R.R. Reno on Religious Liberty

There is an excellent piece by R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, over at Hillsdale College on the present and future of religious liberty in America. It is quite a sobering and concerning piece about the threat to religious liberty by secularists. He ends with these words:

In conclusion, I want to focus not on fury but on the remarkable capacity for communities of faith to endure. My wife’s ancestors lived for generations in the contested borderlands of Poland and Russia. As Jews they were tremendously vulnerable, and yet through their children and their children’s children they endured in spite of discrimination, violence, and attempted genocide. Where now, I ask, are the Russian and Polish aristocrats who dominated them for centuries? Where now is the Thousand Year Reich? Where now is the Soviet worker’s paradise? They have gone to dust. The Torah is still read in the synagogue. The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago. Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. If I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.


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  • Randy Hawk

    Superb piece. America is crying out for Christian leaders of the political establishment and Christian writers who also get deals to publish their ideas. Naysayers would say that Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama were or are Christians but they fail to understand that people like Elaine Pagels are arguably more powerful. It is therefore justified to make an analogy between the pagan persecution of Christians in America (who, let’s face it, will will be forced to watch gays getting married) with the persecution of Jews in central and eastern Europe in the twentieth century.

  • BA

    A fine conclusion, but it doesn’t seem to match the broader tone, message, or rhetoric of the piece.

    Two (related) concerns about the recent concerns over religious liberty: first, there is little to no theological reflection involved. Notice Reno’s ‘action points’ near the end of the speech: legal, political, cultural, etc related to marginalisation. Now that might relate to the context of the speech, but if you look at his recent writings on these issues (and of many other commentators), serious theological reflection is rarely a significant part of these discussions.

    This leads to the second issue, which is that lack of theological (and biblical) reflection on these issues, it seems to me, can lead to a certain amount of naval gazing, and concern over ‘our’ religious liberty. One would hope that theological reflection that takes seriously the self-giving reality of God and Christ would push us to think about the ‘other’. One wonders if Dolan, Reno, et al would be as concerned with religious liberty of Muslims and Mormons if their own positions of power and influence had not been so disrupted.

    I don’t want to dismiss the issues of religious liberty – I think they are very real. However, I’m concerned that the recent attention given to these issues comes across as primarily self-interested due to loss of power and influence, with little theological imagination that takes seriously the place of the church in the world today. When our concern for religious freedom is not primarily about giving voice to the other, it is simply too easy for it to slip into self-preservation and retention of the status quo of power relations. To be frank, I’m not sure those on the left or the right are ready to engage seriously with a robust pluralism.

    As I mentioned earlier, Reno’s conclusion is a forceful one – and I think if he himself took it seriously, it might reshape some of the ways in which he thinks we need to approach these issues at this particular point in time (not least his invocation of Mennonites!). Reno of course has a right to make his case on political, legal, and cultural grounds, but there is an assumption that there is a theological underpinning to this, due to the fact that he is a theologian, connected to First Things, etc. I think we need to make clear that the theological dimension is in fact underdeveloped or missing in much of this discourse.

  • Kenneth Chew

    “Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.” Well, perhaps religious ‘faith’ has proved to be persistent, but most religious ‘faiths’ haven’t.

  • Frederick

    Never mind that there are now more Christians (and Catholics) in the world than ever before, including in the USA.
    There is more Christian propaganda of all kinds both in paper and electronic forms.
    More Christian schools and universities. More Christian websites and blogs. More students doing and studying theology.
    The Catholic church maintains the worlds largest “privately” owned propaganda network, the tentacles of which reach into every town and village where there is a Catholic church and parish school.
    Never mind that Catholic priests are part of the cultural elite in whichever city, town or village that they live.
    Never mind that collectively the Catholic church is the worlds third largest property owner and by some estimates the worlds 5th largest business corporation.

    There are more Christian missionaries in the world than ever before.
    Never mind that you are more likely to be discriminated against in the USA if you are an atheist. Indeed some states have statute book laws preventing atheists from holding high public positions.
    Never mind that an atheist has less chance of even being chosen as a Presidential candidate (let alone being elected) than a snow ball surviving in hell.
    Even if a candidate did declare either his atheism or agnosticism you can be sure that self-righteous religious propagandists like Reno (and all of his equally self-righteous fellow travellers) would mount a relentless campaign impugning the atheists/agnostics human and moral integrity, and therefore his/her “fitness” to be the President of “Christian” America.

  • Carla

    If The Church did not need constitutional protection to take root 2000 years ago in “a hostile pagan culture,” why does it need it now?

    • Bob Clapp

      Exactly , Carla,, It’s the difference between the use of force and freedom!

  • George

    As in the song, MY FATHER’S WORLD, it goes “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” . He will have the last say.

    Man can have his plans, but whether we think so or not, we all will stand before our Maker to give an account for our actions. He is a just God and judges the heart. I have His word on that and it gives me a peace that transcends understanding. Some trust in horses, some in chariots, some in politics, some in IRA’s, ect… but the how do they fare against the grave? ” He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the son does not have life eternal.