Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Culture news: The arrival of American Kulturkampf

Kenneth L. Grasso has written an insightful piece that looks at how the United States handled religious pluralism in the past, and at how the worldview that supported this unique and successful approach has disappeared for many in our culture.  He argues that the HHS mandate marks a new phase in our nation's dealings with this important subject.  I highly recommend this piece.

Grasso states in conclusion:

Even if the mandate is eventually struck down by the courts or revoked by a future administration or Congress, by intensifying our polarization and further straining the bonds of civic amity, the mere effort to impose the mandate will have inflicted immense damage on the American body politic. By destroying the confidence that believers in America have traditionally had that their freedom to live in accordance with the dic­tates of their consciences—their freedom to fulfill obligations that they understand to be, in Madison’s terminology, “precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society”33—did not depend on the outcome of the next election (or the next Supreme Court appointment), the effort to impose the mandate will have intensified our divisions and dramatically raised the stakes of American politics. By its palpable disregard for the demands of reli­gious conscience and readiness to use large-scale state coercion to remake America’s civil society along secularist lines, the state’s effort to impose the mandate will have further eroded the mutual trust and sense of com­munal solidarity—the social capital, in the jargon of social science—on which the body politic depends for its vitality. Even if the mandate doesn’t prevail, the Kulturkampf whose opening salvo it is promises to make American politics a whole lot nastier, and our polity even more dispirited, divided, and dysfunctional.

The HHS mandate thus marks a water­shed in American political history. Making plain that our traditional understandings of both the scope of religious liberty and the relationship of government to civil society can no longer be taken for granted—and are, in fact, rejected by a significant and highly influential body of opinion—the mandate commences a new phase in America’s engage­ment with religious pluralism in which the old rules no longer apply, the old certainties no longer hold, and our traditional articles of peace are no longer operative. What the mandate signifies, in other words, is that the collapse of our traditional solution to the problem of religious pluralism has trans­formed our politics into civil war carried on by other means.

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