Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Squeezing Morality Out of the Public Square

A friend gave me this article this morning, and I found it to be a very incisive comment on the state of moral judgment in our culture today. Here is a snippit:

Those who think Christians should keep their moral views to themselves, it seems to me, are logically bound to deplore many praiseworthy causes, including the abolition movement, which was mostly the work of the evangelical churches courageously applying Christian ideas of equality to the entrenched institution of slavery. The slave owners, by the way, frequently used "don't impose your values" arguments, contending that whether they owned blacks or not was a personal and private decision and therefore nobody else's business. The civil rights movement, though an alliance of Christians, Jews, and nonbelievers, was primarily the work of the black churches arguing from explicitly Christian principles.

Double standard. The "don't impose" people make little effort to be consistent, deploring, for example, Roman Catholics who act on their church's beliefs on abortion and stem cells but not those who follow the pope's insistence that the rich nations share their wealth with poor nations or his opposition to the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq. If the "don't impose" people wish to mount a serious argument, they will have to attack "imposers" on both sides of the issues they discuss--not just their opponents. They will also have to explain why arguments that come from religious beliefs are less worthy than similar arguments that come from secular principles or simply from hunches or personal feelings. Nat Hentoff, a passionate opponent of abortion, isn't accused of imposing his opinions, because he is an atheist. The same arguments and activity by a Christian activist would most likely be seen as a violation of some sort.

I agree. It seems the very fact of some religious backdrop to a decision disqualifies it from the public square. As Leo points out, those who think this way have massive lacunae in their understanding of the shape of the modern world. Trying to squeeze moral positions out of the public square simply because they are religious is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. We might as well disqualify murder, theft, adultery, etc.

2 comments:

Dory said...

From the article:"They will also have to explain why arguments that come from religious beliefs are less worthy than similar arguments that come from secular principles or simply from hunches or personal feelings."

I don't think we should accept the premise that so-called secular beliefs are not religious. Why is the statement "God exists," a religious belief, but "God does not exist," is not? Neither is tested by physical evidence. Why is the belief that God has no relevance to law less religious than a belief that He does?

What frustrates me is that Christians respond to the "Don't impose your morality," charge by shrinking back and allowing the secularists to impose theirs--and take our money to pay for it.

Dory
www.WittenbergGate.net

Phil Steiger said...

I definitely think it is true that many Christians have bought into the notion that in order to be taken seriously, they need to put aside their faith. This is one reason why it is so fascinating to watch Christians and theists of other stripes make their way into the philosophical world in a big way.