Why Religious Freedom is Bad

A provocative statement, no? Stanley Hauerwas is no stranger to provocative statements, and this is one he makes in After Christendon: How the Church is to Behave if Freedom, Justice and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas. Not that Hauerwas claims to be a proponent of either formal establishment or of inquisition. Rather, he says that “religious freedom” in the American context gave the church no alternative but to become the chaplain to the state. Hauerwas’ concern is not with the state or with society, but rather with the church:

Because Christians have been so concerned with supporting social and legal institutions that sustain freedom of religion, we have failed to notice that we are no longer a people who make it interesting for a society to acknowledge our freedom. Put differently, in such a context, believer and nonbeliever alike soon being to think that what matters is not whether our convictions are true but whether they are functional. We thus fail to remember that the question is not whether the church has the freedom to preach the gospel in America, but whether the church in America preaches the gospel as truth. The question is not whether we have freedom of religion and a corresponding limited state in America, but whether we have a church that has a people capable of saying no to the state. No state, particularly the democratic state, is kept limited by constitutions, but rather states are limited by a people with the imagination and courage to challenge the inveterate temptation of the state to ask us to compromise our loyalty to God. (p. 70-71)

I agree with Hauerwas. Not because I wish to compel religious belief or church membership (indeed, I have written in the past at this blog that the nation-state is the inheritor of Christendom and the citizen is to the state what Christian was to the Constantinian church), but because the church in the Enlightenment, whether “liberal” (politically or theologically) or conservative (natch), has inherited all of the Enlightenment’s assumptions and presuppositions about what society is, the role of the Church and of the Christian in “society,” and the moral legitimacy of the state. A church that accepts the moral legitimacy of the state cannot effectively question the state’s actions because it eventually wants what is best for the state and for society, as opposed to wanting to be a faithful witness to the Gospel. It wishes to have influence and be effective rather than speak truth.

The Enlightenment church still seeks to be part of the Constantinian deal of “Christian” power.

Hauerwas also points our something else, something I think is actually significant in much of the rhetoric (especially conservative and neoconservative rhetoric) used in the “War on Terror” (sic):

In effect liberals [in the classic philosophical sense] … no longer believe in the justification of liberal democracies based on the philosophical strategies of the Enlightenment, but the still want liberal results [of open-minded, reasonable societies]. Any other alternative would entail, they fear, a return to the kind of conflicts occasioned by the assumption that religious convictions should have public and even political expression. The whole point, after all, of the philosophical and political developments since the Enlightenment is to create people incapable of killing other people in the name of God.

Ironically, since the Enlightenment’s triumphs, people no longer kill one another in the name of God but in the names of nation-states. Indeed I think it can be suggested that the political achievement of the Enlightenment has been to create people who believe it necessary to kill other in the interest of something called “the nation,” which is allegedly protecting and ensuring their freedom as individuals. […]

Indeed one would like to know how liberals … understand the status of nations. For Anthony Giddens argues in The Nation-State and Violence, that nation-state as we know it is a remarkably different entity from the absolutist state that preceded it. Whereas the absolutist state was primarily concerned with maintaining control over a territory for purposes of taxation, that nation-state, which exists in a complex of other such nation-states, is “a set of institutional forms of governance maintaining an administrative monopoly over a territory with demarcated boundaries (borders), its rule being sanctioned by law and direct control of the means of internal and external violence.”

I mention the “War on Terror” and the alleged horror that killing in the name of God supposedly brings to civilized Enlightenment people. But the same people — the same pundits and ordinary folks who condemn the alleged medieval qualities of revolutionary Islam — have few or no qualms about killing on behalf of states and governments. Which I find interesting.

One thought on “Why Religious Freedom is Bad

  1. MArtin Luther was a strong proponent of the freedom of conscience, as were the disciples of Jesus. Christ`s disciples rejected the authority of the established Church leaders, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29. Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. Only Papits, atheists and Islamists hate freedom of religion, speech, and conscience, for it allows, the gospel to be preached freely, and they work against those freedoms in the media and political and religious cirles, to nullify and restrict those freedoms. But are the Muslims free to preach their false religion in their countries? Yes. So why should once predominantly Christian America silence those freedoms for the sake of the “common good”, and to guard against offensive remarks of any kind, even if it is the truth of the Bible? Jesus said, “ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you,” John 15:14, not whatsoever the State commands you, or some Federal law commands you. Preaching the gospel in a nation founded on Christian principles, should be first and foremost allowed free course. Period. Glitteringspear

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