Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dancing ACLU Lawyers

by Douglas Wilson

One of the problems with using Constantine as a marker is that there is a tendency to anachronism, attributing to him any subsequent malfeasance on the part of Christians in power. But the Constantinian settlement was, by and large, a tolerant one. Lactantius, the early church father who tutored Constantine's children, was an apologist for this kind of toleration, which, in his day, was a toleration of pagans.

But there is a distinction between toleration of the views held by others, and toleration as an absolute desideratum. The former is crucial to every form of civilized society, Constantine let pagans continue to be pagans, and to think like pagans, and he let them continue to serve in the army (for example), but at the same time, Constantine ended the pagan sacrifices -- a momentous step, and foundational to all religious liberty.

This distinction is necessary because at a certain level, the whole society has to decide whether to go this way or that way. For example, democracy does not mean that everybody votes for president, and the winner gets to be president 57% of the time, while the loser only gets to be president on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It is not like a custody battle. The public sacrifices for the whole society either have to be performed or not. The public square cannot be a pantheon -- for if it is, then the state is god, and that is idolatry. Calling it "secularism" doesn't fix it.

There must be a God over all. That God may tell us not to hassle the people who don't believe in Him, and that is precisely what the triune God does tell us. In this mere Christendom I am talking about (you know, the idyllic one, down the road), Muslims could come from other lands and live peaceably, they could buy and sell, write letters to the editor, own property, have that property protected by the cops, and worship Allah in their hearts and homes. What they could not do is argue that minnarets have the same rights of public expression that church bells do. The public space would belong to Jesus.

Our secular gods promised to do exactly this kind of thing, saying that if we kept this public space "neutral" (as they defined neutral), then all would be allowed to do our own thing on our own time. But this secularism is teetering, and is clearly displaying its hostility to the Christian faith. What I am saying here is that a Christian settlement would do a better job of protecting the true rights of Muslims and secularists, than secularists do in protecting the rights of Christians.

The argument goes this way. If I wanted Muslims to have the right to refuse baptism (which I would certainly want), then I would have to argue that case in the name of Jesus, and from the Bible. Obviously, I think that it can be done. But if I wanted to argue from the premises of secularism that all of us are anything more than meat, bones, and protoplasm, where do I go to make the argument? The implications of a godless universe have worked their way into the structure of our laws, and it is not too long afterwards that the darkness falls. And it won't be the kind of night that you can dance away.

When tolerance becomes a universal virtue, suspended upon its own air hook and nothing else, then you come to think you can't say no to virtually anything -- including those things which will issue a fatwa against your silly views of tolerance. The universally tolerant do say no to one thing, however, and that is to any idea of Christendom. If you mention sharia law, they will talk about the rich cultural diversity that is found in certain parts of Ohio. But if you mention biblical theonomy, as being perhaps more attractive in other parts of Ohio, you will find these folks with heads between their knees, breathing into paper bags, in preparation for writing a hysterial letter to the editor. This is because universal toleration is suicidal. In Proverbs, Wisdom says that all who hate her love death (Prov. 8:36), and they really do.

Our fin de siecle secularism is fully prepared to embrace that which will destroy it pronto, and to shun as a menace that faith which actually invented true toleration.
But I propose a contest. Let's build an altar of stones, an altar of absolute toleration. Let's have ACLU lawyers dance around it until noon, cutting themselves with knives, and hitting themselves on the head with briefcases. Let us build another altar, and ask Elijah to stretch out his hands toward Heaven, and call upon Yahweh. The God that answers with a truly free and tolerant society . . . He is God. Let us serve Him.

No comments: