…postmodernism, the belief that truth is inherently subjective and a function of power. With the rise of postmodernism came the notion that the only heresy that remains is the belief in absolute truth–orthodoxy. Postmodernism, for it’s part, contends that the only absolute is diversity, that is, the notion that there is many truths, depending on a given individual’s perspective, background, experience, and personal preference. In such an intellectual climate, anyone holding to particular doctrinal beliefs, while claiming that competing claims are wrong is held to be intolerant, dogmatic, or worse.(The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity, by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael J.Kruger, pg 39)
Truth has become a commodity that is bought and sold by popular whim. We are increasingly becoming a society that values pragmatic utility as a virtue, surpassing the attraction of truth. Verifiable certainty has lost it’s place to an epistemological assumption of conquest dissonance. The contemporary and popular infatuation with the idea that history is a means whereby the victors justify their crimes results in historiography becoming largely untenable; the quest for the kernel of truth beneath the layers of husk that is recorded history seems to ascribe the historian as holding a kerygmatic, priestly office. In the process, though, history is wiped out by the individual, the modern deification of the I over the We is consigning the humanity’s story to oblivion.
This is a problem for both right and left and it’s become part of the socio-political culture of America to such a degree, that it functions as a paradigm for social progress and regress, for civil rights victories and defeats, the I before We that teaches us to hate our neighbor. If the ascension of my civil rights is at the cost of yours, I have gained nothing but the place of my oppressor to take his place as the aggressor. Understanding that, is essential, I think, to safely navigating the stream called equality that flows between the banks named master and servant.
The Transition From Freedom of Religion To Freedom Of Worship
As we should be familiar with the First Amendment of our own Constitution, Wesley J. Smith, at First Things, rightly and helpfully highlights article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says,
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
He goes on to make this point about the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion,
What’s the difference? Under freedom of worship, the Catholic and Orthodox churches both remain perfectly free to teach that the Eucharistic bread and wine transform into the body and blood of Christ. Muslims can continue to require women to be segregated from men at the mosque. But outside worship contexts, the state may compel the faithful to violate their faith by acting in accord with secular morality rather than consistently with their dogmatic precepts. (Freedom of Worship’s Assault On Freedom Of Religion, Wesley J. Smith, First Things)
So, lets put this a bit in context with a few topics, we’ll start with the left and move to the right, beginning with the new/old favorite, same-sex marriage.
The Civil Rights Of Marginalization
A common and popular meme at the moment, peruse Facebook or other parts of the Internet and you’ll soon come across it, is the connections made between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage and any opposition to same-sex marriage and bigotry. Here, it seems, two primary assumption are made: 1. that interracial marriage and same-sex marriage are univocally defined 2. that any opposition to same-sex marriage in particular and homosexuality in general is fundamentally bigotry. What this immediately does is attempt to invalidate any opposing points of view, predominately one’s of religious orientation, by playing upon the deep generational guilt of middle America on account of slavery; bigotry is a word that is so taboo at times that it functions as its own judge and jury in prosecuting alleged abuse and assigning guilt. The result is that religious ideology and public identity become marginalized and those who cling to them ostracized, any objection on religious grounds becomes illegitimate. Christians and others of like-minded faiths lose the contours of their public profession to the safety and non-threatening oasis of private worship, or, to make it a little more historically broad, the divorce of faith from reason. To be clear, though, I am not judging the merit of all the claims of the LGBT positions, my point is to highlight the illegitimate methodology they often employ in pursuing their claims, nor am I advocating discrimination but rather the right of dissent.
Moving along, and I’ll skip abortion for the sake of brevity and for the simple reason that I’m of the opinion that it’s actually a legislative issue rather than a judicial one and certainly not the purview of the executive.
Prayer In Public Schools
It should be simple, we look at the second amendment and come to the conclusion that any tax funded public institution should be neutrally oriented in regards to religious observance and practice, as it is not the State’s right nor expertise, to instruct, indoctrinate or proselytize the children of this variegated nation. But its never that simple. The proof is the fact that this has also been historically disregarded in an America that up till recently was predominately the product of a Judeo-Christian legacy, that in it’s most distant progeny displayed itself as a nominal theism with a very strong moralistic character. The overlap of Church and State occurred without thought and for the most part though, in a rather benign way. But that America has been replaced by a suffusing apathy that we call the silent conservative majority, but in practice is mostly silent. But when it does raise it’s head, muscles weak from disuse, it tends to go off half-cocked, blaming change just because it’s unfamiliar.
In 1962 the courts removed prayer from school after reviewing this prayer,
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.
The connection is often made by those on the right between a decline in test scores and overall academic achievement that began around this time and the removal of vague theistic prayers from the classroom, implying that God was angry with the removal of prayer from public education and also implying that our previous successes were in large part due to this type of prayer that has as more in common with the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous than historic Christianity. And by consequence they completely disregard changes in educational philosophy, foundations of parenting, and an increasingly narcissistic grasp of personal relationships. What they end up doing is something of a genetic fallacy, they look at the quality of the graduates and make a direct correlation to the presence of prayers in schools without evaluating the methodology of the institution of education at the time. It’s also an example of the belief that between those who are Christian and those who are not exists an epistemological chasm that the non-Christian cannot bridge and thus cannot possess the same qualitative knowledge as his baptized counterpart. The gist is that those who may oppose prayer in public school are branded as enemies of God and secularists in the most derogatory sense.
The point is that we were, as a new nation, established upon the predication that everyone had a right to speak, to express both feeling and conviction without fear of redress or persecution. And it is ironic, that in the modern version of that new nation, the civil rights projects is slitting it’s own throat by validating the pursuit of hegemony rather than harmony. America is not simply the Great Experiment, it’s the Great Debate, where everyone gets a seat at the round table, where everyone is slow to speak and quick to listen. America was and can be again the Camelot of myth, a place where the best and the brightest lead and ideas are judged by the quality of their content instead of the emotive triggers in their rhetoric. The point is not to agree, but to respectfully disagree, without rancor or pejorative language. And if we come to the place where any of us is not free to be who are and publicly live out who we are without, than this isn’t America anymore.