Saturday, May 9, 2015

Respect the Establishment

The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else.
David Frum, "The Right to Blaspheme"
I disagree. The right to blaspheme is one that most of us don't care about because, as much as the United States is often described as a Puritanical nation, we simply don't give a rip about blasphemy. When Mr. Frum describes grabbing a consecrated communion wafer, breaking it, and tossing it to the floor as blasphemy, it was news to me, and I took four years of Roman Catholic theology in high school. For us in the 1980s (I graduated high school about three years before the incident Frum recounts) blasphemy was something that went out of style when the Crusades did. We'd heard of it, but I doubt that anyone in my graduating class, had you put them on the spot, could have told you how to commit it. Given that, it's easy for me "to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics." For me, Mr. Frum's focus on Americans' relatively non-existent concern with issues of blasphemy as means of making the point that we're not in the business of enforcing religious dogma demonstrates how an apples-to-apples comparison can be misleading. When we look at things that the Christian community does seem to concern itself with, we find a concerted effort to enforce religious dogma on others who don't believe in it - and the real difference between radical Islam and radical Christianity.

When one looks at efforts to restrict access to elective (and in some cases, medically necessary) abortions, or to stop/roll back marriage rights for same-sex couples, you see prominent conservative Christian groups leading these efforts, which are mainly aimed at altering the legislative landscape in the country. Yes, assaults and murders in the name of "pro-life" and/or "traditional marriage" are rare. But that's because most people in the United States are not in the business of deciding that if secular law and "natural law" come into conflict, that natural law needs rough men ready to do violence on its behalf. Which is something of a change from the first half of the previous century, when extrajudicial killing, to either supplement or supplant the legal system, was more en vogue. Yes, one can make the point that even staunch Christians put forward (supposedly) secular reasons for why abortions should be outlawed and marriage restricted to heterosexual couples, but this is because the United States is no longer at a point where blatant appeals to Christian teaching can pass muster as not representing "an establishment of religion." It strikes me that someone who understands the legalization of abortion and oral/anal sex as "dark, tragic pages in our history" or says that "Government Has No Right to Renounce its Natural Law Duty to Uphold Morality in the Pursuit of the Common Good" does not, in fact, "take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else." Their expectation that secular laws will enforce their preferred religious dogma seems pretty front-and-center.

It's true that American Christians are at peace with the idea that if civil/criminal law doesn't line up with their religious sentiments, they're simply out of luck. They blame it on "society," and go on about their business. Sure, some grouse when something tragic happens, blaming it in whole or in part on the United States not being Christian enough. But for the most part, there is a certain confidence that the divine can take care of itself, and while they'd prefer that secular law codes their dogmas into public policy, they see no reason to use violence to support that preference.

But I also think that Americans simply don't take it as personally as some people in the Islamic world do, in large part because Americans don't feel terribly marginalized on the basis of religion. There is some complaining about Christians being the only acceptable targets left in the United States - but men, women, Hispanics and likely goldfish complain about the same thing. Coupled with the typical American's ability to ignore most of what's happening in the world at large and our general lack of concern with religious issues this lack of feeling directly assaulted likely goes a long way to explaining why no-one freaks out (assuming they even know what's going on) when someone desecrates the host.

There is a desire for legally-enforced lip service to particular understandings of Christianity. It's simply aimed in a different direction than that of radical Islam.

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