Ex­plor­ing is­sues of tol­er­ance in the US

Ti­tle: It’s Danger­ous to Be­lieve – Re­li­gious Free­dom and its Enemies Au­thor: Mary Eber­stadt Re­viewer: Dr Al­fred Sang­ster

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - Dr A. W. Sang­ster is Pres­i­dent Emer­i­tus of the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

MARY EBER­STADT is a well-known es­say­ist and au­thor and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to well-known US magazines. This, her lat­est 2016 pub­li­ca­tion, is An Im­print of HarperCollins Pub­lish­ers. The small book of 158 of­fi­cial pages for its six chap­ters and notes also has an­other 21 pages in an in­tro­duc­tion ti­tled Among the Be­liev­ers; or Why I Wrote the Book. The au­thor quotes Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man in a prom­i­nent head­line: “In a free coun­try, we pun­ish men for the crimes they com­mit, but never for the opin­ions they have.” This is the is­sue be­ing de­bated.

This ex­cel­lent book is a no­holds-barred one. It has at­tracted some dis­tin­guished ad­vance praise.

Tod Lind­berg, Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stanford Univer­sity, says: “This book asks the pro­gres­sive vic­tors in the cul­ture wars whether their

vi­sion of pub­lic life de­mands that tra­di­tional re­li­gious be­lief and be­liev­ers be expunged.”

Michael No­vak, win­ner of the 1994 Tem­ple­ton prize, re­marks: “This book is a sear­ing in­dict­ment of the hypocrisy and du­plic­ity of many sec­u­lar­ists who have aban­doned the old rules of mutual re­spect and fair­ness that once in­vited se­ri­ous sec­u­lar and re­li­gious thinkers into open di­a­logue.”


The long in­tro­duc­tion gives an overview of the new chal­lenges that are com­ing to cit­i­zens in Amer­ica to­day. Its 50-plus ref­er­ence sec­tion has al­most as many spe­cific ex­am­ples of in­jus­tices done to per­sons or or­gan­i­sa­tions for ac­tions or state­ments that are be­ing chal­lenged by the lib­eral gay rights agenda. One ex­am­ple must suf­fice: In­ter-Var­sity, one of the largest col­le­giate as­so­ci­a­tions, has been de­nied the priv­i­leges al­lowed to other stu­dent groups on cam­puses in nu­mer­ous states – this for be­ing what one writer dubbed “the wrong kind of Chris­tian”, that is, those who be­lieve tra­di­tional moral teach­ing.

The book has six reg­u­lar chap­ters, and in these spe­cific pages, the au­thor dis­cusses the philo­soph­i­cal is­sues that drive the new ‘tol­er­ance is­sues’ in Amer­ica.

Chap­ter One, ‘The Roots of the New In­tol­er­ance’. She lists two ma­jor cul­tural events that have con­trib­uted to this de­vel­op­ment. One was the Catholic Priests Sex Scan­dal, and the other was 9/11, which ar­tic­u­lated a new athe­ism as Mus­lims were seek­ing to dis­credit the faith of Amer­i­cans. All in all a po­si­tion emerged that gave rise to a need to free the so­ci­ety of its re­li­gious roots and be­liefs. What was emerg­ing was a set of cul­tur­ally like­minded peo­ple, new athe­ists, ad­vo­cates for same-sex mar­riage, ra­tio­nal­ists, mil­i­tant sec­u­lar­ists, pop­u­la­tion con­trollers, and other fel­low ide­o­log­i­cal trav­ellers.

The out­come is that any­one who dares to dis­sent from to­day’s ide­o­log­i­cal desider­ata faces height­ened risks of pub­lic ridicule, sham­ing, and pro­fes­sional set­back. We even have Pres­i­dent (Obama) not miss­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to cas­ti­gate non-pro­gres­sive Amer­i­can Chris­tians who he said were “bit­ter, cling­ing to their guns and their re­li­gion and less lov­ing”.

Chap­ter Two: ‘Anatomy of a Sec­u­lar­ist Witch Hunt.’ The new sec­u­lar moral­ity with the sex­ual revo­lu­tion is that the sex­ual revo­lu­tion, that is, the des­tig­ma­ti­sa­tion of all forms of con­sent­ing non-mar­i­tal sex, has been a boon to all hu­man­ity.


Do­ing what you want with the re­lated corol­lary is that plea­sure is the great­est good. ‘If it feels good, do it’. The so-called cul­ture war is one of com­pet­ing faiths: one in the Good Book and the other in the more newly fig­u­ra­tive book of sec­u­lar­ist or­tho­doxy about the sex­ual revo­lu­tion.

Chap­ter Three: ‘Ac­claim­ing Di­ver­sity vs. Hound­ing the Heretics.’ A sig­nif­i­cant case in Cal­i­for­nia, which went to the US Supreme Court, in­volved a Chris­tian group pro­fess­ing its faith and was lost based on the de­ci­sion that no free­dom for ex­pres­sion that of­fends pre­vail­ing stan­dards of political cor­rect­ness in our in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing will be en­ter­tained.

Chap­ter Four: ‘Civil Right Talk vs McCarthyite Mus­cle.’ The fol­low­ing state­ment sums up the at­ti­tudes: if you value your po­si­tion in so­ci­ety, you’d bet­ter not be an un­apolo­getic Chris­tian.

Chap­ter Five: ‘In­quisi­tors vs Good Works.’ A Chris­tian work­ing at a Catholic char­ity found that her time was in­creas­ingly be­ing taken up with deal­ing with ac­tivists in­tent on clos­ing down their fos­ter-care and adop­tion ser­vices. The long view: I know the time is com­ing when we’ll ei­ther close our doors or de­cide to con­tinue re­gard­less – and end up in jail.

Chap­ter Six: ‘What Is to Be Done; or, How to End a Witch Hunt.’ The fi­nal chap­ter raises the ques­tion as to whether peo­ple of faith will live to see their be­liefs vil­i­fied, their chil­dren os­tracised, their so­cial stand­ing fur­ther re­duced, their faith forced into the closet, and more, forc­ing peo­ple into a with­draw­ing from the world op­tion.

Is there an­other more mag­nan­i­mous place for un­der­stand­ing and a new dy­namic in the cul­ture war? That re­mains to be seen. We in Ja­maica are al­ready fac­ing these is­sues on a lim­ited scale. We need to be awake to these threats.

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