Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Is Cultural Compromise Dead? What happens when secularism metastasizes into dogma

James Kalb asks whether the cultural compromise that involved everyone agreeing to the proposition that our deepest differences do not matter in the conduct of culture is now dead, and whether it was ever a good idea for the Catholic Church to buy into it.

It brings up an interesting question: Is the United States really united anymore by anything other than constitutional formalities? Is compromise between religions or between religion and secularism even possible? These are questions that will be controversial among the religious followers of people like the late Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things magazine, who were such ardent signatories to the compromise.

As Kalb explains it:
Christian societies, Muslim societies, and secularist societies are all different from each other. One excludes another, so we can’t favor them equally. It seems then that we must choose one over the others, or else live with a compromise that is likely to prove awkward and shifting—a situation, of course, that is often very difficult to improve upon. That view of the matter makes people today uncomfortable. 
They would like to agree with the political philosopher John Rawls, who wanted basic questions put aside in public life as divisive, and claimed that could be done in a principled way to the satisfaction of all reasonable citizens whatever their outlook. Rawls devoted a great deal of effort to working out those views, and they have become extremely influential.
We have all been operating in this country under this implicit agreement since at least the end of World War II (and in some more implicit form even before that). Catholics (and Christians in general, although Kalb himself does not universalize his thesis in this way) have proved themselves model citizens by holding up their end of the bargain. But it has come at a cost:

The apparent hope behind such tendencies was that lessened emphasis on transcendent absolutes would make the Faith more accessible to modern man, and enable the Church to cooperate in the construction of a peaceful and tolerant world in which Catholics could maintain personal and religious integrity as citizens of a free and open society. They would serve God by serving man, acting as a leaven and transforming hearts and minds.  
The hope hasn’t panned out, and the transformation has gone the other way. Integration of Catholics into a society that rejects the Faith ever more comprehensively has mostly led them to redefine Catholic belief as strictly private opinion or an idiosyncratic restatement of existing social aspirations. For conservatives, Faith often merged with faith in America. For liberals, who have had more intellectual and organizational influence, Love became mostly equivalent to social welfare as understood by their secular colleagues, and the Divine Other tended to give way to the human other, so that outreach and inclusiveness came to substitute for the mystical union.
But whether Catholics can stay within the compromise may be a moot question due to the metastasizing of secularism into a doctrinaire and punitive ideology. In other words, it isn't really the religious signatories to this compromise who are bringing it down. It is dogmatic secularists who have basically declared war on all meaningful religious expression: You can follow your religious inclinations all you like, as long as it doesn't have any tangible consequences.

Groups like the ACLU and the Democratic Party are all fundamentalists when it comes to the First Amendment—except that troublesome part about freedom of religious expression, which we not only don't interpret literally like the part about free speech, but which think really must go.

Secular liberals have issued an Edict of Milan turned upside-down; they have flushed the Flushing Remonstrance.

Catholics may or may not have been wise in signing the cultural treaty: I suspect Kalb is right in thinking they should not have. But it doesn't matter: Secularists have already violated their end of the bargain and declared war.


Old Rebel said...

In addition to the ACLU and the Evil Party, groups such as the ADL and the SPLC would have you believe "hate speech," which is the expression of any idea they don't like, isn't covered by the 1st Amendment, either.

KyCobb said...


This is a load of nonsense unless you subscribe to the belief that you are being oppressed unless you can impose your beliefs on other people. There are no restrictions on your worship and your speech, and it has always been the case that Catholics have to obey laws enacted to serve legitimate public purposes of the secular government. You don't want your employees to use contraceptives? That's none of your business. If you want to live in a society in which the Pope makes the laws, move to the Vatican or go establish your own little theocracy of Catholic land somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Good article Martin. But with the building up of big government on one side and big business on the other, it was inevitable that secularist dogma would trump and squeeze out any transcendent views on man. This is why the privatization of religion is continuously being pushed and freedom of "worship" emphasized.

Unknown said...

I've come to the conclusion that for all the talk about being open-minded and tolerant, a lot of leftists simply can't think of the world from a perspective other than their own. They can only see things as oppressors imposing their views on the victims, as if calling for moral behavior is just "forcing your views."

Secularists like KyCobb are only okay with religion if it does not have any tangible effect on people's interactions with others. When the views of the mob go their way, democracy is just and fair, and groups like Catholics should follow the law. But when states, for example, pass constitutional amendments that violate leftist dogma, they must be stopped by any means, even if it means taking it to the courts.

For leftists, the only speech and expression allowed is that which fits with their worldview. There is no debate for them, there are only victims and closed-minded bigots. Democracy is a tool to them, and secular government is used as a justification to silence any legitimate opposition to their views on the grounds that not everyone agrees with religion.

Well no duh. Not everyone agrees with leftist politics either.

Old Rebel said...

Mook Vanguard,

True. Marcuse called it "repressive tolerance," which translates into "Free speech for me but not for thee."

The most blatant example is "antifa" activism. Pure thuggery.