Sunday, June 06, 2010
Lost in the Secularized Public Square?
You cannot legislate morality. My father penned that cautionary statement to his children as one of the ten most important lessons he wished to impart to us after his death. Because my father was a very religious man, when I read his lesson note to us, I was a bit startled, as I thought my father’s theology would have informed/guided him to support legislating morality. There is no doubt, though, that my father’s faith informed his decisions.
I thought of this this morning as I read through an essay titled Contra Mundum: Secularism and Public Life, which delves into the propriety of religious justifications, versus secular justifications, informing decisions regarding public law.
The essay begins with a quote from Stephen Carter.
One good way to end a conversation – or start an argument – is to tell a group of well educated professionals that you hold a political position (preferably a controversial one such as being against abortion or pornography) because it is required by your understanding of God’s will. In the unlikely event that anyone hangs around to talk with you about it, chances are that you will be challenged on the ground that you are intent on imposing your religious beliefs on other people. And in contemporary political and legal culture, nothing is worse.
My response to the Carter quote would be, if an individual’s only justification for their political position is their “understanding of God’s will,” the position is shaky. With that said, I also understand and fully appreciate this statement in a post by Malone Vandam.
In either case, we face a series of crises, all of them essentially metaphysical crises, including the decline of our great religion, Christianity, whence we draw our highest transcendent universal values.
It’s pretty clear to me that America without its Scriptural underpinnings as the absolute referent for its values and mode of being looks increasingly like a postmodern Carthage, an atavistic society of degeneration that embraces a culture of death. The West and America have always seen degenerate behaviors but always had recourse to a transcendent vision that rejected them. Now we’re moving into what appears to be a phase of puritanical relativism, where degenerate behavior is normalized and the transcendent vision is rejected.
The individual as an embodied soul created in the image and likeness of God, whose duties and fidelities are infinitely more important than his appetites and urges, is reduced by puritanical relativism to a self-activating fetish who is further reduced to a bag of flesh no better than other animals and condemned to an empty and meaningless life and death.
As an individual of faith, I readily admit that my faith informs my thinking, my decisions, but my firm grip of the principle of self-reliance will not allow me to coercively impose my decision upon other individuals, or to support those who propose coercive legislating of individual lives.
Linked to essay via Wintery Night.