Tuesday, July 26, 2022

"Free to profess..."

Mark Tooley argues that "Politics Can’t Revive Christianity":
.... The United States historically does not offer “toleration,” which assumes a religious establishment, but religious freedom to all. In the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason, James Madison successfully changed the language from “toleration” to “free exercise of religion.” That declaration’s language is instructive:
That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.
The 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson, was a natural follow-on to the Virginia Declaration of Rights by disestablishing the church. It declared that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (emphasis added)

This concept of religious liberty and freedom of conscience was of course rooted in a Christian anthropology. The Virginia Statute’s first article explained:
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do....
The “Holy author” is obviously Christ. The Virginia legislators operated in a largely Christian milieu but did not wish to enforce it through government dictate. ....

.... Tocqueville warned against any establishment of religion, which would politicize and discredit it. He thought “the only efficacious means governments can use to put the dogma of the immortality of the soul in honor is to act every day as if they themselves believed it” and that “it is only in conforming scrupulously to religious morality in great affairs that they can flatter themselves they are teaching citizens to know it, love it, and respect it in small ones.”

For Tocqueville, religion (and specifically Christianity) best endures in society not through state policy but by public persons, no less than private persons, living up to its broad moral precepts, including decency, honor, compassion, self-denial, and humanity. Perhaps here is a theme for the well-wishers of Christianity in American public life: higher moral standards in public life. ....

Public life in America will become more “rooted in Christianity” and transcendence only if American Christianity itself experiences a revival. As Thomas Jefferson warned: “civil incapacitations” beget “hypocrisy and meanness and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion.” The Gospel simply admonishes: repent and believe. (more)
Mark Tooley, "A National Conservative Faith?," Lawe & Liberty, July 26, 2022.

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