As the bathroom wars continue to unfold, and as the advocates of totalitolerance continue to embrace the arts of coercion, as they continue to bombard us with ideas so fine they have to be mandatory, it has been natural for Christians to try to pivot.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be opposing same sex mirage. Perhaps we shouldn’t be opposing the rights of mentally disturbed men to pee with our daughters. I know, somebody suggests, let’s turn the discussion to matters of religious liberty. Surely there we might find some common ground there. Surely there we will be able to reach a compromise.
There may be some short term tactical relief in such a move, and I am entirely in favor of it if and when it happens. Those who fight for such tactical relief are to be commended. But there is no long-term strategic success to be found in the fight for religious liberty. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but somebody has to. Here is the reason:
Religious liberty is itself a religious value.
Religions differ. They differ wildly. They differ fundamentally. Some religions value liberty for practitioners of other religions, and some religions don’t value liberty for practitioners of other religions. Some religions respect the authority of the individual to choose his own religion, and other religions don’t allow for conversions at all. If you want the fruit called religious liberty, you have to want the tree that this kind of fruit grows on.
This means that if we want maximum liberty for people who don’t believe in Jesus, then we will have to . . . believe in Jesus. If there is no God, and if Christ did not come back from the dead, then the bi-pedal carbon unit that doesn’t believe in Jesus is nothing more than 200 pounds of protoplasm with an average temperature of 98.6, and endowed by blind evolutionary processes with nothing in particular to speak of. Rights? In order to be rights at all, human rights have to be grounded in a reality that is completely out of the reach of our elected and appointed officials. And that means religion. For the best results, it needs to be the true religion. False ones let you down.
Religion makes people fly planes into skyscrapers. Religion makes people baptize babies. Religion makes people go door to door in order to offer little pieces of paper to other people. Religion makes widows be burned alive on the pyre of their deceased husbands. Religion makes other widows mail pitiful little checks to Joel Osteen. Religion makes people build hospitals in the jungles of the Congo. Talking about what “religion” does in the world is like defining “medicine” as “pills in bottles.” I am not sure you should take that. My aunt took a pill from a bottle once and was sick for a week.
In response to this dilemma, we are often offered “secularism” as a lo-fat alternative religion. Secularism is an arrangement whereby we adjust to the realities of our cosmopolitan world, and the genius of secularism is that it accommodates everybody. Well, actually they don’t accommodate everybody — but they do accommodate everybody who is willing to be accommodated! And it must be said that the accommodations have gotten much more tight in recent weeks. We can hardly turn around anymore.
First, notice that to make “secularism” the approved religion is to establish a religion. The religion you have established has no candles, altars, or pulpits, but it remains the reigning worldview, the one that reserves to itself the authority to sit in judgment on all other religions. Thus, a secularist magistrate reserves to himself the right to pronounce that Ahmed the Jihadist is not a “true Muslim.” Good to know, good to know. I didn’t know that the State Department was issuing fatwas now. Well, they are. And when the Bible tells me not to love the world, the secularist tells me that I must applaud the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In fact, when the pride of life in a codpiece swanks out in front of us all, I am now required to applaud like a North Korean at a missile parade. If I don’t applaud the courage! the courage! I am guilty of hate. And, come to think of it, I am. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). Unfortunately for me and my verse, a gent named Marcion at the Department of Justice has recently determined that Proverbs is “in the Old Testament.
So while secularism claims not to be “a” religion, they do claim to be the arbiter of all religions — the faith of faiths, the religion of religions, the king of ki . . . better not go that far yet. Let’s give a few more months.
Second, please notice that secularism has been radically anemic in its defense of religious liberty. They have wanted to pretend that religious liberty was a value of theirs, when in reality religious liberty was a fruit of the Christian religion. As faith in Christ has waned, so also has our understanding of and commitment to religious liberty waned. As secularism has begun to function in terms of its own premises, we can readily see that their tolerance for views other than their own is rice-paper thick.
And third, this is only to be expected. Secularism has no transcendent ground for anything. There are transcendent claims, there are false transcendent claims, and then there are no transcendent claims. Jehovah spoke to Moses on the mountain of God. Muslims claim that Allah gave revelations to the prophet. But secularists issue predestinating directives and decrees from offices with eight-foot drop-down ceilings, waxed linoleum floors, and blaring florescent lights. The bureaucrat responsible for ruining your life has been sleeping at his desk for so long that one side of his head is flat. But he does wake up periodically to send you a notification.