So let us talk for just a moment about Christian nationalism, Not the Bee, and me.
Last week I made some headlines, just like the man with the corduroy pillow. I had written a blog post in which I explained (cogently) the sense in which we should want America to be a Christian nation. We want our nation to be a Christian nation because we want all the nations to be Christian nations. We want this because we love Jesus and want to do what He told us to do.
An outfit called Right Wing Watch was unsettled by it, and they had this to say about it:
“Christian nationalism isn’t enough for radical right-wing pastor Douglas Wilson: ‘How many of these Christian nations are there supposed to be? No set number is given, but the simple answer is: All of them. All the nations of men are to be brought into submission to Christ.’”
Not the Bee then posted their reaction, along with a comment that indicated that they thought that a conservative Christian pastor ought to be able to believe conservative Christian things, but maybe that’s just them.
All of this naturally generated some comments in my Twitter feed, big surprise, but then I also got a letter in the old-timey mail from a woman who wanted to correct me on a few things. Because I believe that her misunderstandings are widely shared, and because they came to me on actual paper, I thought it might be good to give a brief response to some of her points. I have edited her language slightly in a few spots to make it fit this format.
“It makes no sense to say that any religion, Christianity, Muslim, or whatever, should govern a nation just because that is what you want . . . It is all about our own personal spiritual belief, and while that may give us comfort as individuals, none of us can force our faith on others.”
I would say that the first part of this is correct. No one religious system should be imposed on anyone simply because someone else happens to feel like it. Our feelings are neither here nor there. But I would want to expand the principle, and say that no one worldview system should be imposed on people just because someone happens to feel like it. This applies to all of the systems—Christian, Muslim, Jew, secularist, agnostic—nobody gets to impose on those who differ simply because of their personal opinions.
But we then have a difficulty. There are millions of us, and we do need to make collective decisions. We must make decisions that have clear moral implications, and in order to sort out moral implications, there must be a moral system to do it with.
Utilitarian? But some of us are not utilitarians. Hinduism? But some of us are not Hindus. Kantian? But some of us are not Kantian. Islamic? But some of us are not Muslim. Rawlsian? But some of us are not Rawlsians. If we cannot cram our religion down other people’s throats, why should we get to cram our philosophy that we learned in our second year at Ball State down their throat?
This is the dilemma, but the societal decisions still have to be made. The decisions we make collectively will be a natural function of what we think and assume as individuals taken all together. This is a societal consensus, and it requires no passing of laws before it forms. It requires no permission to form. Laws are eventually passed because such a consensus has taken shape. No society can exist as a society without these shared assumptions. Not only so, but those assumptions will be about foundational reality. Who are we? What are we doing here? Where are we going?
Those questions are answered by religions, by worldviews, by philosophies, and by ideologies. That means that said religions, worldviews, philosophies, and ideologies all stand on the same level when it comes to imposing on others just because somebody feels like it. The coercive power of the state should not be employed in order to cudgel people into submission about certain opinions. Of course not. But as we debate, and discuss, and as we Christians evangelize (which is persuasion, not coercion), it becomes possible that the societal consensus is altered. This is not tyranny. It is a society changing from one sort of society to another.
Now someone is going to say that this could be a bad change, as I grant that it could. It could represent a slide into governmental tyranny, which would be bad. But it might also represent a change from a society in which it was acceptable to chop babies into pieces into a society that was starting to have second thoughts about that.
My correspondent wanted to imply that her strictures only applied to formal religions, and that what I believe about God should not be forced on anybody just because I believe it. True enough. But what other people think about America, melting pots, pluralism, and neutrality in the public square should also not be imposed on me just because they feel like it.
A mature society will reflect on what ultimate truth is, and that mature society will know how to come to a responsible conclusion. That society will then have to make a decision. Like it or not, Christians are part of this process, and we want our society to move in the direction of less canceling, fewer freak-outs, more respect for life, and a great deal more religious liberty. That’s our position, and I for one am prepared to defend and discuss it.
But she had another point.
“Given that there are over 30,000 Christian sects, who is to decide which one would be in charge? If all Christians agreed on everything, there would be one Christian religion. Not 30,000.”
This is why there needs to be a separation between church and state. This is also why Francis Schaeffer used to talk about the need for a Christian consensus. That Christian consensus for public policy would have nothing to do with modes of baptism, would have nothing to do with the debates between the supra and infralaparians, would have nothing to do with eschatological debates, pre, post, or a.
A Christian consensus would provide us with a framework that valued religious liberty, that treasured the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, that insisted on the rule of law, and that did not keep sending the kleptocrats to Washington in order watch out for our best interests.
In other words, Christians do differ on what kind of songs we should sing in worship, how much water should be involved in baptism, whether God foreordained all that happens, and so on. We do differ on that. We don’t differ on whether giving puberty blockers to ten-year-olds should be a thing.
“What about all the folks out there who are not Christian? America is a melting pot of many religions, and there are also many non-believers. Chaos would be the result of any kind of government by religion. Just look at Afghanistan. What you want is not beneficial. It is pure selfishness.”
The reason America became a melting pot in the first place is because a Christian consensus built a wonderful place of opportunity, such that many non-believers desperately wanted to come here. The Christian consensus built a country that was attractive to non-believers. When there was a Christian consensus in America, it was not Afghanistan, and it was not chaos.
It is not careful thinking to point to what “religion” did to a particular country. We want to know what religion did it. This is like telling your neighbor not to take his prescribed medication because you know of instances where “pills in bottles” killed a guy. Sure. What pills?
And then my correspondent included an image of somebody else’s tweet, which I am including here as bonus material, in that it represented sort of a daisy chain of non sequiturs.
“The Founders wrote the Constitution; not the Apostles. They added the Bill of Rights; not the Ten Commandments. Their intent was Freedom of Religion. It was not Control by Religion. They created a Democracy; not a Theocracy. Christianity is not a political party.”
Nobody said that the apostles wrote the Constitution. But they did write the world in which the Constitution was written. They did not write the Constitution, but the apostles did make the paper, and they did manufacture the ink. And the Founders wrote the Bill of Rights because they had a very Christian suspicion about the temptations that would afflict government authorities—such as the suspicion that they might want to interfere with the “free exercise” of religion. The Bill of Rights was written so that the kind of nonsense that is currently being imposed on us could be readily resisted.
And when this fellow lauds freedom of religion but decries control by religion, I want to ask what force, what “thing,” fills the vacuum we just created there? So we don’t have control by religion, yay. But now we have control by what? That answer appears in the next line, and the answer appears to be demos, the people. But since we have banished the transcendental claims of religion, and we have left everything up to “the people,” because this is a democracy, pal, not a theocracy, what we are actually saying is that demos is now the theos of the system. Vox populi vox Dei.
But a question arises, at least in my mind. What can’t 75% of the people decide to do if it pleases them? Reintroduce the gladiatorial games? Suppose there is a referendum in which the people decide that they have had it up to here with a pesky minority. You can fill in whatever pesky minority you want. The referendum passes with a massive majority. Demos has spoken.
Is there any court of appeal beyond what Demos has decided to do, which is to dispatch the pesky minority? If a man with an open Bible stands up and says you “cannot” do this vile thing, will someone tap him on the shoulder and say, “Ah, ah, ah. Freedom of religion, not control by religion.”
And incidentally, while we are on the subject, because Demos is now our great god, we just voted and decided that freedom of religion is an outmoded concept, a vestige of white supremacy, and a hate crime.