Friday, November 02, 2007

Fisking Conservative Blogger John Hawkins' Take on Religion and Politics

Conservative blogger and columnist John Hawkins has a piece up on Townhall.com arguing in defense of "keeping religion in politics." Given the fact that the vast majority of our public officials adhere openly to some religious faith, I can only interpret his exhortation to keep religion in politics not as a call for people of faith to govern ethically and morally according to how their faith informs their sense of ethics and morality, but rather as a call for people of faith, specifically Christians, to approach civic life theocratically -- that is to impose the specific tenets of a particular faith (i.e. Christianity) onto American society via its governing system. In any case, his article deserves a good section-by-section fisking, which will hopefully expose his essentially theocratic agenda. So, here we go ...

In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to drive God from the public square and his followers from the political process.
Really? I'm a practicing Catholic Christian, and I haven't noticed this. And last I checked, I can still vote my conscience in the political process, however my conscience is informed. Also, I can walk across the street to my Church to pray or attend mass whenever I so choose. And when I walk down streets in the French Quarter, there is never a shortage of Christians peddling their brand of fire and brimstone on us sinners. I haven't ever seen a police officer, or any pedestrian tourist, for that matter, drive anyone from proclaiming their theology in public spaces. Perhaps Hawkins should be a little clearer what he means here. By "public space," Hawkins should declare that he means government property, such as courthouses or City Halls. He certainly can't mean streets and sidewalks, or public parks, because I've gathered in these "public spaces" on any number of occasions to celebrate my faith. Besides, if he really were a believer, he'd know that God can't be "driven" from anywhere.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Christians are still welcome to mouth politically correct platitudes and vote for whoever says a few nice words about Jesus, but if we actually support policies and candidates based on our religious beliefs, the anti-Christian secularists start tut-tutting and slinging cliches.
Well, isn't Hawkins admitting that religion is still very much alive in the "public space" as long as people of faith can mouth platitudes of whatever theological or Jesus-friendly stripe they choose? I mean, our democracy pretty much guarantees that the "public space" isn't owned by anyone and that it is precisely a place where views and ideas can be "mouthed" and even contested. Hawkins seems to be saying that being able to proclaim faith in public spaces isn't enough to satisfy him. Indeed, it seems that he wants faith to own the public space and, furthermore, to be exempt from the "tut-tuttings" of any other group, whether they be anti-Christian secularists or not. Notice that he's not denying that expressions of faith in the public space are permitted, he's saying that when such expressions of faith get challenged, then that somehow means that it is being driven from the public space. My suggestion to Hawkins is that he "tut-tut" and "sling cliches" right back. I think he'd find that his right to do so is very much protected and guaranteed. But, let's be frank and honest here, he's not really talking about freedom of religious expression in public here. He's really talking about the ability to force religion down the throats of others via the strong arm of the government. He wants the City Courthouse or the Mayor's Office to be able to put up the nativity scene in the entrance to their buildings at Christmas. He wants the state to sanction an expression of Christianity, not to protect his right to express his Christian faith publicly. I could go on, but let's move on with the fisking ...
We're told that you can't legislate morality. Newsflash: almost all of our laws are based on morality. Better that it be Christian morality than secular morality.
First, what the heck is "secular" morality? Is it some general notion of right or wrong? And, if so, how is "secular" morality different in terms of notions of right and wrong that come out of "Christian" morality? By making such a distinction, by implying that Christian theology should inform legislation, it seems to me that Hawkins is suggesting a version of right and wrong as codified in law as coming out of a strictly theological interpretation. If, after all, we are a society subject to the rule of law, and if this law is not determined according to a basic human interpretation of right and wrong, but rather to a particular theological, Christian interpretation of right and wrong, then we don't have democracy, we have theocracy.
We're told that we have "separation of church and state." However, that phrase, which was torn out of the context in which it was used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists, has been regularly used as a slight-of-hand to deny Christians the religious freedoms we are guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Hawkins might not like it, but our Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment of the Constitution in a particular way. And this particular way interprets the Establishment Clause in a way that operationalizes the notion of a separation of church and state. When Hawkins can demonstrate to me that he doesn't have the religious freedoms he is guaranteed, then he might have a point. But I know for a fact that Hawkins can practice his faith any way he chooses, even to the point of standing in front of a Court House with a Cross and a Bible and proclaiming the Good News at the top of his lungs for as long as he can sustain it. Again, when Hawkins talks about constitutionally guaranteed religious freedoms here, he is not talking about his right to proclaim and practice his faith, but rather his demand that the state promote his faith. They are not the same thing.
We are told that we need to keep God out of politics.
Really? Where and when? As long as there are believers who participate in politics, there also is God. No, again, what Hawkins really means here is that we are told that the state should not be in the business of serving as the arm of God in politics.
Unfortunately, whether Christians are interested in politics or not, politicians are interested in us. They're interested in denying Christians our First Amendment rights, preventing Christmas songs from being sung in school, and they're interested in codifying practices no Christian should support, like abortion, gay marriage, and using public schools to promote deviant sexual and moral practices to our children.
What bunk! Christians are not denied their First Amendment rights. There are many Christian schools where kids sing Christmas carols every Christmas season. You don't see the state attempting to prevent this. And the state adopts policies that are constantly at odds with my Christian beliefs, but that doesn't mean that I have to support them or live by them. And I at least recognize that I, as a Christian, share this country with citizens who might support policies that I disagree with. What should I tell them? Your voice doesn't matter in this country because I think you're wrong? The fact is that Christian politicians have the opportunity, just like any other politician of another faith, to promote their points of view, to lobby for changes in laws, and to proclaim their faith in the public space where it can be challenged and contested by any other citizen who might not share the same beliefs or points of view.
Put another way, Christians may want to stay out of politics, but politics isn't going to stay out of the domain of the church.
I don't know about Hawkins' church, but in my church, the Catholic church, politics has never interfered with how my church operates and what my church leaders proclaim. The state, or "politics," has never once dicatated or mandated what the Catholic Catechism needs to be, or what the Catholic position on any social issue should be. I challenge Hawkins to point me to any instance where "politics" has dictated the tenets of any particular faith in this country.
Since that's the case, we need more Christians involved in politics, not less.
I'd venture to say that the number of Christians already involved in politics is by far the vast majority. A vast majority of our state, local, and federal legislators, executives, and judges proclaim adherence to a particular religious faith. Hawkins can advocate for more participation by Christians, but I think he misses the obvious point that Christians clearly dominate the political landscape in this country.
Of course, that doesn't mean we're all going to agree. In fact, even amongst conservative Christians, it sometimes seems as if the only thing that two Christians can agree on is that the third Christian is wrong about something.

Then, when you start putting liberal Christians into the mix with conservative Christians -- well, don't even get me started. It's hard to believe that people who share the same faith can have so many wide-ranging political differences on even the most basic of issues.
And what does the ability of Christians to differ so widely and publicly over social and public policy matters tell us? What Hawkins refuses to admit: people of faith are free to proclaim, debate, differ, and discuss -- all without the oppression of the state. Imagine that if Christians didn't have their First Amendment rights protected, where would this vibrancy among Christianity in this country be?
Yet and still, both political parties and the country as a whole are better off to have Christians, particularly Christians who take their faith seriously, participating in the process and letting their faith help guide their decisions.

Granted, social conservatives can come across as a little too preachy and the whole "we're going to form a third party if we don't get the candidate we want” approach that some advocate is completely counter productive, but there would have never been a Reagan Revolution without the Christian Right. Furthermore, given all the complaints we hear about our culture as is, imagine what a moral sewer this country would have degenerated into without conservative Christendom rising up to stand for what's right.
Wait. I thought "Christendom" referred to all Christian believers, not just the conservative ones. Isn't it an oxymoron to divide Christendom into ideological divisions? But look what Hawkins does with this division ... he politicizes Christianity. He makes belief in Christ secondary to political ideology. What's worse is that he implies that conservative Christians are the only kinds of Christians that can stand for what's right, and absent conservative Christians (i.e. if Christianity were the exclusive domain of liberals), we'd have a "moral sewer" for this country. Hawkins reveals his contempt for Christians who happen to be politically liberal here. He presumes that Christians who happen to be liberal aren't really moral people at all. No, we're degenerates. What Hawkins is doing to Christianity is precisely the opposite of the Christian message. No matter what he might say to the contrary, he is attempting to appropriate Christianity for ideological conservatism. And he exposes the fact that his version of Christianity is secondary to political ideology.
In the Democratic Party, Christians have much less sway, but their civilizing influence has helped keep the radical atheists from running the party and staging an even larger attack on Christianity, tradition, and the moral foundation of our country. That being said, it would be great if more liberal Christians had the moral courage to stand up to their fellow travelers on the Left on the frequent occasions when they mock people who are serious about Christianity.
All of my liberal Christian friends, every single one, from ministers, to priests, to nuns, to lay missionaries, to parish council presidents, defend the Christian faith from any and all attacks. I have never, ever heard a liberal politician who is part of the Christian faith not defend his or her faith. I challenge Hawkins to point out anywhere this has happened. Furthermore, I wish Hawkins would call on his conservative Christian friends to stop mocking liberal Christians as degenerates and fakers and moral reprobates because we disagree politically. Heck, even Hawkins implied as much about the moral degeneracy of liberal Christians in his comment above. And how many times have I had to defend my professed Christianity on Hawkins' own blog from those who mocked me and dismissed my faith as unserious, if not heretical. The road goes two ways, Hawkins.
Naturally, not everyone would be pleased to see a larger, more forceful Christian contingent entering politics. But, those who argue that Christians have a negative impact on our political process because they tend to be "overly concerned" with morals or family values are engaging in an act of hypocrisy.

Just as the people who attack our troops as being thugs and mercenaries are only capable of doing so because of the blanket of protection provided by the very soldiers they attack, people who sneer at Christians are only capable of doing so because of the Christian ethics and morality that have permeated American culture since the time of the Founders.
Hawkins, I hate to break it to you, but Western Democracy is rooted in the classical traditions of societies that believed in Zeus and Hera, not in Jesus Christ. The political philosophy of our founding fathers was more rooted in these traditions that in religious Christian traditions. Now I'm not saying that the contributions to Western Democracy haven't been enhanced by the writings of Augustine or Thomas Aquinas; but you must remember that liberal democracy is not, at root, a fundamentally Christian tradition. We are not free because of the Christian ethics and morality of our founding fathers, but because of their embracing of popular sovereignty and human rights coming out of secular Enlightenment tradition, rooted in the ethics of Plato and Aristotle, that even challenged Christian authority at a time when such authority was resistent to the ideas of democracy and freedoms.
America has been and continues to be a great nation because we are a good nation that is populated in large part by a fundamentally decent, Christian people. If Christians step back and allow the bastion of freedom, decency, and opportunity that this nation represents to be squandered, God may forgive us, because that's what He does -- but something precious, a birthright that should belong to future generations of Americans, will be lost from the world.

Last, but not least, if you take one thing away from this column it should be this: if those of us who believe in the Lord simply shrug our shoulders and abandon politics to the secularists, then we should not be surprised when our government pursues secularist policies and imposes upon us laws that contradict our most cherished beliefs.
If we believe in our democracy, we must believe that our government has never "imposed" anything on us that our democratic system didn't legitimately produce. I'm all for advocating that Christians engage politics in a way that is informed by their faith. I do that as a matter of course. In this sense, I agree with Hawkins. I'd argue, though, that Christians have always done this and continue to do this. Hawkins is ringing the alarmist bell when all he needs to do is to look around and he'll see that his fears are unfounded.

9 comments:

celcus said...

Great post, Huck.

I have fond memories of many so-called "liberal Christians" who seemed to vanish by the late 80's, early 90's, swept under the by the tide of fundamentalism.

Don_cos said...

Huck

You really need to get over RWN. You have many good opinions but you seem stuck on John Hawkins.

Huck said...

don_cos - What does it mean to be "over" RWN? Never again critiquing Hawkins' ideas? For all intents and purposes, I am "over" RWN in the sense that I don't expect to be a welcome commenter there. But being "over" RWN doesn't mean forgetting it. And it certainly doesn't mean letting the arguments expressed there that I disagree with get ignored if I have something to say about them. Does getting over RWN mean that I can't ever criticize the arguments Hawkins is making? Am I prohibited from using him as a bellweather for conservative opinion? In this very long piece that I wrote, the only time I mention his blog is in reference to the times when I have had my faith questioned by some of the commenters there. I don't even mention or discuss his banning me once in this post. In fact, if someone were to read my posting without knowing our history, I don't think anyone would think I've been banned at all from his site. Mostly, I am taking on his argument regarding religion in politics. Is that not a subject worthy of my consideration? The ideas of Hawkins, or any other blogger or pundit, are not immune to criticism from me just because they might prefer not to hear from me. I am no more stuck on John Hawkins as a reflection of conservative opinion as he is stuck on DailyKos or the DU to guage liberal opinion.

Don_cos said...

Huck

You are assuming many things that I did not say. And the topic is fine, it just seems like you are fixated on RWN.

You also know how I and many other conservatives feel about your banning.

Huck said...

Hi, don_cos - On one level, you're right. I do tend to fixate on RWN. But you didn't question my fixation on RWN, you told me I needed to get over RWN. Had you wondered about my fixation on RWN, I would have answered that RWN still remains one of my few regular sources on conservative thinking. When I want to get a sense of the pulse of conservative opinion in the blogosphere, I try to check out the following three sites daily: RWN, Andrew Sullivan, and C_T's blog "Word Around the Net." Of these three, RWN is the one that posts what I think are the most politically and ideologically charged anti-liberal positions. Hence my tendency to make RWN the subject of many of my critiques of conservative positions I find problematic. Only irregularly do I check out Hot Air, Michelle Malkin, and JunkYardBlog. So, if I fixate on RWN and Hawkins, it's because he's my main source for controversial conservative opinion. And, normally, as you know, I would generally post my criticisms in comment threads. Before I was banned, I regularly did so at RWN -- almost daily. So, my fixation on the writings of Hawkins, at least in terms of criticizing the content, is not really out of the norm. And, in fact, truth be told, I actually fixate on Hawkins and RWN much, much less now than I did when I could comment on his site.

Most of my previous comment in response to your original were questions asking you to clarify what you meant when you tell me that I need to get over RWN.

And, look, here we are having an exchange over Hawkins, when I'd rather hear your opinions on the subject of religion and politics. So, what do you think of my arguments in this regard?

Don_cos said...

Sorry, I guess I should have worded it differently. The description you give above about the blogs you visit is reasonable so I apologize for the fixated remark.

As to religion and politics, I believe that we should keep politics and religion separate. Politics will screw up religion every time!

However I have an issue with the push to remove Christian references from the public square. Does anyone really believe that a display of the Ten Commandments on public property is forcing anyone to convert against their will? And it sure doesn’t amount to Congress establishing a religion. Congress “establishes” via the written law not by an inanimate display. Another thing I have issue with is those who propose that someone who considers their religious beliefs when making moral judgments should not be allowed in office. And I see this in almost every religion and politics thread I come across.

I agree that Christians in the US do not face the level of persecution that Christians do in many other places, but this does not mean there is none here. Anytime there is an effort to put Christianity and Christians in their place, then persecution is occurring.

You make it clear that you believe that since you can go down to the local church and practice your religion that everything is fine. I disagree. You should not have to go hide in order to pray. That is an infringement on your liberty and should never be acceptable.

Huck said...

Hi, don_cos - Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Personally, I don't get so put out by displays of nativity scenes on the doorstep of City Hall, or replicas of the Ten Commandments of the Bible (or the Ten Commandments of the Quran, conversely) in Courtrooms. I think the almost violent reactions against such things is excessive. [By the way, would you support the display of the Ten Commandments of the Quran in a US Courtroom as a measure of liberty and the free exercise of religion?]

What I don't understand is the equally insistent and confrontational demand that such displays of any faith, much less the Christian faith, need to be there and be promoted by the state. It seems to me that the purpose of people insisting that the Biblical Ten Commandments be displayed in a courtroom, and claiming religious persecution when they're not, is driven as equally by political motivations of not only pushing faith on people in the public sphere but of trying to force the state to do so on the behalf of believers.

For me, I don't think people should get so worked up about the Biblican Ten Commandments on display in the courthouse, but I also don't think people should get worked up about not having the Biblical Ten Commandments in the courthouse. It seems to me that the humane and respectful thing to do is that, if someone expresses a problem with a public display of something, we should take it down. Doing so doesn't impact my faith, and it doesn't diminish it. I don't need the Courthouse to promote my faith in order for my faith to be strong or valuable. I don't need the Courthouse to promote my faith in order to practice my faith freely. Displaying the Biblican Ten Commandments in the Courthouse is a political act, it is not an act of faith. I don't need to have the Biblican Ten Commandments displayed in a courtroom to have a strong faith and to practice it without impediment. Anyone who claims otherwise in this country is just being dishonest.

Now, if someone were to ever try to tell me I couldn't put up a nativity scene on my front yard, or to gather in City Park to celebrate a mass, or to kneel in prayer in front of an abortion clinic, then I would have a problem with it and would begin to speak of an assault on my liberties. But that has never happened in this country and, I hope and believe, never will.

That said, I wonder what you define as persecution. I don't understand how not having the state display the Ten Commandments in the courthouse is persecution. My going to church on Sunday, or gathering for a mass in the local park, or participating in a public stations of the cross, or many of the other "public" displays of my faith that I often participate in is not "hiding" my faith. I don't see how you can claim that just because there's not a nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall, that you are being forced to hide the expression of your faith. Fiath is peacefully expressed in the public space all the time. Do you not recognize this? There is absolutely no infringement upon my liberty to be a Christian, and publicly so. The fact that the state doesn't promote faith doesn't mean my liberties are being infringed upon. The state not only should be neutral in terms of advocating or promoting faith perspectives, it shouldn't be in the business of promoting articles of religious faith. And, in fact, my "liberties" are not unchecked. They are limited by the liberties of my fellow citizens. I do not have the right to demand that the state reflect my faith as a question of liberty without recognizing the right of others to demand that the state not reflect any religion as a question of liberty.

There is a myth of Christian persecution in this country. There is, in fact, effectively no religious persecution in this country. The victimization and persecution that many Christians claim is a false one.

Don_cos said...

[By the way, would you support the display of the Ten Commandments of the Quran in a US Courtroom as a measure of liberty and the free exercise of religion?]

Yes I would. Despite the fact that I believe Islam is wrong, I also believe they have a God given right to be wrong. God instructs us to spread the word. However he does not instruct us to force people into Christianity. So if God chooses not to force conversion then I certainly have no right to.

There is a myth of Christian persecution in this country. There is, in fact, effectively no religious persecution in this country. The victimization and persecution that many Christians claim is a false one.

Wrong. As I said earlier the level is far below what it is in many other countries, but when there are people who would deny a Christian the right to be part of the political process or force you to hide your faith, then persecution does exist. For example Children in public schools who are not allowed to wear Christian clothing or jewelry. You cannot by any stretch believe that a student showing their faith equals Congress establishing a religion. And no, religious displays do not need to be removed because some small group is offended. When the courts begin to make judgments against people due to the Ten Commandments rather than the law, then there is a problem.





On a completely different subject (sorry to threadjack but I thought you would appreciate this).

My wife (who like myself is back in college), had to do a speech for a class with an extremely (and outspoken) liberal professor. She was very concerned as to the professor’s reaction because she (my wife) refused to adjust her views to a less conservative stance. My wife chose to argue against gun control using school shootings as support for her position.

The next class (after my wife’s speech) the professor praised my wife’s work, gave her an A (97%), and stated that she (the professor) had some serious rethinking to do on the gun control issue.

I thought you would appreciate a conservative giving kudos to a liberal professor for truly being fair and open minded.

Huck said...

I thought you would appreciate a conservative giving kudos to a liberal professor for truly being fair and open minded.

Thanks, don_cos. I'm glad to hear that. It doesn't really surprise me, though, because that has always been my experience with professors in the classroom. In all honesty, I've never met an honest professor who doesn't behave likewise. In fact, the ones who behave badly are very rare in my experience, they're just the ones who get all the attention. Too often, I find that conservative students come into college looking to be targeted by intolerant liberal professors, and so oftentimes confuse a professor's critical posture as an anti-conservative posture, which couldn't be further from the truth. I give students espousing liberal points without solid logical and methodological foundations as hard a time as any.

But, I'm very glad to hear that your wife met with such a positive experience. And it's great that you are both back in college. Continued luck with everything.