Ashby D. Boyle is Meridian’s correspondent to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier this fall a university in China invited me to visit and lecture on American legal culture, in particular, to lecture on secularism.
Secularism and our legal culture meant – to my surprise – lecturing on America’s decline and decadence.
This could be just my own experience – I hope – but the stories the Chinese love to hear are stories of the decadence and decline of America: in education, our work ethic, the family, that 1 in 10 Americans are allegedly in prison. And that our nation has so many lawyers.
To me, to speak about Secularity means explaining how faith has been banned from public places (just like in China), and how in America, we celebrate our national religious values as a nation on Thanksgiving.
No Thanksgiving turkey is blessed in China. It is a wonderful nation; I have also loved to travel there. But if there were an Olympic competition in Secularity, China would best us every time.
I’m not going to lecture on American cultural decadence, of course, thanks anyway. I will rather lecture on how our national decline in religious values has contributed to our national over-regulation and criminalization in society.
Social cooperation in America could still be accomplished without government because of the vitality of religious beliefs. In our secular age, good citizenship now all too often is seen as foolishness: why should I? You should because good citizenship is being tracked by our competing super-powers, and we all have an interest in the national character.
What I plan on lecturing on is how the Supreme Court has “transcended” the text of the Constitution on religion to revert to the twin demon founders of secularization of religion, Hobbes and Spinoza, who both stated religion, should of course be free so long as religion is silent in public. (I only note these citations to equip us all with reasons for our fight against secular America: see, for example, Hobbes’ Leviathan II: 18, 233; 26, 332-5 and Spinoza, Theological-Politico Treatise, at chapter 7, 99-103.)
The topic is not America’s decadence, but instead, how secular theory labeled theology as a religious modality secularity could not tolerate. Theology was to be banished, said Hobbes and Spinoza, because theology seemed to them to have an uncontrollable proliferation of meanings that were past the powers of the sovereign master to track, or control.
In the 1940s, in America, and a point I argue here in Meridian regularly, the Supreme Court secularized the Constitutional text of the Religion Clauses illegitimately.
Where’s Ronald Reagan Now When We Need Him Most?
After Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War, terrorism became (with reason) public enemy number one as to national security, and secularists have seized on the fact that terrorists if secular wouldn’t be terrorists.
It confuses apples with oranges to promote emptying America’s churches to fight terror. Ronald Reagan would have used the Presidency to call our nation to heightened religious faith. In our Republic, faith promotes the Republic, and whenever I was around President Reagan I felt what I interpreted to be a sense of faith.
Opposing secularism is a national security interest itself, of a medium to long-term nature.
Putting the issues that way, the question is raised of how to oppose the secular without thereby being turned into an angry, unhappy and contentious soul.
Opposing Secularity Using Religious Means
Theological methods of opposition are one answer, and below I’ve set forth ten rules of engagement.
(1) The use of humor and irony against a sitting President in the 1844 political campaign by Joseph Smith is one way. Nothing is so serious, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, that wit is out of bounds. (I exclude of course laughter of a hee-haw nature to include [at least attempted] wit, irony and humor. Even if wit miss its mark—a good effort is adequate justification.)
(2) This Thanksgiving we should pray for the Constitutions and America’s judges. Our prayers will have definite results that can change the course of events. For an interesting read on point, see James 4:2; John 16:24; and Matthew 26:39.
(3) We must act, also. Our actions have real results and, also, change the course of events. Acts 18:9-10 comes to mind as does II Samuel 10:12 as an example of action with vigor combined with trust in God. The second half of the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon also shows how our actions correlate with providence. Moroni fights to the best of his ability, and then praises the Lord as if Moroni has contributed little. Its ideas, of course, and not swords, that this conflict over values is about.
(4) In God We Trust. “Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon knowledge of God’s providence. Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.” See the fascinating insights in Mosiah 2:21.
(5) “Waiting on the Lord” in obedience is a constitutive part of (2), (3) and (4) above. It can be something us Type A personalities forget, without consulting Psalms 130:5-6; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:3-4.
(6) Opposing secularity with civility is not only good manners; it is a fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 makes the points adding that so too is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
(7) We oppose secularity with praise to God it’s not worse, that we can still live in a somewhat religiously-free country, with thanksgiving to God for the Constitution (what’s left of it now that judges have had two centuries to interpret) as well as for the judges who interpret so much of what the Framers intended in the text they created the Constitution. And it sure could be worse. There’s a good thought behind this point from St Paul in Colossians 4:2.
I would not tell the Chinese so much about Religion v. Secularism but instead of the great blessings I enjoy.
The federal judges I’ve known have been as concerned about the Religion Clause issues as I am.
(8) Missionary work itself is more basic to our success than is any opposition to secularity which we can accomplish. Abraham asks the Lord, at Genesis 11:26-25:10, in not destroying a city, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” It may be faithful members that will actually save the Constitution.
(9) Where are our high culture theologians? This is an idea fight. Ideas matter. A lot. From both pulpit but also the sale desk at the Yale Coop and bookstore, we need high culture, scholarly theological help from Mormons equipped to help.
I’m also somewhat locked-on at the moment the work on secularity of Charles Taylor and John Milbank. I’ve also been impressed with the defense of faith against secularism in the systematic theologies of Karl Barth and Robert W. Jenson.
(10) I have worked for and won cases for the ACLU national counsel, but by analogy, Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat. I left working for the ACLU to help organize the ARLU because, as Leonard W. Levy has noted, “the ACLU too often acts inadvisedly in church-state cases”.
We need the ARLU, the American Religious Liberties Union, and since September 17 have had one. That’s when Scot and Maurine Proctor, Mark W Cannon and Congressman Chris Cannon formed it.
Now we need support: is $5 a month reasonable to allow us to be your eyes and ears on the secularist opposition? We can’t to it without you. Your can donate to the American Religious Liberties Union through Family Leader here. Your donation is tax-deductible.
If you can help, I can guarantee together we can stop the gradual retreat of religion in America’s courts and soon enough I will be able to lecture to the Chinese on America’s cultural resurgence—instead of America’s decadence.
(c) 2010 Ashby D Boyle II