Up from hopelessness, and up with truce!

The Myth of American Religious Freedom, which Glenn linked earlier, looks like a great book:

In this new and compelling examination of American religious history, Sehat argues that this country did not extend freedom of religion to all, but until recently was controlled by a Protestant Christian establishment that sought to impose its will in coercive and often exclusionary ways. An assistant professor of history at Georgia State University, Sehat shows how state and federal courts sided with the Protestant moral establishment in battles with Roman Catholics over public schools, with Mormons over polygamy, and with freethinkers over the right to be irreligious. This argument might surprise 21st-century Americans convinced their country has always been a beacon of religious liberty, but it is precisely this flaw in the national religious image that Sehat attempts to illuminate, if not always concisely. His argument is timely in light of the controversy over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York City. It is also an important corrective to the ongoing culture wars between the religious right, which claims this country was birthed on a Christian foundation, and secularists, who insist that the First Amendment spells out a separation of church and state.

(Reminds me of why I like Mormonism; its existence broadens the definition and scope of Christianity.)

Whether I have time to buy and read the book or not, the above Publishers Weekly review is a reminder that (as I keep saying) religious disagreements are hopeless. Religious debates by their nature involve competing views over the unknown, which I think are by definition impossible for any "side" to win. 

Which is why we need to remember the distinction between coalition and compromise. They are not synonymous. It is possible to work together toward a shared goal without anyone compromising his or her principles or beliefs. This may entail a truce.

More specifically, A Truce In The Culture Wars As Voters Focus On The Economy:

American history is a long chronicle of, among other things, people with different views on religious and cultural issues living in more or less close and amicable proximity with one another. Sometimes that's hard, when government faces binary issues (should abortion be legal?) that must be decided one way or the other.

But on the cultural issues that have been the focus of political contention we seem to have reached a status quo that, while not acceptable to some with strong views on both sides, is one most Americans can live with. The truce that Mitch Daniels called for and that his critics decry is a fact of life.

I like to hope it is. But the devil is in the details.

posted by Eric on 01.04.11 at 12:42 PM


I'm not a great expert but why do you think it was protestants who tried to usurp the religious power in the country, so to speak? There're a lot of cathoics,too, and they're well-known for their passion for religious expasion.

Glory@Israel   ·  January 4, 2011 2:04 PM

It sounds like that book more or less confirms that America's Protestant religious culture was critically important.

Trimegistus   ·  January 4, 2011 3:59 PM

I'd have to see what he meant by the war on Catholic schools, I went to Catholic school in all grades and got a good education (well education?), but it would be hard to convince me of a "myth" of religious freedom.

The Mormon example is pretty good, but...
Polygamy is against the law.

Are we denying fundamentalist Muslims religious freedom by not allowing many of sharia's customs that are illegal? Like only using a stick as big around as your thumb to beat your wife.
In some absolute sense, yes. But... we still have to have laws. We can't have people deciding to make up a religion to do something illegal, we'd then have the gov't in charge of deciding what a religion is or we'd have Aztecs sacrificing people they don't like. (no, I'm not comparing polygamy to human sacrifice)

Just because Jews and Catholics couldn't join the country club doesn't mean they didn't have religious freedom.
They could have started their own country clubs (and did).

I would say it's more of a "myth" of equality and freedom.

Until the last 40 years or so, and going back to our beginnings, we weren't all that free and equal.
Women, blacks, Irish, Catholics, Jews, Chinese, American Indians and many more were discriminated against, often with the active aid of the gov't.

As a friend used to say about any time before the late 50s, "Back when men were men and men were white".

Veeshir   ·  January 4, 2011 8:01 PM

Agree that religious arguments are usually pointless. But the religious divide overlaps with other differences of importance to libertarians. The enthusiastic followers of right-wing authoritarian leaders are overwhelmingly Christian fundamentalists. Making common cause with them seems like a Bad Idea.

Don   ·  January 5, 2011 4:40 PM

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