Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Berger: Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private

Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private

The American Interest, January 23, 2013 by columnist Peter Berger

Peter Berger’s thesis is catchy: “religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.” The statement lacks consideration of children. But I want to address four issues: “secular,” the preamble to the United States Constitution, a people as defined therein, and the sexual analog to Berger’s idea. I think Berger is premature in his predictions about America, where a people is emerging but few people know about it.
Berger cites four court cases then states, “An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all these cases.” I suggest that “secular” is a circular idea imposed on a people by religion, perhaps Christianity. “Secular” means first “not religious.” Not religious is meaningless until you define religion. But a civic people does not need to debate religion. A civic people need to civically, candidly discuss civility: the law. By accepting the label “secular” a people unintentionally isolate the people in the religious domain of public debate: mere personal opinion. Both theists and non-theists, persons, want peace so that they can each pursue the happiness they perceive, not their government’s idea of happiness. However, their institutions keep them from discovering this commonality, by prejudicial meanings such as “non-religious,” “under god,” “god bless,” when religion is not the object of civic accommodation. The preamble to the United States Constitution is a civic sentence.
The preamble to the US Constitution lies fallow, perhaps because it is maligned as a secular idea in a country that in 1790 had 100% Christian citizens, 99% Protestant. However, in 2014, 227 years after 70% of the delegates to Philadelphia signed the preamble along with the articles that follow, a 77% Christian population has 51% Protestants. A minority holds a new view of that civic sentence, and it like everything else in the US Constitution can be amended or merely employed in its new meaning by a people. The new view may be expressed in paraphrase: A people agree to govern on three levels in order to fulfill eight civic goals in negotiating civil order. Our goal is for 70% of citizens by September 17, 2017, to be pursuing the cooperative happinesses they perceive in every decade of their lives and using the preamble to compromise with each other so as to accommodate fellow citizens in civil order (the law and its institutions). Dissenters may reform or risk the rule of law as it stands, as always.
Berger argues that “The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution.  Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed.” Berger’s conclusion, when viewed from a civic perspective instead of the non-religious perspective seems predictably false. America, with 319 million people, has over 110 million who suffer sexually transmitted disease (STD) with 20 million new cases each year, primarily among the young. Some STD increase rates are highest among same-sex partners. Marci Hamilton’s work suggests that over 30% of Americans are involved in child abuse. A people cannot continue such neglect of its posterity. Two concepts are expressed by the people who support use of the preamble as described above:  first, benefitting from the ethics of physics and second, use of that ethic to civically provide a community that is welcoming to both the children and the children to be born.
Berger would influence more than observe when he asserts:

Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!

It is novel for a same-sex advocate to admit to hostility; but maybe Berger is just throwing daggers. Berger’s liberal hyperbole perhaps reflects the difference between European acceptance and American determination, maybe resulting from America’s colonization by European powers and the European inability to relate to American independence. Transcending an unrecognized “too holy alliance of clerics and . . . politicians,” Americans, fortuitously pursue the benefits of the ethics of physics. Take, for example, vehicular regulations. An ethical nation continually improves the efficiency of vehicular technology and limitations in order to protect the safety of citizens. The ethics of physics requires both 1) drivers to know and observe vehicular regulations and 2) the nation to provide the best facilities and regulations. In a “soft” example of the ethics of physics, conversation-efficiency is lost when people lie to each other and the consequences are inevitably costly: The ethical practice is not to ever lie, so that people may communicate.
Americans deliberately manage their religious institutions in privacy. However, so far, the people have brooked politicians who, upon election, claim divine authority through “legislative prayer” and “ceremonial religion.” But Americans have the means to govern of by and for a people any time Americans decide that a people will emerge.
Burger did not give his brilliant idea the balance it needed. His idea mimics “sex is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.” This statement is limited by civics. For example, if the activity subjugates one of the parties, causing physical harm or death, it is a civic matter. If the adults have the intent to procreate, it is a civic matter. If procreation occurs, it is a civic matter: The conceiving adults are both civically obligated to the child for life. Civic equality and dignity begin with the ovum, which should not be abused. If one party would expose others to STD, it is a civic matter. These points relate to the STD and child abuse issues I raised earlier, and civic matters must be negotiated by a people to arrive at civil order. If these arguments are accepted regarding sex, what is the implication for the religious analog?
Repeating, “Religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.” A first concern is the exclusion of children, which I need not resolve, since Berger did not support his claim. The tendency to restrict religious expression in public is understandable, based on past abuses of non-religious minorities. Another approach is appreciation of religious and cultural diversity among a people who nonetheless attend to their civic obligations--govern selves civically so as to accommodate all other citizens. This requires the integrity of appreciation of the other citizen’s private sources of motivation and inspiration. The result is separation of church and state, but not separation of citizens. Religious institutions aggressively negotiate civil order that fulfills a people; there cannot be governance under theism. As a consequence, international religious institutions that oppose American law must have American leaders who do observe American law. If the international organization separates from its American leaders, it is a private issue.  Moreover, government must give up the notion of “legislative prayer,” and election to divine authority. A people must impress elected officials that a people does not brook claims of divine authority: Authority to govern comes from a people, even when a mistaken majority has voted. In America, a people is defined by the preamble to the United States Constitution, and governance of by and for a people pursues benefits from the ethics of physics.
These ideas are developed more fully yet incompletely on the blog promotethepreamble.blogspot.com. The purpose of the blog is to expand the idea of mutual civic accommodation by a people, which can happen efficiently if people (candidly) comment: please comment.

Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included.