I was recently involved in a conversation about some controversial topics. It’s an environment that I tend to be quite comfortable in, despite other people’s possible discomfort. If given the right tone in a climate of mutual respect, most topics can be navigated comfortably.
“The Church doesn’t need you to run to its defense. It doesn’t need defenders.”
I beg to differ, but for more nuanced reasons than thinking that basic human decency is constantly under attack or for fear of some grand conspiracy.
In the media and in politics right now is a fierce debate about the place of religious practice and belief in the public square. This seems to be driven by a concern among the religious and irreligious alike that the religious are “forcing” or “pushing” their religious beliefs onto secular society.
So let’s get back to definitions:
Religious beliefs can be boiled down to a worldview about morality and social “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” derived from an epistemological approach of personal study, prayer, and above all, the evidence of personal and social experience. Personal choices are the form of experimentation upon which principles are tried and therefore inform the morality of the individual and are squared with the scientific and multicultural understanding of the world around them.
Secularism can be boiled down to a worldview about morality and social “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” derived from an epistemological approach of personal study in the sciences, introspection, and personal and social experience. Personal choices come as the result of at least two processes: evidence of the epistemology of the scientific method and of experiences upon which their moral system is tested, usually distilling to a simplified version of the Golden Rule.
In either case, be it secularism or religion, we have a worldview that is intrinsically and inescapably linked to our notions of morality. After all, saying that nothing is wrong or that a particular act is not wrong is still a moral judgment.
Secularism tends to criticize religions (often calling them cults) for punishing dissidents in some way, insisting on orthodoxy, or for dogmatic approaching to social problems.
The irony is that secularism is so often guilty of the same thing. The doctrine of a zero-tolerance policy of separation of church and state; petitioning, boycotting, or wholesale threatening the livelihood of owners of businesses for not agreeing with their moral dogmas (see Mozilla CEO); punishing dissidents who do not accept the cultural morality of the day by ostracizing them from discussions; and insisting on the orthodoxy of the ill-defined language of rights all make me wonder if such a worldview could not be labeled cultist. At the very least, secularism is on the same plane as religion in terms of its quest for adherence.
Concerned about inequality? Your morality is concerned with economic equality. Wanting welfare reform? You may value self-reliance above some other priority. Concerned about military intervention and killing overseas? Your worldview makes you concerned about death and suffering–perhaps above other considerations such as justice or defense of self and country.
However, the voice of the religiously conscious is being drowned out simply because it is informed by religious conviction.
But let’s be honest: there is nothing in science that can possibly prove that murder is morally wrong. Nothing in the scientific method dictates that sexual assault is incontrovertibly cruel. Therefore there are no scientifically proven grounds to accept any form of morality above another. Every moral system is then based upon what is unobservable and immeasurable: the innate values of a human life, of virtue, of self-determination, etc. It then follows that because none of these are provable, that we form moral judgments based upon belief–and to use the language of religion– upon FAITH, defined as “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1).
Secular morality and religious morality are based upon the same concept–faith. Yet one form of faith is being socially valued above another and forcing the other out of the debate.
Why is that?
That’s where the need for defenders comes in.
Mormon doctrine places the role of agency as a central principle of God’s plan. We chose to live in the world, even with all its injustice. We now choose what to believe and what voices to listen to. In this rich doctrine, God prizes choice so much that he sacrificed his Son in order to uphold this principle.
We also understand that in order for choice to actually be a choice, we have to have at least two options. The Book of Mormon expounds this, saying: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one,” (2 Nephi 2:11). The current political tide has been moving quite rapidly over the past 5-10 years toward a type of areligious (and increasingly anti-religious) moral system.
For that reason, religious voices are necessary in the public square to offer an alternative to the dismissive attitude against spirituality that is becoming a dominant moral platitude in the educated Northeast and urban cores–an alternative with strong philosophical justification in Natural Law and claim to a longstanding historical tradition that has served as the moral foundation of the United States for over two centuries.
Unless someone teaches truth to combat error in a strong way, agency cannot exist. You cannot create good out of agency unless good is a component of the two choices.
In scripture, the only times God has stepped in to essentially start over–Sodom, the Flood, Jerusalem (Babylon), the Nephites–are when sin and immorality are so abundant and accepted that truth and God’s will are no longer visible, and the only components of choice become bad vs worse. Real and godly good are no longer options because the voices of the godly have long been silenced and their worldview discounted because of where they had their genesis.
God will not have his children condemned to be apart from him because their option to choose him has been compromised. That’s why he steps in–to provide justice and fairness to allow all children to learn to discern good from evil (and yes, there is evil in the world) and to provide mercy when we fail as well.
Those are the messages that need to be offered to give us a real choice. And isn’t that the most American of ideals?