Read another interesting article today, this one in the Wall Street Journal. Written by Luke Goodrich, the Deputy National Litigation Director for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, it discusses a recent court case that shows the stark reality of religious life in Europe.
Europe is rapidly heading toward a militant secularism. Some may cheer and applaud when European nations ban headscarves but as the article demonstrates, the day is not far away when overt displays of Christianity are going be put under similar pressure. The European Court of Human Rights just overrode an Italian law that would put a crucifix in all Italian classrooms. The reasoning was more broadly based and evidenced a barely masked hostility toward religious expression, to the point that religious expression itself is antithetical to civilization.
The common theme in these cases is that the Court views religious expression as a threat to a free, democratic society. In the Turkish Muslim case, the Court justified the headscarf ban on the ground that it was necessary to protect the public order and the freedom of others. Specifically, allowing a student to wear a headscarf would threaten Turkey's commitment to secularism, make other students uncomfortable, and undermine the principle of gender equality. The same arguments (minus gender equality) justified the French ban on the Sikh keski.
Similarly, in the Italian crucifix case, the Court rejected the notion, advanced by Italy, that the crucifix was a symbol of Italian history, identity, and culture and thus furthered the principles of equality, liberty, and tolerance. Rather, in the Court's view, the presence of a crucifix in a state classroom would be "disturbing" to atheists and religious minorities.
There was a time when I would have been outraged by this and written a scathing blog post denouncing those European secularists. Not so much anymore. I am not at all interested in seeing crucifixes in public schools, in Italy or in America. As the article mentions, it is seen as a symbol of cultural heritage. The cross is most assuredly not a symbol of culture and history, it is a symbol of Christ (although having a corpus on the crucifix doesn’t properly reflect the Risen Lord). Why would you put a cross that is supposed to memorialize our Savior in a place where kids are taught the dogma of secularism and evolution?
The danger of “putting prayer back in schools” or Ten Commandment monuments on courthouses or using the language of “One Nation Under God” is that these all devolve into cultural heritage issues. The Ten Commandments are not just an ancient framework for Western laws and civilization but are the revealed Law of God, given to His people. Fighting over monuments at courthouses or crosses on public land is energy wasted. Not one person is going to be saved because there is a cross in a park or a crèche at the White House or the words “One Nation Under God” on our currency. In truth, the opposite may be true. People get lulled into a false sense of religiosity because they live in a religious nation. Little wonder that so many people self-identify as Christians when by all indications they are nothing but religious Americans with a veneer of cultural Christianity.
If I may be even more cynical, these sorts of religiously charged issues strike me as far more about pushing buttons for political gain than about any semblance of “Judeo-Christian values”. The values espoused by Christ are not triumphalism or even patriotism. They are sacrifice, humility, perseverance and even embracing persecution, being counter-cultural instead trying to conquer the culture. I am as politically conservative as anyone but I also see that for many politicians religion is a tool to gain and retain power.
If Europe and even America wants to make it more costly to be disciple of Christ, to enact a real cost for those who name the Name of Jesus, I say go for it. Let us winnow out the false professors and the religious and make them make a stand instead of sitting in comfort in church on Sunday morning. The church does not flourish where life is easy and religion doubly so. It grows best under persecution, it flourishes with the blood of martyrs. Bring on persecution because that is when you will really see revival, real revival that doesn’t happen in a tent on schedule. Persecution is not a curse to be feared, it is a blessing.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6: 22-23)