Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Illusion of Secular Leftism

I often comment on WorldMagBlog because lots of intelligent evangelicals comment there who are ready and willing to give my ideas critical feedback. Yes, I specialize in debunking the "Christian Nation" idea. And yes, I started my journey more sympathetic to the "secular" side (which I suppose I still am). However, I've moderated my position and try to articulate a balanced, nuanced middle ground between secular leftism and religious conservatism. Books I endorse that also represent this middle ground position include Steven Waldman's "Founding Faith," Jon Meacham's "American Gospel," and "The Search For Christian America" by Noll, Hatch, and Marsden.

On political-judicial matters, I describe my jurisprudence as somewhere between Justice Kennedy's and Justice Thomas'. Further I accept the possibility that the Establishment Clause doesn't properly incorporate to apply against state and local governments (but argue that the Equal Protection Clause, on religious matters, can do much of what the Court currently has the Establishment Clause doing) and think Judge Michael McConnell, a conservative evangelical, of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals one of the best Establishment Clause scholars. On Free Exercise, I differ with McConnell's notion that the Clause grants a constitutional right to religious accommodations from generally neutral civil laws, but rather endorse Justice Scalia's, Philip Hamburger's and Marci Hamilton's position that argues otherwise.

I write all this to try to put my personal positions into perspective because, in realizing that one has to pick one's battles, I realize that I pick a battle -- debunking the "Christian America" thesis -- that is associated with the secular left (though it should be noted that many moderates, libertarians and conservatives likewise agree with my position). So my battle gives the illusion that I am more of a hard secularist than in reality, I really am. For instance, on the WorldMagBlog, one commenter notes:

Jon Rowe, I too have a hard time accepting your theses as a middle-ground approach. You are a man on a mission to prove that America was not founded upon Christian principles and to discredit those who say that she was. Your view of the Founding Fathers doesn’t strike me as any more nuanced than the view(s) that you oppose.

....As we look back to the Founding Fathers we can acknowledge that there were varied beliefs among them and that America’s founding principles come from varied sources. It’s neither as simple as David Barton implies or as simple as you, Jon Rowe, imply.

The ideas of religious and political liberty did not spring up in the eighteenth century. The entire history of the world contains a continuous struggle between liberty and control. It’s true that liberty scored an enormous victory in 1776 and again in 1789, but thousands of years of history underly it–not just Christianity and not just the Enlightenment.

I describe my personal position as "soft-secularism" -- a "classical secularism" that derives from America's Founding, "classical liberal" era.


Brian Tubbs said...

For whatever it's worth, Jon, I respect your perspective as being nuanced on this issue. You are not a hardline secularist, even though you oppose the positions espoused by the likes of David Barton and the late D James Kennedy.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Brian.