Nonsensical Secularist Caricature

Long ago if not far away, I sometimes speculated about what religion I’d be if I wasn’t Christian. I thought I’d probably be Bahai, because Diamond Girl was really cool and Bahais were pariahs in lands where pariahood was a badge of honor.

I now think the question was nonsensical, a gussied-up equivalent of “what would you believe if you didn’t believe what you do believe?” The appropriate response isn’t even “damned if I know.” It’s “what the hell kind of question is that?!”

Yet a distinguished retired attorney writes in a letter to the editor that “we must not make a decision on HJR-3 on biblical or any other religious grounds.” He apparently thinks that there is such a thing as “what Christians would believe if they stripped away their archaic religious notions.”

There is not. There is no such thing as a values-neutral polity. Liberals, despite their self-flattery as “open-minded,” are every bit as dedicated to imposing a vision of The Good on the polity as any Christian.

What positive vision of the good is our retired barrister advancing for our voters who observe his fatwa? “The marriage contract has extensive legal consequences, and the right to make such a contract should be available to all citizens, equally, no matter what their body chemistry or religion.”

Note, first, that this claim is not an argument just against HJR-3, but is a claim for abolishing Indiana’s current statutory definition of marriage and instituting … well, what? “No matter what their body chemistry or religion” is pretty sweeping. I know a couple of religions that don’t limit marriage to two. There are a lot of “body chemistries” represented on sex offender registries.

It won’t do to try to dismiss this point by taking umbrage, or getting the vapors, or gasping that I’m “comparing a loving same-sex couple to perverts and Sultans.” I’m just taking his expansive “neutral” vision at face value.

Second, his metaphor “no matter what their body chemistry” seems to suggest a human right to government assistance in sexual autonomy – surely a vision of The Good.

Third, he privileges his own deepest moral or philosophical commitments above those he scorns as religious (yes, “scorn” is the right word since he twice gratuitously associates the Bible with condonation of slavery). He is privileging (as convenient stand-ins for whoever his real guiding lights are) Marx, Darwin, Dewey and Freud over Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as if convictions gained from the former were not functionally every bit as religious as the latter.

United States v. Seeger (380 U.S. 163, 1965) suggests otherwise:

The test of religious belief within the meaning of the [conscientious objector provisions of the selective service system] is whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption.

(Italics added) Egalitarian liberalism is such a quasi-religious belief for many.

Fourth – and here is where he comes closest to making me take umbrage and suffer my own case of the vapors –he betrays a bizarre caricature of how religion functions in the life of a believer.

He envisions religious folks thinking, for instance, “my common, neutral sense says that everybody should be able to get married, but the Bible says otherwise; since the Bible is an illicit consideration, I must vote my neutral common sense.”

But a religion held deeply and with integrity carries with it a view of what is truly true, and of what constitutes human well-being. In other words, anyone who can, upon demand, distinguish

  1. what he thinks is truly true from
  2. what is merely religiously true

is truly irreligious beneath the thinnest and most nominal veneer.

Tens of millions of Christian (and presumably other) believers have a more integral and organic experience of faith. We could not possibly set aside our religious convictions and decide matters of gravity merely on non-religious grounds — any more than secularists could set aside their liberal egalitarianism (or whatever you want to call it). There simply is no ground under our feet more secure, and less religious, than the ground we’ve built our lives on already. We’re not Biblicists with lists of proof-texts in our pockets to pull out as an Unreality Check if we catch ourselves acting too rationally.

None of this is meant to imply that people with an integral and organic experience of faith will uniformly take one side or the other in the debate over HJR-3. It surely matters what faith, including secular equivalents of faith, one experiences integrally and organically. A deep and integral Unitarian Universalist is unlikely to hold opinions identical to the Monk on Mount Athos.

But the distinction between licitly voting based on a doctrine of the equal dignity of all sexual orientations and illicitly voting based on religion is worse than false. It’s just nonsensical secularist caricature.

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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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.