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Thursday, July 7, 2011

"All great leaps forward in liberty and equality"

Ed Brayton has a very moving (to me) post today about the progressive acceptance of equality in the face of absolutist proclamations that the faith of the majority rejects it. Using an argument from Southern Baptist Al Mohler which appeals entirely to tradition and biblical exegesis as an example, he notes that advancements in equality for virtually every minority have been faced by the objection that a person who takes his/her Christian faith seriously could never accept this "moral inversion" in which what was formerly considered sinful is now acceptable, and those who object considered the immoral ones:

The same thing always happens when society struggles to leave behind a traditional prejudice and embrace equality instead. In a remarkably short period of time in this country, slavery went from being a God-ordained institution that had existed from the earliest human civilizations with little to no doubt about its moral standing to being viewed as perhaps the single most inhumane thing one can do to another person, the greatest immorality of all. 
In a remarkably short period of time in this country, miscegenation went from being viewed as a great moral evil -- preached as such by the very same Southern Baptist church that now stands against same-sex marriage -- that society had outlawed for centuries, to being declared a protected right by a unanimous Supreme Court. And guess what? The same exact arguments were used against that ruling as are used against same-sex marriage today. 
The constitution itself is a perfect example of this dynamic in many ways. Prior to the constitution the norm was for all governments to be built upon a religious foundation. All written charters or constitutions prior to that time were expressed as covenants with God, complete with punishments for blasphemy and heresy. All of the colonies with the exception of Rhode Island had official churches prior to the constitution and forbid and punished even the preaching of other Christian denominations. In Massachusetts, one could be arrested, banished and even put to death (and many were) for preaching the Baptist or Catholic brand of Christianity, much less preaching Judaism, Islam or -- God forbid -- atheism. In Virginia, Anglicanism was the official religion and Baptists were thrown in jail. And nearly all of them had religious tests for office, requirements that one be of the right brand of religion in order to hold public office. 
The constitution rejected all of those things. It guaranteed freedom of religion and outlawed religious tests for office. Instead of a covenant with God, it forbid all such establishments of religion. It guaranteed freedom of speech, including the right to blaspheme and preach what others might consider heresy. and in a remarkably short period of time, everything changed. One by one the states did away with their religious establishments and adopted new constitutions without religious tests and protected free speech. 
This is the way it is with all great leaps forward in liberty and equality, what was previously seen as terribly immoral was legalized and legitimized -- leaving conservatives making the same old arguments from tradition that Mohler is making now.

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