July 10, 2014

"That American religion is involved in business and obsessed with sex is not news."

"What is surprising is that those who object to this kind of religion continue to hold on to a faith in the idea that religious freedom means protection only for the kind of religion they like, the private, individualized, progressive kind."

From a long post called "The impossibility of religious freedom," by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, who is a professor of Religious Studies and law at Indiana University Bloomington, via Samuel Goldman, at The American Conservative.

24 comments:

tim in vermont said...

"What is surprising is that those who object to this kind of religion continue to hold on to a faith in the idea that religious freedom means protection only for the kind of religion they like, the private, individualized, progressive kind."

No fucking kidding.

Try to get a proponent of Gay Marriage by court judgement based on pure logic to explain why it is not OK for a couple to marry their adult children. Be a good way to avoid taxes on property transfers.

They can come up with rationalizations, like "incest produces defective offspring so it is just science" that forbids in, not moral judgement. When asked when marriage became about procreation and what that says about gay marriage, well.....

Basically their argument comes down to their firm belief that their morality is the correct one, and enforcement of it by any means is justifiable.

I don't oppose gay marriage. I oppose unexamined premises.

Oso Negro said...

I don't oppose religion, I oppose unexamined mythology. But sadly, the unarticulated premise of freedom of religion is that the religions that can be "free" are those that fall within a band considered acceptable by underlying societal values. Mormons of the 19th century, for example, were a bit too edgy for the times.

If I found a religion dedicated to the premise that God wants post-pubescent girls to fellate 50-something men on demand, I am not going to get very far with my demands for freedom of religion. Until I start taking heads and blowing stuff up. Then the mainstream press will get in line quick.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

In the last week the US Supreme Court has decided two religious freedom cases (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College v. Burwell)...

The Supreme Court did not decide Wheaton. They only granted an injunction pending appeal.

Bill Crawford said...

Tim,

In VA, it would not be "I oppose unexamined premises" but "I oppose unexamined penises."

That is, if you're in law enforcement dealing with a 17 year-old.

Unknown said...

Couple of problems with the fairly lucid (to me) article.

1. Hobby Lobby was NOT about birth control. Catholic organizations, yes; Hobby Lobby, no. Casting it as birth control is dishonest and while I don't think it actually changes anything in the essay, it is an unfair characterization (although I suppose it draws more controversy than drug induced abortion)

2. American history is pretty rich in un-established religion; might say the country was founded on it. Therefore the comment:

"these churchy references seem astonishingly outdated: much—perhaps most—American religion today does not happen in churches."

is a little disingenuous. The independent church active in every day life providing real support and comfort in a communal fashion predates modern liberalism. Liberalism as practiced in the U.S. requires confinement of the church to the 4 walls, as the good justice implies, and is not outdated but represents the modern viewpoint. Liberals have a lock on the meaning of words, and since everything is relative, get to change them when it suits. Abortion & abortion inducing mechanisms, birth control. Homosexual, gay. Reminds of the cold war treatises that claimed words used by communists have fundamentally different meanings that the same words used by American citizens.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

That American religion is involved in business and obsessed with sex is not news.

Humm. I wonder why Winnifred didn't mention religion's involvement in partisan politics, which is the far more troubling issue, imo.

And the shockingly shameless serial violators of tax exempt status in this arena, are the Black Christian churches.

Their 'politics from the pulpit' is a national disgrace and the fact that it is rarely even commented on contributes mightily to the disrespect for 'the law', generally.

Lyssa said...

That American religion is involved in business and obsessed with sex is not news.

It troubles me when people present moral/religious issues related to sex as "obsessed with sex."

Sex is a big deal. It continues the species. Every single one of us owes our life to it. If there's a God, procreation is about as close to Him as we can get. Be it God or nature's design, there's a reason that sex is so pleasurable - because it is so necessary. Sex is a really, really big deal. It is exactly the sort of issue on which religion should comment.

wildswan said...

when the church and the state went their separate ways—when the church was disestablished—the intimate articulation of political, legal, and religious fictions lost their logic on a national scale. ... There is no neutral place from which to distinguish the religious from the non-religious. There is no shared understanding of what religion, big “R” religion, is ... [and so we need] to work on creating new fictions together, political, legal, and religious

The writer's point is that neither "disestablishment" nor separation of church and state as previously understood is going to keep on working. She's analyzing it all as a phenomenon of cultural breakdown whose only possible solution in the long run is a common culture which we have to build up somehow. I can't say that I disagree. I'll just point out the central fact which demography points out: The common culture of the future will not be built by groups which die out like the Shakers.

hombre said...

"... [This Supreme Court's] common refusal, together with that of their predecessors, to acknowledge the impossibility of fairly delimiting what counts as religion has produced ...."

Of course a liberal academic would see failing to define "religion" adequately as a problem. An adequate definition would permit government regulators to push the envelope when intruding on the lives of citizens.

Steve said...

Comments in the linked articles are interesting. Greater emphasis should be given to the comment of Unknown, that US history had a very diverse religious background at the time the Constitution was written. Remember Jefferson, Paine and others were Deists, that there was Nonconformist dissent even to early Puritan religion, and that the major established religion, Church of England, after the Revolution denied recognition to the American church. Diversity in religion and religious practices was the very basis for preventing the US but not the states from establishing religion. Today's diversity of religion is only a problem because the federal government intrudes further into our privates lives and bedrooms. It mandates only certain treatments, but would not pay for a faith healer, nor a Santeria ceremony to cure illness. The ACA makes payment for such treatment taboo. The conflict is due to such intrusion, which I would think violates Griswold and privacy protections.

SMGalbraith said...

Ever notice that the atheists - people like Maher or Dawkins - never complain when the Catholic Church talks about "social justice" and the obligation to the poor?

When religious leaders try to influence public policy on economic issues, these atheists never shout, "It's none of your business!"

But when these churches discuss social issues, then they're told to shut up.

Very revealing.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

High-minded words—words to make Americans proud on this patriotic weekend—but words that, in our constitutional tradition, have usually resulted in religious discrimination at the hands of the majority, not in the acknowledgment of religious freedom for those outside the mainstream.

The RFRA was passed in response to Employment Division v. Smith, a case over peyote smoking. Not exactly a mainstream practice.

Anglelyne said...

Oso Negro: But sadly, the unarticulated premise of freedom of religion is that the religions that can be "free" are those that fall within a band considered acceptable by underlying societal values.

True, but that really applies to all of our freedoms. The "freedom of religion" debate just happens to be the current instance of the usual suspects engaging in a great deal of sophistry to maintain the pretense that we can have a country based on a set of abstract principles entirely unmoored from underlying, shared societal values.

To her credit, the author realizes this, and goes a fair way to brush away that sophistry. She recognizes that freedoms and rights have to be culturally embedded and limited in order to maintain any particular sort of society. She isn't all the way there, but she goes farther than most toward admitting that she supports or opposes things because she wants the kind of society she wants. She gets that "what one wants" cannot be attained or maintained with nods to philosophical abstractions and procedure, absent a cultural grounding and a minimal level of social consensus. Without these, abstractions and procedural law can be used to pretty much any end.

What she doesn't get is that the insight she's hit upon "goes both ways". She apparently still believes in the fiction that there is some cohesive core of a secular "us" out here that can deal with the fringes the way post-bellum 19th-century American society confidently dealt with the Mormons - essentially, "what you want to do is not the way of our people, therefore you cannot do that and be Americans". She still thinks there is a (secular) contemporary American culture of core-values (hers) vs. easily-suppressed fringe-values (stuff she doesn't like). So she'll have to plump for straight-out tyranny to get what she wants, rather than the inevitable and usually more benign form of the "tyranny of the majority" that exists in societies where there is a tacit consensus on social values.

Anglelyne said...

Lyssa: It troubles me when people present moral/religious issues related to sex as "obsessed with sex."
[...]
Sex is a really, really big deal. It is exactly the sort of issue on which religion should comment.


"Obsessed with sex" in this context is just code for "has the temerity to disapprove of my sexual behavior".

Michael The Magnificent said...

What percentage of businesses owned by Christians are fighting the contraception / abortifacient mandate?

And what percentage of congressional Democrats voted Yea to jam this mandate down the throats of Christian business owners?

So, who is responsible for creating this conflict?

And who is currently crafting legislation to re-force this down the throats of the likes of Hobby Lobby? Furthermore, who voted these assholes into office? These are the people who are obsessed with creating this conflict between the sex-obsessed left and Christian business owners.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And what percentage of congressional Democrats voted Yea to jam this mandate down the throats of Christian business owners?

0%

The mandate is entirely the product of HHS. Basically all of the Democrats voted to give HHS the power to jam whatever mandate they wanted down the throats of business owners.

Brando said...

The sign of a true liberal--not leftist, but liberal--is the willingness to defend the rights of groups they're not comfortable with. A true liberal may be a secular humanist who would never set foot in a Catholic church, but should still be able to defend the rights of Catholics against government overreach. It's not solely altruistic--it's also because one day it may be your own ox getting gored and you want to establish rules and precedents that protect your beliefs as well.

Imagine if Hobby Lobby went the other way, and then the GOP won a sweep election and started passing laws requiring employers--even secular humanist employers!--to carry communion wafers in their stores just in case their employees want to perform impromptu masses during their lunch breaks. Hey, sorry, corporations cannot have their right to a secular humanist worldview protected! What, you think corporations are people now? Ha ha ha!

It amazes me how much people can be blind to the fact that the shoe so often ends up on the other foot.

DKWalser said...

The mandate is entirely the product of HHS. ...

This needs to be emphasized. ACA never would have passed had the mandate been part of the legislation. A group of Democrats were promised by Obama that HHS would not use its authority in this manner. Without this assurance, they would not have voted for the bill. (Back then, it was possible for someone to have a good-faith belief in Obama's assurances. A lot's changed since then.)

Anonymous said...

Well said, Brando. It's either disingenuous or naive. Maybe a combination of both.

I really bristle at being told that churches are obsessed with sex. What a laughable notion in a society where almost every facet of the culture is itself obsessed with sex. Did religion cause the sex obsession of "Girls" on HBO? Is it religion that said we needed incestuous sex scenes in "Game of Thrones"? Is the church secretly funding "Masters of Sex" on Showtime? Are we holding the Catholic church responsible for Madonna because she appropriated the name? Are the Lutherans forcing Miley Cyrus to behave that way? Did the Methodists write and film "Last Tango in Paris"? Are Muslims the ones who created body shots during spring break?

RELIGION is obsessed with sex??? Secularists, get over yourselves. Our society is obsessed with sex, to the point of harming its own fabric. But go ahead, keep blaming the religions that are the only ones arguing that maybe this adolescent fascination may not be the best way to spend our entire cultural time.

Michael The Magnificent said...

The mandate is entirely the product of HHS. Basically all of the Democrats voted to give HHS the power to jam whatever mandate they wanted down the throats of business owners.

The point I was trying to make still stands. Democrats and those who vote them into office are responsible for creating this conflict.

They and their constituents believe they are entitled to have everyone else pay for their food, shelter, cell phones, health care, abortions, and believe this trumps freedom of religion.

campy said...

"It amazes me how much people can be blind to the fact that the shoe so often ends up on the other foot."

It used to, anyway.

mccullough said...

Her post has a lot of intelligent interesting points, but her conclusion about the difficulty of identifying what is religion and what is an exercise of religion is weak. Courts defer to the individual as to whether a belief is religious and whether engaging in or refraining from certain conduct violates the individual's religious beliefs and also whether it's a substantial burden to the individual's exercise of religion.

The government can only challenge the sincerity of the belief. So if the people who run Wheaton College say it is a substantial burden to their exercise of religion to sign a form, then it is. It's up to the government to then prove they have a compelling interest (in making birth control free to those who work for employers with more than 49 employees? In making employers with more than 49 employees pay for it?) and that signing the form is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

What her post is really about is the difficulty in judging the sincerity of religious beliefs of the many people who are either in little known religions or have their own religion or their own religious variant on a religion.

Justice Jackson intelligently discussed this a long time ago but her blog post doesn't mention it. But in our pluralistic society we have all sorts of beliefs, some religiously motivated. And people try to work it out. I had a co-worker whose religion was Jedi and the employer accommodated it.

This scholar needs to brush up on the law and get out and meet more people.

lgv said...

"If I found a religion dedicated to the premise that God wants post-pubescent girls to fellate 50-something men on demand,"

I bet there would be a long line to get into seminary for that religion.

Nichevo said...

Oso,

I am intrigued by your ideas, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

H/t: lgv