. . . he said, quoting the Bonnie Raitt song.
Looks like Michael Gerson agrees with us:
The religious right, at least in its cruder expressions, is indeed a phenomenon without a future.
While Archbishop Charles Chaput is talking about the press and religion.
“Journalism is a vocation, not a job,” said Chaput. “Pursued properly, journalism should enjoy the same dignity as the law or medicine because the service that journalists perform is equally important to a healthy society. I really believe that. You form people. You form the way they think and the way they live their lives. So journalists have a duty to serve the truth and the common good.”
When it comes to journalism, Chaput knows the good news and the bad news.
Alas, the journalists think they are writing about the rights of politicians, while some Catholic bishops want to discuss the salvation and, yes, damnation of souls. If journalists insist on describing this conflict in strictly political terms, he said, there is no way the public will ever understand what is happening.
“No one ever has a right to the Eucharist, and the vanity or hurt feelings of an individual Catholic governor or senator or even vice president does not take priority over the faith of the believing community,” said Chaput.
Thus, while journalists are under “no obligation to believe what the church teaches … they certainly do have the obligation to understand, respect and accurately recount how she understands herself, and especially how she teaches and why she teaches” these doctrines.
Too often, said the archbishop, inaccurate news reports about this controversy have left the impression that “access to Holy Communion … is like having bar privileges at the Elks Club.”
Oooh, that’s gonna leave a mark.
But the real stem winder for discussion comes to us courtesy Al Mohler discussing a religious anti-defamation resolution in front of the UN. I agree that the resolution should be opposed based on this statement:
The only religion mentioned in the text of the resolution is Islam.
That is a huge problem. If religious anti-defamation is not universally applied then it is in reality religious discrimination, if not religious oppression. But that is not the argument that Mohler puts forth for his opposition to the resolution. Rather he begins this way:
Intellectual integrity requires that we evaluate ideas and truth claims on the basis of their truthfulness and credibility, and not on the basis of who asserts the idea or claim.
Now there is a loaded gun. Religious truth can never be ultimately established – it is the wrong basis for evaluating a religion, from the perspective of a state. Now, Mohler is taking aim with this set-up specifically at Islam, even though he allows that Christianity has the same fundamental issue:
Again and again, Islam is referenced as the only religion singled out for protection against defamation. The reason for this is central to the identity of Islam, which is an honor religion. Thus, in the Muslim dominated world, in which blasphemy is a serious legal matter.
Anti-blasphemy laws have a long history. Classical Christianity must take both blasphemy and heresy seriously . . .
So having finally arrived the real issue, Mohler gets to the crux of the matter:
. . . but the church should not call upon the state to prosecute charges of blaspheming God or corrupting the truth of the Gospel. Heresy and blasphemy must be answered by the church, not by the state.
From the very beginning of the Christian church, believers have had to bear the offense of the cross. Our Lord was Himself despised and rejected of men, ridiculed and scorned. So also were His apostles, and all who would follow Christ faithfully.
We are called to defend the faith, but not to defend the honor of the faith, much less our own honor. We are confident of this: God will vindicate His own name, and Christ will judge the nations in righteousness. Until then, we are not to seek laws that protect our beliefs from defamation. Instead, we must seek laws that protect our right to share and to preach the Gospel.
You see the issue here? By having dug himself in this “evaluating truth claims” hole Mohler has missed the point. The problem is not defending the faith versus the honor of the faith, that is an intellectual distinction most people, myself included, cannot really make. Where is that line? Rather, the problem lies in the “how’s” of defending your faith, or when a state is doing the defending simply, faith.
What America has chosen to do is to regulate behavior, not belief. The American system allows you to believe whatever you want to believe, provided your belief does not lead you to behavior dangerous to the preservation of the society. Thus you are allowed to believe in Islam, but honor killings are forbidden, as is obviously terrorism. Thus there should not be a problem with being FLDS, but there is a problem with being polygamous. From the prespective of the state, the truth or falsity of the religion is not an issue – only the overt, actionable fruits of it.
Defaming faith, any faith, is a means of oppressing adherents to that faith. For a state to condone such defamation is indeed for the state to participate in unwarranted opression. Christians, who stand at the very core of the fight against oppression in history, should indeed stand against defamation of any faith.
Mormon history is a classic example. Mormon belief should never have been a problem in our nation. The practice of polygamy was a problem, but not the faith. Mormons were persecuted for what they believed, and that was wrong. I have said it before on this blog and I will say it again. Historically, Mormons should simply have been prosecuted, legally, for the practice of polygamy, but they should not have been driven from the nation, nor suffered the acts of intolerance that they were forced to suffer.
That is a tall order and difficult to execute as we are seeing in the current legal efforts directed at the FLDS. But note how the current efforts are carefully aimed. Prosecutions are selective, for real provable crimes. Otherwise, as distasteful as much they enagage in may be, they are left to their own devices.
Which brings me back to Mohler. Individuals should indeed choose their beliefs based on their personal evaluation of the truth claims of a religion. But the state simply cannot, since those truth claims can never be established to certainty. To use truth claims as the basis for arguing against anti-defamation action is to leave the door open for religious oppression. In point of fact, anti-defamation generally applied, is protecting “our right to share and to preach the Gospel.”
Mohler is correct to oppose this resolution put forth by the UN, it is oppressive and discriminatory, based on its specific citations of Islam. But the truth or falsity of Islam have nothing to do with the matter.
What do you think? Comment moderation is off for the weekend.
Lowell’s late post-script:
Al Mohler strikes me a sincere and dedicated proponent of his point of view. But it is important to remember: that’s who he is. He is a prominent and leading voice for many culturally and politically conservative evangelical Christians. He is not a spokesman for Christianity.
I don’t think Mohler sees himself that way, however. He regularly speaks as though he is an authority on what Christians should believe. That tendency shines through in the Mohler statements John analyzes above. The most egregious and unforgettable example is Mohler’s statement during the 2008 GOP presidential primaries that he struggled with whether to vote for Mitt Romney “as a matter of Christian discipleship.” If Romney became president, Mohler argued, that would tend to “mainstream” Mormonism and could have cause many people to accept that faith, thus imperiling their souls. (I am not making this up. We’ve posted about this many times, including an in-depth analysis here.) So like John, I am very leery of anyone setting himself up as the one who decides the “truth” of a religion, and then tells his followers how to act in the public square based on his conclusion.