It’s On

What John Lennon poetically wished for, an end of biblical religion, the progressives will now openly declare. The platform they are nearly at, and will be at soon, is to remove all tax breaks, and to criminalize all non-private religious expression and practice on the basis of debased “public-reason test” thinking. It’s on.

Carl Eric Scott
via ‘Your Frame Is Too Small’
Rod Dreher
The American Conservative
April 30, 2015

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

10 thoughts on “It’s On”

  1. There’s a certain kind of mental error that’s sometimes called “projection”. My grandmother would have called it “seeing your own faults clearest in others”. The jealous (to give just one example) are often jealous because they themselves easily stray, so they can all-too-easily imagine their partners doing the same.

    The *heart* of liberalism is the old via-Holland-and-England idea of “toleration”. That, in the end, your religious/cultural/social beliefs were between you and god (or you and your conscience), and had a place in the public sphere only so far as they allowed everyone else the same luxury.

    Conservatism constantly flirts — more or less openly — with rejection of this idea. Conservatism consistently privileges “my” beliefs over “yours”. Conservatism consistently interprets any criticism of beliefs intruding on others as an attack — rather than a reaffirmation of your belief to believe as you will so long as you give everyone else that same privilege.

    It’s ironic to me that the oldest libel of all — that because progressives insist on the second part of toleration (everyone else’s rights to do the same) they’re somehow “denying” your rights to intolerance — gets a run on a blog called “Bull Moose” — named after Teddy Roosevelt, leader of the Progressives!

    It’s projection.

    Progressives are absolutists when it comes to intolerance — no form of it will be tolerated in the public space. Believe what ever bronze-age legends you wish in private, but your rights to it end at my nose.

    Conservatives make an exception to this: they want a special place carved out in the public forum for *their own* intolerances (especially their secret ones which are no longer socially acceptable) — but no-one else’s.

    Because conservatives can all too easily imagine a world where their secret intolerances — hatred of gays, women, other religions, long hair, etc. etc. etc. — are given government sanction, because hey, it’s the world they desire, they simply *project* this onto progressives, and believe that the secret progressive intolerance is, of course, their own beliefs.

    It’s the oldest lie of all about toleration. It’s been floated just as long as toleration as an idea has existed.

    But let’s leave philosophy and get specific. Your quote says “The platform they are nearly at, and will be at soon…” It uses this language because *there is no such platform*!

    It is, what we call in plain English, a flat lie.

  2. Shannon, that was a fine screed indeed, and I enjoyed reading it. Allow me to clarify: you are saying that nobody on the left is calling for the removal of tax breaks for religious institutions? Are you suggesting that there is not a movement afoot to stigmatize if not criminalize non-private forms of religious expression?

  3. Tax breaks for *charity* is a great idea, an idea I fully support. Tax breaks for proselytizing I could not support less. All major religions, without exception (amusingly, minor religions are usually *worse*, often being nothing more than a tax dodge) have blurred this line, deliberately, ironically to their great long-term detriment, because it has forced this conversation. If only they had just kept their charity activities and evangelism separate, no-one would ever have needed to question these things!

    Some progressives occasionally call for the removal of tax breaks on proselytizing activity, sure. It’s a platform no honest conservative could possibly object to — except as I detailed above, many conservatives harbor not-so-secret dreams of *their* beliefs being government privileged, and so are wary of calling attention to this conversation at all.

    In fact they often (see your quote for a real live example!) lie and exaggerate to make it seem like progressives are waging a “War On Xmas” or some other inflammatory rubbish.

    As far as “stigmatizing non-private forms of religious expression” goes, there’s a hilarious irony here, since much public “religious expression” seems to be focused around… wait for it… the stigmatization of behaviors the religious find objectionable. Hilarious, no? Stigmatize the stigmatizers? Apply free speech to those exercising their free speech? We’ve talked about this before, and being the free speech absolutist that I am, I say absolutely. Your right to offend means there is no “right to not be offended”.

    Criminalizing is an entirely different thing, and we’ve spoken before about the rise of “hate speech” legislation and similar. All of which I find sad and silly. Unfortunately, it’s a thoroughly bipartisan silliness. On the right you have those wanting to criminalize things like the depiction of Allah, or billboards with “slutty clothing” (hello to my Haredi homeboys!) On the left you have those wanting to criminalize what used to be called “fighting words”. All of it is wrong-headed.

  4. Shannon, your point has some issues.

    First, while many major religions proselytize, your contention that all do is a demonstrable falsehood. It is, for example, strictly against Halachah (Jewish law) to seek converts or conduct missionary activity. So at least one major religion does not blur the line. For others, it varies. Not every charity mission thumps their homeless wards with the Bible. I have family members who have stayed in Catholic and Jewish hospitals who never saw a chaplain, and who felt more proselytized opening their nightstand drawer in a Marriott (to find Gideon and Mormon staring back out) than a St. Jude’s.

    Second, your contention that the blurring is intentional may be justified in some cases, but you presume a very great deal – to the point of conspiratorial paranoia – when you contend that the line between charitable and proselytizing activities has been DELIBERATELY blurred in all cases. I challenge you to find even one unbiased source that can make that claim based on real data.

    Third, you apparently assume that the pastoral activities of clergy carry no larger social value. We could debate that point alone for a very long time. Such activities do not fall under the rubric of “charitable activity,” but you may count them as “proselytizing.” You want to tax pastoral activities? Really?

    Fourth: “Some progressives occasionally call for the removal of tax breaks on proselytizing activity.” Unfortunately, not all make the distinction. Many others do NOT make that distinction, and a quick perusal of Change.org makes it clear that many progressives would be happy to remove all exemptions from all religious institutions without exception. As to your “occasional” point, what concerns the religious (not just conservatives, but some progressive faithful as well) is that the “occasional” is seems to be getting more common of late.

    Fifth, the “stigmatizing” I am NOT talking about the “war on Christmas.” if you want real life examples of stigmatizing or criminalizing religious expression, you may refer to the list of cases in which the American Civil Liberties Union – not exactly a bastion of Tea Party Conservatism – has gone to court and fought state institutions attempting to restrict public religious expression. I promise you, their list is far from a comprehensive catalog of all of the incidents. The problem is real, and the frequency of the challenges to public religious expression have grown in the past eight years.

    But let’s get to the wider context of the quote before we continue merrily down the road picking each other’s nits.

    What you see in the above quote as a demagogic attempt to rouse a rabble is something quite different: it is a discussion among a group of thinkers-of-faith about what we should do. And the answer in this case is not “hey, let’s raise a whole lot of money and send it to Capitol Hill.”

    The article I quote above is a piece of a larger discussion about what columnist Rob Dreher calls “The Benedict Option.” Dreher’s point is that America is becoming more libertine and more religiously intolerant, and social conservatism is on the wrong side of history as a political movement. The collective effort of Americans of faith cannot halt this evolution even if we wanted to, and so the correct approach is for the faithful to create our own communities within the larger national context in which acts and behaviors we find objectionable are proscribed, and that transgression is handled not as a secular legal matter, but as a religious one.

    The value in this should be clear to a progressive like yourself. Such approaches let you pursue whatever behavior you or others want to without it imposing on my religious freedom.

    One last word on taxes on churches: I have a real issue with tax-deductible tithes being spent on political activity, and I am all for compelling religious institutions to fill out a suitably modified form of an IRS-990 each year. But you must acknowledge that your stance on taxing religion is considerably more moderate than that held by some very vocal people standing to your left.

  5. When I say all I mean all. Do I mean all branches of major faiths at all times? Of course not. But all major religions have dipped into the collection bowl for non-charitable activities — and you know this is true and admit same with the “intentional blurring” (see what I did there?) into so-called “pastoral” activities, which is evangelism by another name. Evangelism doesn’t have to be external for it to be (obviously) not charitable work. Convincing a “major festivals” adherent (for example) that they should spend more time in religious activities is clearly proselytizing. And deserves no special status under the law. A psychologist who counsels a victim of clerical abuse pays tax. So should a cleric councilling a victim of a rogue psychologist! Unless such services are available to all for free, in which case it’s clearly and obviously charity, and we’re in agreement. Noting in passing that charity for members of the club isn’t charity.

    I’m aware of the larger context around the quote, and I find it — and this is a theme! — unintentionally hilarious. You could summarize this strategy in two words: Sharia Law. The very thing that, so named, causes the pants-wetting portion of the conservative movement to collectively lose their sh*t. Except of course when you put it in the softpedal terms you just did! Careful what you wish for!

    If public officials attempt to restrict an individual’s right to religious expression, then thank god for the ACLU! Irony intended. An epidemic? I’ll have to see the evidence. Got a link?

    I’m not sure if you’d like another chance to rephrase the last sentence of your second last para: “…imposing on my religious freedom.” No activity by *someone else* unless already illegal (kidnapping you, assaulting you, etc.) can, by definition, infringe any of your “freedoms”. If you don’t like gay marriage, in other words, don’t get gay married. This is exactly the sort of “hate speech” stuff that I’ve previously decried. You do not — it simply doesn’t exist — have a right to be “not offended”.

    There are people on my left, and folk on your right. But should we let them define this — or any — debate? I say no. Pointing out that some alleged progressive is a religious regressive is about as useful as pointing out that some elderly conservatives who decry “government handouts” gladly accept government pensions. It doesn’t inform anyone of anything to do so.

  6. The ACLU page here: https://www.aclu.org/aclu-defense-religious-practice-and-expression-public-schools

    The header states: The ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans to practice their religion and express their faith, including public school students. Below are examples of our advocacy over the past decade on behalf of students of a variety of faiths.

    Take a look at a few of the cases. Your contention that “no activity by *someone else,* unless already illegal, can by definition, infringe on any of your ‘freedoms'” is technically correct, but that infringement is not limited to the high crimes or misdemeanors to which you refer. Infringement on religious freedom can and does occur under the aegis of legal activity, as the ACLU’s case list demonstrates.

    But it doesn’t stop there. Someone can infringe on my religious freedom by prohibiting me to wear a yarmaluke, holding the SAT only on Saturday, criminalizing ritual circumcision, or criminalizing the slaughter of livestock under Kashrut, to offer just four examples that have been issues at different points in America. That these have not come to pass is, in my view, sufficient evidence that the law ultimately protects religious freedom and that no further laws are necessary. That said, the fact that we are still compelled to defend our public practices in the courts should be ample justification for a degree of sensitivity on the matter.

  7. Shannon, you said all religions “proselytize,” which by definition is “to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.” That is demonstrably incorrect, unless, as you have done, you change the definition to “any religious activity EXCEPT that which is strictly charitable in nature.

    The same applies to “evangelize,” which by definition means “to convert or seek to convert someone to Christianity.”

    Let’s leave the semantics alone and broaden your argument to say this: “no religious activities except for those conducted for the benefit of everyone in society should be tax exempt.” That is what you are suggesting, correct?

    Your attempt to turn the counsel I seek from a man or woman of the cloth into evangelism only points to a lack of understanding (feigned or otherwise) of the scope of pastoral practice. You seem to see every clergyman/woman as nothing more than a snake-oil salesman committed to increasing the flock for his or her own gain. No doubt there are many like that. “Every?” Hogwash.

    I can walk into any church in my town and seek counsel from the resident person of the cloth at no cost. Don’t believe me? Try it if you dare.

    Dubbing the idea of religious communities “Sharia Law” reflects a profound ignorance of the history and diversity of those, as well as the state of discussion about the matter. Benedictines, Amish, Mennonites, Lubavitch and others all operate communities that exist under the aegis of religious restrictions but within the confines of local, state, and federal laws. History is also replete with examples of communities that lived under their own strictures but within a wider context without “going Sharia.” I know that the topic probably does not interest you, but it is a matter of fervent discussion, and I see it as a healthy alternative to our current zero-sum thinking of “my way or the highway.”

  8. pros·e·lyt·ize
    ˈpräs(ə)ləˌtīz/
    verb
    gerund or present participle: proselytizing
    1. convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.
    “the program did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many”
    synonyms: evangelize, convert, save, redeem, win over, preach (to), recruit, act as a missionary
    “I’m not here to proselytize”
    2. advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).
    “Davis wanted to share his concept and proselytize his ideas”
    synonyms: promote, advocate, champion, advance, further, spread, proclaim, peddle, preach, endorse, urge, recommend, boost
    “he wanted to proselytize his ideas”

    Ahem.

    I’d advise not playing the definitional game with me. It will only end in tears!

    Further, I’d go to the wall for your right to wear a yarmulke, to eat what you like, to have government services meet you where you are (egads! David Wolf promotes socialism!) Which kind of puts the onus on you to similarly defend my right to campaign for an end to genital mutilation of children, no? A consenting adult, sure! A minor? Tougher to ethically defend.

    Note that I’m not demanding you *agree* with me. Just that you recognize that my right to campaign on this issue has a clear ethical basis, and so campaigning *does not* reach your bar of “infringing your religious freedoms” — because in this case your “freedoms” impact someone else.

    Gets personal fast, this issue of freedoms, doesn’t it?

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