Personalizing Freedom of Religion or Belief

We tend to defer the responsibility of Religious Freedom to the State. But to what extent is it an individual matter as well? In this post I will guide us through some of the issues, and hope for a healthy discussion on what we can do to enhance Freedom of Religion.

Is Freedom of Religion or belief a legal, institutional or personal affair?

The USA First Amendment starts with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…“. In my discussions with Americans, Freedom of Religion is defined mostly on the legalizing of religions. One assumes that so long as the law does not limit religions, there is religious freedom in the nation. Historically this is understandable, as the Pilgrim Fathers left Europe, their mind was geared towards creating space to live their religion. It was not about freedom for all religions, but for freedom for their own religion as is evidenced by each State of the Union preferring its own religion. Putting limits on the government to constrain religions was apparently also central in the declaration found in D&C 134: “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, …; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should … never suppress the freedom of the soul.” Is it no wonder why we, Latter-day Saints focus on rule of law for the protection of Religious Freedom.

There is another way of looking at Religious Freedom, though. Ancient Rome had a great deal of influence on European law for over a millennium. It claimed the so called lex naturalis (natural law), certain rights individuals have by virtue of being human. Human rights, to Roman law, were inalienable rights, and therefore the government, per definition, had no influence over creating laws regarding religious freedom. Moreover, lex naturalis was freedom for individuals, as opposed to the rights of organized religious groups. This law was used by my ancestor Gerard Noodt in the late 17th century in the Netherlands to criticize a decree of the Prince of Orange that all his subjects adhere to Calvinism. Arminianism was thereby banned. The Prince’s decree, of course, caused great hardship, and the effects are still felt both in the USA and the Netherlands alike. Before the decree, Holland was to known as a safe haven for the religious outcasts of Europe. Hugenots, Askinazi and Sephardic Jews, English Pilgrims and many others, had been gathering in western Holland. After the prince’s decree the Pilgrims averted to America to find themselves a new land of liberty.

Personally I am involved in several NGO’s that stand for the protection of religious freedom globally. My main instrument for remedy is the 1948  United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights, articles 18-20. This is not so much about legalization; nor is it about freedom for religious institutions. It, too, assumes that Freedom of Religion or Belief (henceforth FoRB) is first and foremost an individual matter. Of particular importance is the inclusion of the rights for individuals of their freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, speech, exercise, and assembly. FoRB also includes those who claim a non-belief. This agrees with D&C 134:2, which includes the free exercise of conscience.

FoRB defined

FoRB can have several meanings. It could mean Freedom FROM religion, a term often used in for example modern French society where non-religion is often preferred. Some take Ghandi’s creed to heart, when they claim that “freedom is my religion”. To others it means Freedom FOR MY religion, a term often used by minority religions, such as ours. Again others talk about “freedom FROM religious institutions”? And again others claim FoRB to be freedom for the RELIGIOUS. Many defend this last one to include freedom for the non-religious, such as an increasing number of Atheists, Humanists and those who belong to a group called None’s in the USA, or “Somethingists”  in the Netherlands (those who believe in something and do not join a church to learn what that something actually is).

FoRB for the Mormon Church

Our own LDS Church, of course stands in the first place for freedom for OUR religion. We have a long history of persecution, and we are tired of being bullied around by government institutions. And yet, prophecies still describe a bleak future for many of the Saints in the Latter-days. At the same time, Brigham Young taught that in the Millennium there would be other churches (Journal of Discourses, 2:316-317, July 8, 1855). For that to happen one would expect freedom of thought, conscience, speech, and freedom to exercise in the Millennium. After all, we cannot imagine the Savior dictating the conscience of His subjects.

FoRB, a personal matter

As FoRB is also about individuals to believe, express, exercise, and assemble, all of us are automatic participants in a discourse on FoRB. Even in the many nations that protect religious freedom in their constitution there are always issues regarding FoRB. Because FoRB is not just about the government’s role, but also about the interaction between individuals. Conflicts dominate the headlines in the media, and there can be no true freedoms in an environment of animosity. Universally, religions explain the need to love our fellowmen as ourselves. We, Mormons, teach that we are equal children of a common non-partial and loving Heavenly Father. King Benjamin’s speech lauds a class-less society where even a king serves, rather than claiming to be better than another. These teachings form a healthy basis for FoRB. Respecting the opinion of others, without derogating or labeling them as fools (Mtt. 5:22) is just a first step towards FoRB in any society. It often requires people to agree to disagree without becoming offensive or or even the need to become defensive. It requires of people to differentiate between the belief and the believer; respecting the believer, whilst disagreeing with the belief. Disagreement is agreeable, so long as we are not disagreeable.

Finding our own definition of FoRB

Because FoRB is so hard to specifically describe, each culture and each person must find a workable definition. This is not so much done in legal terms, but by discourse, exchange of ideas, debate, thinking about it, agreeing and disagreeing. It recognizes a different sets of values, successes and trauma’s to cope with for each individual.

This means that we, Latter-day Saints, need to also accept the responsibility of FoRB for ourselves, and not let government or Church leadership take the brunt of it. As such we may individually need to find answers to the types of questions that we need to deal with for ourselves and within in our LDS communities. We could debate questions like:

  • How is the freedom of others influenced in a society that praises the winners, the haves, and the successful, and debase losers, have-nots?
  • To what extent is a teaching of patriotism healthy in a religion that wants to be a player in a global religious arena? Patriotism enhances a pride for our own, and a rejection of the other and inhibits inclusiveness. Could teachings and expressions of patriotism in church become an issue for the freedoms of those guests who are not of our nation? Could that make them feel as second class citizens in our congregations?
  • Should we, and if so, how, could we enhance the freedoms for those who believe differently from those in the cultural majority on such issues as same sex attraction and marriage, liberal political parties, the correctness of some church policies, the proper interpretation of scripture, the wisdom of gun control, or any other issue we have strong feelings about? How much freedom of expression should there be for them within our community? Is there a place among us for those of other beliefs?
  • Clearly, we have the right to express our views, but should we always express our opinion, label people or insult them? Why is it that we, as Latter-day Saints often find it so difficult to be kind to others who are different and respect them, so much so that General Conference speakers regularly beg us to be better on this this issue? One would think we would be exemplarily kind, as we are often trained in “uplifting one another”.
  • Why is it that some religions are renown for kindness and acceptance, and we are really not? Think of some Buddhist groups, Bahai’s, Unificationists, etc.. Should we want to belong to this group?


There are many more questions such as these, and we could write a host of reactions and feelings to them. But that is not the aim of this post. I am trying to link individual freedoms to the freedoms to believe and act in accordance to personal conscience and to the agency of all God’s children, which we, Latter-day Saints, hold so dear.

Diversity amongst us is the universal color of our religion. While the Gospel is true, discussions in Mormonism are not always black and white. Paul expresses his appreciation for the less honorable amongst the saints in his statement in 1 Corinthians 12:23. Elder Holland described it well in his talk “Songs sung and Unsung”: “On those days when we feel a little out of tune, … it is important, …, to remember it is by divine design that not all voices in God’s choir are the same. Various voices are needed to make rich music.

The question, therefore, is, how well do those whom we feel are singing off tune, experience our warm heart? How far should we, Latter-Day Saints, go in our tolerance or acceptance for them? To what extent should we convert them to our opinions and values? How should we deal with intolerance in our own Ward or Branch?

22 comments for “Personalizing Freedom of Religion or Belief

  1. This is as close to elaborating my personal thoughts as I could expect. Thank you for providing an appropriate context and vocabulary for this topic.

  2. Thank you for so beautifully describing our individual freedoms in a way that will work for all of humanity if understood correctly.

  3. “Why is it that some religions are renown for kindness and acceptance, and we are really not? Think of some Buddhist groups, Bahai’s, Unificationists, etc.. Should we want to belong to this group?”

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  4. I think in US historical development freedom of religion was wrapped up with pluralism. Originally the rule was just to stop there from being a national religion, like most European nations had, thereby overriding state religions since most states at the time had official religion. So quite in contrast to 20th century views a lot of the early US views was much more about state rights versus federal centralized control.

    As pluralism developed though, you tend up having religious freedom become a kind of toleration. The fact Mormons had so much trouble getting redress shows exactly how little religious tolerance there was in the 19th century.

    D&C 134, which you raise, is interesting as it clearly is espousing an ideal of how religious tolerance ought proceed. It’s much more that today we might call libertarian. Yet it also represents a fairly early view of 1835 – before the worst excesses of the Missouri War or Utah War.

    The traditional problem of course is how to deal with the public sphere. Ideals usually break down there when the problem is almost always the conflict of rights or perception of potential conflict of rights. Since governments are rarely very libertarian, it is rare for things to be accepted there.

    The issue of patriotism is interesting, as is a fairly closely related idea of being chosen (Israel) or exceptionalism (how many Americans self-identify) or even being the one true church. The problem is that those are rather common beliefs.

  5. Clark, with this view you describe of libertarianism, my assumption is that the solution is not so much found in limiting governmental powers, but rather to more strictly separate Church and State. This is a solution they are working on increasingly in Europe. In some cases this works well, whereas in others it does not. My analysis of European nations where it works to an extent, is found in nations not only separate Church and State, but especially accept the unique role of both in the public sphere. It works well when the State is truly determined to protect all religious beliefs (no matter whether a belief has turned into a religious institution or not), and where religious institutions accept the role of the State without interfering in State affairs. This means that churches do not accept subsidies, mingle in elections, or perform ceremonies the State is to perform (such as marriages). It also assumes that the State is religion-neutral, and God and religious values are not used in election campaigns or in policy making. Doing this also puts more pressure on the individual to define and enhance religious tolerance for others. And frankly, I believe this is in particular the role of churches, to enhance peace among men by teaching and practicing tolerance. I see many religions actually pick up this responsibility with good success. What do you all think?

  6. Very interesting post, Hans. Too often discussion about religious freedom revolves around US Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Free Exercise Clause and the No Establishment Clause over the last 70 years or, worse, unhinged rants portraying this or that government policy as religious persecution. The UN Declaration on Human Rights and the international context gives a different focus and a more productive discussion.

    The US context is so different because there was never an established church sponsored by the national government. Here, civil society offered a “free market in religion” long before that was the case in Europe. I wonder whether LDS leaders recognize how different the dialogue on religious freedom is in Europe and elsewhere from what it is in the US?

  7. Hans Noot-

    First and foremost, I loved this post. I love how you showed that governments really can only do so much to secure freedom. If people who have beliefs different then my own have to “closet” those beliefs around me how free are they really? Even if the law forbids them being thrown in prison.

    I do have two small-ish quibbles with the OP.

    1- Your post seems to be a left center sermon for right center individuals. As a right center individual myself I know I need the call to repentance, but as I understand the general thrust of your argument (we should value the rights of those we disagree with) it seems to undercut as you get into the specifics. Now you do add a small justification in making the discussion about “the majority” and since we a majority conservative church (at least in the US) the majority needs to wrestle with what views the minority is allowed to hold.

    So here is my small-ish problem: I think the most persuasive thing you could have done was show how this rule could benefit all sides in certain circumstances. Sure, when I go to church I am in the majority, but for every year of college I was NOT at BYU I was in the minority. I was the one who had to decide what views I could tell my peers! Media also tends to lean left. Also many conservative Mormons work in places where their co-workers and bosses lean left. They feel the same pressures that left center Latter-day Saints feel in their church community. And in these spaces, it is left center people who get the privilege of sharing their opinions freely as if their opinions are self evident truths. Church is the place I get to be myself and not be a “closet believer” in certain things. Again, I think your main thesis is beautiful. Imagine a world that when someone voices an opinion different than your/my own we each stop and say “okay, if I fire back with both barrels how will that make that person feel? It probably took a lot of courage for that person to knowingly disappoint me. How can I a be a constructive force in that person’s life.” But if this is only a privilege granted to left views but not right wing views you will eventually just wind up with a new majority enforcing orthodoxy rather than an actual change.

    2- “•Why is it that some religions are renown for kindness and acceptance, and we are really not?” This question seems rather two dimensional for my tastes. “Why are some religions like Islam so renown for their violence and yet we are really not?” Would rightfully get pushback.

    But I also wonder what you mean by renowned? Perhaps Mormons have a different reputation in Europe than in the US but as I’ve moved around the US most people I know love Mormons. We have a reputation (at least in the non-scientific circles I run in) of being great designated drivers, willing to drop everything to help out a co-workers in a time of crisis and nice friendly people. The Book of Mormon musical seems to rely on the stereotype of kindness (though we are also portrayed as a naive dumb lot). Your questions seems to rely on the viewpoint of someone inside the church who is pushing against LDS orthodoxy, at which point orthodox followers are no longer so nice. (But again, if we are talking about reputation among outsiders, my non-Mormon friends have always ranted and raved at how kind and helpful Mormons have been.) I currently live in Japan and (again, non-scientific study) some people I know also feel judgment when pushing against their families Buddhist culture.

  8. Hans, one emerging challenge with a complete separation of church and state is occurring with the rise of quasi-religions who evangelize post-modern humanism as a de-facto state morality. A lack of normal supernatural beliefs & ritualized sacraments facilitates “flying under the radar” of normal church-state separation mechanisms.

    Are FoRB protections sufficient for the pending moral re-freezing most Western societies will soon undergo when our current intranstional morality wars end? I think the practical weakness of FoRB as iperationalized is that it only stands for issues that “don’t matter” (usually technical theological issues). I’m not sure there is enough support to allow freedom of conscience on issues that “do matter” (near quasi-criminal ‘hate’). But, as Clark mentioned, it seems as if American pluralism (freedom of religion) balanced the latter. But today there seems to be absolutely no stomach for the same.

    But perhaps I’m off base. As mormons we seem pretty good about accepting truly different moralities. I worry how many “nones” have similar experiences with respect to pluralistic toleration on issues that matter?

  9. The difference I see between the European and liberals, and the American conservatives, is that the conservatives believe religious freedom gives them the right to impose their beliefs on others, the liberals believe it only covers believing and practicing those beliefs.

    I believe churches have lost a lot of credibility by claiming religious freedom to impose their views on others.

  10. Thanks for an interesting post, Hans.

    Chris g, I’m intrigued by your comment on “the rise of quasi-religions who evangelize post-modern humanism as a de-facto state morality”. How do you define these “quasi-religions”?

    Also could you clarify: “Are FoRB protections sufficient for the pending moral re-freezing most Western societies will soon undergo when our current intranstional morality wars end?” It sounds like a compact description of a phenomenon that I need some help to understand. Thanks!

  11. Hans, I agree that it ends up coming down to church/state separation. But how to take that gets tricky in the details. What you outline is stuff I agree with. But it avoids some questions such as Christmas displays on public land, limits on what private groups can use public land temporarily, and then the more complicated questions such as drug use by religions, health safety requirements for ritual animal killing and eating, and so forth. So while church/state division can sound simple, I think it can be quite tricky in the details. To give an other example, if the state gives vouchers or credits for something (say temporary shelter for the homeless or money for school) can it be applied to religious institutions offering those services?

    Geoff, while in some cases the protestant majority definitely imposed upon the public square, I think things are a bit trickier than it appears. In particular I think marriage is tricky particularly because its a combination of state and religion which is why it became such a flash point. I long ago advocated getting the state out of marriage as a way of resolving most of these conflicts. That is you’d have civil unions that weren’t marriages to deal with legal issues of assets and children. But they weren’t marriages. Unfortunately when protestants were in the majority they didn’t want to do that even in the 90’s when to my eyes the writing was on the wall. So I’m sympathetic to what you say, although I think in practice things are much trickier when you get out of the question of marriage.

    Chris, I don’t think quasi-religions really face the same issues as religions though. Further I think issues of conscience are already treated differently from issues of religion. We can debate whether they ought be of course. Personally I think a lack of pluralism and respect for different ideologies is a huge issue in the west right now. But the apparatus of our approach to pluralism is caught up with religion, not conscience.

    Jason, I think the point you make about love and respect is well made. Prior to prop-8 I think Mormons in general had a good reputation even by people who didn’t ultimately trust us. (The tension that came out, especially for Evangelicals, back in the 2012 election) With prop-8 though I think things became much more tricky primarily because love and charity became judged in terms of how you accepted gay marriage. That’s really changing, especially among those more on the social left, how Mormons are perceived. In Europe where particularly in western Europe a broad social liberalism is the overwhelming consensus Mormons are thus viewed negatively.

  12. Hans,
    I think the key element to understanding American churches and the relatively high levels of religiosity is that in the American system religion is the right to make a choice. Many Europeans since Voltaire view religion a a tradition imposed upon people, at times by the state.

    You seem to tie patriotism to what I think we should call “nationalism.” I believe we should draw a line between the two. It is not necessary for a patriotic person, especially one from a pluralistic nation, to demean or alienate another political nation or state. A patriotic person can feel love or passion for it’s system of laws and benefits and rights protected by their state. And it is very possible to see the rise and successes of a state other than one’s own as being providential or inspired.

    To echo what Clark touched on, I don’t believe that many conservative American churches or religious adherents are claiming a right to impose their beliefs upon other people. They are claiming a right to an institutional voice on select political issues and a right (shall we call it freedom of conscience?) for voters to exercise their religious or moral values in deciding issues on the ballot. There are many (including the LDS Church) who are also advocating for a civil and respectful dialogue between those whose views differ on fundamental issues. If secularists can organize and impose their views on the public through educational policy or even laws, why should religionists be barred from doing so? Can’t FoRB also mean “Freedom from secularists?

  13. Old Man, I think it is important to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. When I found people getting upset at, to me, the relatively harmless flag decorations on the fourth of july I really was flummoxed. I don’t see why that would be. Indeed I’ve long thought that a problem in Canada where to be Canadian often seemed like to simply not be American. But by the late 90’s I think a true Canadian patriotism developed with a lot more embrace of the flag an more. To me that was a healthy and necessary development in Canadian identity. Further to be pro Canada and wave the flag isn’t necessarily to embrace any particular view. Somehow equivalent American identity and respect for the good in the country is frequently treated worse than equivalent pride in Canada, France or elsewhere. When the French show their colors or flag that, to me, is again a good thing.

    Of course as with any symbolism, there’s a lot to unpack with respect to a particular person’s reaction.

  14. Clark- Thank you for your response. I must admit both my critiques of the OP are lingering questions I have about the bloggernoccle generally. The Mormons I read about in the bloggernoccle just seem so different both from the people I go to church with as well as the people of other/no religious backgrounds I interact with and what they have to say about Mormons. But as I also acknowledged, my experiences are hardly authoritative or scientific and I’m open to the experiences of others. Especially in places I’ve never lived.

  15. Thank you all for commenting and challenging the issues. Most interesting discussions. Good for my learning and helping find “solutions” to the oversimplified strategy that is used to blame religious freedom to government institutions. The purpose of the blog is to see if we can find another meaning to FoRB by personalizing it. And yet we find it difficult to get away from the tie to governments.

    JasonB. You are right in assuming that there may be a call to repentance for those who assume safe and right because they belong to a majority group. In Utah, this might be Republicans; in Europe this may be more left wing; or perhaps it is a group leaning towards a preference towards the center. The challenge is to find a way to deal with those who are not part of that majority group. One would think that religious people would find a way to welcome those who do not belong to the majority of believers, perhaps a little like President Uchtdorf mentions in his Conference Address of October 2013 (Come, Join with Us). And yes you are right in stating that some of those religions I mentioned (Buddhists and others) may have a name for their kindness in some places, and at the same time are known for their violence in others. True, too, that in many places Mormons are known for their kindness. But in many Mormons are not. Especially if kindness includes acceptance of the opinion of others. I think Clark was also addressing this. The question with these details is, of course, rhetorical. These questions were not meant as critique, but rather to help us find better ways to deal with some of the issues. Thank you for clarifying.

    Chris g. Like Wilfried, I am curious to understand your meaning of quasi-religions. When is something a religion and when is it a quasi-religion? And is quasi-religion bad? In many countries, the government or the law determines if something is a religion. In my definition I assume a religion to be a group of people that have organized themselves around religious beliefs. And what do you mean when you explain that personalizing religious freedom stands for technical and issues that do not matter? Are the examples I give not the core teaching of each religion?

    Geoff-AUS. Good to see you on this blog. You well described European Liberals and American Conservatives. Where do the Aussies stand? You are right that churches have lost a lot of credibility, and I am afraid the storm is not over yet. Moreover, they, in many cases, have changed their focus of teachings away from doctrine and morals, to practical do-gooders and humanitarianism in society. At least in Europe this is the case. In the Netherlands, I believe that 48% of the paid clerics do not believe in the existence of a God. But there is a place for these do-gooders too.

    Clark. You make a good point. The laïcité (Separation of Church and State) option is not an easy feat to accomplish, and it does not solve all problems. Most countries fail to get there, but we, diehards in the FoRB arena, are still there to help them find solutions to the UN resolutions the signed up to. The problems you mentioned, such as “Christmas displays on public land, limits on what private groups can use public land temporarily, and then the more complicated questions such as drug use by religions, health safety requirements for ritual animal killing and eating, and so forth” are all part and parcel on the debate. In Europe, too, we have our share of such issues, like the EU government almost stopping churches to teach religion to minors (primary classes), the famous headscarf debates, wearing crosses in schools, and questions of Muslim Halal killing of animals that is against hygiene regulations. We can name many issues that are religious practices. Each nation has to find ways to deal with this by itself. The problems arise when a government, or one nation, or one religion, or any other group, dominates the discussion. We, LDS, too, believe in honoring the law of the land, even if we disagree with the laws. But we should be careful crying wolf when a law limits hits our religion, as if governments are out to get religions out. Most governments realize to some degree that religions have a role to play in society.
    And as far as your example of governments using religions to offer services, that too can be resolved. We have an example here in the EU, a policy that religions, or any other institution, for that matter, can use subsidies to perform certain duties, so long as the funds are used only for those specific duties.

    And Clark, your example of giving the power of marriage to religions is an interesting one. That could work well in a religion-run state. But I am afraid that in a society with a free market of religions (and Non’s) it may work better to let the State perform the marriages on behalf of the society it serves, and let each religion teach and practice its own doctrine on it. In the USA, for example, we, Mormons, could have our own definition of marriage, but allow the State to perform marriage as a social contract. The State, too, especially in a Democracy, should have a voice in defining marriage, even if we do not agree. But that does not mean the Government is out to limit religions.

    Old Man. You make a good point in describing how in the USA religion and the right to make a choice is strongly linked and that religion in Europe is seen as imposed. However, the latter part is pretty well lost in Europe over the past 50 years or so. The current generations in Europe do not link religion with freedom at all, because religions (especially in Protestant Europe) have all but lost their social and political influence.
    I should have clarified patriotism. You are right. But it is more than just nationalism. It is the pride of belonging to any group that intended in the question. Perhaps my English is not sufficient. I learn as I go. Besides, I do not think there is anything wrong with a healthy form of pride in belonging (nationalism, patriotism, or whatever). But what I plead for is that nationalism is not the same as our religion, and that religion is not the same as our nationalism. In Poland if one is not Catholic, one is not seen as Polish. When in some wards I visited in Utah, I could not participate in an overexaggerated discussion on our great LDS Pioneers who crossed the plains, or I was questioned when people saw me sing the American National Anthem out of respect for the USA. These types of pride makes it awkward for visitors or people of other beliefs. The question is how to deal with this.

  16. Hans, thanks for the comments (and most importantly thanks for starting such a thought provoking discussion)

    I think my comments about marriage were much more US-centric. The problem was that for the US an European like solution seems to religious believers like it would be imposing religious values on them. Whether that is the case or not we’ll see. Honestly for all the tempest, I think even conservative Americans are adopting to the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage quite well. I was more speaking of the era prior to that decision where I think the “make government handle more of marriage” was a non-starter.

    The problem now is a fear among some that the US won’t quite stop where the EU did with respect to religious liberty. That is they fear (perhaps unjustifiably) that secular liberals may simply take the place of where protestants were for most of the 20th century. Some (perhaps with justification) find it hard to shed too much of a tear over that inversion. Yet while there’s nothing yet to point to as a legitimate worry, I think US politics are sufficiently different from how most European systems go that there are some legitimate worries – especially relative to religious schools. You see that already in Canada in places like Alberta where Catholic control over education is somewhat under attack. I don’t know enough about the details of European schooling to know whether or if it’s an issue there. The main fear is that due to the way intersectionality and a more Foucaltian concern with power is seen that Christian schools will be treated differently from say Islamic schools due to perceived power imbalances.

    With regards to Chris, I think he means looking at groups in terms of their structural dynamics rather than the content of belief. So by that measure certain Marxist groups function very similarly to religions in terms of having common holidays, fervor, dogma, and policing of dogma. In the contemporary US often certain intersectionality proponents on college campuses are accused of this. Probably a better example than even early to mid 20th century Marxists are forms of Buddhism that don’t accept the older religious trappings of gods, demons or many of the metaphysics. Zen Buddhism being a good example. The critique arises out of the evolutionary psychology of religion that suggests most of the demands arise from common human cognitive processes and aren’t as moored to the particular accident of the domination of Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture in the west. So it focuses on a common human psychology that happens to manifest in religion but also manifests in groups/ideas not as tied to God-beliefs that arose out of Jewish/Hellenism.

    Regarding patriotism and pride, I think pride is the right word but I think it gets at an ambiguity in English over pride. There’s bad pride and good pride. So during the cold war a lot of Americans would look at Germans and get very confused as to why they didn’t have more pride in their country of the good sense.

    Figuring out what is or isn’t good pride can be tricky and I suspect not everyone will agree. To me, good pride is in recognizing what prior generations have done for you. (This is why there’s the oddity of lots of support for veteran groups around the 4th of July) But rather than thinking these make you as individuals better than others, it’s a kind of taking up of the task such that you have a duty to continue onward and respect those who came before. That is you can acknowledge the many, many failings of the United States (slavery, manifest destiny, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment etc.) while think that the founders pointed to transcendent truths they themselves didn’t really understand.

  17. Hans and Chris,
    I think a healthy sense of pluralism and a deep appreciation for people who belong to ethnic/national groups helps with the nationalism/patriotism issue Hans pointed out. I think dialogue and sensitivity helps. There is pride and then there is hubris. There is respect of others and then there is ethnocentrism. I have taught high school history classes in Utah for decades. Many of my students found Trump’s anti-immigrant rants upsetting because in northern Utah, there is still a sense of immigrant groups or families coming to Utah. I have students who proudly identify the nationality/ethnicity of their forebears. They love learning about people. My students are largely LDS, but exhibit more cultural diversity than one would expect. The dialogues we have in my history classes are deeply edifying for my students. I wish we could replicate similar discussions throughout the church.

  18. Yes, more or less that’s my point. I think people conflate issues of pluralism with issues of patriotism. It’s perhaps understandable but leads to many problems (IMO).

  19. Clark and Old Man,
    You describe “a fear among some that the US won’t quite stop where the EU did with respect to religious liberty.” I hope this will not happen; I think it will not happen. Do not forget the stronger religious forces in the USA than in Europe, and the core of the American belief in Religious Freedom. I think the fear may be part of an over-reaction, especially in this belief in Religious Freedom. Americans are more sensitive to this issue as it is part of their core values. And so long as religious schools accept support from a government (sorry for this frank opinion) there should be fear for the loss of religious freedom But that is the point of the article. Rather than defining religious freedom as freedom from governmental influence, it seems a better idea to define religious freedom in terms of freedoms for the religious individual. If organizations (such as religious schools) wish to receive funding from the government, they should not be surprised that the government can have influence over them. One cannot have the cake and eat it. Am I wrong in this?

    As far as these quasi-religions (such as Marxism, apparently) are concerned, that, too, is a matter for each democracy to decide as part of the social debate. One can believe in Marxism. And hopefully they will not prevail in government. But if it does, that is another bridge to cross. In Russia, they are now harassing Jehovah Witnesses. Probably Pentecostals and Scientologists are next, and who knows an American Church from Utah after that. But this is not just about Marxism, but mostly about Russian Orthodoxy. China is Marxist. But they have a double worry. On the one hand there is a room for a limited form of religious freedom there; but there is an overreaction towards the fear of instability. In other words, it is not just so much Marxism, but other powers that dominate the playing field. My research shows that in Western countries, where religious freedom has been part and parcel of the social structure, religious diversity in an open religious market actually raises all positive indicators (health, social status, finance, happiness factors, etc. etc.). But in countries where there is no tradition of openness, an open market may even cause destabilization. So the strategy on religious freedom depends. But regardless of the nation, religious freedom should first and foremost start with the interaction between two individuals: me and my neighbor. Perhaps Jesus was right after all.

    And you are right regarding the idea of pride. I purposely did not use pride in my blog because of this ambiguity. I used patriotism, but I meant it in the broadest sense of the word (love of fatherland). But it is more; it is a boasting type of pride (perhaps in the sense Alma Jr was talking about in Alma 29), of something one has not accomplished. It is the type of pride that shows off that someone is better or more favored by God because of place of birth, race, talent, accomplishment. All of which, I think, are an offence against others who do not have that status. Is there a better word for that in English?

  20. Hans the reason I fear is that the unique political system in the US changes things quite a bit. That’s why I fear the inevitable march towards single payer may not work out as well as it does in Canada or Europe where people are more than willing to accept limits on things. In the US that just doesn’t happen. For all the rage about high health costs in the US, people forget that a sizable amount of that is already in single payer plans where especially with medicare the public doesn’t like limits. (When the ACA was being developed limits on coverage was demonized as death panels in a fashion that doesn’t quite happen in the same degree in Europe) There are enough checks and balances in the US system to make reforms very, very difficult to pass. (Partially why congress tries to delegate aspects to bureaucracy)

    I bring that up not to raise the politics of health care but to note the difficulties in health care reform point to difficulties in religious freedom reform. It’s easy to pass when the vast majority support such reforms. As soon as there’s not a vast majority though then that problem of polarization and checks and balances so strongly incentivizes status quo domination that religious liberty reform becomes undoable. While we’re still a few years off, the demographics of 18-30 year olds and their views on religion strongly suggest we’ll be at loggerheads on the issue soon. Eventually secularists will be the dominate force but without the nostalgia towards religion that you have in Europe. The reality is outside of a few buildings in major cities, American religion was always suburban driven and thus lacks what say an old Anglican or Lutheran church offers – and American culture is simply has a very different romance towards the past than Europeans do. We like black and white heroes and villains. And for many, religion is becoming the villain.

    I hope I’m wrong of course. But to my eyes the trends seem unavoidable.

    Regarding quasi-religions, I think the point is that we’re seeing them take the place of religion but sometimes having the same dogmatism that the negative aspects of American religion have. (The stereotypes of conservative religion from the puritans through stern southern baptists) So the worry is something more akin to the religious conflicts in US history (where dominant protestant domineered Catholics, Mormons, Jews and other religions) or even the fear of a return to what we saw in the wars and conflicts of the reformation and counter-reformation movements. Perhaps that’s being overly paranoid, but there are many tensions at play in the west that seem to becoming to a head. And rather than mitigating them, thus far political choices seem to be aggravating them. (Trump being an obvious example)

  21. Clark. It is a tough, non ending discussion. That is one of the reasons I suggest to not find the answer to FoRB in the relationship between Church and State, but in the way we individually treat each other, and show respect for the opinion of people who have other beliefs than our own. It seems that this is the core and solution to the problem, and not politics or the judiciary. Religion is, I believe, in the first place about a relationship between a person and his beliefs (whether it is in God or Marx or the mighty Dollar). Then, secondary, we need all to work out socially, in the groups we belong. But if the first premise is not used, the second one will always go wrong. And the second cannot force people to believe or behave. Hence my post.

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