With My Customary Mildness

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Those conservatives who believe that the threat of same-sex marriage is coming solely from places like the gay pride parades of San Francisco aren’t paying close enough attention. A lot is going on, in the legal world, in the entertainment industry, in the crazy vanguards, and elsewhere. There is in fact a lot of pressure building up in the Republican Party — from the secular libertarian right — to accommodate itself to the new norms of “social tolerance.”

Christians who are Christians first, and are only politically engaged as a result of this prior commitment, need to get ready for this. There are certain basic confusions that Christians have to get rid of in order to be prepared for this debate. The first concerns the relationship of public virtue to virtue itself. The second concerns the relationship of religion and state, an issue that is often misleadingly called “separation of church and state.” And the third would be the authority of right reason, even in the midst of hell and high water.

David Lampo, in his libertarian/Republican defense of gay rights, says this: “It is time for them [Republicans and conservataives] to realize that, in a free society, the highest political virtue should be freedom, not adherence to any specific moral or religious code” (A Fundamental Freedom, p. xii).

Got it. In a free society the highest political virtue should be freedom. And in a triangular society, the highest political virtue should be drawing triangles. So much we may assume, even without argument. But why should a society be free? Who cares if we draw triangles? I invite you to just try to answer that question without recourse to any specific moral or religious code. In fact, let me change that invitation to a defiance. Lampo is not providing serious political analysis here — these are patched-together bromides from a political operative trying to get new talking points into circulation. Virtue requires serious definition, and it must have a foundation. Public virtue is a species of virtue, and it is no less in need of definition (and foundations) than is virtue generally.

On the separation of church and state, let me just point out, with my customary mildness, that separating the government of the church from the government of the state (a valuable thing to do, and a political invention of conservative Christians) is not the same thing as separating the state from morality, or the state from virtue, or the state from ultimate questions, or the state from God. To return to Lampo’s previous point, what should we call it if someone rejects the “highest political virtue” of “freedom”? What is that? Is it immoral to do such a thing? If so, by what standard? If not, why should we worry about transgressing that boundary? Who cares?

When it comes to right reason, let us be done with our diffident throat-clearing and affirm our responsibility to drive in a straight line, not only on our public streets, but also in our public arguments. He who says A must say B, and when a homosexual advocate is invited by us to say B (for certain things, not yet on the table, will most assuredly be on the table shortly), the shouting will commence immediately. The shouts (and the placards) will claim that anyone who would dare raise such a question is being hateful, vitriolic, hysterical, bigoted, and so forth. So when the commotion dies down, we should raise the question again.

“If the highest political virtue in our society is freedom, what are the limits, if any, to those freedom, and why? I have a list here of certain ‘freedoms’ actively being sought out on Craig’s List, which I can now read in alphabetical order. Please tell which of these freedoms will be indulged in your ideal society and which will not be. For those that will not be indulged, please tell us which virtue, apparently higher than freedom, is being used to make that determination.”



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