Who is the one imposing religious belief?


At The Huffington Post, a Christian pastor has recently demanded an end to religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws. She sees them as veiled bigotry by those who would “impose their religion on others by using the courts or legal actions.” Is this really the case?

Observe the language The Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson uses:

Now, we realize religious exemption from the law is a dangerous by-product of religious bigotry, not religious liberty. Now, we see the harm. Systematically, anti-LGBTQ forces repeated and repeated again that their religious freedom would be harmed by LGBTQ equality; our marriages, our jobs, our families somehow harmed them. If they couldn’t exclude us, fire us, or destroy our families, their relationship with Jesus would be diminished — their families would be less valuable.

Wilson depersonalizes supporters of religious exemptions by calling them “anti-LGBTQ forces.” This label reduces religious freedom proponents to grotesque caricatures who don’t advocate for exemptions out of legitimate interest, but oppose LGBTQ-identified persons in their very being. This claim should not be made lightly or rashly; it tars others with the broadest and darkest brush. It kills rational discourse.

The Reverend Doctor exhorts later on:

It is time to blow the whistle on religious demagogues who say they are victims if they are not allowed to take away the rights of others.

Notice the framing of the issue: “taking away the rights of others.” For Hobby Lobby, this is the right to force one’s employer to pay for a health service that violates that employer’s conscience. For ENDA, this is the right to force a church to hire someone who openly, and without compunction, practices a lifestyle that is proscribed by its tenets. These are not innocuous claims to the right to to be left alone–known as negative liberty– but rights to positively impose one’s own favored moral precept on another person who holds to a disfavored moral precept. This is an Orwellian abuse of language.

Wilson warns that:

There will always be religious leaders — both well-intentioned and nefarious — who try to impose their religion on others by using the courts or legal actions.

Who is imposing on whom? Wilson’s rhetoric is incredible. Progressives invent new rights to transform society after their own particular fashion. Then, when a conservative wants to be left alone to continue in her own traditional, free association, the progressive uses courts and legal actions to allege that the conservative is the one imposing beliefs! This perverse hijacking of language must be resisted by people of good will.

Certainly, many who identify as LGBTQ have suffered ostracism at the hands of those who claim to be religious. It may even be true that new legislative protections are needed in the workplace. Indeed, LGBTQ-identified persons, like all human persons, bear the image of God and have their rights in virtue of this fact.

But simply saying the magic words “equality” and “rights” cannot legitimate Rev. Dr. Wilson’s imposition of her particular religious beliefs onto others wishing to stay true to their own. If religion means anything, it pertains to a community of people who are striving to conform to shared standards. The right to freely associate with others, especially based on their freely chosen actions, should be obvious for such a community. Contrary to popular belief, sexual activity (not orientation) really is among the many kinds of freely chosen actions. This is not to judge others for who they are.

Free association is precisely what opponents of religious exemptions want to take away. That’s illiberal and retrogressive. Let’s not go there.

Theocracy from the Left; or, Other people’s money

At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, President Obama played up his Christian faith, declaring “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” Attempting to marshal scripture in support of his idea of fairness, he ended up inserting a theological foot into his political mouth by conflating God and government.  In this, Mr. Obama managed to betray an aloofness from mainstream churches as well as raise a troubling portent for civil libertarians.

With the words “much shall be required,” what else did the Central-Planner-in-Chief mean but to put the tax man’s moral authority on par with God’s?  Christians understand that God doesn’t compel anyone to obedience, but leaves each of us to our free will and our conscience.  By contrast, human government must compel its citizens.  Taxes are collected ultimately at the barrel of a gun.  That’s why the founders saw it as essential to limit what is “required” by the government.

During the Bush years, a handful of agitated liberals spawned a new book industry, warning of theocracy arising from the Religious Right.  If history’s any predictor, President Obama’s statement should launch a new wave of dire tomes warning against a theocracy of the Religious Left.  The social justice crowd that rallies behind Obama’s fairness push is out of touch with America’s exceptional ethos and experience: that a people, under the guidance of God and conscience, and free from a central meddler, have built for the world a Shining City on a Hill.

Besides conflating God and government, the President and his tax-the-rich allies have committed another type of unforced error in their moral reasoning.  Mr. Obama, investment wiz Warren Buffett, and retired Google exec Eric Schmidt have each, in recent times, implored that their own taxes be raised.  Their advocacy sweeps up all the fellow earners in their tax bracket, both the willing and unwilling.  How is this kind of appeal sensible?  It’s a perverse, inverted golden rule.  Like saying you personally don’t mind being bludgeoned, so it’s okay to bludgeon your peers.  It seems as if these folks are hoping your brain isn’t turned on.  Or maybe that you won’t notice theirs aren’t.  There’s a certain kind of arrogance in volunteering other people’s money.

So in a couple of ways Obama and company’s moral arguments are really lacking.  But don’t forget the facts about our nation’s recent Great Society redux.  Stephen Moore’s op-ed challenge to the White House fairness narrative provides us with a rich inventory of ways our big government has failed us to date .  Among the more salient is the mounting concentration of national wealth in the suburbs of Washington DC; the top three median income counties in the nation are clustered in the DC metro area.  Such a backslide of civilization would give any shameless, caviar-chomping commissar of Soviet-era Moscow a run for his money.  And we know that whatever part of our nation’s economic lifeblood that does not end up feeding a Falls Church jumbo mortgage tends to get lost in legislative backscratching or bureaucratic head-scratching.

Anyway you dice the tax dollar, Washington isn’t justified in its spending increases.  Given President Obama’s deficit deafness, and Democrats’ contorted fairness distractions, voters need to just say “No!” and oust the tax-grubbing big spenders this November.

Bootstraps versus Knapsacks

The California state budget fiasco has afforded me some free time recently, so I’ve been doing some spring cleaning.  Among the relics I unearthed from recent months were the collected handouts for a class  on race taught at my church last year.  It was a sad reminder that leftist agitprop had infiltrated the Sunday classroom.  I mean no disrespect for those who earnestly pursue God’s will in matters of race and justice.  Yet,  the ideas propagated in those papers and discussions contribute to an unhealthy, counterproductive worldview.

One particularly troubling area of the race curriculum is its prescribed journey from bootstraps to knapsacks.  Since I first encountered these two concepts in the same context, they have always seemed at odds.  Bootstraps and knapsacks are mutually exclusive; people tend to love one and hate the other.  In one corner is the classic “up by the bootstraps” idea that hard work begets success in America.  As an alternative, progressives offer the red pill notion that any comfort, success, and prosperity are owed instead to an “invisible knapsack of privilege.”  No, you can’t make this stuff up.  The  idea originated in the 1980s with feminist Peggy McIntosh.  Now if you take success and prosperity to be synonymous with  being white, you have the original gist of the knapsack.

McIntosh’s personal revelations notwithstanding, I find the knapsack lacks effective explanatory power from where I stand as a mixed race, conservative man in a tremendously free and prosperous society.  I find it more relevant to look at success in America as a general whole rather than assume that success is the exclusive reserve of some monolithic group called  “whites.”  Yet knapsack proponents are eager to showcase McIntosh’s writing as a contrast to bootstraps in the hope of inducing an aha! moment that race is integrally relevant to American success.  Any serious-minded person who encounters these two tangling visions must decide which one will ultimately color (no pun intended) their own life at the everyday level.

In their existential tendencies, knapsack and bootstraps could not be more divergent.  In spite of its good intentions, knapsack supplants bootstraps’ twin senses of gratitude and agency with a new malaise of victimhood and guilt.  In doing away with bootstraps, knapsack denies us the ability to thank our parents, ancestors, and even our Creator for their respective roles in contributing to our current comfort and success.  From its secular Leftist roots, knapsack can only give us an impersonal, monolithic explanation that oppression is the true father of our prosperity.  Its as depressing as when Luke Skywalker discovers that Darth Vader is his dad. Progressive Christians mean well when they attempt to carve a path for American repentance, but they damage worldviews when they uphold knapsack and dismiss bootstraps.  American history is marked more by opportunity than by oppression.  But supposing the facts to be in dispute, such an assertion would be better defended in a separate post.  Existentially, bootstraps thinking cultivates an “attitude of gratitude” that in turn nurtures desire for stewardship. This then necessitates individual accountability, and all three of these are integral to Christian living.  Knapsack, however, turns us to navel-gazing and perpetually renewed  calls for dialog that might make good sound bites but do little to effect meaningful change.  Instead of attending ponderous powwows that reinforce progressive dogmas, Christians sincerely pursuing what is right and good should look critically at knapsack thinking and reclaim as their own the virtues of the bootstraps ethic.

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