The dead end of religious liberty

Fred Clark:

“Religious liberty” no longer refers to the constitutional principle enshrined in the First Amendment. It is a buzzword, a misleading slogan asserting religious privilege exclusive to a particular variety of politically conservative Christian — which is to say a privilege only for the kinds of Christians who always and only support the Republican Party.

I’m increasingly convinced that religious liberty in the United States has become a dead end, in part because of the way in which the concept has been abused in recent years by Hobby Lobby and others. Rather than being a shield to protect people of faith from state coercion, it has become a sword to hack away at the foundations of civil society—the very idea that there are things we must hold in common if we are going to have any kind of polity. It probably merits a post of its own, but this also applies to the tradition of war tax resistance and/or advocacy for a peace tax fund that many Quakers have participated in. At a time when the things that bind us together as a society are so fragile, I’m wary of efforts that smack of isolating oneself from the sins of the world, rather than building solidarity in hopes that, God willing, those sins might be overcome.

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Passivity is not an option

What are the reasons to choose nonviolent methods of resisting evil (as opposed to acquiescing to evil by criticizing violent resistance to it)? One reason may be spiritual: If you walk in the Light of Christ and are in that power, you are beyond the temptation to commit acts of violence to get what you want—recall that the Bible identifies lust as the principal cause of war and fighting. Another reason may be practical: Adhering to nonviolence even when under attack by one’s enemy ends up discrediting the enemy and prevents an escalating cycle of violence that would hurt your own cause.

In both cases, however, passivity is not an option. You must put your body on the line in some fashion, whether it to be to receive the enemy’s blows or by overwhelming the enemy through thousands of bodies like your own, as for example when thousands of counter-protesters routed a band of white nationalists that were marching in Boston.

Defeated

Nothing symbolizes the foreclosure of the future like the slaughter of a nation’s young. And it’s so routine now — there have been at least eight this year at a school or college where someone was injured or killed — that attention will quickly fade, as it does with subjects one doesn’t intend to do anything about. Another word for that bitter fatalism is “defeat.”

And we have been, in an important moral sense, defeated. We won’t do anything about it, or can’t; the fact is so well understood that we don’t even need new commentaries stating as much for each shooting — we just recycle the old ones, from the old shootings. If this is what American freedom means, if this is what the Constitution entails, if this is where prayer gets us, then it’s easy to understand why millennials — the first generation to be raised on a steady stream of schoolhouse slaughter — barely believe in anything, democracy, American-style liberty, America’s future and organized religion included.

Elizabeth Bruenig