What Did Charlie Hebdo Accomplish?

The drive back from the annual American Historical Association meeting (and other points northeastern) brought the missus and me lots of coverage of the killings of editors and cartoonists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday in Paris. As unnerving and tragic as those deaths were and as close to the events as reporters still stood, the dominant narrative of the event was the need, courage, and danger of free speech. Many French and English journalists conducted interviews that indicated the enormous debt they owed to the editors, writers, and cartoonists of the magazine for standing up for free speech. In fact, the Protestant Federation of Churches in France issued the following statement:

We reiterate that the secular republic and its values, including freedom of conscience, democracy and press freedom remains for us the foundation of our life together.

This fairly modern, liberal, and republican line (it is striking to hear the French identify with “The Republic” while Americans who inhabit a republic of similar vintage talk about “The Constitution”) is fairly at odds with the experience of most modern, liberal residents of republics. None of us actually enjoys freedom of speech. Sean Michael Winters, for instance, noted that he is unwilling to use the freedoms he has:

I am not Charlie. I am not as brave as the editors at that newspaper were, continuing their satire even after the death threats and after their offices were fire-bombed. To point out another obvious difference, I am not a satirist and I do not go out of my way to poke fun at other people’s religion. But, they did and – you will pardon the expression – God bless them for it.

In other words, most people even in free societies and even when writing for the wider public censor their thoughts. From deciding not to tell your wife the truth about the chair she purchased to holding your thoughts about the pastor’s sermon, we do not live in a world that allows us to say whatever we think. Some people show more caution than others, and this is of course different from governments censoring citizens. But little in the reporting yesterday suggested any awareness of the layers of free speech.

What has already emerged, however, and this will likely continue for a while, is the chance of drawing attention to the inconsistency of those who condemn these killings. For instance, Mark Tooley observes that the World Council of Churches’ statement about the deaths stands in sharp contrast to the organizations former failure to uphold freedom of speech during the Cold War:

These statements are not bad, and Tveit’s affirmation specifically of the “freedom to print and publish” is especially notable. During its darkest Cold War days of accommodating Soviet Communism and its global proxies, the WCC was often scandalously silent about the freedom to print and publish, among many other freedoms suppressed by dictatorships.

At the risk of adding to such scapegoating, I can’t help but think about the complexity of freedom of speech when it comes to talking about race in the United States or to talk in general at most of the United States colleges and universities. Peter Lawler’s post about campus dissent stands in sharp contrast to outpouring of praise for freedom of speech (folks who talk about microaggressions and social sins should take note):

Now a big difference between the Communists and today’s politically correct is that the (typically perverse) nobility of the Old Left was that it was moved by the plight of people who had little to no property. And so they wanted to use the power of government to redistribute resources from one class to another. There’s still some of that idealism on campus, and even some professors who claim that they have the duty to be socialists to counter the capitalist propaganda that they say dominates the media and so much of ordinary life in America. The genuinely throwback socialists often love liberal education, and I often think I have more in common with them than with libertarian economists, despite the fact that the astute libertarian futurists have a better handle on what the future will probably bring.

Richard Rorty complained that when the Left went from being Old to New it lost interest in the issue of economic injustice and got about the business of eliminating every trace of cruelty and indignity — all the aggressions both macro and micro — from American discourse. Justice became making everyone — rich and poor, black white, straight and gay, and so forth and so on — absolutely secure in his or her freely chosen personal identity. Some of that progress has served the cause of decency, but it’s way out of control. Because the new political correctness reaches its height of self-righteous self-consciousness on campuses, it becomes pretty much unsafe to say anything judgmental or controversial or against reigning democratic and “extreme autonomy” prejudices.

During much of the press coverage yesterday I kept wondering whether someone would step up to explain how Charlie Hebdo’s provocations had actually helped French society. After all, if you provoke people to the point where the police (public servants) need to guard your offices, you might be more of a public nuisance than a cultural asset. Then again, and I don’t know the climate of French campuses, if residents of France enjoy more freedom than their fellow republicans in the U.S. to say what they think without fear of hurting hearers’ feelings, then Charlie Hebdo may have performed a valuable service.

Postscript: Michael Sean Winters added this comment in his praise for those who died yesterday:

The values of a culture that says it is fine to behead homosexuals are worse values than those of a culture that says it is not fine to behead homosexuals. The values of a culture that seeks to keep women in third-class status are worse than the values of a culture that seeks to open opportunities for women. The values of a culture that demands adherence to a strained, fundamentalist reading of a religious text are worse than the values of a culture that acknowledges pluralism and seeks to find peaceful ways for people of different religions to live together amicably. These values are not merely different. Cultural relativism only gets you so far. Our values, our liberal values, are better. I do not have to like this cartoon or that essay, I may regret the sense of license our commitment to liberty allows and even encourages, many and deep are my reservations about the seraglio of the Enlightenment, but I would rather be a citizen of the Fifth Republic of France than a slave in territory governed by ISIS. So would everybody except the evil and the deranged.

By that logic, Winters would also likely prefer to be a citizen of a libertarian U.S. than a member of pre-modern Christendom. In fact, he acknowledges that the history of Western Christianity has not always been appealing:

Just as Catholicism has had to break from its own barbarisms, haltingly to be sure, and insist that its faith be expressed in humane ways, indeed that inhumane expressions of the our Catholic faith are a contradiction of that faith, so too must our Muslim brothers and sisters find the arguments and the ideas and the critical mass of supporters to break their faith free from these murderers who claim to act in their name. The thing that we Catholics can do, especially those of us who are not afraid to call ourselves liberals, is create relationships with humane Muslims, work with them for the common good, highlight their culture and its contributions, and encourage them as they seek to remove the cancer that is currently eating away at their religion. We can share with them the ups-and-downs of our Catholic history in this struggle, noting that sometimes those ups-and-downs occurred in the same person, as when the venerable Saint Thomas More sent heretics to the flames. History, the catalogue of humanity, is itself a great humanizing force in any culture, whether its study prepares a person for a job in the 21st century marketplace or not.

Similar reservations haunt the performance of pre-modern Protestants. In which case, those of us Christians (Roman Catholic or Protestant) who enjoy the blessings of liberty need to do a little more reflection on where those freedoms came from. That they originated at the time of the founding of the American and French republics is not a reason to suggest that medieval Christendom or confessional Europe had nothing to contribute to the legal and political outcomes of the modern West. But the Council of Trent and the Westminster Assembly did not produce the Bill of Rights for a reason. And that reason should lead every modern Christian to express some gratitude (i.e. two cheers) for the Enlightenment.

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Evangelicals to Blame

Stephen Prothero explains partly why discourse about religion in the United States is so poor (and charged):

The religious right argues that religious literacy goes away in the early 1960s because of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court bans devotional Bible reading and prayer in public schools in 1962 and 1963, which critics argue essentially exiles God from public schools so that they are now religion-free zones. Now, children grow up not only without a reverence for God, but also without an understanding of the Bible and Christianity. The argument I make about religious literacy is that the story actually begins a century earlier. The villains are not secular people in the Supreme Court but actually religious people. It is caused by the Second Great Awakening and the replacement of Puritanism by Evangelicalism as the dominant religious impulse in the country. Before the Second Great Awakening, there was always this conversation among Christians between the head and the heart, trying to get a religion that was both intellectually sound and emotionally resonant. But with the Second Great Awakening comes this new form of religion that really prioritizes feeling and emphasizes loving Jesus rather than knowing what Jesus had to say. This is when religious literacy starts to go away. It doesn’t really matter much what Christianity teaches, what matters is how it feels to be in a relationship with Jesus. Simultaneously, as you have that shift from knowing the doctrine of your tradition to feeling intensely about God, there is a shift toward morality where the focus of the tradition becomes making the society more Protestant by using voluntary associations to get rid of slavery, to make the schools better, to improve prisons. In order to do that, it is important for people to downplay denominational differences. You don’t really want to bring up the distinctions between Methodists and Lutherans because you want both denominations to work together to get the Bible printed and distributed or to do the work of the American Tract Society. So that also pushed people away from conversations about doctrine. As the theology side of religion starts to go away, our collective memory starts to atrophy. That really happens over the course of the nineteenth century.

And it continues in the twentieth.

Why the Bible Cuts Both Ways — two-edged sword and all that

Peter Leithart’s comments on Eran Shalev’s American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War reminded me of what I learned from Sunday’s sermon (a week ago) from II Chronicles 36, the culmination of Judah’s fall from grace, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the people of God’s status as refugees (which continues). This narrative includes the hard-to-spin wrinkle of Zedekiah, Judah’s king, rebelling against a pagan and foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar, a figure whom the Israelites would normally have regarded as a tyrant and against whom legitimately rebelled. But when Zedekiah doesn’t submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the writer likens Judah’s king to Pharoah — the stiffnecked oppressor who held the Israelites in slavery:

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:11-14 ESV)

This is the sort of narrative that folks like John of Salisbury or Thomas Aquinas may have cited to show that tyranny was not always bad. Well, to be precise, it was bad in the sense of not being the way things were supposed to be. But not bad in the sense that this was a form of rule that God was using to punish his people.

And yet, the American colonists, led by Calvinists as we keep hearing, never stopped to consider whether King George was their Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord’s appointed ruler to mete out punishment for disobedience and infidelity. According to Leithart (following Shalev):

During the Revolution, writers and preachers turned to the historical books of the Hebrew Bible to fill out ancient Roman analyses of political corruption. George III was Rehoboam, Solomon’s son whose high taxes divided Israel, or Ahab, who seized the vineyard of innocent Naboth. The charges against King George were sometimes moderated by reference to the book of Esther: The hapless king was manipulated by Haman-like advisors who turned him against the children of the land of the Virgin. Patriots were Mordecais or Maccabees, while loyalists were “sons of Meroz,” a Hebrew town cursed because its inhabitants refused to follow Deborah and Barak into battle. Colonial writers saw links with Roman history: Washington was Cincinnatus. But Washington was also Gideon, the judge who delivered Israel and very deliberately refused an offer of kingship.

Of course, the American rebels didn’t have a prophet to tell them what to think about King George the way that Zedekiah had Jeremiah to whisper advice or shout warning. And that’s the point. Without divine revelation, how do you interpret any ruler or set of events (or culture or city or television series) as in accord with or against divine will? (And when will the students of American politics who seem to enjoy pointing out the biblical context for political debates also point out that such appeals to holy writ could very well be wrong and an abuse of Scripture?)

God's Ways May Be the Tea Party's

We just don’t know.

The Republican primary for the Senate is entering its last week and our friend and confessional 2k Presbyterian, Ben Sasse, appears to be in the lead:

With less than two weeks to go until the Republican primary, Sasse has appeared to have moved to the head of a multi-candidate pack featuring two other major hopefuls. There’s a lot resting on the next 10 days not only for Sasse, but also for the likes of the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sarah Palin, who have all joined Sasse in one of the most intense primary campaigns of 2014.

Sasse, the president of Midland University, may represent the best chance for the national tea party movement to claim victory in a contested Senate primary this year. While Republican senators have been swarmed by primary challengers, most have fizzled amid intense scrutiny and a robust attempt by the establishment to define them early as outside the mainstream candidates. The open race in Nebraska presents an opportunity for the tea party to claim an early win against that backdrop. . . .

To say the race has been nasty and personal would be an understatement. Osborn is casting Sasse as soft on Obamacare in a television ad campaign that Sasse’s campaign says takes his words out of context. In response, Sasse has launched a TV ad in which his daughters defend his opposition to the health-care law and say that they “always pray for the opposing candidates at breakfast.” . . .

What happens in Nebraska on May 13 could set a tone for other primaries happening soon. A Sasse loss is the last thing tea party groups need heading into a stretch of primaries during the next eight weeks including contests in Kentucky, Mississippi and Kansas, where insurgent conservatives remain underdogs in their quests to defeat incumbent Republican senators.

It would also prompt a fresh round of questions about endorsement criteria. Sasse once supported Medicare Part D, for example, which the Club for growth adamantly opposes.

But a Sasse win could light a fire under the national tea party movement. Tea party groups will soon have another opportunity in an open Oklahoma race, where they have begun to coalesce around former state House speaker T.W. Shannon (R) in a contest looking more competitive for him.

This Old Lifer is pulling for Sasse. But I also believe that Ben knows enough theology to understand that God’s ways will be served no matter who wins next week (or in November).

Turkey Needs the United States (not for the reasons you think)

Do politicized Christians in the United States understand what Turkish Muslims are recognizing, that it’s not the morality but the scale of the government? Ponder this from Mustafa Akyol:

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other.

This new tension, like the old one, includes lots of mind-boggling details and jaw-dropping conspiracy theories. However, like the old one, it actually renders down to a simple question: the nature, and the masters, of the state. Since we have such an all-powerful and all-encompassing Leviathan, its control is a matter of life-and-death. Hence come all our bitter and zealous power struggles.

Another element in this new political tension is the Islamic credentials both sides have, according to their somewhat similar yet still distinct interpretations of religion. This religious element inspires a strong sense self-righteousness and causes the tension to get deeper and deeper.

But is there no way out? An interesting perspective came from an Islamic intellectual, Sibel Eraslan, who is a renowned novelist and a columnist for the conservative daily Star. She wrote:

“The [Gülen] Community-AKP conflict invites us to think more seriously on ‘secularism’… [because] the fight for political space and power among the pious forces us to look for a new referee.”

The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the Frenchlaïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.

What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power.

Love of Country

I was glad to see Matt Holst challenge modestly Rick Phillips’ patriotic post about the need for Christians to love the United States. One of the best ways to register a 2k perspective is to ask whether Christianity has a special relationship with any particular nation, or whether Christians themselves have an obligation, no matter their citizenship, to the United States. Christians in the U.S. would not like instructions to love Mexico on the fifth day of May and would likely snicker at similar exhortations about a duty to love Canada on July 1. Why American Protestants don’t recognize the problem that Christian patriotism poses for Christians who are not citizens but reside LEGALLY in the U.S. is a riddle I am still trying to solve. But Charles Hodge’s argument in the context of the Civil War that the church supporting the Federal Government was akin to singing the Star Spangled Banner at the observance of the Lord’s Supper captures the 2k dynamic nicely. So does a Dutchman asking why a congregation has a U.S. flag at the front of its church.

Holst’s objection started with an acknowledgment that he is a “furr-ner,” an outsider:

It is always an interesting time of year for a foreigner to be in America. Every Fourth of July, I jest with our church members that the Sunday morning sermon closest to the Fourth will be on Romans 13 – submission to the civil magistrate. People laugh…usually. The obvious historical reasons aside, it is even more interesting for someone from Britain to be in the States on this date because Britain is a peculiarly unpatriotic place – nothing like America in that sense. I don’t recall ever seeing Union flags displayed on people’s houses, except in peculiar circumstances such as a royal birth or sporting achievement. The view of the armed forces in the UK has been nothing like that in America; it is much more low-key and much less admired, to be quite honest. To be clear, I am not saying that such is a good thing.

Moreover, Britain is itself a nation divided into four countries and four separate identities. When asked where I am from, my answer is Wales, not the UK. Speaking to most people over here, I inevitably have to explain where Wales is located. As an aside, I was once talking to a seminary student, who commented “You’re not from around here are you?”. I replied “No I’m from Wales”. To which he replied, in all seriousness, “Ah, a good Scotsman!” The conversation ended pretty quickly after that. My point is that the UK has multiple identities, with very few Welshmen being willing to accept the moniker “Scottish” and absolutely no Welshman willing to accept the label “English”. In spite of a rich and varied history, and maybe because of it, the UK does not have the same level or expressions of patriotism regularly evidenced on this side of the Atlantic.

In other words, Christianity transcends nations and so calling for Christian love of country only begins to make sense if you create space between country and faith, with patriotism being one form of affection, membership in the church another.

But Holst bring up some other matters that deserve comment, especially his contrast between the UK and the U.S. In fact, he touches on a subject that I am not sure Brits necessarily understand any better than Yanks, that is, the nature of British identity. Sports journalists needed to wrestle with this recently when Andrew Murray won at Wimbledon. Is Murray a Scot? A Brit? An Englishman? Some conjectured that whenever Murray lost he was a Scot, but when he won he was English. Indeed, among the three kingdoms that comprise the “United” Kingdom, national identity is anything but fixed, at least as J.C.D. Clark explains:

‘British” as a term in general usage has therefore had at least two senses. One was a spontaneous or encouraged Unionist identity allegedly felt equally by Scots, Irish, Welsh and English. This may indeed have been problematic. But another usage was more prevalent: as employed by the four groups, usually when abroad, ‘British’ was an official, political euphemism for one’s sectional identity, whether English, Welsh, Irish, or Scots: it was to a considerable degree synonymous with, and not a substitute for, sectional national identities. If so, it matters less that ‘British’ in the sense of the whig defenders of 1707 had shallow foundations: ‘Britishness’ in its prevalent sense rested in large part on the ancient and massive foundations of Englishness, and the equally ancient if differently formulated identities of England’s neighbours.

. . . . Britain was not invented; it developed. It was not devised by a small number of cultural entrepreneurs, acting like advertising executives to package and market a new product; it grew, the often unintended result of actions by men and women in many walks of life, often, too the result of conflicts and cross-purposes.

But contrary to Holst (and I am not criticizing as much as I am working out some of my own fascination with religious affiliations and national identities), a sense of Britishness did emerge, according to Clark, very much with the aid of Protestantism:

The ancient identity of the Ecclesia Anglicana meant that the Reformation did not at once create a unitary national identity. As a religious message of universal validity, Protestantism initially implied a reaction against the national subdivision of the universal church; only subsequently were some sections of ‘Protestantism’ identified with national churches and so with national identities. One strand of the Reformation stressed a pan-European solidarity between believers in the Reformed traditions, a shared sense of a supra-national destiny. Since the English had ‘a long-standing reputation for xenophobia’ even by 1500, it did not help that Protestant theology was originally associated with German reformers; not until the reign of Mary I (I553-8) were reformers ‘given the opportunity to sail for the first time under Protestant colours.’ Anti-popery, too, could be an international phenomenon, and not until Elizabeth’s reign did an assumption become prevalent that England had a special, or even the leading, role in that drama.125 The church in England only adopted the label ‘Protestant’ for itself in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and then in order to distinguish itself from both Rome and Geneva: Anglican Protestantism did not become pan-European. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the Reformation went much further: confessional differences have been basic to the emerging ‘three kingdoms’ explanation of the dynamics of state formation in the British Isles,” and when Wales acquired a distinct confessional identity from Protestant Dissent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that principality took its place as a fourth component in the model.

So it is not the case that Americans are the exceptions who link their faith to their patriotism. They learned it from the Brits, or English, or Scots, or Welsh, or Irish. For a popular rendition of English conflation of faith and patriotism, see the third season of Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham cannot tolerate the idea that his granddaughter, who is the child of an Irish Roman Catholic — chauffeur no less, will be baptized a Roman Catholic. The English national identity was very much bound up with the Protestantism of the Church of England.

But if that little hiccup of British civil religion is so obvious to American viewers of Downton Abbey, why aren’t similar conflations of faith and nationalism obvious to Christians in the U.S.? One reason may be the very notion of love of country. Holst makes the useful point that such love is not commanded in Scripture:

. . . when I read that a Christian is to love his country, I’m left a little bit confused. What exactly am I to love? Presidents? Congressmen? Hills, valleys streams, lakes (I have no difficulty loving them)? The people? The armed forces? Government? I wonder if Rick’s advice, which I regularly find beneficial and prudent, has, on this matter, slipped into an amorphous Americanity – a more subtle form of “God and Country” which is so prevalent in certain areas of the church. Such is the kind of Christianity which has the American flag on one side of the pulpit and the Christian flag (wherever that came from?) on the other. America, like every other Western nation has had a remarkable yet chequered history – morally, economically and militarily. What are we to love, and what kind of love are we to show?

Holst may be confused because most modern citizens of nation-states are confused. A colleague tells me that the proper way to love the United States is to think of it as a people and a place. Loving the American people can be a challenge since it would mean having to love Alex Rodgriguez along with Phil Hendrie. But loving a place may be easier if we took a greater delight in the locales where we live. Certainly, though, if we identify the United States with its government (and a chief part of that government’s expenditure — the military and all those damned wars), we will have a different kind of love than the older variety of love of country.

I myself do not think it is wrong to love country as long as it is a love qualified by higher and holier affections (no, not those kind). I love my wife, for instance. The Bible tells me I have to. But I also love our surviving cat. The Bible doesn’t tell me to do that. Nor does it prohibit such love, which is one of those key points bound up with Christian liberty and two-kingdom theology. We are free to love a country (I think) and we are free not to love a country. We are not free to identify a country with the kingdom of Christ.

Should Muslims Try to Legislate Their Morality?

For most residents of the United States, the idea of Sharia law establishing the standards for civil law at the state or federal level (even before 9-11) is unthinkable. But lots of Protestants and Roman Catholics in the U.S. hardly blush when someone puts the question the way the Allies recently did — Should Christians Try to Legislate Their Morality?

On the ordinary playing field of fairness and equality before the law, the notion that Muslims and Jews and Roman Catholics should not try to legislate their morality but evangelicals may is nonsensical. The only way the premise behind the Allies’ question makes sense is if you think either that only the true religion may be legislated (say hello to 1650 Europe and goodbye to 1776 Philadelphia), or that the United States belong to the people who first settled it (say hello to Peter Marshall and David Barton and goodbye to David Hackett Fischer).

To say that Christians should not try to legislate their morality (if the followers of other religions may not) is not to affirm that civil society without religion as the social glue will be easy. Current debates about marriage are indicative of the problems that the American founding set into motion. But neither was life in Christendom easy for Muslims, Jews, and Protestants. So Americans tried to separate religious considerations as much as possible from civil society in establishing a constitutional republic. That led to secular society, a novos ordo seclorum (new order for the ages). Does such a society imply disrespect for God? Perhaps. But its explicit aim was not to deny God’s dominion but to make room for people from diverse faiths (or no faith) to try to live together (and please remember that even the Puritans did not welcome Baptists or Presbyterians). Legislating one religious group’s morality upsets the original agreement. Why Christians still don’t see this hurts my head the way drinking a curry squishee too fast does.

To be fair, I did not watch the Allies’ video. I’m a text guy when it comes to blogging. But if the discussion did highlight “the question of final authority” or as the post puts it: “As Christians, how do we help people find an authority outside of themselves?”, then I’m not sure the Allies are doing justice to the diversity of the American people (or to the United States’ law for that matter). We the people are sovereign through our representatives. This constitutional republic was established as a rebuttal to “final authorities” who dominated people and abused power. I understand that finding an authority outside ourselves is a proper basis for a w-w, a good philosophical way to refute secularism, and a habitual response of Roman Catholics and neo-Calvinists to the French Revolution. But the way I read the United States, we were not a philosophical republic but a polity that adapts pragmatically for the sake of protecting the security, peace, and legal standing of all its citizens (no matter what their faith). As for those citizen’s morality, they needed to conform to the laws that their representatives enacted, and those legislators represented people of diverse faiths.

In which case, we have moral problems in the United States and advocates of Christian morality (from the Baylys to the Allies) are not helping.

Postscript: I understand that Apu is likely not a Muslim.

What's Good for the Turks is Good for the Protestants

Part of what makes studying the Ottoman Empire and Turkey fascinating is that you see aspects of civil society and political development that we in the West mostly take for granted. It is like studying a foreign language. I never understood English grammar as well as when taking Greek and Hebrew in seminary. To use English I never really needed to know the grammar. Not true for reading Greek (and faking my way through) Hebrew. The same goes for understanding the way western societies operate. We may take a civics class, but that doesn’t mean we understand the history behind or the choices made that resulted in a democratic and federated republic.

This is a way of introducing a poignant comment by Walter McDougall about the Turkish republic’s origins:

[Ataturk] set out to separate the state from Islamic religion, liberate women, define Turkish citizenship by residence rather than ethnicity, Westernize the legal system, promote economic development, and pursue peaceful relations with all of its neighbors.

In other words, Turkey accomplished in the 1920s what the United States did in the late 18th century. And Turkey also carried out some of the political outcomes that prevailed in Italy in 1870 when the papacy lost temporal authority over the Papal Legations. What was crucial in all three cases was for the laws of Turkey, Italy and the United States to be separated from the laws of Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism respectively.

But apparently, some Protestants have not learned this lesson politics. They still insist that the state enforce God’s law. They also insist that they have no resemblance to Islam or Pius IX. In fact, one of the great ironies of U.S. history is that Protestants used a high-wall conception of the separation of church and state against any Roman Catholic attempts to receive state funding for parochial schools. When the courts then applied that same argument to public schools and removed prayer and Bible reading, Protestants (mainline, evangelical, and fundamentalist) cried foul. Apparently, separation of church and state is needed for Muslims and Roman Catholics, but not for our team.

Of course, the contemporary opponents of the secular may be right. The Bible may require a union of religion and politics and a return to Old Testament Israel. But are those contemporary critics of 2k and the secular willing to identify themselves as anti-American (not simply opposed to the U.S. of Obama but also to the republic of George Washington)? And are they willing to admit that they are anti-Western (in a way similar to political Islam)? Or do they want all the benefits of a constitutional republic in the West with whining rights about godless secular societies?

Protestants and Assimilation, Republican Style

One more thought about republican forms of government and what they require of believers who would be citizens. Analogies between twentieth-century France and the nineteenth-century United States suggest that Americans demanded conformity from “outsiders” in ways comparable to the French more recently. The great complaint about Roman Catholic Irish and German immigrants was that their submissiveness to the papacy (as if), a foreign prince, would make them unworthy and unreliable republican citizens. The United States made similar demands on Mormons who had their own civil authority in the office of the apostle, who at least in the days of Brigham Young was also the governor of the Utah territory. For Utah to gain admission as a state, Mormons needed to abandon polygamy. Republicanism makes its demands.

Conversely, have Protestants had little trouble acquiescing to the republic’s norms? One thinks of the Huguenots, for instance, who assimilated pretty much wherever they went without the slightest whiff of the dissent that characterized their days of resistance in the Old World.

And then one thinks about the tradition of covenanting in Scotland and Ireland, a variety of Reformed Protestantism that earned the reputation for submitting to no one except king Jesus. A. T. Q. Stewart observed in 1977 that the Presbyterian “is happiest when he is being a radical.” He went on:

The austere doctrines of Calvinism, the simplicity of his worship, the democratic government of his Church, the memory of the martyred Covenanters, and the Scottish unwillingness to yield or to dissemble — all these incline him to that difficult and cantankerous disposition which is character of a certain kind of political radicalism.

Of course, the United States did not demand Covenanters to conform to republican norms to be assimilated. Instead, the Covenanters until around 1980 self-selected and opted out of the republic’s political life — no voting, no vows, no running for office, and no service in the military, a form of Reformed Protestant Anabaptism.

But with the exception of the ideals of sixteenth-century Scotland, Protestants came to terms fairly easily with republican government. The reason stems largely from their not having a state or monarch who was their ruler and the chief executive of their faith.

The lesson: most Reformed Protestants are 2K and they don’t even know it.

Christians Assimilated (but compromised?)

A terrific book review, now a little long in the tooth, of two books on Europe and its immigrant populations is worth pondering for a variety of reasons but it got me thinking specifically about the assimilation of Christians in a secular republic like the United States. Here is a striking passage:

PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.

What was I thinking:

1) it is hard to assimilate people of diverse cultural backgrounds and religious heritages into a peaceful, moderately ordered, and free society. Americans often bemoan the size of the government, the disregard for morality, or the inconsistency of cultural expectations (myself included). But keeping very different groups relatively calm and peaceful is no mean feat (especially if you believe what Reformed Protestants do about human nature).

2) Where does the U.S. fall in this model? In some ways it looks more like its cultural grandparent, Britain. But we also have conformist expectations that resemble the French (which likely owes to our adopting a republican form of government under the influence of Enlightenment political thought).

3) If Christians who complain about the decadence of the U.S. only kvetch and do not riot, is their desire to follow God weaker than Muslims?

4) If Christians want non-Christians to fit in with American norms that stem from Christian convictions, are they doing the same thing as the French even though for religious as opposed to enlightened reasons?