Questions for secularists

New York Times editor Bill Keller came up with a series of questions about religion that he is asking presidential candidates, an inquisition necessary in order to ferret out, among other things, which ones doubt the doctrines of evolution, the equivalence of all religions, and that there is a higher law than religion, namely, secular law.  Anthony Sacramone discusses these questions and even answers them.  He then counters with “The Sacramone Questionnaire for Nontheists”:

1. Do you think that anyone who believes in the supernatural is delusional? If so, do you believe they should be treated medically? Do you believe they should be allowed to adopt children?

2. Do you think anyone who believes in six-day special creation should ipso facto be barred from holding public office?

3. Do you believe the religious beliefs of historical figures should be eradicated when discussing them in schools? For example, that Louis Pasteur was a devout Catholic who prayed the Rosary daily?

4. Do you believe that the religious faith of those responsible for the birth of modern science—Galileo, Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, George LeMaitre (father of the theory of the big bang), Jesuit priests too numerous to mention, et al.—should be eradicated when discussing them in schools?

5. Do you believe that it should be noted that the rise of modern science occurred in the context of a civilization that was still explicitly Christian when teaching either European history of the history of science?

6. Do you think homeschooling should be illegal, as it is in some European countries?

7. Do you believe vaccines are a factor in the rise of autism cases? Do you believe parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccine programs?

8. Do you believe that global warming/climate change demands we de-industrialize?

9. Do you believe churches and all religious institutions should be taxed?

10. Do you believe that there is such a thing as life unworthy of life? Explain.

11. Do you believe assisted suicide and euthanasia should be made legal either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat?

12. Do you believe infanticide should be made legal? If not, when is a baby a human being protected by the rights any other human being enjoys?

13. Is there any point when an adult human being loses the right to life? If so, under what circumstances?

14. Do you believe polygamous marriage should be legalized, either on a state-by-state basis or by federal fiat? Do you believe that “minor-attracted adults” should be protected by law as a perfectly valid expression of human sexuality that was much more common in ancient Europe and among non-Western cultures? Do you believe incest and/or bestiality should be protected by law as perfectly valid expressions of human sexuality?

15. Do you believe that individuals are ultimately responsible for their behavior, or do you believe they are subject to too many internal (biochemical, psychological) and external (social pressures, strange belief systems) factors to be held accountable, such that many of our criminal laws should be seriously reformed or eradicated?

via The NY Times/Bill Keller Irreligious Litmus Test | Strange Herring.

Religion means "be careful"

In a discussion of how Roman Catholic church bureaucracy and the American Academy of Religion both try to keep the lid on supernatural experiences, the notable Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger cites some interesting etymology:

Sociologists who deal with religion often like to refer to the etymology of the Latin word religio. Supposedly it derives from the verb religare—to re-bind. If so, this points to a very valid insight, most fully formulated by the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim—namely, that religion provides the symbolic ligature that keeps a society together. I understand that Latinists reject this etymology for a different, and actually more interesting one: Religio derives from relegere—to be careful. In other words, the supernatural is a very dangerous reality—one has to approach it with great caution. This understanding was brilliantly formulated by Rudolf Otto, arguably one of the greatest twentieth-century historians of religion, in his book The Idea of the Holy. Religion is always based on an experience, on whatever level of intensity or sophistication, with a reality that is intensely dangerous. . . .

Otto coined the term “numinous” to refer to this experience. His German language too seems to break down, as he falls back on Latin to describe the numinous—it is a mysterium tremendum, both terrifying and alluring. It is totaliter aliter—totally other than the fabric of everyday life. Above all, it is extremely dangerous. This is why, in the Bible and in other sacred scriptures, the first words spoken by an angel to a human being is “Do not be afraid!”

via Defanging the Supernatural | Religion and Other Curiosities.

This, I think, is what is missing in so much of today’s Christianity:  the fear of God.  We have tamed our own religion.  We are no longer “careful,” and so we have lost the “numinous” and thus the sense of holiness.   I would argue that the historic liturgy and sacramental spirituality retain that sense, whereas so much of the trappings of contemporary Christianity, in its worship and art forms, have the effect of domesticating  the supernatural and rendering it banal.

The God gap in U.S. foreign policy

According to a new report received by the White House, American foreign policy is hindered by its secularism and needs to factor religious issues into its dealings with other countries:

American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy.”. . .

American foreign policy’s “God gap” has been noted in recent years by others, including former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

“It’s a hot topic,” said Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement in Arlington County and a Council on Foreign Relations member. “It’s the elephant in the room. You’re taught not to talk about religion and politics, but the bummer is that it’s at the nexus of national security. The truth is the academy has been run by secular fundamentalists for a long time, people who believe religion is not a legitimate component of realpolitik.”

The Chicago Council’s task force was led by R. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame and Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. “Religion,” the task force says, “is pivotal to the fate” of such nations as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, all vital to U.S. national and global security.

“Despite a world abuzz with religious fervor,” the task force says, “the U.S. government has been slow to respond effectively to situations where religion plays a global role.” Those include the growing influence of Pentecostalism in Latin America, evangelical Christianity in Africa and religious minorities in the Far East.

U.S. officials have made efforts to address the God gap, especially in dealings with Islamic nations and groups. The CIA established an office of political Islam in the mid-1980s. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 to make religious freedom a U.S. foreign policy priority. During the second Bush administration, the Defense Department rewrote the Army’s counterinsurgency manual to take account of cultural factors, including religion. . . .

To end the “episodic and uncoordinated nature of U.S. engagement of religion in the world,” the task force recommended:

– Adding religion to the training and continuing education of all foreign service officers, diplomats and other key diplomatic, military and economic officials. That includes using the skills and expertise of military veterans and civilians returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

– Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.

– Address and clarify the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy. Cizik said some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.

via ‘God gap’ impedes U.S. foreign policy, task force says – washingtonpost.com.

But how would this work? I just read a report about a high-level dialogue between representatives of the West and moderate Muslims. They established the common ground of a desire for freedom of religion. To the Westerners, that means the freedom of individuals to hold any religion they want. But to the Muslims, freedom of religion means the freedom of Muslims to establish an Islamic state.

Any push for freedom of religion in our sense will have to involve supporting Christians against those who suppress them. Christians, you will notice, tend to allow freedom of other religions. Other religions, when they are in control, are not so generous.

Will our government want to come across as advancing the interests of Christianity?


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