A friend sent along the following responding to this piece in the Daily Beast about religious liberty. My personal impression is that the piece is deeply shallow, but uses enough fifty cent words to cover that up. Beyond that though, you should go read the piece, then come back and enjoy this from my friend:
I’ll try to pick out discrete lines here to respond to, because this is such an overall mess.
“[I]n order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe.”
False. Coerced positive affirmation is not the sole means of violating conscience. We have plenty of examples to the contrary, and even non-religious ones. White Northerners in 1964 were not made to positively affirm Southern segregation, for example. Their consciences were nevertheless violated by the idea that mere coexistence with segregation in the same country meant they were providing passive sanction to it. Therefore: Freedom Summer. People actually died for this!
Right off the bat, this argument depends on a profound ignorance of very recent American history. There are plenty more examples, but this suffices to expose just how narrow and rickety the argumentative framework is here.
“This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation.”
False. The determinant authority for “a Christian’s conscience” — referenced in their preceding sentence! — is not “society.” It is, well, a Christian. Same goes for any other believer and any other faith. The inability to follow through on straightforward logic here is remarkable.
“Strangely, conservative Christians seem to have little interest in this level of analysis and jump right to complaints about their legal and constitutional rights.”
I have no comment on this sentence except to say that it should be repeated back to Miss Powers for the rest of her public career.
“Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage.”
False. What “Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve” is what their particular source of authority — church, denomination, pastor, parish, whatever it may be — says on the topic. For many Christians, particularly of a sola scriptura bent, that will in fact be the Bible unadorned. For many other Christians, it will be the teaching authority of a magisterium, or Holy Tradition, or Appalachian snakes, or for Boston Catholics, the Democratic national platform. The Powers/Merritt argument is compelling only for Christians of the specific approach to Christianity held by Powers/Merritt. It relies on a preposterous and prima facie false claim to universalism.
“Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation.”
Meet the Maccabees.
“So it seems that the backers of these bills don’t actually believe what they are saying.”
Again, I have no specific comment on this sentence except to marvel at its extraordinary rational sloppiness.
“If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all.”
The question arises as to why Powers/Merritt do not advocate for precisely that liberty. Oh wait, could it be that they want to coerce positive affirmation of something?
“As all Christians know, Jesus saved his harshest words for the hypocritical behavior of religious people.”
How does this sentence not strike utter terror into the hearts of Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt?
“Before agreeing to provide a good or service for a wedding, Christian vendors must verify that …. [a list of stipulations follow.]”
Interesting point. If the couple to be wed is having a church service, then there is a very strong chance that these stipulations have been formally address by the pastor. In fact, outside of more liberal drop-in denominations, it’s a virtual certainty that they have. (You can’t get a Catholic wedding anywhere in the US without going through Pre-Cana, for example.) This passage makes me wonder exactly how familiar the authors are with Christian weddings in general. UPDATE: oh wait, they do mention this pastoral role later in the piece, oblivious to their self-contradiction. Well now.
In any case, they make a category error here: those hypothetical other flawed weddings are still weddings. From the point of view of the average Christian (and the average Muslim, and I assume the average Jew), a gay “wedding” is not a wedding. It reminds me of the story of RJN (From Erick: That’d be Richard John Neuhaus), I think, being asked whether he thought some other denomination could ordain female clerics, to which he replied he didn’t think they could ordain even male clerics. Powers/Merritt don’t appear to grasp the most basic facts about their opponents’ argument (irony abounds here): they think the debate is over different types of marriages, when it is in fact over things that, according to the overwhelming majority, are not marriages.
I’m going to skip over the rest because I’m bored. Okay, last bit:
“Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group. It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.”
I’m not sure how the Epistle to the Romans is all that “random,” at least not in orthodox Christianity. The sort of Christianity that Powers and Merritt appear to embrace here is, as best I can tell, a peculiar kind of Jewish Christianity of the first century that contains nothing from St Paul, and is simultaneously sympathetic to the Hellenizing Jews who backed Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It’s just weird and un-representative of how Christianity is actually practiced anywhere on the planet.
It is, though — and I think this is the point — the sort of Christianity that northeastern liberals wished they had.