Several weeks ago, in the wake of the Indiana/religious freedom meltdown, Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, used his platform in the nation’s “newspaper of record,” to declare traditional religion incompatible with contemporary morality and contemporary social trends. Citing various contemporary moral philosophers and LGBT activists, Bruni made the case that religion must “bend” to this new moral and cultural reality. Specifically, he wrote:
And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.
That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.
But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.
It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras. . . .
So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.
“Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time,” said David Gushee, an evangelical Christian who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. He openly challenges his faith’s censure of same-sex relationships, to which he no longer subscribes. . . .
“Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said. . . .
Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”
Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”
His commandment is worthy — and warranted.
This is powerful stuff, fascinating stuff, dangerous, scary stuff. Unfortunately, this “stuff” isn’t only the province of famous but largely unimportant New York Times columnists. Last month, Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, told the 2015 Women in the World Summit that “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will … And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Mrs. Clinton was referring specifically to abortion in this case, but one can easily see how her views can be applied to other aspects of religion, indeed, how she intended for those words to apply more broadly across the cultural spectrum.
Also last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges. Same-sex marriage supporters have focused on the statement by the plaintiffs’ attorney Mary Bonauto that “priests and churches will not be forced to marry anyone,” insisting that this means that religious freedom will unquestionably be protected, even in an age of legal same-sex marriage. The truth of the matter, however, is that churches, religious schools, and other religious institutions will, indeed, be threatened by the new regimes, whether or not they are literally “forced” to do anything. Religious beliefs will be “bent,” one way or another, harnessing the power of the state.
For our money, the more important exchange in the oral arguments took place not between Bonauto and Justice John Roberts, but between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General of the United States Donald Verrilli. It went as follows:
JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I… I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I… I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is it is going to be an issue.
“It is going to be an issue.” What the Solicitor General is saying here is that “force” or not, it is only a matter of time before tax-exempt organizations – universities, schools, and, eventually, churches – are challenged for their opposition to same-sex marriage. Moreover, it is only a matter of time before some, if not all of those organizations lose that status because of their desire to maintain their historical faith and their concomitant unwillingness to conform to contemporary (and perhaps fleeting) societal “norms.” Bonauto may be correct, in that literal state force may never be applied to priests or churches, but it’s pretty clear that state coercion of those priests and churches will nevertheless be a factor in the post-same-sex-marriage regime. Take away the institutions’ tax-exempt status, and you will destroy them as surely as you would if you applied the actual physical power of the state. And that, we suppose, is sort of the point.
The political Left as we know it today has its origins in the French Enlightenment and specifically in the prelude to the French Revolution. Beginning largely with Voltaire, the French intellectuals railed incessantly and mercilessly against the institutions of their age and especially against the Church, Christianity, and the established order more broadly, all of which, they believed, prevented the realization of human ability and perverted the relations of society. As Voltaire famously put it in a letter to Frederick the Great:
[Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.
Voltaire led to Rousseau. Rousseau led, in turn, to the Revolution and to Robespierre. Robespierre led to Wilhelm Weitling. Weitling led to Marx and Engels, then to Lenin, to Hitler, to Mao and all the rest. The lone constant in all of this – and in the post-Enlightenment philosophies of the French and Germans – is hatred of and opposition to Christianity as the mother and perpetuator of all evils. Voltaire’s “war against Christianity,” became Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, which became Marx’s “the opium of the people.” For at least 500 years, the Catholic Church has been the object of derision and rebellion. And for nearly 300 years, Christianity itself has been attacked as the hated facilitator of a status quo that prevents man from achieving his true greatness. Voltaire cried “Ecrasez l’infame,” i.e. “crush the infamous thing.” Rousseau lamented that “Everything is good in leaving the hands of the Creator of Things; everything degenerates in the hands of man,” which is to say that the institutions of man, especially the Church, corrupt man’s soul.
Is it any wonder then that today the wan successors to the philosophes insist that “Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people” and that “church leaders must be made” to bend? Christianity has been the perpetual enemy of the Left since the Left’s genesis in the fever swamps of pre-Revolutionary France. There is no reason whatsoever to expect that to change today. If only the Christians can be crushed, once and for all, the new morality, the true morality can be realized and man can live happily ever after.
Individual gay men, women and couples are as diverse in their political, economic, religious, and social beliefs as anyone else in the country. In the context of the broader political struggle, however, these men, women, and couples represent a fantastic and powerful contrivance for the Left, the means by which to challenge the dominant moral structure and hopefully to break it once and for all.
We have long believed that the traditional moral order’s likeliest hope for survival in the new cultural milieu is the good will of the triumphant new cultural order, the belief, on the part of the culture wars’ victors, that winning is enough and that punishing their opponents is therefore unnecessary. If the decision on this matter were left to the individuals most affected by this battle in the broader war – i.e. the gay men, women and couples who seek legal protection for their unions – we have little doubt that such an accommodation could and would be reached. We suspect that most gay men, women and couples want simply to be left alone to enjoy their lives, just like anyone else.
But the decision will not come the average folks, we fear. It will, rather, be made by the hard-core political activists, the cultural leftists who are the heirs to the political belief that has long sought to destroy the existing order, notably the Catholic Church and Christianity more broadly.
Mary Bonauto expects that no one will be forced to do anything he or she doesn’t wish. And she may believe that. But the political reality is more complicated. Tax-exempt status will be the next battlefield, and the war will continue, no matter the results.