as the belief that the external world exists. I cannot help but be appeared to in a fashion which makes me believe that the external world exists. No, faith ought to be reserved for the invisible, the hidden. When you say that you love me, I believe it on faith even if reason helps me get to that cliff's edge by factoring in your previous reliability.
Religious revelation is similar to this, albeit in a stronger sense. God is a person, and He therefore has privileged access to His thoughts, desires, and intentions. It is not through reason that we come to know God, but only through faith in His revelation. This might be tweaked depending on the religion in question. For example, a Hindu pantheist might express this differently, because they might not see God as a person. However, in terms of the Judeo-Christian worldview, God has revealed Himself, personally, via Scripture. Therefore, the Bible isn't merely book about ethical teachings as hasty progressives assume, but primarily about who God is, what He has done, and what He plans on doing.
Religion in Our Society
Now that I've explained what religion entails, I can proceed to relate it to our present culture. As I mentioned before, there is a sour opinion of religion in the minds of progressives. Ironically, this contempt is aimed almost exclusively at Christianity. When was the last time that Hindus were condemned in American politics? When was the last time a Buddhist was slammed for his stance on a social issue? Islam occasionally enters the spotlight, but it's usually softened in a politically correct way by reminding us how peaceful it is at its core. Christianity is left to the front lines mainly due to its evangelistic emphasis.
I begin with a question: Is it wrong for a Christian to use his or her Christianity as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Those who say no often point to the idea of the separation of church and state. According to them, religion has no place in politics. Fair enough. However, I ask one more question in turn: Is it wrong for a secular humanist to use his or her humanism as a compass when voting for laws and bills? Ah, it isn't such an easy answer if you denied Christians that right, isn't it? The truth of the matter is that we all operate on worldviews which guide our actions and literally how we see the world. Humanism makes just as many claims about reality as Christianity does. Even if progressives aren't operating on humanism, the point remains whether you are a naturalist, a spiritualist, or any other 'ist'.
Is this denial of religion in politics stemming from a bias against the supernatural and the idea of revelation? That's it? So humanism is the default position? But why? Contrary to their claims, however, the 1st Amendment disagrees with this. No where does the 1st Amendment claim that a politician is forbidden to use her Christianity as a compass in her decisions. In fact, the 1st Amendment recognizes the freedom of speech. It only forbids the government from establishing a state church or making Christianity, for example, the unchallengeable presupposition of our government. The government cannot sponsor one religion by hanging banners which state something like, "In Jesus Christ we trust."
The context of the 1st Amendment is easily demonstrated by how the Founding Fathers interpreted it. John Jay (1745-1829), the first chief justice of the United States, was an outspoken Christian. He used his Christianity as a compass for his decisions. Are we to believe that he smuggled himself into the Judicial system against the wishes of the 1st Amendment? He and many others were around when the 1st Amendment was drafted, and in none of their commentaries did they suggest that religious belief was forbidden in politics. Therefore, the modern extremist view of many progressives is simply false.
Due to this religious ignorance and bias, there is a progressive hypocrisy in our culture. The moment Christian-based laws are implemented, they weep and cry "theocracy!", "religious oppression!", "Stop shoving your religion down our throats!" But what do they think they are doing when humanistic laws are being implemented? Marching towards a social utopia? No, if Christians are shoving their religion down other people's throats when passing "Christian" laws, then humanists are shoving their humanism down other's throats as well. They can kick and cry all they want, but at the end of the day democracy cannot accommodate everyone's worldviews equally.
A Brief Refutation of the Huffington Post in Light of What Has Been Discussed Thus Far
An article appeared in the Huffington Post entitled 8 Other Laws That Can Be Ignored Now That Christians Get To Pick And Choose by Ryan Grim. It's a rather snarky and condescending article filled with all the ignorance I just mentioned. You can read it in full here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/30/religious-companies-opt-out-of-laws_n_5544582.html .
Ryan Grim opens by explaining the Hobby Lobby controversy. The retail chain, Hobby Lobby, found that it shouldn't have to supply its employees with abortion inducing 'contraceptives'. This stands against the Obama administration's mandate that requires companies to supply contraceptives, regardless of the deeply held beliefs of the owners. The high court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.
Grim sarcastically adds, "Their deeply held religious belief that some particular form of contraception is immoral carries more weight than the force of law." I believe this misses the point, however. The majority of Christians are in agreement, and rightfully so, that aborting a fertilized human egg is killing a human essence, and therefore is tantamount to homicide. It should be added, briefly, that this isn't strictly a religious objection for there are many who are against most forms of abortion who share no religious affiliation at all. Regardless, I wonder what Grim would do if the law commanded him to report Jewish activity, knowing that by doing so it would lead to their arrests and executions. Would his "deeply held" moral beliefs carry more weight than the force of the law? I certainly hope so, for not all laws are moral laws. We only have to take a trip back to Nazi lane in order for us to remember that no society is immune from immoral laws.
The hypocrisy in Grim's post comes about by recognizing that not even his worldview, if implemented politically, would accommodate all 'deeply held' beliefs. So ultimately his point is mute and uninteresting. He offers no solutions to his own grievances, because I suspect that if he did then he'd realize his own hypocrisy in the process. He appears to be another (atheist?) progressive attempting to rig the political chessboard by purchasing the rights to the words "bigot", "extremist", "religion", and "intolerance". But I suppose it's just Christians who fight dirty?
It should be added that the word 'contraception' literally means "against conception"( contra = against, conceptiō = conceive). By the word's very etymology, it's very definition, a contraception that causes abortion is no contraception at all. Moreover, it's not as though Hobby Lobby tossed out the mandate in full because they are not against safe or, what I call, true contraceptives*. They are only against offering abortion-causing "contraceptives".
The last I checked, the abortion debate isn't over. It remains one of the biggest social issues in our country because of the amount of protests and opposition coming from both sides. This isn't merely a complaint from a minority, as most of Grim's sophomoric examples illustrate**, but rather is arising from a strong political force. The problem is with Obama's mandate, and its hastily deciding the issue before the debate is over and forcing companies to offer its employees what many consider homicide pills. A fair compromise is already on the table, but those who wish to shove their humanism down our throats seem to want none of it.
*As for the claims that Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for 'investing' in abortion companies, I refer you to this article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreybrown/2014/07/02/is-hobby-lobby-hypocritical-or-just-complying-with-u-s-pension-law/
**For example, he claims the Bible is "packed" with stories of women being stoned. I'd love to hear these 'various' and plentiful stories. Moreover, it's ironic that he includes a picture depicting the stoning of St. Stephen, who died for expressing his faith.