Cut believers a break
To the editor:
Your Nov. 18 Opinion page delivers quite a one-two punch to religion, with a Guest Commentary documenting decline in belief, and breezily concluding that’s probably just fine, followed by a letter arguing against taking the whole freedom of religion thing too seriously. These views are largely shared by the crowd about to take over Washington, and presage four years of rancorous litigation, if not worse.
The commentary argues that rich, comfortable, modern societies can do without God and still hold together a reasonable level of morality, or at least order. Maybe, although the history of the 20th century (and all the preceding ones, for that matter) gives room for pause. But for individuals, how in need of faith we subjectively feel is only one end of the equation. The objective truth, if we can know it, matters, too. If an all-powerful God exists, wants something from me — beyond mere allegiance to a watered-down, Golden Rule version of morality — and has gone to considerable effort to tell me so, I’d do well to pay attention. If I live near a dormant volcano, I may go on blithely ignoring it for years — but it’s still there.
Regardless, progressives should think twice about, as the letter advocates, battering believers into compliance with the new secular orthodoxy. These people are not your enemies; they are your fellow citizens, doing their best to follow their consciences, in ways that even a few years ago would have been entirely non-controversial. Do you really want to force the Little Sisters to lay off their employees, close most of their nursing homes and send their indigent, elderly patients — where? There are easier ways of providing everyone the free birth control you feel they should have. Similarly, gay couples will have little trouble finding photographers and bakers anxious for their business without coercing cooperation from the few who won’t. Conscience should trump convenience. Do we really want an America tolerant of everyone and everything — except personal beliefs?
As the letter writer says, “We are better than this.” And besides, the Constitution says what it says, not what you think it should say. Progressives, focus on the big issues you said the election was about: climate change, universal health care, economic equality, racial justice. If you insist on attacking freedom of religion, there will be — in terms of litigation, and maybe literally — hell to pay.