Category Archives: Cultural Restriction

How to Avoid Seeing Christ

Barack_Obama_National_Prayer_Breakfast_20090205When the President of the United States of America recently spoke at a prayer breakfast and declared a number of wrongs done in the name of Christ, many Christians across the country were appalled. He pointed to the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, and Jim Crow laws as examples of wrongs justified as obedience to Christ. Whatever his personal agenda was that day, it can be stated with absolute certainty that it was never his purpose to praise or serve Christ in those words. Nothing about the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery or Jim Crow laws has anything whatsoever to do with the teachings of Christ or the work of his church. What’s more, nothing about those events serves to justify some other occasion of wrongdoing in any historical era. The clear purpose of those words was to tamp down outrage over violence wrought by militant forces who claim to be serving Allah. The obvious intent was to make Christians ashamed of criticizing the violence of people who claim to be acting for Allah and for the advancement of Islam.

Christians need not be ashamed of abhorring the violence of ISIS, or that of Boko Haram, or that of Al Shabaab, or the violence of any other violent group that claims the name of Islam. People who follow Christ are justly ashamed that the Crusades were initiated as if they were the work of Christ, because people who follow Christ know that the Crusades were never part of Christ’s plan for the advancement of his kingdom. Anyone who studies history knows that fact. The Crusades were politically motivated, and the church was so deeply integrated with the state at the time that whatever the state did was labelled Christian. It defies logic to attempt to justify the violence of ISIS because the violence of the Crusades was not Christ-like.

Such utter disconnect with the truth of Christ taught our founding fathers that the administration of the state must not be confused with the administration of a religion. They did not reject the voice of Christians as citizens with the right to speak and act for what is right. They did reject the integration of church administration with political administration. The founders  protected people of all faiths with the assurance that government would never try to tell them what to believe or whom to worship or how to live out their faith. The men who founded the USA knew that evil loves to cloak itself in religious garments and governmental power. They also knew that the values of citizens are rooted in their faith, and the founders welcomed the expression of and advocacy for values based in faith. They did not reject the voice of people of faith out of some misguided notion that advocacy for the values taught by faith was synonymous with giving that faith executive power.

All sorts of people had agendas related to the Crusade, the Inquisition, slavery and the Jim Crow laws. The agendas that drove the wickedness did not derive from Christ or his teachings. The fact that many individuals and groups appropriated Christ’s name and claimed his support for their behavior does not make it so. Making Christ responsible for the Inquisition or slavery is like making cows responsible for the increase in size of the Sahara Desert. When all the available facts are examined, the evidence does not support the conclusion. Christ’s teachings do not incite to violence, torture, and oppression.

Christ told his disciples and the other people listening to his Sermon on the Mount to expect this sort of thing. When he spoke of heaven and those who will join him there, he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV). We can safely conclude from that statement that people who somehow do a few good things by claiming the name of Christ will never be able to gloss over their evil by trying to hide behind a good show of good deeds.

The elected leaders in Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act showed exactly this behavior. They have not, to this day, read the content of that law, yet they go around claiming that this law is good law, even though it is profoundly evil in its design and implementation. Any sane person who reads the text of the law will quickly see that the benefit of the law falls on those who are hired to administer it—the bureaucracies that create bureaucracies that monitor bureaucracies that eat up the federal budget by the billions of dollars at a bite. The President is the most visible and most vocal of the people who claim that this act is something good, when it is demonstrably a profound evil that is already harming the very populations it alleged to help. Numerous supporters, too, linked the ACA to Jesus, even though this is not at all what Jesus meant by helping the sick.

An agenda that steals the God-given freedom of people and enslaves them to government through secret taxes and oppressive bureaucracies is evil. Evil thrives on its success in turning people’s eyes away from Jesus. Many evil laws have been passed under the guise of feeding the hungry, curing the sick, housing the homeless or ending all wars. The proponents of such laws always allude to the teachings of Jesus. They are exactly right that Jesus taught us to help the downtrodden. However, Jesus taught us to do it with our own gifts. Jesus taught me to give my own coat to somebody who was shivering; Jesus did not teach me to grab your coat and your hat and your wallet so I could give the coat and hat to someone who is cold and keep the wallet for myself. This sort of behavior was behind the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow laws. This sort of behavior is embedded in the Affordable Care Act and in most government social programs. This sort of behavior has nothing to do with Jesus.

It is a great challenge in the US today to keep pointing to Jesus. Political leaders of all stripes busily accuse Christ of blessing their agendas. When we look intently at Jesus, we see that he has nothing to do with the many evils linked to his name and his mission. It is easy to see that Satan, the father of lies, is behind all of these things.

Who is Christ? He is the one who came to save the people of the world from being enslaved by the lies of Satan. He is the one who pitied the downtrodden and lifted them up. He touched lepers, fed the hungry, held children on his lap, and suffered under Pontius Pilate. He suffered under cruelty perpetrated by an agenda that originated in the unholy union of religious and political leadership. Jesus died at the hands of the same variety of unholy alliance that produced the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow. He did it, because his purpose was to save people from being lured into such evil.

When Nicodemus came to Christ one night, curious about him because he seemed so unlike the religious leaders among the Pharisees and the priests, Jesus gave Nicodemus the answers he needed: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). Such a mission is completely opposite to the purposes of the Roman government, the Pharisees, the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, Jim Crow laws, or even the Affordable Care Act. If people actually look at Christ, it will be easy for them to see that his love and grace do not produce such evil. In order to see the origin of evil, they must look away from Christ.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Barack Obama at Prayer Breakfast
By Pete Souza, White House photographer (http://www.whitehouse.gov/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Source:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABarack_Obama_National_Prayer_Breakfast_20090205.jpg

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Humans Are Vengeful Gods

The venom of cultural restriction is startling to anyone who has seen the venom of diatribes against God’s recorded actions in the Old Testament. Atheists are outraged at the God who ordered the Israelites to separate themselves from ungodly people or ordered the execution of all unbelievers in besieged communities, right down to the babes in arms. They contend that such a God is evil and vicious and not to be tolerated. They say that he should apologize to the heathen he condemned. Yet these are the same people who contend that an unborn baby is a nonviable mass, or that a 100-year-old woman should not have surgery to make her life more comfortable. God Almighty, in their view, has no right to decide when someone’s life ends, but these very people believe that they have the right to end millions of lives every year.

In light of that attitude, it is hard to accept the behavior of secular celebrity voices such as Chris Matthews and Whoopi Goldberg who condemn anyone who disagrees with them to fates worse than death. How do people who instigate a campaign to destroy the Washington Redskins football team have the temerity to accuse God of wrongdoing? Humans who have arrogated to themselves the role that Christians leave to God’s judgment are callous in the extreme, far beyond what the God they reject has ever done to anyone.

As a follower of Christ, I will say quickly that God does not need me to defend him. I bring this subject up only to compare the actions of people who believe that they are their own gods. People who say God does not exist must somehow deal with all the problems of the universe, and the evidence demonstrates that they are arrogant far beyond anything they criticize in God Almighty. People who deny God declare that they know what other people should have and what other people should do. People who are removed from the class of aborted fetuses only by the event of having been born alive declare that nothing is too huge, too important, or too complicated for them to control.

Among other things, secular thinkers believe that they have the right and the obligation to interfere in the operations of businesses. They believe that they should tell businesses what products to sell, or what to wage to pay employees, or whom the businesses should hire, or what health insurance to offer employees. When the owners of businesses reject the pressure, the secular thinkers believe that they should destroy the businesses. Secularists have tried boycotts of retail businesses and Twitter wars against global enterprises. They have even tried to threaten the advertising sponsors of media personalities they disagree with.

Secular thinkers believe that nobody has a right to question the morality of what they do, because they determine the morality of their actions according to whether it makes them feel good. Apparently, it makes them feel good when they eliminate a baby or an old person or a business that is preventing one of them from feeling good.

Some Christians have lost their connection with Christ’s teachings and have engaged in reprisals that mirror the cultural strategies. When secularists launched an attack on Chick Fil-A over the issue of same-sex marriage, Christians launched an attack on Starbucks over the same issue. This is a huge error on the part of the Christians. It is at complete odds with Christ’s teaching. Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV). Christians cannot engage in destructive, petulant reprisal over differences of political opinion. Christians may not be their own gods and still claim to belong to Christ.

When Christians embark on destructive campaigns to destroy businesses because of the expressed political or even social views of the owners, the first thing wrong with the campaign is that Christ taught us to love, bless and pray for everyone. The second thing wrong is that many, many innocent people get hurt. The employees of companies have no control over the political views of their employers, yet if the destructive campaign succeeds, then Christians have destroyed the livelihoods of those employees. The third thing wrong is that it becomes impossible to distinguish Christians from secular thinkers. Jesus said, “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21 ESV). Jesus expects the actions of Christians to be a testimony to their faith. That is why refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding is the right thing for a Christian to do, while boycotting a business over a political argument is wrong. Refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding is a testimony to God’s plan for marriage and families. A campaign to destroy Starbucks over the opinion expressed by its owner is no testimony to God; it is a testimony to the power of a mob, the same message expressed by a secular mob action against Mozilla.

The words and deeds of secular thinkers express their rejection of God’s authority and his very existence. The words and deeds of Christians must express their testimony to God’s authority and their conviction of his existence. When Christians reject a cultural movement that conflicts with God’s authority, their expression of that rejection must not compromise their obedience to the law of love. A Christian can and must refuse to facilitate disobedience to God. A polite refusal to participate in wrongdoing need not include a curse on the people involved. In fact, if they are enemies, then the Christian response is to love them and pray for them to see the light.

The culture increasingly insists on words and deeds to state support for things that Christians must, on principle, refuse to do. Where that pressure will lead is still unclear. Christians in countries like Saudi Arabia and Laos wind up in jail when they reject the cultural norms. Christians in the US must be prepared for the culture to push the government to enforce its will. It is time for all Christians to pray for wisdom and courage, and to pray for the election of leaders who will pull governments at all levels back inside the Constitutional boundaries that protect First Amendment rights.

Secular thinkers believe that everything they do is guided and bounded by reason, an impersonal concept, but in fact, they themselves testify that they know what is right by observing what makes them happy. Clearly, it is self-gratification, not reason, that guides their actions. Christians must commit to Christ’s truth as their guide and watch carefully to assure that they do not delude themselves that they are serving Christ when they are actually serving self. It is self-serving in the extreme to attempt to stand in the place of God and shut down a business whose owner holds an undesirable political view. Secular thinkers are extremely vengeful when they try to stand in the place of God. Christians must be alert to avoid being lured into such behavior by their own willingness to serve self instead of Christ.

 

Free Speech? Of Course. Suppress Only Wrong-Headed Speech

 

People have freedom of expression, blah blah blah, but until we make those people pay for their wrongheaded beliefs, they’ll continue to hold them. Tony Woodlief at Patheos

It has not always been the case that someone expressing a viewpoint with roots in Christian teaching was accused of discrimination. It has not always been the case that someone expressing a viewpoint different from the majority was accused of discrimination. The new wrinkle in the culture is that someone expressing the majority viewpoint, Christian or not, is accused of discrimination. The really new wrinkle is that someone who supports a viewpoint validated in millennia of human history is accused of discrimination.

This is what is happening to people who support the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

 Something more mind-boggling could hardly be imagined.

The concept of marriage as the union of a man and a woman has never been questioned throughout human history till now. In fact, except for dictionary devotees, the specification that the parties to a marriage will be a man and a woman has not needed to be discussed. It has not been a uniquely Christian idea that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Archeology and paleontology alike demonstrate that humans have always viewed marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and humans have always considered marriage to be the foundation for a family. Only recently has it become necessary to argue about what constitutes a marriage or a family.

What happened to the culture?

Human society has many ongoing arguments. Who ought to be in charge, and how ought a group of people figure out who should be in charge? What is worth fighting about? What is a fair fight? There are a lot of arguments that are not yet settled. But the definition of marriage and family were settled so far back that except for the revelation of the creation story in Genesis, nobody would know how marriage began. The record of human life on earth shows that marriage has been the normal basis for family in all human groups, almost as if it were written on the human heart.

That fact meant that until very recently, anyone who used the word marriage did not need to define it or qualify it. The word itself was sufficient to convey the intended meaning. It also meant that until very recently, nobody would have had any reason to write laws about the language used for marriage or sexual orientation or gender identity. The issue of sexual orientation was settled by the recognition that normal human beings are attracted to the opposite gender, and the gender of a normal human being is the gender of the DNA (of which there are only two options – male or female). All other expressions of gender, sexual orientation or sexual union were abnormal simply because they were not normal. It wasn’t discrimination to recognize that fact; it was plain common sense. It still is. Unfortunately, plain common sense does not seem to be valued very much in the language of marriage, family, gender identity or sexual orientation.

The fact that a marriage was expressed as a union of a man and a woman throughout human society meant that when religions used this definition, it was not regarded as privilege, oppression or discrimination. It was considered normal. Any other definition would have been regarded as bizarre and would have resulted in ostracism of its practitioners for engaging in behavior equivalent to wearing aluminum foil hats.

Where do Christians get their definition of marriage?

Christians use this definition of marriage for the same reason as humankind at large; it is normal. However, when the definition is challenged, as is common in contemporary cultural disputes, Christians actually have a basis for defending their contention that it is normal. They don’t rely on the fact that people have used this definition for thousands, perhaps millions, of years. They rely on the revelation of the Creator, God Himself. The Bible records that God created humans male and female and ordained marriage as their proper relationship. God further ordained that they produce children within that relationship and nurture them to adulthood, each generation teaching the next the things they needed to know in order to have good lives – God’s truths, skills for daily living, and so forth. Human failing and wicked acts have not changed God’s truth: marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

What justifies suppression of anybody’s speech?

Which brings the subject back to freedom of speech. The culture is busily attempting to suppress the freedom to speak of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Someone recently said that the culture war is necessary in order to make speaking of heterosexual marriage as unacceptable as suggesting that slavery is good. To that end, the army of LGBT activism persuaded Mozilla to fire a man whose only crime was to express his legitimate view on the definition of marriage. To that end, JP Morgan quizzed its employees to determine who is and who isn’t an ally of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. To that end, the Department of Justice demanded that employees not only tolerate homosexual colleagues but also express their delight at the opportunity to support their lifestyle choices. Freedom of speech necessarily requires the culture to permit people of all viewpoints to express their viewpoints. There must not be penalties for expressing minority viewpoints. There must not be penalties for expressing majority viewpoints.

Yes, the majority must be free to speak of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Because most American citizens, the majority of the population, holds the traditional view of marriage, those citizens must be just as free to express and act on their definition of marriage as the minority, a very tiny minority, who want marriage to include homosexual union, polyamory and bestiality. The US Constitution protects the right of a man to donate money to a political action group that promotes traditional marriage. Marriage. The only marriage that is marriage. The Constitution says that people have a right to their opinions and a right to express their opinions and a right to advocate for legislation in keeping with their opinions.

To have an opinion at odds with the latest Twitter hashtag campaign ought not to be grounds for dismissal from a job or for exclusion from the cultural conversation. Tony Woodlief points out that the culture wants the dissenting opinions on the subject of marriage, or any other subject in fashion at the moment, to be gone. Snuffed out. Squashed. Shut down. The only real way to defeat that objective is to be tireless in support of one’s viewpoint and be willing to pay the price the opponents will impose. Woodlief is right. Those who never give up their unwanted opinions will be made to pay, because the opposition will continue to exact the price. Those who support normality and common sense must be willing to pay in order to continue to hold their views.

What should we do?

The opposition says, “People have freedom of expression, blah blah blah, but until we make those people pay for their wrongheaded beliefs, they’ll continue to hold them.” We who love the Lord and trust the Bible for guidance in faith and life say, “People have freedom of expression, because God gave people this right, and we will advocate for the preservation of that right for as long as it takes.”

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2014/08/the-new-truth-squashes-dissent/#ixzz3AN3PIF4h

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2014/08/the-new-truth-squashes-dissent/#ixzz3AN3PIF4h

Without Citizen Vigilance Religious Liberty Will Be Lost

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a private corporation, went all the way to the Supreme Court in the name of religious liberty. The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to be exempt from paying for services which conflict with the religious convictions of the owners. The ruling applied a section of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the mechanism for resolving the conflict between the interests of government and the values of free citizens. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided an easy way out of the conflict between private convictions and public agendas.

This resolution of the matter is not acceptable to some people, because there are actually citizens in the USA who do not want Christians to be free to live according their consciences. A law is being proposed in the US Senate which says that and employer ‘shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service’ such as abortifacient drugs mislabeled as contraceptives. The bill S2578 includes a statement intended to prevent an outcome in the Supreme Court such as the Hobby Lobby decision. It says that this provision “shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The title of the bill, “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” cloaks the subversion of religious liberty in a political agenda that demonizes corporations and pretends to respond to a threat not in existence, all in order to move forward an agenda designed ultimately to shut all reference to religion or its moral and ethical teachings out of public life.

In the body of the bill S 2578, the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case is referenced, and the accusation is made that “some for-profit corporations can take away the birth control coverage guaranteed to their employees and the covered dependents of such employees through their group health plan.” The reader will immediately notice that the language says, “take away” birth control coverage, a statement that is ridiculous in view of the fact that the employer in question provided 16 different methods of birth control.

S 2578 further states that the Hobby Lobby decision allows Hobby Lobby “to treat a critical women’s health service differently than other comparable services.” The “critical health service” is birth control, and the decision only addresses 4 of the 20 FDA-approved methods of birth control. With regard to the 4 pertinent items, the Supreme Court decision assures the employees that those 4 items will be available to the employees without cost-sharing, just as federal law requires. The change that takes place as a consequence of the decision is completely administrative and not visible in the experience of the employees. They suffer no loss. If they want abortifacient drugs at no charge to themselves, the Hobby Lobby decision in no way impedes their ability to obtain them and in no way costs them any money. The Hobby Lobby owners might actually wish that nobody used abortifacient drugs instead of birth control, but the decision rendered does not have that result. The Supreme Court protected the owners of Hobby Lobby without creating any intereference for someone who prefers to abort an existing baby rather than prevent conception in the first place.

The real consequence of the Hobby Lobby decision is that government is required to respect the religious conviction of the owners of Hobby Lobby, a conviction rooted in moral values upheld in their faith for thousands of years, a moral standard that says it is a sin for believers to participate in the murder of unborn human beings. Senator Murray’s bill fails to state that it is all about authorizing the murder of unborn babies, because the politicians do not want to say that the drugs in question are abortifacient, and they most emphatically do not want to say that abortion is the murder of unborn human beings. That sounds terrible. Barbaric. Completely uncivilized. It sounds like something the most primitive tribe along the Amazon would know was evil, so politicians do not want to say in public that they think the murder of unborn human beings is something every woman ought to be able to do, even if she must compel her employer to participate in the murder by paying for the drug that does the deed.

It is not possible to read the bill S 2578 without concluding that religious liberty is not respected by the supporters of this bill. The First Amendment to the US Constitution was passed by the very First Congress of the USA, and it was speedily ratified by all thirteen original states. Citizens in those states valued freedom from a state-sponsored religion and the freedom to exercise their own faith. They all felt that their faith was the proper source of guidance in matters of right and wrong, and when the state chose a course that conflicted with a person’s faith-guided conscience, the first citizens of our nation believed that the state should step back. The citizens who founded the USA did not want the government to decree moral standards; they felt that morality was best expressed in the consciences of voters who would, in their votes and in their voices to elected representatives, make their moral standards heard. It was expected that the moral voice of the people would be reflected in the actions of their elected representatives and senators. When the people’s representatives and senators overstepped their bounds, the first citizens of the USA looked to the Supreme Court to reign in the inappropriate actions of the Congress. Just as citizens today continue to do. It was the most natural thing conceivable that Hobby Lobby’s case should come to the Supreme Court, because it is an instance of conflict between a political agenda enacted into law and a citizen’s religious conviction which defines what is morally right and wrong. The First Amendment was intended to resolve those instances where such conflicts arose with a bias toward preserving personal religious liberty.

In the early 90’s a series of events led Congress to decide that the First Amendment protections were in danger, and Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to bolster the protections provided by the First Amendment. Harry Reid and many others who are still in the Senate today voted for that law. It was viewed as a good and necessary enhancement to protect religious liberty in the US.

Now, the Senate is considering a law that pulls the teeth of the very protections the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was designed to strengthen. This proposed law would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and force employers to do exactly what the Hobby Lobby decision exempted them from doing. This proposed bill is a malicious and vindictive assault on the freedom of people of any faith whatsoever to live according to the teachings of their faith.
This law is not only bad for the employers who are encumbered by the Affordable Care Act. It is an omen of future events. If the Congress of the United States of America passes such a law, it is a clear indicator that the Congress does not want citizens to have religious liberty. If this law passes, the next time Congress considers a law that requires people to do the opposite of what their faith teaches them is right, the precedent set by this law would be to include the same statement in the new law: “shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” If Patty Murry’s bill to force employers to pay for abortifacient drugs despite their religious convictions to the contrary, it will mean that the Congress has the desire and the will to end religious liberty in the USA.

Time for prayer. Time to write your Senator and say “Vote No on S 2578” . Time to tell your neighbor to do the same thing.

Who Needs Autonomous Religions?

In his 1993 book, The Culture of Disbelief, Stephen L. Carter said, “autonomous religions play a vital role as free critics of the institutions of secular society.” The hubbub surrounding the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision makes it clear that the culture is flummoxed by any idea that a religion could be autonomous. It is autonomous religion that teaches its members to live by their principles 24/7. That little icon, 24/7, is the key to the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, and it underlies a great many ongoing disputes.
Twenty-first century culture deifies the notion of living 24/7. Be a dreamer. Seek your goals and don’t let anyone crush your dream. Stand up for yourself. Be who you are 24/7, and don’t let anyone steal your self from you. This is the mantra of secular self-actualization, but when a person of faith lives by his or her faith 24/7, all of a sudden this commitment means that this person wants to push his faith off on other people, and the culture cannot tolerate someone who does that. The fact that activities to explain faith or even invite other people to believe are not the same thing as becoming tyrannical over other people seems not to be important. The important thing is that somebody somewhere has decreed that people with religious faith must keep their faith to themselves, this despite the fact that other people’s beliefs assault people of faith in the form of ads on websites for general news and public service announcements ceaselessly teaching the philosophies politicians espouse make it difficult to watch or listen to any content on any subject without being invited, or even forcefully motivated, to think what someone else thinks is a good idea.
Comments online and even on television and twitter repeat the cultural accusation that the Supreme Court has ruled that an employer may invade the bedroom of an employee. Yet all the owners of Hobby Lobby ever asked was the Constitutional right to “exercise” their faith. They did not ask that the law be changed to require every American citizen to do what they do. They asked only to be free to live according to the teachings of their faith. They learned the teachings, because in the USA, their religion is autonomous. The government of the US, unlike the government of China, does not try to tell any religion what it must teach. Unlike the government of Tajikistan, it does not tell parents that they may not teach their religion to their children. Unlike the government of Laos, it does not withdraw citizenship from someone whose faith principles prevent him from celebrating local animist rituals that other citizens practice habitually. In the USA, the Constitution gives each religion the autonomy to decide its own teachings and the freedom to teach its adherents the principles of its faith. Every follower, like the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby is protected by the Constitution when “exercising” the principles taught by his religion.
Why does Carter believe that the role of religions is vital to a secular society? The answer lies in the values taught by religions. Secularists tend to think that whatever makes an individual happy is right for that individual. This rule of thumb may work for a person who lives in isolation, but not so well for communities. In a community, people need standards of more enduring value and broader application than each person’s individual muse.
The important thing to know about autonomous religion is that it operates independently; nobody outside the religion’s governing structures tells the religion what to believe or what to teach. An autonomous religion determines its beliefs, its teachings and its values without input from the culture or the government. In fact, those entities, important as they are, have no influence on the teachings of an autonomous religion. The religion has its own sacred sources from which it receives direction with regard to principles.
Furthermore, an autonomous religion reacts and develops independently of culture or government. In the Hobby Lobby case, the developments which resulted in passage of the Affordable Care Act derived from political considerations shaped by secular pressures in the culture. Politics may feel the need to respond to cultural pressure, because the people in the culture vote, but an autonomous religion has no obligation to voters. Its wisdom and moral guidance does not come from the culture; it comes from the religion’s sacred sources by means of writings, tradition, revelation or any combination of those elements. There may be religions that are culture-oriented, but if so, they are rare and sparsely followed. Hobby Lobby’s owners live by a religious tradition of values that go back thousands of years and that have been taught consistently to millions of believers. These religious values are shaped by revelation, tradition and sacred writings, none of which take any note of changing cultural trends. It is very common for cultural trends to clash with immovable religious standards. An attempt to compel people whose moral fiber is shaped by their faith poses incalculable stresses that the government need not impose. The Constitution is designed specifically to prevent the behemoth of government from imposing such stresses on people of faith.
The Constitutional solution is important for the health of the nation. When people are compelled to choose between faith and government, the pressure is incalculable. Early Christians faced exactly this kind of pressure, and there was no Constitutional protection for them. They were beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and executed, because there was no protective buffer between individuals and that powerful government. Good people died, because they could not sacrifice the faith that sustained their lives. Strong people died. Talented people died. Leaders died. The Empire lost many valuable citizens because the empire of Rome could not tolerate autonomous religions.
Thank goodness the government of the USA is constrained by the Constitution to allow religions to exist in autonomy. The government may not choose a single religion and force everyone to belong. The chosen church may not deliver edicts to the head of state in opposition to the will of the people. In the USA, the autonomy of the religions sets up a culture in which the values taught by the religions are expressed in the political discourse and the decisions of the electorate, not in the administrative bureaucracy of government. The values expressed in the votes of the people become the values that shape specific acts, but at no time is any particular religion “in power.” The citizens with their votes are always “in power.”
The Hobby Lobby decision is an example of what happens when the autonomy of religions and the fundamental human rights of believers are respected. The Hobby Lobby decision gave government the guidance it needed in order to achieve what it said were compelling government interests without exerting tyrannical control over private citizens whose religious convictions were outraged by the Affordable Care Act.