Monday, May 09, 2005

Bride of Secularism

Email and comment reactions are split about the on-going debate on religion and secularism in several posts below, and at M_O_M, SC&A and Barking Dingo. Interestingly, there's a parallel thread between freelance journalist Max Blumenthal and WSJ's James Taranto. Because there's been a bunch of back-and-forths, here's a scorecard:
  1. Blumenthal in The Nation (April 26): "Senate majority leader Bill Frist appeared through a telecast as a speaker at 'Justice Sunday,' at the invitation of the event's main sponsor, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. 'Justice Sunday' was promoted as a rally to portray Democrats as being "against people of faith." Many of the speakers compared the plight of conservative Christians to the civil rights movement. . .

    [T]here is more at stake here than the fate of the filibuster. With Justice Sunday, Perkins's ambition to become a national conservative leader was ratified; Bill Frist's presidential campaign for 2008 was advanced with the Christian right; and the faithful were imbued with the notion that they are being victimized by liberal Democratic evildoers."

  2. Taranto in WSJ's Opinion Journal (May 5): "I am not a Christian, or even a religious believer, and my opinions on social issues are decidedly middle-of-the-road. So why do I find myself rooting for the "religious right"? I suppose it is because I am put off by self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and contempt for democracy and pluralism--all of which characterize the opposition to the religious right. . .

    This procedural high-handedness is of a piece with the arrogant attitude the secular left takes toward the religious right. Last week a Boston Globe columnist wrote that what he called "right-wing crackpots--excuse me, 'people of faith' " were promoting "knuckle-dragging judges." This contempt expresses itself in more refined ways as well, such as the idea that social conservatism is a form of "working class" false consciousness. . .

    Curiously, while secular liberals underestimate the intellectual seriousness of the religious right, they also overestimate its uniformity and ambition. The hysterical talk about an incipient "theocracy"--as if that is what America was before 1963, when the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools--is either utterly cynical or staggeringly naive."

  3. Blumenthal on his blog (May 6): " James Taranto confirmed my theory about his support for the Christian right: he sees them as little more than a political utility to the top-heavy, pro-big business wing of the Republican party which he represents. Indeed, while Bush's most controversial judicial picks espouse all kinds of obscurantist views on social issues, they are also corporate tools who would eliminate any regulations they could. . .

    Translation [Blumenthal claims Taranto embedded a hidden argument]: "I am not religious, but those folks who call themselves the religious right got a bunch of Republicans elected. And I sure am Republican. Back in Goldwater's day, all we had we're rich geezers and conspiratorial Birchers. But thanks to abortion and homo-hate, we got poor people on our side. Thank you, Jesus! . . .

    And I fail to see how the Christian right's inherent contradictions prove it's not a theocratic movement. . . As I said yesterday, true conservatives (if there are any left) ignore the Christian right's theocratic intentions at their own peril."

  4. Taranto in WSJ's Best of the Web (May 9): "Last week we refuted hysterical left-wing fears that the "religious right" will transform America into a 'theocracy.'

    Blumenthal claims . . . the [now-defunct] Moral Majority was a theocratic movement, but in fact it reinforces our argument about the religious right: that it is "a highly ecumenical group, united on some issues of morality and politics but deeply divided on matters of faith. The thought that they could ever agree enough to impose a theocracy is laughable."

  5. Blumenthal on his blog (May 9): "I want to refute what Taranto wrote but I can't figure out what he's saying. Call me an "idiot," but his argument just doesn't make any sense. I expected so much more from the Wall Street Journal's opinion page, the same outlet that, in a March 18, 1993 editorial called "No Guardrails," blamed the assassination of Dr. David Gunn by an anti-abortion fanatic on...the New Left.

    If Taranto's still reading, I hope he's ready to continue in his role as a corporate propagandist posing as the Christian right's house apologist while unwittingly acting as my publicist."
An excellent debate, at least until Blumenthal's ad hominem dodge, evading substance to condemn an editorial written three years before Taranto joined the WSJ.

Ignoring the descent into illogic, Taranto has the better case, especially this passage:
I am not a Christian, or even a religious believer, and my opinions on social issues are decidedly middle-of-the-road. So why do I find myself rooting for the "religious right"? I suppose it is because I am put off by self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and contempt for democracy and pluralism.
This parallels an argument I proffered last week:
I'm not an evangelical Christian; I'm against compelled prayer in public schools. But I've never understood the anxiety of rational secularists. . .

[T]he Christian Right isn't a threat. Indeed, most are a positive influence. So, I've returned to Pascal's Wager, which I've updated (though it was pretty good in itself). My modern version is: Who's controlling my feeding tube? This approach was inspired by agnostic liberal Eleanor Smith of Decatur, Georgia: "I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member."
My core complaint about secularism is their un-concealed mission unilaterally to reverse laws motivated, in whole or part, by faith. For example, in supporting gay marriage, boomr claims the First Amendment bars laws lacking a secular justification: "There is simply no non-religious purpose to the law. Such a viewpoint should not control the government." Put differently, boomr advocates adding a legislative burden unequally to some viewpoints but not others. There's a specialized, possibly obscure, legal term-of-art for boomr's plan--unconstitutional discrimination:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. United States Constitution, Amdt 14, Section 1.
There's another more general quip involving a baby. . .and some bathwater. . .well, never mind.

Much as I'd like, dingo and boomr can't be ignored. Though the Supreme Court historically refused to demote religious or moral reasoning, see Employment Div., Ore. Dept. of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 890 (1990) ("Values that are protected against government interference through enshrinement in the Bill of Rights are not thereby banished from the political process."), recent cases signal a change. Indeed, in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 538 (2003), a five judge majority suddenly said the Constitution foreclosed legislation:
shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. . . The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law. "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 850 (1992).
Lawrence wasn't about religious freedom--the majority relied on "liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions," whatever that means. Still, by transforming courts into Congress, morals and faith soon may exceed their sell-by date--then restocked with religious discrimination.

The Constitution provided a process to resolve conflicting opinions, and outlawed both "official" religions and religious discrimination. Conservatives opinion -- including the non-religious Taranto and me -- hasn't budged. In contrast, the post-modern left's at the threshold of devaluing "old time religion" in favor of judicially imposed secularism. All I want is a vote--but democracy's apparently a secular heresy and proof of impending theocracy.

How the heck did we get here?


Libertarian Dale Franks: "There is no theocracy in America."

Still More:

Kate Adell also can't see the supposedly impending theocracy. She's motioned to the bench for the underused Trilateral Commission--fine as a back-up center, but I'd still put Illuminati at point guard.


MaxedOutMama said...

Carl, I don't know, but it sure is the correct question.

One thing I have been researching is that the idea that the left wants to leave religion "out of it" is completely wrong. I have four or five links now of the left actively recruiting liberal churches in their political causes and when I get 10 or so I will post on the subject.

Whatever this is, it certainly isn't an attempt by conservative churches suddenly to dominate the political field. Churches may be a battlefield in a political struggle within our society, though.

It appears the leftist strategy now is to disqualify specific churches from participation in any political debate or the expression of any political opinions, while endorsing those which agree with their position. I have come to this conclusion only within the last day, and I'm completely astonished.

It appears to be an organized campaign that has been around for a while.

SC&A said...

As MOM notes, you are asking the right question- or, at least, one of the right questions.

As you note, the left is selective when it comes to religion. I find that fascinating because the left is now assuming the mantle of theological expertise- and is re-establishing the Office of the Inquisition, determining and passing judgement on those who don't share their ideology.

The religious right offers it's (religious) ideology, to those who commit to following their standards- the secularists are imposing their ideology (irrespective of your beliefs) in a way that is not dissimliar to the imposition of Sharia Law. Just as religions other than Islam are nullified, so to does Liberal ideology nullify those who believe differently than they do.

It is an outrage.

MaxedOutMama said...

That is sure an interesting comment, SC&A. One of my brothers left a similar comment on my blog this morning.

What bothers me in all this is a lack of trust in our basic system of constitutional government. What group of people is qualified to make such decisions for the rest of us? I know I don't belong among such an all-knowing crowd.

I am worried. Is it remotely possible that a section of the population agrees with Lawrence's physical privacy/autonomy premise but would deny a corresponding principle relating to the moral and intellectual realm? Can it be that a portion of the left believes in sexual freedoms but not intellectual freedoms?

Carl, I must concede that you were correct earlier in contending that the new ideology of the left (or a portion of it) was more an enemy of freedom than a friend to freedom.

Lately, all I get to munch on is crow.

MaxedOutMama said...

Oh, and SC&A, this Office of the Inquisition you speak of makes a lot of sense when I look at something like the AUT boycott. It is the same thing, really.

Now that I have realized this basic underlying truth about some of leftist thought so much of what puzzled me fits into that pattern. I can't believe that this is what "liberalism" mutated into.

Perhaps it is really the product of communists in the universities over a generation or so. Communists are against all forms of independent thought. It is a fundamental creed.

SC&A said...

MOM, like physics, the truth is inviolate.

For every equal action (that is, forced ideology that calls for a predetermined (preapproved) response, there is an equal loss of freedom directly proportional.

Your remarks on liberal distrust is interesting, in that in itself, that distrust is a presupposition that all men are NOT created equal- and thus, there are NOT inalienable rights for all.

Your worry is real in that what we are creating in our colleges is out of control- and those of us that disagree may very well be subject to fewer choices and fewer acceptable ways to express our beliefs.

@nooil4pacifists said...

M_O_M's right. The train slipped off the track when the left became impatient with democracy -- all that nasty campaigning! -- hijacked contentious issues, and lobbed the whole thing to the Judiciary.

And, SC&A, it wasn't always so: "The process worked well for a 150 years: as an example, though the 14th Amendment guaranteed every "person . . equal protection of the laws" and all "privileges and immunities" yet, that didn't authorize women to vote in Federal elections--because that was beyond the Amendment's scope and intent. So women's suffrage advocates campaigned and won support for the 19th Amendment--via the democratic process. If "equal protection" didn't apply to women, how could it possibly authorize gay marriage?"

MaxedOutMama said...

SC&A, you hit the nail on the head. Some leftists really don't have any respect for the citizenry of the US at all. Boomr has said as much explicitly in his comments on several of his posts. His view is that the function of the Congress is to make all the decisions themselves, rather than to represent the views of the electorate. In short, he believes in a government of an elected elite not a government largely expressing the consensus of the population.

IMO, while any one of us may be wrong and badly wrong about any particular matter, I believe the bulk of the citizenry makes correct decisions when presented with all the information. This was why the founders placed such an importance upon education, free speech and a free press - so that the electorate could make up its own mind.

It is fascinating to me that the left seems perturbed about blogs and other forms of private publishing.

Carl, that is a great case. I had never heard of that one before. However I do not think the SC of today would find it convincing as a precedent against finding a right to gay marriage within the constitution. Lawrence makes it clear that they are using a different type of logic now, based on some sort of privacy/autonomy principle.

@nooil4pacifists said...


If true -- if legislation based on morals is invalid even under the rational basis test used in Lawrence -- it's only a matter of time before judicially-imposed gay marriage is the law nationwide.

1) But consider the impact of Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 170-73 (1874), on an equal protection claim:

"The [14th] amendment did not add to the privileges and immunities of a citizen. It simply furnished an additional guaranty for the protection of such as he already had. . .

In this condition of the law in respect to suffrage in the several States it cannot for a moment be doubted that if it had been intended to make all citizens of the United States voters, the framers of the Constitution would not have left it to implication. So important a change in the condition of citizenship as it actually existed, if intended, would have been expressly declared."

If the 14th Amendment didn't permit women to vote, how could it forbid restrictions on homosexual marriage? If, as John Derbyshire observed, gay marriage is "an idea that seems not to have occurred to anyone at all in the entire span of human history until about five years ago" how could it be a privilege embodied in a provision effective in 1866?

2) As for a claim under Due Process, the case also might be helpful:

a) Liberty interest. Do liberty issues suddenly spring from the soil? If we agree the liberty's less than a century old, is it one enforceable under the 14th Amendment?

b) Fundamental. Traditionally, a state was "free to regulate . . . offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 104 (1934). It's hard to argue something no one heard of five years ago is "rooted in . . . traditions."

c) Standard of review. The test for burdening a "fundamental" rights is strict scrutiny, requiring a 1) compelling state interest; and 2) a law "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest." See Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997).

d) Not fundamental. Lawrence didn't conclude homosexual sex was "fundamental." Instead, Kennedy applied the test most favorable to the state -- where any legitimate governmental interest is sufficient -- and still found Texas had no legitimate interest in banning sodomy because anti-sodomy laws:

--were "born of animosity toward the class of persons affected" . . . and thus "had no rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose."

--violated privacy, citing Griswold and Roe (and the newly-fabricated "liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions").

--exhibited a "pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults acting in private."

--were repealed by those moral giants in all "countries that are members of the Council of Europe."

3) What if privileges, liberty or fundamental are the issue? Well, the Minor case might be a speed bump to a results-oriented Court.

In any event, expect the case to become a bit of a sociology séance, with studies spanning the range from liberal professors who favor opening marriage to gays all the way to other liberal professors who insist the Constitution requires that marriage include polygamy, toasters and farm animals. (Stanley Kurtz will submit a study showing the relationship between gay marriage and single parent families in Sweden.)

Result: no on toasters and farm animals. Yes on gay marriage.

As for polygamy,

Q: what's the penalty for bigamy?

A: two wives.