Friday, March 17, 2017

Congress And The First Amendment

Doug Wilson is doing a chapter by chapter review of Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option" and has gotten as far as the second chapter. His review of that chapter titled Finding The Seven Thousand, is quite good but what really sets it apart is his treatment of the First Amendment and the founding of America. I am reproducing it here at some length (bold type my emphasis):

Follow me closely here. If you have a state bird (like Maryland’s oriole) and a national bird (like the bald eagle), you are not setting the stage for conflict. If you have a state flower (like Idaho’s syringa) and a national flower (like America’s rose), you are not begging for regional strife. But if the state denomination of Connecticut was Congregational, which it was, and you established any other denomination as the Church of the United States, you were pleading for trouble.

And so that is why the First Amendment of the Constitution says this:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Notice that the only entity that could possibly violate the First Amendment is Congress. “Congress shall make no law.” Congress could violate the establishment clause by creating a Church of the United States, bestowing that “honor” upon the Episcopalians, say. But they would also have violated the free exercise clause by telling Connecticut that they could not have Congregationalism as their state religion.
“The U.S. Constitution, a Lockean document, privatizes religion, separating it from the state” (Loc. 544).
Provoked at this point to strong oaths, I must say by the Great Horn Spoon, it is not so. It is correct to say that Locke was enormously influential, but absolutely false to say that the Constitution privatizes religion. No, it federalized religion. At the time the Constitution was ratified, 9 of the 13 states that ratified that document had established state churches of their very own. By having those state churches, they were in no fashion violating the First Amendment. They couldn’t violate the First Amendment. They weren’t Congress. The last state denomination didn’t disappear until the 1830’s (which happened in Connecticut).

I shudder to admit I haven't typically given as much attention to the rather obvious point that the First Amendment only really limits the Congress specifically when it comes to the establishment of religion. You should read the whole thing, more for Wilson's treatment of the First Amendment and public religion than the review of the Benedict Option which is rapidly becoming the most tiresome religious topic since the Prayer of Jabez came out.

I left a comment on the post and it was precipitated by looking back at my previous posts that referenced Dreher. I came across one from December 2015, You Cannot Have One Without The Other, which was primarily looking at the kerfuffle over the Wheaton professors claiming that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God but in that post I noted that Rod Dreher, who now claims to be the authority on the singular path forward for all iterations of Christianity, had never given any thought to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God and as recently as December 2015 still didn't know the answer. Here is what I wrote at the time:

Unfortunately a lot of people don't seem to understand the problem. One well known writer who is put forth as a Christian authority is Rod Dreher who writes at The American Conservative among other places. Rod is known most recently for his proposal, the "Benedict Option", calling for a somewhat vague idea of Christians concerning themselves mostly with preserving knowledge and culture for some future time. Rod writes concerning this controversy in an article titled: Muslim God, Christian God. In it he says he has never even considered whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God:
To be honest, I’ve never thought at all about whether Muslims pray to the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church teaches that they do, and that was my belief when I was a Catholic, though I never gave it a minute’s thought. I don’t know what I believe now, to be honest.
That still floors me every time I read it. I can understand a new Christian not really getting down in the weeds about this issue but for someone who is a public thinker and is considered to be something of an authority and intellectual I can't believe he has never even thought about this. Of course by way of explanation he points out that the Catholic church says we worship the same god as Muslims so that is good enuff for him. That statements tells us a lot more about Catholicism than it does about Rod Dreher.

Come on. Rod needs to stop trying to speak for the entire church and instead take some basic classes on theology proper and comparative religion. How seriously are we supposed to take direction from a guy who is not sure and has not even thought about whether his faith (Greek Orthodox) worships the same God as is worshipped in mosques by members of ISIS?

As I have said or at least suggested before, there are a lot of Christians past and present that we can turn to in order to inform our strategy for the future, including Doug Wilson for his occasional faults, but Rod Dreher probably isn't one of them, at least not for the less discerning. 

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