Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Has Religious Freedom Lost its Ring?

Has Donald Trump exposed a deep shift in our society?

Religious liberty used to be a cornerstone of the American narrative.  It's what prompted many of the earliest settlers to our shores.  Remember the Pilgrims?  Religious liberty was what prompted the first American Thanksgiving.

Ever since then, religious liberty is what we've used to help justify our participation in world wars.  It's part of what bolstered our opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  It's the basis upon which many immigrants and asylum-seekers have applied for protection and opportunity in our great nation.

Yet as his bluster against Islam continues unabated - and as it continues to be enthusiastically received by his supporters - Trump appears to be exploiting something that many evangelicals can't fathom:  a national decline in the perceived importance of religious freedom.

Indeed, not only does Trump, egged on as he's been by his vociferous partisans, openly decry an entire brand of religious persuasion in sweepingly unAmerican generalizations, but in his calls for barring adherents to one particular religious brand for any length of time, he's calling for a precedent against religion in general.

That precedent is to declare religious freedom as being negotiable when it comes to protecting America's homeland.  And Trump is getting away with it not because he himself is powerful enough to make it happen, but because his followers want him to be.  Which means that a growing number of Americans must genuinely not seriously value religious freedom anymore, since they're more than willing to chuck it if doing so means our nation might be more "secure."

With an emphasis on "might."  Maybe.  But it's not guaranteed.  Still, however, it's worth ditching religious rights to see how secure our country would be without them.

Yeah, let's "make American great again"...

The historic - and former - home of First Baptist Church in Sedgwick, Maine.
Local apathy allowed the congregation to literally die out in 2010,
and the structure has sat unused since then.
Now obviously, during times of war and national emergencies, certain civil liberties are subject to rational limitations.  There is a legitimate concept called "treason," and an American media outlet broadcasting secret American troop movements, for example, could be a form of treason.

Sometimes, freedom of the press - and free speech in general - depends on people not exploiting free speech to say whatever they want.  That's why it's illegal to yell "fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

The measure for such restrictions is how many people could be injured - or how much overall could be lost - just because one person wants to exercise their "liberty" at the expense of the broader community.

On the one hand, Trump and his supporters are correct in their claims that Muslim extremists don't care about the "broader community," unless they can destroy it so they can personally claim a greater eternal reward.  Radical Islam, as many call it, is not about religious pluralism or freedom of expression.  So the only way to protect our American way of life against such an oppressive mindset, according to Trump, is to prevent it from taking root on American soil.

Unfortunately for all of us, radical Islam is not a nationality, or a corporate entity, or a political party, or a non-religious organization.  In an "open" society such as ours, there's little Constitutional leeway when it comes to weeding out terrorists from non-terrorists.  It may sound easy to merely lump-in all adherents to a particular ideology, and therefore impose restrictions on followers of that ideology, but in the United States, doing so creates a dangerous precedent.

Remember the "Golden Rule"?  "Do unto others as you'd wish they'd do unto you."  It's a basic principle of Western society and law.  But just because a sub-section of a world religion adamantly refutes the Golden Rule, we can't make exceptions.  Otherwise, the religious freedoms of all Americans are compromised.

For many of Trump's followers, that may not be important.  After all, religion in general and Christianity in particular have fallen from favor as American society grows increasingly secular and carnal.  Sure, a majority of Americans may still consider themselves religious or "Christian," but that doesn't mean that faith is of the utmost importance in their life.  They're willing to bend with the populist currents, marginalize Biblical truth, and accept the idea that morality is relative.  And if it means that curtailing the freedoms of one religion curtails the freedoms of all religions, so what?  After all, isn't national security more important than religion?

How bitterly ironic that after years of "seeker-sensitive" Christianity, and our development of America's vast evangelical industrial complex, the society around us not only continues to exist outside of our insular religious empire, but now seems to consider our very existence expendable!

At least when it comes to exchanging our freedoms for the guise of national security.

What's worse, many evangelicals are willingly parroting Trump's hubris, unwittingly relinquishing the free exercise of their faith for the hope of physical safety.

Or, are they? Perhaps a lot of people who profess faith in Christ actually have more faith in another industrial complex - our military one.  If that's true, then those folks will still have faith, except it won't be in God.  It will be in something other than the God of the Bible.

Which, to make the irony even more bitter, will be a win for radical Islam.

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