Garnett rightly points to the “important 2008 volume called Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, [where] an ideologically diverse collection of scholars identified carefully the many ‘potential church-state conflicts’ that have been and will be ‘triggered by redefining legal marriage’,” and then he acknowledges that the conflicts will not, in all likelihood, “involve direct regulation of sacraments or rituals.”
Instead, what is likely to happen—what is already happening, in fact—is that these conflicts will erupt and play out not within religious communities themselves but in the sphere of civil society, where they will involve, for example, requirements for professional licensing and accreditation, limits on religiously inspired expression and advocacy regarding marriage in public education and employment, conditions on otherwise generally available public benefits or on cooperation between governments and religious social-welfare agencies, expansions of the wide range of antidiscrimination laws and conscientious objections to those laws’ application, and attacks on the charitable and tax-exempt status of religious entities that adhere in their practices and teaching to the traditional view of marriage.
Then came the chilling-but-realistic conclusion:
It is easier to respect religious freedom in law and policy when everyone agrees or when governments do not do very much. With disagreement and regulation, however, inevitably comes conflict between religious commitments and legal requirements and, when it comes, the majority tends to take care of itself. What about the rest? In a constitutional democracy like ours, we are generally willing to absorb some costs and suffer some inconveniences in order to accommodate the invocation of rights by dissenting or idiosyncratic minorities, especially when the majority thinks that it has a stake in those rights. For example, America still takes a robustly libertarian approach to the freedom of speech, and protects offensive and worthless expression to an anomalous extent, because most Americans still think that protecting misuses and abuses of the right is “worth it.”
However, as religious liberty increasingly comes to be seen as something clung to by a few rather than cherished and exercised by many, as religious traditions and teachings start to strike many as the expensive and even dangerous concerns of quirky, alien margin-dwellers, and as the “benefits” of allowing religious believers’ objections or religious institutions’ independence to stand in the way of the majority’s preferred policies begin to look more like extractions by small special-interest groups than broadly shared public goods, we should expect increasing doubts about whether religious liberty is really “worth it.” We should be concerned that the characterization by the majority in Windsor of DOMA’s purpose and of the motives of the overwhelming and bipartisan majority of legislators that supported it reflects a view that those states—and religious communities—that reject the redefinition of marriage are best regarded as backward and bigoted, unworthy of respect. Such a view is not likely to generate compromise or accommodation and so it poses a serious challenge to religious freedom.
In my words, same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom because Americans feel confident that government will stay outside the four wall of their pluriform “churches,” the fabled religiosity of Americans is nominal (in both the “skin deep” and philosophical senses), and American nominalist religious folks really don’t feel any sympathy with us oddballs who think that faith has something to do with objective reality, and who accordingly can’t cabin faith within sacraments and rituals.
I find that very scary, but it rings true. Nominalism is in the DNA of much American religion, so even fierce adherence, as in parts of the Evangelical world, still leaves reality here, Monday through Saturday, faith over there, for an hour on Sunday. See Robin Phillips excellent series on Nominalism and Realism. The sole purpose of faith here is reassure people that you’re a Good Christian® as you lighten their wallets.
In Dreher’s words:
Hence the Law Of Merited Impossibility:
The Law Of Merited Impossibility is an epistemological construct governing the paradoxical way overclass opinion makers frame the discourse about the clash between religious liberty and gay civil rights. It is best summed up by the phrase, “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”
[H/T: First Things.]
Indeed, “if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature,” declared writer Paul Elie in “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” a much-discussed essay for the New York Times Book Review. Consider the absurdity of the situation: “With something like 170 million adherents in the United States, a faith that for centuries seeped into every nook and cranny of our society now plays a role [akin to that of] some statues left behind in an old building, bewildering the new occupants.”
…[W]ere you to tell a [Barnes & Noble] clerk you were interested in reading some morally serious contemporary writing, you might be introduced to the books of New York Times bestselling author David Shields.Sophisticated, ambitious, and widely praised as an exemplar of our age’s ethical-literary sensibility, Shields offers a polemically narcissistic, aggressively atheistic vision of how and why literature should matter to us, premised upon the willfully inward, selfish turn that follows from rejecting God and religion. If Augustine counseled us to read literature as a means of increasing our love of our neighbors and ultimately our love of God, Shields counsels us to read literature to increase our love of ourselves, because there’s no one else that matters.As he declares in his most influential work, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, “So: no more masters, no more masterpieces. What I want (instead of God the novelist) is self-portrait in a convex mirror.”
The United States have (has?) been ineffectual or counterproductive on religious freedom abroad, although the International Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1998.
Thomas Farr adduces a number of structural reasons why, of which one fits Richard Garnett’s narrative all too well:
Which leads us to another, related structural problem. The Office of International Religious Freedom was established in the State Department by congressional mandate; State’s permanent bureaucracy, like other permanent bureaucracies, is exceptionally skillful at hermetically sealing off anything it regards as an alien body from the serious policy-planning action. Thus the office and the U.S. special ambassador for international religious freedom (a post also mandated by Congress) have often been isolated within State, underfunded, and cut off from access to the Secretary of State and other officials with real policy-making authority.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)