Which blasphemy laws do you want...

In a recent blog post, Russell Moore laid out why he believes blasphemy laws are wrong. He writes, "Fundamentally... blasphemy laws and other uses of state power to enforce religious belief or worship are themselves a repudiation of the beliefs themselves. A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity."

Take a minute to read his article. Don't worry, we'll wait.

Now, there are numerous problems with this article. For starters...

We now live in a nation under blasphemy laws. Some are written as diversity codes or hate crimes. Many others are unwritten. There is no god but Tolerance and Moral Relativism is his/her prophet. Try opposing sodomy, feminism, abortion, paganism, or antinomianism in the workplace, classroom, legislature, or boardroom...

You'll be marginalized, if not silenced or fired, as a bigot beset by irrational animus and prejudice. Take, for example, the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct that govern lawyers. I may not refuse to represent a homosexual on the basis of that man's homosexuality. College students studying to join the helping professions aren't being allowed their union cards if they want to love homosexuals by not conniving at their sin. Caterers that refuse to sell cupcakes for Rainbow Pride Day are harassed and bullied to no end. An employee who tells a co-worker that he cannot join in the celebration of her "marriage" to her girlfriend is called on the carpet by his boss. We saw what happened to Chick-fil-A when one of its leaders refused to bow the knee to PC minders. City officials in Chicago and Boston began rattling the zoning saber. We saw what happened to Doug Wilson on IU's campus.

Examples could be easily multiplied. In light of this obvious state of affairs, what possible usefulness is it to attack Christians who lived four hundred years ago? Aside from cultivating or maintaining academic respectability, I can think of none. Isn't the real problem that we Christians are ashamed of Jesus and His Word? Don't we need to be called to faithfulness in having our speech seasoned with salt, saving some? And don't we need our rulers to be called to protect our--that is, Christians'--freedom of speech, association, and religious exercise, which are so heavily under attack?

Laws criminalizing blasphemy aren't identical logically or legally with outlawing false religions. Abraham Kuyper, who served his country as a Prime Minister, theologian, and newspaperman, supported blasphemy laws even in the 20th century.

There's a distinction between forbidding blasphemy that publicly impugns the Living God and tolerating false religion carried on quietly out of the public eye. If Christians as a rule have been so bigoted and impossible to live with, why have Jews, Turks, Infidels, Atheists, Socinians, Muslims, and others historically flocked to live in Christian lands and particularly in America? They've sought to live in Christian countries because they've found a certain tolerance to live in civil peace even if that tolerance hasn't risen to the level of awarding them full rights to the free exercise of their false religion.

Blasphemy laws don't force people to give obeisance to the Gospel. Blasphemy laws, as they have historically been enforced in this country, have forbidden public profanation of the Living God.

Moore hasn't made the case that blasphemy laws have necessarily borne the fruit of apostasy. Lands that were the first to be Christian were the first to become post-Christian as those lands forgot Almighty God and as they began to serve the creation and love their wealth, which wealth is itself the fruit of Christian spiritual capital. Similarly, it happened during the Middle Ages as monastic orders began as humble reforms of corrupt orders and then in turn because of "spiritual success" became wealthy and then corrupt, which then prompted the establishment of other poor humble orders and so on.

Further, there is a fundamental difference between the Church of England (fully established with Monarch and Head of Church as the same man by virtue of the office of King) and the American church. Established state churches are corrupting of both the church and state. That's one major reason why our forefathers in decades after the American Revolution disestablished churches in American states that had them and stopped forcing nonmembers to pay for them.

What I don't have a right to do, I don't have a right to assist someone else in doing. I don't have a right from God to worship the false god of Allah. Likewise, I don't have the right to assist someone else in securing civil rights to worship Allah. It's never right to sin or to help someone else to sin.

It's appalling that a Christian, let alone a Christian theologian with charge over pastors-in-training, would call other Christians to do this. It's political correctness and religious pluralism run amuck and it denies the holiness of Almighty God.

No influential Reformed Evangelical alive today is agitating for blasphemy laws. It makes you wonder why Moore is leading the charge against non-existent or dead adversaries like Calvin who thought the civil magistrate should have as much concern for the First Table of the Law as the Second.

Other arguments against reinstating Christian blasphemy laws (not to be confused with blasphemy laws that persecute Christians) could be made. For instance, Christian prudence in light of the post-Christian culture we live in might require us to fight other evils now in the city gates and not try to re-establish blasphemy laws that our forefathers were able to enact in their day. Or wisdom might say even if a bare electoral majority could reinstate Christian blasphemy laws, a large plurality of lawbreakers and widespread disregard of the law would lead to more evil than good.

But again who alive and influential today is demanding such a thing? You might as well write a blog post urging Congress not to renounce our national sovereignty and rejoin the British Empire.

In short, Moore's post makes you think that equality among religions is possible, even desirable. I don't think it's possible, and to act as if it is desirable is willful naiveté.

("Ezra Hale" is a pseudonym.)

Comments

Of course, due to the evil in men, imposters who seek positions high and might in church and government alike, such laws often extend to the likes of "saying things about my religion I don't like" (whoever wrote them), "offending the practitioners of any religions" (see Ireland), etc.. Apostles didn't rely on the arm of the state--they took their deaths as they came, neither perhaps should we: we are strangers and sojourners here...among wolves; that we have a some ability in a short window to demand, under law, that the rights of men be respected by the powerful is a wondrous God-given gift, though it may now be passing away as the unprincipled and faithless, the latter too often faithless antichrists that might even deceive you guys (I could point out a few examples if I knew you), destroy principle, law, religion, spirituality, morality, sanctity, and everything else essential to the faith, but also to the civil society that traditionally accompanies a society where Christianity at least, if not predominant, exerts a general and effective influence to restrain the evil of men. Just as now the constitutional laws on the books can't be enforced because the high philosophes decide to set them aside and twist them however they fancy, the acknowledge rights of trade, travel, and self-protection are diminished to privileges subject to elimination by statute, (even the Romans didn't destroy the ability of their subjects to resist, fight back, defend themselves against aggressors!--perhaps because they knew those people knew such would be so great a calamitous mistake, outright insanity to allow even their conquerors to utterly disarm them, that it wasn't possible: they just had to remember Carthage, after all)--actually, right to trade is no longer extant, because all business is treated, in substance, as an arm of the state, and dare assert your principles and religion to govern your conduct and association, and they will penalize and criminalize you--no blasphemy law is going to be of much help: not with such a spineless nation conquered by violent sociopathic men who are ill and wicked. Only good men have to fear here, or men who want to be good; note that the average so-called 'Christian', and I mean the bible-thumping right-leaning 'conservative' variety, is typically unafraid because their religion is so shallow as to consist of "getting people their ticket to heaven, reform by associating with people in Church, and kept reformed by continued involvement", and "protecting our access to money."

Thanks for this post, and the link.

I'm guessing that Mr. Moore couldn't stand to finish John Calvin's Sermons on Deuteronomy. Or, maybe Jesus comments on corban in Matthew 15:6ff make him uncomfortable.

As if embarrassment over God's laws, properly understood in their modern day application, is the key to sociopolitical justice and cultural purity. I guess this means the "new" Biblical teaching is that things just turn into their opposites. Lawful cultures come about through antinomianism!

Good point though on prioritizing our cultural reformational goals. God alone is wise, but in my fallible and limited horizon of a view, it seems like we're about a century or so away from a culture that would be god-fearing enough to accept even a godly level of taxation, let alone anti-blasphemy laws. To enact Biblical laws, in essence, you need a culture that is largely already following them voluntarily, from the heart, and then those laws provide a God-ordained hedge around that society to provide justice in the public square and to prevent the production of a criminal culture within the city.

The late Greg Bahnsen made several good points on this latter subject. The idea of taking an unwilling and apostate culture, and enacting godly laws from the top-down, is impractical, despite the need for those laws. No one will apply them, follow them, live by them. We need a bottom-up reformation. I'm praying for it, though I doubt I will live to see it. It seems just too good to believe for my wicked generation, but then again, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

And by extension, Russell has a point to make. Here's why:

* He comes from a theological tradition that still has in its institutional memory the way the early Baptists were persecuted by the descendants of the Puritans. That people who had fled religious persecution in Europe would themselves become persecutors is ironic to say the least (the point is relevant in this context).

* Imposing the Kingdom top-down has a fairly short half-life, as the experiences of Cromwell's Commonwealth; Geneva after Calvin; Scotland; the Netherlands, and South Africa, all illustrate. In Scotland the Kirk ended up inoculating generations of Scots against the Gospel. 

So, to come back to Russell's article. Again, his theological background is that you learn from the Old Testament, but live by the New Testament, and this is colouring his take on things as well.

If some vestigial consciousness of past persecution is motivating Moore, why not go after living aggressors? It reminds me of General Lee's strategy during the Civil War. He loaded up the Merrimack and sailed to London to punish Great Britain for war crimes committed 90 years earlier against the colonists during the Revolutionary War. No wait, I'm getting things mixed up. Lee defended against the current invading Union Army and later took the fight to the North. :)

We're living with the top-down approach in church-state affairs. But it's not Cromwell, Calvin, or Scottish Presbyterians who should concern us. It's the bloodthirsty Statism of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Justice Blackmun, and President Obama that Christians need to defend the poor, aged, unborn, infirm, and oppressed against. Statism is a god who tolerates no competing loyalty, most especially loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Statism is the established religion in our country in our day. Its priests and priestesses take blasphemy seriously. Christians, for starters, shouldn't assist it by remaining willfully blind to all its works and pomps. Or cover for it with Christian academic influence by attacking other Christians long dead.

is that Russell should have been focussing his attention on the statism affecting America, rather than things like blasphemy laws? If so, I do now understand your point; but since we are all dealing with current adversaries, I am not sure what Calvin would have to say as to the situation we all face now. Could someone help here?

They've sought to live in Christian countries because they've found a certain tolerance to live in civil peace even if that tolerance hasn't risen to the level of awarding them full rights to the free exercise of their false religion.

Since when did any member of another religion not have full civil rights to freely exercise that religion in this country? Maybe I need to crack open my history books, but has religious persecution ever been a problem in America for anyone? Muslim, Jew, Sikh or atheist?

I mean, obviously there might be personal and social discrimination, but that's fine and that's just part of our freedom to associate, but I mean in a legal sense. Since when has anyone not had the full right to believe and practice as he chooses to believe and practice? And who would advocate for anything less?

Since when did any member of another religion not have full civil rights to freely exercise that religion in this country?

I think someone wishing to practice the religion of the Aztecs, with human sacrifice, would find their ability to fully practice their religion obstructed.

Obviously, I know that's the case. Nor should fundamentalist Muslim honor killings allowed on the books. What I meant was that I find it hard to see what Moore is arguing against. If there were some sort of Christian theocracy executing Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and atheists I'd see his point. But there isn't and America has never been that. We've always allowed people to freely and openly practice their religion here.

Jay,

I'm so glad you made that point. Aren't freedom of religion, speech, and association part of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, which applies to all Americans of all religions and those of no religion? Obviously,  you've already addressed the actions of religions that allow honor killings, human sacrifices, and the like. 

I would tweak your summary to say the “Statism oppressing America.” Though that isn’t the fundamental point. This is going to sound obnoxious: the fundamental point I was trying to make (with the help of a pastor) is encapsulated in the entire post.

This is a case study of a conservative Christian academic being co-opted by American civic religion. How can a Christian seminary professor like Russell Moore teach, “Christians should fight for the liberty of Muslims in America and around the world to be Muslims, to worship in mosques and to freely seek to persuade others that the Koran is a true revelation of God”?

This teaching is harmful to pastors-in-training, churches to be served by these future pastors, and Christians generally, not to mention the souls of Muslims. Moore acts as if there are only two options for Christians in the public square: oppress pagans or fight for their God-given right to be pagans. Of course, there is no such right and his dichotomy is false.

His post is in sync with the New York Times op-ed page, R2K men, and the attitudes approved by our cultural mandarins. They want to inure Christians to the blasphemy laws that parade about as diversity codes and hate crimes, which culminate in the gagging of the Christian conscience and of God. Taking on dead Puritans signals that living Fundamentalist Christians—not their secular minders and soft persecutors—are the problem. 

Russell Moore is fighting an imaginary enemy, for the sake of appearing Politically Correct.

Dr. Moore is a Baptist, and doesn't understand the comprehensively covenantal nature of life. The final question is, "By what standard?". How does a professing Christian claiming to believe God's word argue for another standard of goodness than God's law? What law is offered in its place? As Rushdoony would say - the source of law of any society is its god. A man-centered ethic reveals our actual deity - sovereign man.

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