September 21, 2015
Author: Chilton Williamson
“LAWS [concerning ‘reproductive health’] have to be backed up with resources and political will and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.” Thus spake Zarathustra at the Women in the World Summit in New York City last April, an annual celebration of the Transvaluation of All Values.
“Religious beliefs . . . have to be changed.” In translation: “People whose religious beliefs disagree with the thinking of people inside this hall must substitute opposing beliefs for the ones they have now.” On penalty of what, Mrs. Clinton? The lady probably has no clear idea, although we all can guess what she’d like to do to dissenters in post-Christian America who refuse to countenance, let alone be implicated in, abortion, gay “marriage,” and “transgender” operations for emotionally ill persons, and are otherwise guilty of harboring dangerous “structural biases.” Still I suspect that, however vague, it isn’t pretty—prettier, for instance, than the remedial proceedings accorded “heretics” in the Tower during the reign of Elizabeth I, or Guantanamo during the administrations of G.W. Bush and Barack Obama. Less pretty still than imagined horrors is the threat itself—a quietly menacing warning that is, quite simply, unprecedented in American political history. The Clintons like to imagine they “make history” in the casual effortless way ordinary couples make sausage, without ever having much to show for the claim—until April 2015, when the distaff partner actually went ahead and did it.
The First Amendment declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ” As everyone knows, a sentence in a private letter of Thomas Jefferson’s adverting to “a wall of separation between church and state” led somehow to the clause’s being misinterpreted to mean that Church and state must be kept separate, and later that government at every level—federal, state, and local—is constitutionally obligated to oppose any religious influence on society at all. Orestes Brownson explained the implications of what he called the “political atheism” of the Founding Fathers (most of whom were not irreligious men) for the future status of religion in the United States, among them the popular assumption that religious belief is of no great importance to American society. But religion can be socially unimportant only when it has no interest or relevance for a society’s individual citizens. Religious people naturally view the world and all that goes on in it, including government and other public business, through the lens of belief. John Henry Newman spoke against “an avowed doctrine maintained in this day, that religion has nothing at all to do with political matters; which will not be true till it is true that God does not govern the world, for as God rules in human affairs, so must His servants obey in them.” To Newman’s mind, “that multitude of matters which comes before us of a social nature . . . bids us have an active opinion about” them. Newman perceived a danger in a rapidly secularizing country that citizens who believed all public affairs should be conducted on religious principles might be discouraged by aggressive secularists from giving religiously informed opinions on such matters, and bullied into keeping those opinions to themselves. Politics is essentially a moral activity, a proposition denied by few agnostics or atheists who object, rather, that since “ethical” principles are really religious ones for the pious, religiously minded people should not be allowed to express them in public debate in a secular society. The exceptions to this objection are contributions by the religious left to the national conversation, which are reliably 99 percent political leftism and 1 percent religious heresy.
Militant secularists and other enemies of religion are plainly justified in recognizing the involvement of religious men and women in political life, starting with the vote, as an intrusion of religious conviction into politics. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that baptized Catholics are members of a transcendent institution, the Body of Christ; undeniably, therefore, each and every Catholic, acting individually, is also acting not just on behalf of but, in molecular part, as the Church. But no secular defense against such intrusion is possible except to bar professing Catholics from any involvement in public life, which was English policy from the Reformation down to the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829. So far, American secular liberals have refrained from taking the final step. But who knows how far liberals will go in the coming years?
The relation of Christianity to the secular power has varied widely across the past two millennia. The early Church kept Her head down and tried to stay out of harm’s way. After Constantine, the Augustinian ideal was a kind of spiritual apartheid separating the City of God from the City of Man. During the early Middle Ages, the Church accepted the secular responsibilities of collapsed and disintegrated worldly power and joined the City of Man with the City of God, a Kingdom of Two Thrones lasting several centuries in which secular and ecclesiastical power were nearly indistinguishable. During the Reformation, Christianity was fractured by schism and divided into contending theological and ecclesiastical parties whose disagreements became secularized with the rise of the new confessional states, so that religion and politics were fused again, as they had been in the medieval period. Finally, during and after the French Revolution the Christian churches were assaulted by violent political atheism and persecution. Thus, three different things pressed Christianity into political action before the early 19th century: practical necessity, schism, and atheist aggression. Since then, Christians have been confronted by a new and unprecedented threat: cooptation by liberal democratic society.
It is an historical cliché that democracy since 1789 amounts to Christian moral and social teaching desacralized, immanentized, and translated from personal terms into social and political ones, what Chesterton had in mind when he spoke of “Christian values gone mad.” Modern democracy supplants the Christian model of godly government by the ideal of popular government under the special protection of an approving and indulgent democratic god; the Christian affirmation of the equality of men before God, by temporal equality imposed by universal suffrage, notions of the political equality of men, women, and cultures, and the idol of “human rights” (formerly the “Rights of Man”); Christ’s insistence on a special regard for the poor, almsgiving, and rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, by the welfare state, the income tax, and economic leveling; and “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” by “the rights of the child,” while Christian compassion is reinterpreted to justify (actually, to glorify) practices condemned by Christian teaching, such as abortion, divorce, sodomy, and now homosexual “marriage,” as abominations. So long as democratic government was limited to the functions of historical governments, democratic philosophical, moral, and sentimental excess was not a direct problem for Christians. Scripture nowhere endorses written constitutions, the separation of powers, bicameral legislatures, free elections, trial by jury, habeas corpus, freedom of contract, one man one vote, and no taxation without representation—none of which is a question of faith and morals for any denomination. The Christian churches found themselves progressively at odds with government only as it expanded its powers and extended its reach in transforming itself into what Tocqueville called “an immense tutelary power . . . absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild,” vested with the responsibility “to secure [the citizens’] gratifications and watch over their fate.” Over the past century and a half, democratic government has taken Christian social teaching out of the churches and codified it in secular law. The result is a reversion in secular terms to the practice of the Western ecclesiastical and confessional states, whose legal codes reflected and embodied canon and religious law, but it is one with an obvious difference. Advanced liberal government has not simply adapted Christian law and morality. It has hijacked them and substituted in their place a grotesque misapprehension of the originals that advanced liberalism is determined to impose and impress on Western societies. Orthodox Christianity, where it has not been corrupted by the new post-Christian public religion, is in the uncomfortable and increasingly dangerous position of being compelled by faith and conscience to correct the official caricature and stand up to the secular powers responsible for it.
LIKE ALL LIBERALS, Mrs. Clinton believes (or pretends to believe) that Christians are attempting to “impose” their beliefs on nonbelievers, when the truth is exactly the opposite. Unbelievers generally, and anti-Christians in particular, are trying to impose their unbelief on them. The “wall of separation” is certainly under assault, but the people wielding the crowbars are on the antichurch side of that wall. Those who want to ban religion from public life, who wish to keep the churches, church people, and their beliefs and principles out of state and public business, and now out of private business and family and private life as well, must be made to understand that aggressive secular government, by intruding recklessly and relentlessly into spheres of life that were formerly influenced and even dominated by religion, guarantee that these spheres will become more and more matters of religious concern and that the controversy regarding the proper relationship between state and Church, believers and unbelievers, will only continue to expand and deepen, while growing more and more passionate. The advanced liberal state, by deliberately politicizing religious ground, has reciprocally imported religious zeal into the political life of postmodern nations. If the left wishes the churches to stay out of politics, it need only leave the churches in peace to perform their sacral mission by ceasing to interfere with them politically.
It is possible that Mrs. Clinton and her colleagues understand this. If so, their appearance of overlooking reality can mean only one thing. Liberals are itching to bring the existing tensions between political and religious interests to outright war because they are determined, and fully expect, to win that war by any means necessary.
Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture JULY 01, 2015