Friday, March 09, 2007

Drawing the line

First read this short essay posted by Michael Liccione. Feel free to peruse the comments there too. It raised a topic which for me has always been rather thorny, and about which I concede some ambivalence.

Moving beyond the question of the arguments against this insanity, (I will trust we are all agreed that this is in fact insane) it raises a very interesting question which has always dogged me. I confess to being politically a very conflicted moderate libertarian. As an Orthodox Christian this puts me in the awkward position of arguing for legal tolerance of at least some things I find morally noxious. However when I start to contemplate legislating religious morality in a pluralistic society I quickly get a headache at the thought of the very large can of worms opening. Whose morality will we be legislating? Protestant or Catholic? Certainly not Orthodox... we are only about three percent of the population of the USA. (Although I have always liked the idea of imposing a three times limit on marriages... I digress.)

The case cited by Mike is admittedly an extreme one. But it’s good in the sense that it forces us to ask where we draw the line outside of attacks on human life (which is where my line tends to be right now). I have often contemplated the feasibility of Christian government in the modern world. And that road usually leads me in the direction of sacramental monarchy, which I will also confess (it's Lent) that I have always viewed as the most Christian form of government.

So here is the question... (well several questions)
Can we have a Christian government that is democratic in a religiously pluralistic society and if so in what form? Do extreme cases like the one cited justify a suspension of liberal democratic rights in order to impose a certain set of values on others? If not where do we draw the line if we draw one at all? And what arguments will we use to justify legislating our religiously based morals upon others? Should we have a state religion while perhaps proposing some form of limited tolerance for nonconformists?


123 said...

I confess to being politically a very conflicted moderate libertarian.

I love that phrase, and resemble it being an Orthodox Christian and Republican former artist in Manhattan.

A Father once said something to the effect that "there is no virtue where there is no choice." That has been my credo in approaching my own arguments "for legal tolerance of at least at least some things I find morally noxious." We cannot force virtue without making it unvirtuous.

Legislating religion does nothing but admit that God isn't strong or compelling enough to draw people to himself on his own. This is true in Islamic Republics, and would be true (again) in an Orthodox monarchy. I am perfectly content in living as an Orthodox Christian in an antagonistic world - I think a lot of the reason I became Orthodox were the stories of the thousands of New Martyrs in Russia. No Pascha without the cross.

I say, no religious morality in laws just materialist protections of rights and property. "Do anything you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else". Then let our faith and lives win converts to virtue freely chosen.

Beyond that, I have no real power, influence or say - apart from voting for those who have been put or stepped forward already for my yeah or nay.

Anonymous said...

Orthodox Christianity as established religion with smallish (non imperial) monarchy is the norm. Not a snowball's chance in late modernity. It would be just awful. We are blessed to be out of power. Let the moderns try to govern themselves and bring about the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Boston. Best we can do is try to reduce abortion and stablize marriages and families. Let Oprah end global poverty.

123 said...

I wonder if one can say that monarchy is the norm in Orthodox Christianity. First, Orthodoxy has been under actively antagonistic governments for much of its history, now, perhaps even a majority of its history. This is especially true when one remembers the numbers of Christians under Persian rule prior to the Muslim invasions. Second, was a monarchical form of government really a part of Orthodoxy or 'accidental' parts of the cultures that Orthodoxy became the dominant religion in, with Orthodoxy simply baptizing these cultural forms?

Given the first example I would suggest that living in the modern West is perfectly in line with traditional Orthodoxy: living in a non-Orthodox society and culture with non-Orthodox leaders.

From the Life of St. Nicholas Planas: "Another time some people where discussing politics at a certain house. 'So, what do you say, Father?' they asked him. Once he recovered from the depth of his thought, he wanted to say something. 'Who is governing now?'"

Stephen said...

No, I do not think that we will ever have a state religion except for secularism. The religious scene, even the Christian scene in (North) America is too diverse for even a unified Christian front.

I lean towards libertarianism as well. Maybe it is because I am Canadian. My attitude is as long as the state accepts the Church's right to self-determination, then people can do what they want. Of course, I don't want to see people ruining their lives, but I figure the church trying to legislate morality will only embitter people more against the church and God, so I say let people do what they want to do. And let the church be there to help pick people back up, and hopefully they will come to their senses after their dreams fail and they will find Christ. Of course, the danger here of giving the state a free reign is that they will turn and backstab the church, but in the grand scheme of things persecution is nothing new and so far North America has been very lucky in escaping major persecution. For what its worth, these are my two cents. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

I'm not using "norm" in the historical sense but in the "normative" sense. I think democracy is governance of the idiots for the idiots and by the idiots, including this particular idiot known as me.

Our current situation is hell. It doesn't serve to make Christianity, or Orthodox Christianity, stand out more but rather makes it only that much more obscure and bizarre. Another somewhat exotic shop in the religious mall right next to the hookahs.