I’m really worried that this is going to be misunderstood, but I’m publishing it anyway. No, this guy is not advocating theocracy. Kind of the opposite, I think. I’m not sure.
This (I want to memorialize it as a bibliographic citation, not just a link, so see below) is quite simply one of the best, most interesting, most helpful things on the church-and-state question that I’ve read… in a long time, I think.
And this, I submit, is the real gravamen of the First Amendment religion clauses: not to protect the freedom of either the church or religious individuals, but to protect the state from influence by the church or religious individuals. So long as neither the church nor individual religious believers presume to judge the legitimacy of the regime or particular laws within the regime on explicitly religious grounds, both may enjoy tolerance; religious liberty is merely a means to the end of protecting the state. But when either church or individual presses the boundaries of the “truce of tolerance,” the First Amendment’s protection of the state from religious opinion will demand that the religious opinion or activity be abrogated.
Thus orthodox Christianity, as an example, is in double jeopardy. First, it violates the spirit of the myth of religious freedom by claiming that it may discipline the consciences of its individual members. The church insists that religious freedom is freedom of the church. Second, the church insists that its faithful and obedient members must be allowed full participation in the political process even if that participation leads them to cast votes, formed by church teaching, that either affect non-Christians or undermine the state’s necessary myths and rites, or both. The church violates both the end of the First Amendment and the means to achieving this end.
The third myth is that religious liberty is possible in any modern political regime. The first and overwhelming priority of any regime, including this one, is jealously to protect its principles, rituals, and institutions. One of those principles is a commitment to religious indifference.
By “religious indifference,” I mean an attitude of adherence to one set of religious doctrines, but without any concomitant idea that this excludes the “truth” of competing and contradictory religious doctrines. While one might believe that religion has some value to human life, it really makes little difference what that religion is, just so long as that central notion is maintained. Religious belief which would presume to exclude the truth (defined as usefulness to the individual consistent with irrelevance to political life) of other religious belief is an exotic intruder into a realm of indifference. This is exemplified by Thomas Jefferson’s quip that it neither picks his pockets nor breaks his leg how many gods his neighbor believes in. Religious opinion is not relevant to questions of politics and policy. Religious opinion that presumes to be so is, by definition, excluded from rational standing…
The fourth myth that needs to be dispelled is that religious believers are best off in a regime like this one that is so successful in propagating its myth of religious indifference; or worse, that such a regime is a product of Christianity. For Christians to assume that we have the “right” to enjoy the same liberty as everyone else is a prejudice borrowed from the alien liberal myth. And if the church assumes this prejudice it also assumes the philosophical and political story that informs it. Thus, it will find a need to give theological sanction to the very myth which has designs on marginalizing orthodox religious belief in America.
In other words, I do not believe that Christians have an interest in defending and furthering the idea of religious liberty as a political good. This is because the only regnant definition of religious liberty in American political discourse is one that has designs on marginalizing, if not eradicating as a significant presence, orthodox religious belief. The American story is not interested in persecuting Christianity to death. Toleration is a much more effective means, especially if the liberal regime is successful in enlisting Christians to give it aid and comfort.
The choice between liberalism and religious orthodoxy is not a choice between reason and dogma; rather it is a choice between competing dogmas. Or one could say that it is a choice between competing tradition-laden rationalities. In both liberalism and orthodox religious faith, the terms and conditions must be accepted as “reasonable” by one’s interlocutor; and what counts as reasonable is precisely the same as what counts as a legitimate reason. And what counts as legitimate reasons are those assertions that are consistent with the discourse of the community by which one is formed. Christians have no stake in liberal religious liberty, because they have no stake in the tradition that makes it “rational.”The Catholic idea of religious freedom is neither interested in, nor capable of, securing the kind of undifferentiated religious liberty that liberalism (falsely) claims to have secured, because the Catholic principle recognizes that such an idea of freedom in a pluralistic political society is neither a possible nor even an ideal good to be pursued. Like liberalism, Catholicism is concerned with establishing freedom for itself, on its own terms; unlike liberalism, the Catholic idea attempts to ground derivative political-religious liberty for non-adherents in its own theology. But it makes no claim that this derivative liberty is not necessarily relativized and mitigated by the church’s own precedent freedom, as granted by God. It does not claim to have a neutral principle. But this Catholic insistence that its own freedom is precedent does not, per se, distinguish it from liberalism. Liberalism, too, secures the highest level of religious liberty for its own adherents, while tolerating non-adherents within carefully constructed boundaries. The Catholic idea is simply more honest about the impossibility of securing, in principle, absolutely equivalent religious freedom for all people.Christians have no interest in finding a political principle which facilitates disbelief in Christ; their interest is rather to induce people to believe by witnessing to the resurrection of the Christ who, Christians believe, relativizes all political theories, and who commands that people bind themselves to none — indeed that we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ alone as King. In this context Stanley Hauerwas and Michael Baxter, C.S.C., have recently concluded that we might have to leave the problem of church and state “profoundly unresolved.” If a resolution implies that the theologian’s task is to give theological approval to a particular regime, I would say that it is the mandate of the theologian (and the religious believer more generally) to leave the question profoundly unresolved. The history of attempts to resolve the question is the history of religious believers sacrificing the integrity of their faith to the interests of the political regime.
This is not quite right. It’s not. He’s leaving things out, he’s dismissing any trace of post-milennealism, and above all he’s setting up an intransigent hostility which he believes Christians must have to authority as it is embodied on earth: he’s wrong here, because we must understand that it’s in the context of our own lives, our own responses to (relatively) good authority, that we are trained in the habits of virtue and loyalty and community membership. If we’re in a polis that doesn’t throw Christians into the arena with the lions or Jews into the little rooms with the Zyklon-B, we must give great thanks, and we must work for the good of these relatively good polities.
But. He so clearly articulates, here, my allergy to the neoliberal End of History triumphalism, that I can’t avoid one more quote: It is, he says,
precisely liberalism’s presumption to have put all questions to rest (on its own terms and by its own rules) which compels the Christian to be highly suspicious of this “solution,” and to work all the more diligently to find another more adequate theory particular to his own faith.
And one more thing: I think that the bibliographic citation is a beautiful tradition in danger of being lost in this era of linkfests. It’s a technology of ordering information that, like the index and the chapter-and-verse references in Scripture, is something worth valuing. And so I will do my part to keep it alive, right here:
Craycraft, Kenneth R.
“The Myth of Religious Freedom: ‘Tolerating’ Christianity into Irrelevance”
New Oxford Review, April,