The recent “flap” over the Ground Zero Mosque is the meaningless debate we have come to expect from American political debates, which are a mere exchange of platitudes. The only interesting part is the common ground occupied by both sides. The left says that the First Amendment and the universal human right to enjoy religious liberty mean that no one can or should interfere in the construction of a mosque-cum-Islamic-propaganda center only two blocks away from the Twin Towers. The right, by contrast, while agreeing that the Constitution guarantees the religious liberties of every religion whatsoever, demur at the bad taste in the selection of this of all possible sites. Sarah Palin among others went so far as to compare the building of a mosque in Manhattan with “building a Serbian Orthodox church at the Srebrenica killing fields where Muslims were slaughtered.”
Conservatives and liberals agree: Muslims have an inalienable constitutional right to come to the United States, acquire citizenship, and practice a religion that for 1,300 years has justified the oppression, persecution, rape, and murder of Christians. If the Constitution really did guarantee freedom of religion to Muslims, it would be tempting to agree with the Abolitionists that it is a pact with the Devil.
In fact, the Constitution does not guarantee religious liberty. The First Amendment simply forbids the federal government from interfering in whatever religion was being practiced in the states. Even the 14th Amendment, which was never legitimately passed, says nothing about freedom of religion, which was not guaranteed by the Constitution but invented by judges.
Some conservatives may concede the constitutional point, but only to invoke the inalienable rights proclaimed in the Declaration and, in the course of the conversation, ring the changes on the blessings of religious tolerance. “After all, we don’t want to return to the bad old days when Catholics and Protestants killed each other in the name of religion.” Before long we shall end up at the Spanish Inquisition.
“I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!”
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”
Actually, Michael Palin (as Cardinal Ximénez) was quite wrong: We always expect the Spanish Inquisition to turn up in any discussion of religious liberty.
A fairly decent case can be made in defense of the Inquisition, but the merits or demerits of the Church’s crackdown on heresy and bad faith have no bearing on this subject. There is a great deal of room between clerical absolutism and libertarian absolutism, between a state-supported Inquisition and a state-protected right to worship any god whatsoever, whether Thor, Allah, or the great voodoo god Babalu. Religious tolerance is a matter of prudence, of setting reasonable limits. The Roman Empire was almost but not quite infinitely tolerant of religious diversity, but it did restrict certain dangerous or disgusting practices, such as witchcraft or self-mutilation, and banned both Druidism and Christianity as subversive political cults. It would be perfectly possible to tolerate all mainstream forms of Christianity while either outlawing or discriminating against Muslims, Moonies, and—outside of Utah—Mormons. It is a question not of any absolute right but of what we are willing to tolerate.
The inevitable reductio ad absurdum of religious liberty was reached in Oklahoma City, where a group of Satanists have been able to rent space in the Civic Center in order to stage an anti-Christian blasphemy. Why should the Christian majority of Oklahoma taxpayers permit this obscenity? Because America was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, and it would even be unchristian to restrict the worship of the enemy of the human race.
Whatever lies they may tell in President Obama’s United Church of C—-t, freedom of religion has never been a teaching of Christianity. When Christians were being persecuted by Rome, they did not demand their rights: They bore witness to the truth. Once in the saddle, they quickly began the crackdown on paganism, which they regarded (a bit unfairly in my opinion) as devil worship. There are only two generations between Constantine’s decision to tolerate his new religion and Theodosius’ decree outlawing other religions. Most historians would probably say that the desire for religious freedom sprang up in response to the wars between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. That is certainly the argument made by Montaigne and Voltaire, but there is no reason to take either of these men at their word. Both hated Christianity in every form and used any weapon they could find against the Catholic Church.
Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary is peppered with aspersions on Christian intolerance. His irrational and dishonest fulminations culminate in his article on toleration, in which he derides Christians who are too stupid to follow the example of “the lettered Chinese, the Persees, and all wise men.” Christian bigots are “monsters, to whom superstition is as necessary as carrion to crows.” He concludes with an appeal to polytheism and multiculturalism:
Whilst you have but two religions among you, they will be ever at daggers drawing; if you have thirty they will live quietly. Turn your eyes to the grand signior [the Ottoman sultan]; he has among his subjects Guebers, Banians, Greeks, Latins, Christians, and Nestorians. Whoever goes about to raise any disturbance is surely impaled; and thus all live in peace and quietness.
The “peace and quietness” of the Ottoman Empire is a myth or, rather, a lie. Sultans could only occasionally repress insurrection, civil war, and brigandage, but what peace their subjects enjoyed was bought at the price of oppression and persecution. From the Conquest of Constantinople to the Armenian genocide and the massacres at Smyrna, Turkish history has been a bloody nightmare for Christians and Jews. An attentive student will hear Voltaire’s lying sentiments clanking like a cheap beer can through the empty corridors of the liberal mind up and down the centuries: The Christian West is a place of bigotry; we must emulate the wise and humane cannibals (Montaigne), Persians (Montesquieu), or Chinese, Japanese, Africans, Indians, or whatever exotic religious ethnicity—Guebers and Banians?—our educationists can look up on Wikipedia.
This anti-Christian call for religious liberty is more than a harmless self-delusion of Enlightenment philosophes. The Enlightenment’s gooey rubber hit the political road in 1789, when the first government of the French Revolution passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Article 10 declares, “No one shall be disquieted (inquiété) on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” In the revision of 1793, the conclusion to Article 7 goes a bit further: “the free pursuit of religion cannot be forbidden.” Liberal-sounding words. The reality was the appropriation of the Church’s property, the establishment of a new cult on the ruins of an historic religion, the mass rape of nuns, and the indiscriminate slaughter of the religious of both sexes. Freedom of religion is a code word for the destruction of Christianity.
Religious liberty is not a natural right: It is a gift of a society or commonwealth. This is partly because religion is not faith—what one personally believes (or feels)—but an organized public action. Thus, the public or the republic has the right and duty to protect itself from alien or malignant cults. In a diverse Christian society, naturally, the various churches have had to learn to tolerate one another, though in practice toleration is more often a sign of indifference. Church has become that thing you do or do not do on one day a week. It is like the beautiful jewel you take out of the box every once in a while to admire and feel good about yourself for owning. But religion is really more like a wedding ring, a visible symbol of an enduring commitment.
The painful truth is that serious Catholics and serious Calvinists cannot easily live together in the same commonwealth without sacrificing a good deal of their religion (though not their faith). Coexistence is easiest in a country like Switzerland, where the cantons and communes were dominated by one or the other church. With greater diversity come greater strains. Christians can coexist with Jews on a basis of toleration, that is, whichever religion is in the majority can agree to put up with the other so long as the minority behave themselves. In Israel, Christians are very much second-class citizens, whose religious rites are restricted and whose civil rights are inferior to the Jewish citizens of the Jewish state. Since Israel is now their country, it is not my place to object, though it is a little tedious when American Jews complain about discrimination.
Here in America the Protestant majority learned to tolerate first Catholics and then Jews. But do we really have to tolerate Satanists who love evil and worship the Enemy, or even Muslims? The idea of Christians according religious freedom to Muslims who define themselves in part by their hatred of Christianity, and who have oppressed Christians whenever they have had the power to do so, is preposterous. It is worse than preposterous, because the point of the exercise is not to liberate Muslims but to enslave Christians.
If we can learn nothing else from the revolutionary history of the past five centuries we can at least learn this little thing, that all those universal human rights we hear so much about were the invention of anti-Christian philosophers whose ultimate goal was always the same: Écrasez l’infâme, as Voltaire used to sign his letters, Écrasez le consubstantiel. Exterminate the infamous God Who became man. Liberal Christians who spout the slogans of religious freedom are active collaborators in the campaign to destroy Christianity, and conservative Christians who follow their lead are at best useful idiots.