Monday, August 30, 2021

Christian Libertinism

Thanks to Hurricane Ida, parts of Louisiana are now underwater and much more of the state without power - coincidentally on the actual anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. At the other end of the world, we are presumably hours away from final withdrawal from Kabul Airport - and, by extension, from our disastrous forever war in Afghanistan. Crises do not come on a schedule defined by our human convenience, however. So, while all this is happening, we are still in the throes of a nationwide (not to mention global) pandemic, which has unnecessarily worsened in this country thanks to the irresponsibly destructive behavior of those who have refused to get vaccinated and their irresponsibly scandalous empowerment by those who ought to know better and whose positions in society mean they have a duty to know and do better.

Conservative religious writer and lawyer David French posted an excellent article on Sunday that addressed the religious dimension of this ongoing crisis, in the context of the Evangelical community with which he identifies. He warns that "significant parts of the Christian Right are enabling, excusing, and validating Evangelical behavior that is gravely wrong and dangerous to the lives and health of their fellow citizens." He goes on to cite several examples of this escalating evil, such as pastors who offer "religious exemption forms" to those seeking excuses to avoid vaccine mandates and the bizarre policy of "neutrality" regarding the covid vaccine on the part of the National Religious Broadcasters (an association of some 1100 member associations). French underscores that his "neutrality" is in regard to "a vaccine that offers a lifeline out of a pandemic that has slain more than 650,000 Americans."

French's diagnosis is direct and challenging:

As we approach nine months of vaccine availability and nine months of flood-the-zone coverage of vaccine safety and efficacy, it is clear that much (though certainly not all) of our remaining refusal problem is not one of information but one of moral formation itself. The very moral framework of millions of our fellow citizens - the way in which they understand the balance between liberty and responsibility - is gravely skewed. ...

I also fear that our relentless right-wing focus on religious liberty has obscured two realities - that our liberties have limits when they collide with the rights of others, and that the exercise of our liberty carries with it profound moral responsibility.

French comes down especially hard on the "extreme and dangerous assertion of individual autonomy at the expense of colleagues and neighbors," which he emphasizes "is not a legitimate exercise of religious liberty." Indeed he considers "the majority of Christians seeking religious exemptions" as "using religion as a mere pretext for their real concern."

As a lawyer, French has long been fighting the religious freedom fight. so it is that much more significant that he has become so concerned that religious liberty concerns have "created a sense of religious entitlement that obscures the desperate need for religious responsibility." He rightly recognizes the self-destructive political and moral monster that has been created.The moral dimension should be obvious, when liberty is pursued "simply to satisfy our desires or appease our fears." That goes back to the "gravely skewed" moral framework French earlier alluded to - an increasingly endemic problem in so much of American religiosity.

The political problem flows inexorably from that. When one reads commentators complaining about those who put "religious liberty" in scare quotes, one wonders when they will understand some of the reasons this is happening. As French notes, "when we pursue the freedom to make our neighbors sick, we violate the social compact and undermine our moral standing in politics, law, and culture. Christina libertinism becomes a long-term threat to religious liberty itself."

One could not have said it better!

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