Religious Freedom and the Triumph of the TherapeuticTHADDEUS J. KOZINSKI
I think the Bishops should try to win this battle using any moral means necessary; and perhaps using the purely practical strategy of appealing to liberalism's own principles might work — this time. But I fear that playing the religious-freedom card alone won't work again.
"Religious man was born to be saved, psychological man is born to be pleased.By requiring all public and private institutions to include contraception and abortion "services" in their health insurance plans, the Obama administration has infringed the right to religious freedom of those citizens whose religion proscribes the use of or complicity with contraception. Of course, this is true, but, to put it bluntly, so what? American Mormons are legally prohibited from practicing polygamy, even though The Book of Mormon permits it; American Hindu women are forbidden to commit suicide on the funeral pyres of their husbands, notwithstanding their tradition's commands; and pagans and Satanists cannot sacrifice human beings, no matter what the devil demands.
Religious-freedom infringement occurs quite a bit in American legal practice, and it makes sense that it does; for, those in charge of securing the common good of the community, as well as the rights of individuals, have the right and obligation to ban practices that are a direct and serious threat to it. Religious freedom, in the realm of practice at least, is not an absolute right, and so must be balanced with the competing rights of others in light of the overall common good. In short, religious practices can legitimately be proscribed.
Perhaps their choice of argumentative discourse serves as the most effective, short-term strategy to defeat this particular mandate. But I am afraid that if we "win" using this strategy, it would only be because the Obama regime conceded to the Bishops' terms out of a pragmatic, self-interested calculus — perhaps just to increase the chances of getting reelected in November. Moreover, the real issue is the evil of contraception and the threat it and our cultural of sexual license poses to the temporal and spiritual good of human beings. Another issue that is sidelined by the Bishops' rhetoric, which I would like to discuss in this article, is their own public, moral and spiritual authority, the political influence of the Catholic Church in America. As I shall try to show, the long-term effects of playing the religious-freedom card might be disastrous for both Catholics and non-Catholics.
These are, all things being equal, Aristotelian and Thomistic moral and political goals, and they indicate a non-liberal role and influence for comprehensive conceptions of the good transcending the merely private and sub-political. In other words, though their evaluative moral scheme and worldview is, well, insane, and the particular values they deem good in truth wicked, by seeking to rid the political culture of a practice they deem evil and vicious, not merely infringing on someone's rights, the Obama regime is, to this extent, behaving in a manner more in line with traditional Catholic political philosophy and theology than that implied by the Bishops' classical-liberal-Lockean rhetoric!
Thus, the main political problem with HHS is not its infringing on religious freedom or individual rights, for these are not absolute, as we have said, but that the regime subscribes to and is motivated by the wrong religion and cult. One might concede this point and still protest their un-American desire to make this cult publicly authoritative, but this is also wrongheaded. It may be un-American, but perhaps that is a virtue in this regard. There really is no such thing as a private cult, just as there is no private culture, and, as Catholic social teaching maintains, anyone in a position of political authority has the right and obligation to promote the common good as he sees it, within limits imposed by the natural law, the genuine rights of persons, and reasonable constitutional and legal restrictions upon his employment of coercive force.
When Catholics argue merely for their right to religious practice, that argument is necessarily heard by other Americans in Lockean terms, in which "every religion is orthodox to itself," and in which the sole power and authority over all matters pertaining to the things of this world is the secular state. Religion is, by this definition, strictly otherworldly, and there is no non-subjectivist way of knowing the truth of religious dogma or judging between conflicting doctrines and practices. In other words, religious relativism is the official lens through which all judgments on the proper bounds of church and state are made in America — ab initio, as William Cavanaugh, has recently argued. If religion is private, idiosyncratic, and otherworldly, not public, truth-embodying, and world-implicated, it cannot have an authoritative, public role in ordering common life. Defined as a private cult claiming no authority over anything but its own private doctrines and practices, perhaps the Obama regime might concede the Church and its institutions the right to its rather bizarre and barbaric proscription against "responsible sexual activity," but it would never do so for a Church defining herself as the Mystical Body of Christ and demanding from this regime and all governments the libertas ecclesiae, that is, a liberty prior to, and higher and more privileged, as Dignitatis Humane makes clear, than the generic religious liberty accorded to persons, due to the Church's unique divine identity and mission.
Indeed, the Obama regime did not decide to offer a compromised position for any other reason than self-serving pragmatism, with some ideological lip service given to a radically individualist conception of the right to "conscience," meaning, in this case, the right for Catholics to believe in a cruel, sex-hating god, and to play-act in accordance with their fantasy. Are the Bishops satisfied with the Church over which they rule being characterized and treated by the state as nothing more public and authoritative than some superstitious debating society, as long as it can continue to enjoy tax-exempt status and some private freedoms of conscience for its members? Is this truly libertas ecclesiae?
Do the Bishops want to send the message to Obama that his main sin is not being Lockean enough, in not adequately respecting the sacred "wall of separation" between church and state, in mixing politics and religion? Obama is being a bad liberal in not respecting the freedom of religion of some of the citizens, but he is also being a bad man in promoting an objectively evil practice. Do Catholics want to pressure other Americans in power to be merely good liberals, even if that would win Catholics a short-term reprieve? Should not the Bishops consider more carefully the long-term benefit for our country of declaring the truth, in and out of season, especially when it is becoming quite clear that nothing short of mass conversion to the Gospel can save us?
Thaddeus J. Kozinski. "Religious Freedom and the Triumph of the Therapeutic." The Center for Morality in Public Life (February 17, 2012).
It is reprinted with permission from the author, Thaddeus J. Kozinski.
The Center for Morality in Public Life (CFMPL) provides a forum for engaging and discussing issues that affect human flourishing and the common good. By sponsoring events and publications, and by producing relevant content, we put today’s top scholars in touch with students and professionals, asking tough questions about the meaning of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thaddeus J. Kozinski teaches philosophy, theology, and humanities at Wyoming Catholic College. He is particularly dedicated to political philosophy, and has published in both Catholic and secular venues. He is the author of The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can't Solve It.
Copyright © 2012 Thaddeus J. Kozinski
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.