What You Don’t Get, Doesn’t Matter: Pluralism & Liberty
I focus on the culture war more than other issues now because I feel it is truly a war for our hearts, minds and souls. So much of the rest of politics seems beyond our reach: foreign policy and economics can take whatever twists and turns they will, and we can do little about it other than support the least aggressive and utopian candidate (Rand Paul). But the culture warriors are reaching for our innermost being. So while I would love to worry about what skeptics, cynics, and wiseacres refer to as “more important problems”, I can’t. Not while this horde of freedom-hating collectivists and egalitarians approaches and demands that I bend the knee, kiss the ring, salute its flag, and acknowledge the lie.
A truce in the culture war would be nice, but it seems impossible now. The Supreme Court has decided that pluralism, and thus diversity in more than name, is a dead letter in the United States. It has used the 14th amendment, dishonestly, to destroy the 10th. And we are fast approaching the point at which religions that the state doesn’t like, above all, traditional versions of Christianity, can expect no freedom or existence outside of the four walls of the church – and maybe not even there. I see no reason to believe that LGBT radicals and their “allies” in the corporate and political establishment will honor whatever vague pledges they’ve made to not press for gay church weddings. I see no reason to believe that the 1st amendment will prove eternally resilient when other amendments, such as the 4th, the 5th and the 10th have been hollowed out. Cultural revolutions don’t stop because a piece of paper tells them to. As long as the majority of the people still think that piece of paper matters, they find away to pervert its meaning or ignore the limits it prescribes. And when that majority fades away, there is no longer a need to maneuver.
I see the totalitarian attitude even in normal people who aren’t associated with the radicals. It expresses itself not only in an inability to understand religious liberty and objections rising thereof; but also an unwillingness to even try. Increasing numbers of ordinary citizens are simply weary of liberty. What they cannot understand, they are less willing to tolerate. And even among the tolerant, there are many whose tolerance is threadbare and reluctant. “Let the stupid religious fanatics have their stupid freedom.” This does not inspire confidence in the durability of either tolerance as a cultural value or as Constitutional principle. Perhaps Rousseau was right: we cannot expect to peacefully co-exist with neighbors we believe are damned to hell. The average bearded, tight-jeaned, MSNBC-watching social justice millennial hipster doesn’t believe in hell, but if he did, that’s where he would consign his political enemies: those deemed racists, sexists, homophobes, religious reactionaries, etc.
But the American Revolution was founded on different ideas than Rousseau’s, which led to the French Revolution. Here, it was not supposed to matter whether the public or government officials or even private citizens understood, let alone approved of, another person’s beliefs. There was to be “space”, both theoretical and literal, for people of radically different views to peacefully co-exist. We would all recognize each other’s rights to exist. We might find our neighbors’ views bizarre or even offensive, but as long as we respected each other’s life, liberty and property, all would be well.
This is why the courts, for the most part, have judged themselves incompetent to judge the merits of religious objections to various laws and statutes. No plaintiff has ever had to rationally justify his religious beliefs or practices before the court. In the case that religious practices might infringe upon the basic social contract of mutual respect for rights, the courts have reserved the power of judgement, as is necessary for social order. Otherwise the courts have only sought to establish that a religious objection is sincerely held. If it is, then it is to be determined if obedience to the law would impose a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. Finally, the courts look to see if the “least restrictive means” are being employed by the state in the pursuit of its aims – and if they are not, then the exemption is granted. So it works, at least, in disputes between an individual and the state.
This is how a fair and rational society settles disputes. But this is not what is happening in Oregon. Instead, an apparatchik with personal ties to the LGBT political movement has ordered a business to pay 135,000 dollars in damages to a lesbian couple who claimed to suffer all kinds of emotional calamities as a result of being told by a Christian baker that she could not participate in their wedding. Of course the baker’s objection – just like the photographer, the florist, and others – is that while they do not object to serving individuals who identify as gay and always have, they do object to participating in a ceremony.
Rather than trying to judge the relevance of this distinction, and it is real, and it does exist, the judge in this case said that there was no distinction. He was not interested in trying to understand it. Neither are the legions in social media who think essentially the same thing. They don’t understand the objection, and therefore, the objection is meaningless. The criteria used in countless other religious exemption cases wasn’t even employed. If this ruling is allowed to stand, then we have witnessed the death of the state as an impartial arbiter of disputes and its transformation into the enforcement agency of the LGBT movement.
In a just society, there would be no contest. The plaintiffs can choose another bakery with ease; the defendants, under any sane understanding of religious liberty, must not be compelled to abandon their religion. And here’s the rub: you don’t get it. You don’t understand how participation does this. But here’s how freedom works: your inability to understand how participating in a gay wedding constitutes a betrayal of the Christian faith is meaningless and irrelevant in a free society. No one gets to dictate to me the terms on which I live my faith. All that matters is whether or not what I propose to do deprives someone else of a fundamental right. There is no right to not be offended or saddened by another person’s behavior. There is no right to punish people for holding views that cause you pain.
Anyone who thinks there is, or who does not understand that this is the issue, is a willing accomplish in the death of liberty and the construction of a totalitarian state. For that is exactly what brute force, state violence, and totalitarian control are all about: removing the necessity of even trying to understand those with different views. Why understand when you can threaten, imprison, and destroy?