Writing at The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner doesn't much appreciate my argument about the growing cockiness of secular liberals. Where I see liberals arrogantly (and illiberally) pushing traditionalist religious believers into a corner with ObamaCare's contraception mandate and anti-discrimination laws surrounding gay marriage, Chotiner sees...no problem at all. That's exactly how I'd expect a committed secular liberal to respond. Which is why I wrote the column in the first place.
So let me try once more to convince him.
I'll start with the contraception mandate because it's the harder case. Virtually all secularists and even the vast majority of American Catholics see no problem with the use of artificial birth control, so the issue doesn't generate much sympathy in the public at large. Then there's the fact that the Obama administration created a contraception exemption for churches and at least some other religiously based organizations. Isn't that good enough?
Apparently it isn't for the numerous groups that have filed suit in the matter. And sorry, but their concerns can't just be waved away by linking to a column by Linda Greenhouse that expresses contemptuous condescension for the plaintiffs in one of the cases (an order of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor). The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but Greenhouse thinks the suit is ridiculous; therefore, the justices have been brainwashed by a seductive "story." That's really all there is to her argument.
As Lyle Denniston explains in a helpful post at SCOTUSblog, the issues raised by the case — and by the other mandate-related cases before the court this term — are real, though they will inevitably appear to be trivial to those who regularly view religious truth claims as trivial.
As for gay marriage and anti-discrimination, Chotiner appears not to recognize that his own flippant views — which are very widely held among secular liberals — pose a very real threat to the religious freedom of millions of his fellow citizens. As countless liberals have done before him, Chotiner breezily equates those believers who once appealed to Scripture in defense of racism and those who currently reject gay marriage. The first position has been socially, morally, and legally marginalized with no negative consequences for faith, Chotiner asserts, and the same will soon be true about the second. So what's the big deal?
The big deal is that strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the Scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible.
Which isn't to say that those seeking to justify race-based slavery or racism couldn't, and didn't, twist biblical passages to make them provide such justification. But the Hebrew Bible and New Testament clearly do not teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that buying, owning, and selling African slaves is next to godliness.
The same cannot be said about the normative teaching on human sexuality contained within the Judeo-Christian scriptures — and even more so, within the interpretative and theological traditions that grow out of them. In dismissing this teaching so casually, Chotiner ends up implying that traditionalist churches and religious communities are the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.
If that's an accurate evaluation of their moral status, then we can expect that before long traditionalist religious views will be denied legitimacy by the courts, denigrated in the public schools, and thoroughly marginalized in our public life. (For a sober but concerned exploration of how the social and legal persecution of traditionalist belief might unfold over the coming years, see Rod Dreher's recent cover story in The American Conservative.)
Chotiner and his fellow secular liberals may well be right that traditionalist views of sexuality are bound to evolve, with nearly everyone destined to accept and affirm the dignity of homosexual relationships. But given the commitments of these same liberals to personal freedom, shouldn't they also insist that the evolution take place at its own pace, without being forcibly imposed by the coercive powers of the state?