Secular Hope: What the Religious Right Really Wants and Why Liberal Democrats Should Support Them

Secular Hope: What the Religious Right Really Wants and Why Liberal Democrats Should Support Them

by Andrea L. Parliament

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Overview

Different understandings of the word secular are at the root of Americas domestic and international political conflicts. Academics and legal professionals, by failing to heed Harvey Coxs 1965 warning to distinguish between secularism as a closed ideology and secularization as a healthy cultural process, are inadvertently fuelling fundamentalism and the culture wars. SECULAR HOPE starts by first articulating the philosophic assumptions of monotheism, and then distinguishes between Romantic, Rational, and Postmodern Secularism. Postmodern Secularism, as the champion of tolerance, is explored in particular detail because of its conflicting assumptions with monotheistic religions. The United States was founded on faith in secularization; the belief that only individuals can morally reconcile their religious and rational understandings of their own personal experiences. Deviating from this idea, which is deeply embedded in all monotheistic cultures, cannot be done lightly even when coming from the best of intentions. By comparing Canadian and American constitutional approaches to secularity, it is shown that while Americas unique path is more contentious it is ultimately more hopeful. A postsecular constitutional vision is offered that will safely bring down the Western wall of separation that currently is preventing America from moving beyond the Cold war and realizing its full potential as a global leader. SECULAR HOPE provides a historical, yet practical, understanding of what it means to live respectfully in a secular society today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440193927
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/12/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 327 KB

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Secular Hope

What the Religious Right really wants and Why Liberal Democrats Should Support Them
By Andrea L. Parliament

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Andrea L. Parliament
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4401-9392-7


Chapter One

America and Its Discontents

America Increasingly Divided

Metaphors are words with power. Americans built a metaphoric wall to separate religion from politics, only to find that in the 2000 Presidential election, religion was the strongest predictor of who voted for George W. Bush. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the pastor at Barack Obama's church received more media attention than the enormous credit problem that imploded, spawning a global recession. And as of November, 2009, Americans' religious intensity continued to be a major predictor of party identification and approval of President Obama's performance. Are the ancient Roman gods who ruled for over 1,100 years laughing at young America's secular attempt to control its own fate?

The constitutional wall was designed to separate institutions, but now it is separating U.S. citizens. In 2009, America divided fairly evenly into left and right: with 47 percent of Americans identifying themselves as progressive/liberal and 48 percent as conservative/Libertarian. This split is increasingly becoming geographical, with the West coast and Northeast being predominantly progressive/liberal and the Southern interior and Southeastern states being conservative/Libertarian. Further, Americans are no longer moving once they become settled: only 12 percent of Americans changed residences in 2007, the smallest number since tracking commenced in the late 1940's.

While America's Second Civil War was declared by Ronald Brownstein in 2007, it really started thirty-four years earlier, in 1973. That year the IRS attempted to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University for its racial discrimination policies. In response, Paul Weyrich founded the Heritage Foundation for the promotion of libertarian policies on taxation and regulation. By 1979, Weyrich broke the spirit of the wall of separation by partnering with Jerry Falwell, who also broke with his Baptist Church's long standing tradition of separating church and state.

This movement gained momentum as a consequence of the Supreme Court decisions to remove school prayers, legalize abortion and overturn sodomy laws. Soon the infamous Moral Majority was founded such that when the constitutional wall reached its apex in the 1980's, the religious right was able to scale it back by electing Ronald Reagan.

The political marriage between Libertarians and the religious right has lasted over thirty years, the fruits of which are many religiously inspired policy changes. In 1996 Congress provided special funding for abstinence-only sex education programs and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed to restrict the definition of marriage to the union of a man and a woman; in 2002 the Supreme Court deemed indirect religious school funding through voucher programs constitutional; President Bush vetoed stem cell research funding in 2006; in 2007 the Supreme Court upheld Bush's Partial Birth Abortion Act, ruling that laws limiting abortions need not include an exemption clause protecting the health of the mother; and finally, in 2008, President Bush passed a Conscience Clause for medical workers allowing them to abstain from conducting public services for religious reasons.

While President Obama's election brought the art of compromise back to the White House, the Second Civil War continues on different fronts. Obama is reaching out to the religious right by demonstrating his fluency in the language of religious scripture, while trying to avoid religious rationale for his policy positions. In his inaugural address he stated "We remain a young nation, but in the words of the Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things". As a second example, he referenced Christ's "Sermon on the Mount" in a speech warning America not to rebuild its economic future on a pile of sand. In a more troubling example however, during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama used the religious term "evil" to justify war, although he tempered his comments with subsequent commitments to international law and standards in regard to the use of force and torture.

President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to secular values by ending funding for the abstinence-only sex-education programs, reversing the stem cell funding policy, and committing to extending full material benefits to same-sex civil unions at the federal level. However, in a seemingly contradictory move he filed legal briefs in support of the DOMA in June, 2009, and has taken no action in removing the " Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy as of December, 2009. Obama has also reconsidered his promise to reverse a policy allowing religious organizations that receive federal funds, to discriminate in their hiring practices on the basis of religion.

Are Obama's policies just carefully crafted rhetoric designed to appease both sides of America's divide? Consider, for example, Obama's compromise on same-sex marriage: equal material rights at the federal level, while protecting a heterosexual definition of marriage. The result is that the issue moves to the state level - reinforcing the wall of separation dividing America. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization, told the New York Times that the California ballot initiative on same-sex marriage was more important than the presidential election. And while the Supreme Court of Iowa overturned a ten-year-old statutory ban on same-sex marriages in April, 2009, it is expected that the issue will be the wild card in the 2010 Iowa elections. The metaphoric wall continues to deeply divide the country into "red" and "blue" states.

Academic Change of Heart

America's constitutional discontents are no longer limited to the religious right. Even atheists are giving up on the wall of separation as an effective constitutional doctrine. Sam Harris lamented, in his 2004 best-selling book, End of Faith, "It is time that we recognized that belief is not a private matter; it has never been merely private." Harris is indirectly stating that the separation of church and state is not really possible because the line between public and private gets blurred on Election Day. So Harris predicted:

We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.

In making this comment, Harris is arguing that the separation of church and state should apply not only to institutions or government employees, but also to private citizens. This is no small request considering it would be contrary to the freedom of conscience and religion that prompted the American constitutional experiment in the first place. However, Harris' comments echo those of the influential liberal philosopher John Rawls, who suggested that citizens should not vote, based on their religious beliefs, because rational explanations are owed to other citizens when their freedoms are curtailed in a secular society. While most defenders of liberalism, including Alan Wolfe, want to distance themselves from Harris' strong rhetoric and Rawls' cold logic which can approach educational elitism, they are forced to acknowledge the political risks of tolerating citizens who are not themselves tolerant. The American constitution is under considerable pressure to balance the increasingly divergent demands of the political left and right.

Raising the constitutional stakes from yet another perspective is Wendy Brown, a political scientist from Berkeley. In her 2006 book, Regulating Aversion, Brown challenged the idea that the secular value of tolerance is universally neutral. Brown claims tolerance is a Western value that is ultimately used to justify discrimination and violence against people from other cultures. This is a significant challenge to the West because secular tolerance is the only political principle that can simultaneously respect, and yet contain, religious beliefs.

Another American academic, anthropologist Talal Asad of the City University of New York, makes the same argument in a less contentious manner. He suggests that secularism, which requires a separation of private beliefs from public discourse, essentially excludes Islamic citizens from meaningful political participation. Asad recommends that for Muslims to be adequately represented in secular societies, their cultural memories and traditions must be integrated into political institutions. What this would mean in the way of necessary compromises is not clear. In a similar line of reasoning, philosopher Charles Taylor, in his report on religious accommodation in the Canadian province of Quebec, makes his argument for "open secularism" such that those with religious beliefs can play a larger role in public life.

Even the secularization scholars have abandoned the secularists in their attempt to shore up the wall of separation. Secularization theory was academically popular until the late 1980's. It predicted that religious values would diminish as globalization, urbanization and technology challenged the universality of one's religious claims and science continued to disprove myth. This trend was considered irreversible and the hallmark of modernity since the Enlightenment.

However, in the face of significant evidence of a global resurgence consisting of a Christian Protestant movement in the United States, South America and Africa, as well as a resurgence of Islam around the world, most of the secularization scholars changed their minds. Peter Berger, a sociologist at Boston University, reversed his opinion on the irreversible trend in the late 1980's and Harvey Cox, the Harvard theologian best known for his book The Secular City, has more recently pronounced that "secularization is dead". And in 1994, sociologist Jose Casanova, from Georgetown University, asked "Who still believes in the myth of secularization?"

Secularism Lite

But not all academics have given up secular hope. Some are hoping this is a temporary blip, not a sustained return to religious beliefs. Work is being done to deconstruct the nuances of the terms secularism, religion, and modernity in order to revive the irreversible march toward progress. Pollsters have set up networks in every corner of the world to monitor changes in religious attitudes, behaviors, and policies in order to explain the secularization theory with increasingly detailed nuances. Secularization is usually measured as the frequency of church attendance and prayer, self-identified religious affiliation if any, and belief in God. The data convincingly shows an economic foundation to secularization because there is a clear international trend of stronger economies having higher rates of atheism, and poorer countries having stronger intensity of religious beliefs.

This correlation is very strong in Europe, where religious beliefs are at an all-time low and economic development is relatively high. Religion is also most intensely practiced in the world's poorest nations, such as Senegal, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Indonesia. However, there is a clear outlier to this global trend-the United States. In 2006, while the United States had GDP per capita at $50,000, it had levels of religious intensity similar to Poland and Mexico whose GDP per capita were one-fifth of the United States. Given that the United States was the first to adopt a secular constitution, it is unclear if America is just an outlier or a predictor of what is to come.

In recanting the secularization theory, Peter Berger explained the overall global resurgence as having three sources: (1) the human need for certainty, (2) secularism as the view of a powerful educated elite, and (3) "strongly felt religion has always been around." However, the problem with Berger's three explanations is that none of them can explain why there was a decline in the United States up until the 1970s and why the United States would differ from other Western countries.

In trying to explain the U.S. exception, a joint study from Harvard and University of Michigan concluded that the United States' religious revival likely stems from America's poor social welfare system:

The US is exceptionally high in religiosity in large part, we believe, because it is also one of the most unequal post-industrial societies under comparison. Exceptionally high levels of economic insecurity are experienced by many sectors of US society, despite American affluence, due to the cultural emphasis on the values of personal responsibility, individual achievement, and mistrust of big government, limiting the role of public services and the welfare state for basic matters such as healthcare covering all the working population.

The problem with the economic development, or secularism lite theory, is that unlike the underlying forces of the secularization theory (globalization, urbanization and technology); economic development does not have an irreversible linear progression.

Are we regressing to the religious wars that plagued Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because of a returning income gap between rich and poor? Such an explanation would be nice and simple, but in America it is the religious right that is preventing the regulatory reform that would rectify this problem. If religious views are held most intensely by the less educated and the poor, why would they be resisting the social reforms offered by liberal Democrats? The cause of the religious resurgence is not yet understood.

The Clash of Religious Civilizations?

In addition to the domestic attacks on the Constitutional Wall, American secularism is considered by some Muslims to be a direct threat to Islam. America's foreign policy of spreading democracy, freedom, and secular values has not been welcomed, but rather interpreted as threats to Islamic values. Samuel P. Huntington, in his 1996 best-selling book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, predicted Western and Islamic cultures to be the most prone to cultural clashes. The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, America's symbols of Western progress and globalization, gave Huntington's thesis credibility. Huntington argued that the sources of this conflict are the uniquely Western events of the Christian Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.

Most scholars support the Reformation as the critical historical event that split Islam with the West, because the Reformation took power away from both church and state and placed it with the individual. Northrop Frye, a biblical scholar, pointed to the Reformation as the distinguishing Western event that established the legitimacy of an individual's democratic right to participate politically:

Just as the Protestant church subordinates itself to the impact of Scripture, so in temporal matters it subordinates itself to the "higher powers," without claiming temporal authority. This renunciation extrudes the society of power from the Church itself, which thereupon builds itself up on the pattern of Christian liberty, forming an apostolic community in which members are made free and equal by their faith.

Similarly, John Rawls identified the Reformation as the critical historical event that spawned the works of Locke and Mill, and hence Western liberal democracies. In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor outlined the Western cultural changes since the 1500's that allowed for a complete reversal of the social conditions that now make it almost impossible to believe in God. Bernard Lewis stated, "Generally speaking, Muslim tolerance of unbelievers was far better than anything available in Christendom, until the rise of secularism in the seventeenth century." Reformation-based explanations for the culture clash are also supported by a general pattern of lagging secularization in traditionally Catholic countries like Poland, Ireland and many countries in South America. Further, the leading secularist countries in northern Europe, like Sweden, for example, have traditionally Protestant backgrounds.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Secular Hope by Andrea L. Parliament Copyright © 2010 by Andrea L. Parliament. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgements....................ix
Introduction....................xiii
Chapter 1 - America and Its Discontents....................1
America Increasingly Divided....................1
Academic Change of Heart....................4
Secularism Lite....................6
The Clash of Religious Civilizations?....................8
Chapter 2 - The Clash Between Secularism and Monotheism....................16
Understanding The Nature of Myth....................17
Historical Development of Monotheism....................20
Defining Monotheism and Monotruism....................22
Historical Development of Secularism....................24
Romantic Secularism....................26
Rational Secularism....................31
Postmodern Secularism....................34
Chapter 3 - Secularizing The Parable of Hope....................45
The Great Code....................45
Reviving The Secularization Theory....................48
Secularization and the Liberal Tradition....................53
International Costs of Secularism....................57
Most Have Already Started The Climb....................57
Chapter 4 - Appeal to Monotheists....................63
Monotheism and the Holy Scriptures....................64
Secularization and Human Rights....................67
Monotruistic Compromise....................68
Chapter 5 - Appeal to Secularists....................72
In Defense of Eliminating False Gods....................73
Picking and Choosing....................75
Habermas on Religion and Rationality....................83
Chapter 6 - Islamic Secularization....................89
Islamic Views on Secularism....................90
Reuniting the Prodigal and Obedient Sons....................94
Consultative Secularization....................96
Chapter 7 - Secular Constitutions....................103
Comparing Secular Constitutions....................104
Religious Judges and Elected Officials....................108
Secularization and the Office of the President....................111
Chapter 8 - Canada's Postmodern Secularism....................114
The Facts in Chamberlain....................116
Judicial Review, not Public Reconciliation....................117
The Canadian Supreme Court Interprets "Secular Principles"....................118
Bias Against Religion....................125
Chapter 9 - America United....................128
Health care Reform....................128
Understanding the Republican Alliance....................130
Jane Jacob's Monstrous Hybrids....................132
Where Hope was Lost....................135
Unwavering Commitment to Truth....................138
United Under One Truth....................143
Appendix I - Comparing Assumptions....................147
Appendix II - Monotheism's Historical Plot of Hope....................148
Simple Unity - Divine Rulers and Monotheism....................148
Descending the U - Challenging the Divine Right to Rule....................150
Crossing the U - Fragmentation, Conflict & Despair....................161
Ascending the U - Daring To Cross the Threshold of Hope....................162
Glossary....................167
Bibliography....................170
Index....................181

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