Earlier this week I attended a discussion by Dr. Daniel Mark, The Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, at Colorado Christian University. The topic of his talk sounded quite ominous: “The end of religious freedom: Challenges from the right, the left, and around the globe.”
But the end result was a call to action for those who have a faith – and for those who do not.
A universal problem
There are presently 220 million people persecuted for their faith in the world. A Christian dies every 9 minutes for their faith. This should concern every ethnicity, faith group, and national identify. This is a human problem and as humans, we all need to be concerned.
At this discussion, I was most amazed at the diversity of attendees at this event, held at a Protestant, Evangelical university. Several Jewish leaders were there. I met more than a few Catholics. A Maronite priest was in attendance. I met several Muslims from the Middle East. And I even met an atheist.
They all gathered because of the inherent need to protect religious liberty around the globe because the issue goes right to the heart of human dignity
“We need to defend everyone’s right to believe – or not to believe. Every person needs to be free of coercion,” said Dr. Mark.
Of oligarchies and secular totalitarian societies
Dr. Mark, whose pedigree is longer than the combined titles of every person on my block, was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the universal fight for religious freedom.
The coercion he spoke of comes from two fronts: From religion itself and from secular totalitarian governments.
The religious oligarchies of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran are imposing their brand of Muslim extremism on their people. In my travels to the Middle East over the last three years, I saw first hand the destruction of this kind of institutionalized pressure.
As Dr. Mark noted, even if you are a Wahabi Muslim in Saudi Arabia, you are equally enslaved because you are denied the freedom not to believe.
The other threat comes from totalitarianism. Communist nations are notorious for imposing the will of the state over religious tolerance. This is why totalitarian governments oppose religion, because religion answers to a higher authority.
Religion is a threat because it offers a source of authority away from the government. And many nations begin to repress religion in the name of security, using it as a pretext to excessive restrictions.
Dr Mark said this. “You should have the right to change your religion. You should have the right to believe – or not believe. Government should have no part of this decision.”
America and the threat of Identity politics
Dr. Marks took his time to address the state of religious liberty here at home. He asked a sobering question: “Is freedom of religion a fundamental principle that should be or only when it suits the state?.
“I’m acutely aware that our challenges pale in comparison to some of these other countries,” he admitted. “But we should never feel complacent. Every person should be reminded of how rare, how precious and how vulnerable religious freedom is. We need to work hard to continue it.”
Identity politics is assaulting religion because they see it standing in the way of their actions, primarily their sexuality. Modern sexual norms turn basic biology on its head, rejecting both reason and authority. Anything that stands in the way of unrestrained personal behavior is demonized.
And the church becomes the enemy of the individual because we suggest values and moderation. in fact, all the world’s religions stand in the way
The “nones” and their threat to religious liberty.
The fastest growing religious group in America is the Nones. Increasingly they see the church as a threat to their individual rights. It all stems from a misunderstanding of “liberty.” According to Dr. Marks, what they really want is “license.”
“Liberty is pursuing good, whereas license is simply doing what you want.”
Choosing not to believe is a fair choice in a free society. As a life-long believer, I am convinced of my faith. I fully understand that there are those who do not think, do not believe like i do.
What I was reminded of from this discussion is that true religious freedom also guarantees the right not to believe. And every person of faith, or no faith, should be vigorously defending. More than any other group, the Nones need to value religious freedom, not attack it.
All together now
The utopian view is that we figure out how to coexist. The problem is that we cannot have a purely secular society without totalitarianism. Nor can we have a purely religious society without church control. We all just want a place where we can live together.
Dr. Marks believes we need a shared project, a civic unit. “This will never happen by trying to get everyone to believe in the same thing,” he said.
How can we coexist ? We start with love. But the truth is that we do not have a perfect track record when it comes to dealing with those on the other side.
“We defend everyone,” said Dr. Marks. Every person in the world has the right to believe – or not to believe.”
I’m generally not one for ecumenical moments. I am persuaded and convinced the truth that I’ve discovered.. However, there is a common place here, a shared value that is necessary for humanity to coexist and prosper.