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
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 no-holds-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 like-minded 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.
- Dr A. W. Sangster is President Emeritus of the University of Technology.