Monday, September 06, 2010

Of course Hitch thinks this: religious practice in America is tolerable because there are limits to what is tolerated

Christopher Hitchens argues that the way to get religious groups to integrate into American culture is to prevent them from wielding the public and political power they would like to wield. Mormons have given up on polygamy and have relented on failing to define blacks as fully human. Christian Scientists can be prosecuted for allowing their children to be kept from medical care. We're a long way from the Puritans of American folklore who punish witches but Hitchens sees the application in our current time as using force of law to preclude religious groups from attempting to influence policy. Where the culture warrior Christian sees the solution to dealing with encroaching Islamic terrorism as Christians more fully embracing the faith and getting God back into America Hitchens, unsurprisingly, believes the real solution is to defang and domesticate Islam so that it is as secularized in practice as other religious views have become.

Hitchens, in his odd way, is calling for the assimilation of Islam into American civic religion. That's not what he wants, of course, what he wants is for religion to one day vanish! But the upshot of the virtual inevitability of the religious impulse in humanity is that religion won't go away any time soon (if ever) and what cannot be conquered must be domesticated.

Now as a Christian there are all sorts of things I find disagreeable about Hitchens' approach. I do suggest, for the sake of discussion (not that a blog is a place to promote much discussion most of the time), that perhaps Hitchens' argument is the one that will prove most effective. Christians who want to use Christian dogma as the primary means to battle the encroachment of whatever variations of godless governance they see are forgetting how many Christians spoke about and treated the Catholics and Mormons who are now staples of conservative movements. Some fifty years ago there was a widespread worry that a Catholic in the executive office would be beholden to the Pope. A few years ago there were worries that a Mitt Romney would end up having Mormons dictate policy decisions.

Of course there are Christians who worry that if Muslims get more public influence we'll get sharia law ... even though if you peruse some of the literature of reconstructionists and theonomists you find that there's room for the two apparently contrasting movements to agree on a few things about the place of women and the value of public education. There is a sense in which we as Christians cannot really have it both ways.

There are distinct disadvantages to such a secularist state as we have but I am not sure American Christians realize what a great blessing that may be for our time and place and whether or not the Lord has a providential purpose in it. Sure, I don't know what that purpose would be but since I can't claim to know the mind of God on that issue or His will on that issue I don't have to pretend to even have a guess. It just may be that things which conservative Christians most fret about have a divine purpose we do not fully appreciate. Even Samson, stupid, violent horndog that he was, was used by the Lord to accomplish a particular purpose. If Christians doubt that God can use stupid, imcompetent, self-aggrandizing, morally corrupt or religiously apostate leaders to accomplish a greater purpose then they have just forgotten how often the scriptures remind us of this reality.

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