If so, how can religious freedom carry any meaning?
Over the last two decades the popular opposition to religious thought in the public forum has become increasingly snarly and aggressive. Lately I’ve begun to wonder whether it is possible to be free in any meaningful sense when the transcendent realm is removed from public discourse and, more importantly, decision making.
People like to say, and more loudly since Christopher Dawkins and company have figured out how to market the bromides of the “New Atheism,” that “religion is bull shit” and insightful things like that.
But think about it. As one who would like to be a deeply religious person, I agree with that statement. But so what. The same can be said of politics. Does that mean we should shoot each other instead of debate? Or of the media. So what?
“Religion” is a vast abstraction. It can’t be judge as a whole any more than books or food or stores can be judged as a whole.
So our country enshrined the right to freedom of religion. Then the state pulled a one-two hat trick: one, they determined that freedom of religion only applied in domains in which the state was not involved. Wherever the state had a role, they had to eliminate freedom in order to keep from establishing a particular religion.
Two, they gradually expanded the role of the state to be involved in everything, thereby continually shrinking the role of religion in the public sphere.
Can a secular state be free? I don’t think so, for a number of reasons. First, by nature or disposition, secular states have always limited the free exercise of religion. In other words, they restrict religious freedom. They are, therefore, not free states. QED.
Second, without a publicly acknowledged role for religion, there is nothing adequate to restrict the power of the state.
Third, without a publicly acknowledged role for religion, there is no foundation on which to build a free state. Freedom, after all, is a transcendent value, rooted entirely in the notion that human beings have a will and that the will is free. No secular argument could ever so much as imagine, much less discover, the idea of freedom. It is a borrowed and contorted religious concept.
Therefore a secular state must, by its nature, become despotic.