Friday, August 5, 2011

The De-Christianizing of America

How can we – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Homosexuals and Atheists – all live together peacefully under one roof? What type of society can best facilitate this peace?
The liberties of one group are now regarded as representing an affront to the liberties of other groups. Many therefore are gravitating to a “secular” solution that will ban offensive religious assertions and symbols from the public arena. Here’s one example of how this is playing out:

• The Air Force has suspended an ethics briefing for new missile launch officers after concerns were raised about the briefing's heavy focus on religion. The briefing, taught for nearly 20 years by military chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is intended to train Air Force personnel to consider the ethics and morality of launching nuclear weapons - the ultimate doomsday machine. Many of the slides in the 43 page presentation use a Christian justification for war, displaying pictures of saints like Saint Augustine and using biblical references.

It seems obvious, in this instance, that the Christian worldview has received favorable treatment to the consternation of other groups. It would seem that the most irenic solution would be to eliminate any religious favoritism in favor of neutrality on religious matters, thereby providing a common meeting ground for everyone. In this regards, David Smith, an Air Education Training Command spokesman, stated:

• "Ethics discussions are an important part of professional military development and it is especially important for our airmen who are training to work with nuclear weapons because they have to make hard decisions…We are looking to see if we need a briefing like this... but it will not be a religion based briefing."
This brand of secularism raises several questions. Is it possible to present a values orientation without it being “religion based?” And what does it mean to not be “religion based?”

While this Air Force presentation might be religiously based, the argument against it is, by necessity, also religiously based. If arguing in favor of the “just war” concept is religiously based, then arguing against it also must be religiously based. Otherwise, we would be unfairly discriminating against one point of view because it’s religious, allowing the other point of view because ostensibly it is not religious.

All of our values are religious. They can not be derived from the facts, reason, or science alone or any combination of them. Values come from another source. To discriminate against the source of one set of values, because it’s deemed “religious,” and not the other is biased. This disqualifies the opinions of a Jew or Muslim because their views come from a formally identifiable religion, in favor of the atheist, whose religion is less formal and explicit, is unjust. (Of course, we need to speak in a language that others can understand. For instance, we would resent it if a Muslim quoted the Koran in order to prove his point.)

This suggests that there is no values-neutral position to which government can resort. Every law and every judgment entails values and every government reflects its own philosophy, worldview or religion. It’s therefore disingenuous to plead that secularism provides a marketplace of values-neutrality where everyone can congregate equally. Instead, it will always have a set of values – implicit or explicit – to which the participants must conform. It will always favor one point of view over another.

What then is the solution? I’m not sure. However, in a democratic society, it must begin with open and transparent discussions about values, without hypocritically attempting to silence those voices that are labeled “religious.”

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