Allow me to make a very direct statement. I believe it is time for the Church in this country to stand up for religious freedom.
Especially over the course of the last few years, we have seen repeated efforts — in the courts, in state legislatures, in Congress and on Pennsylvania Avenue — to erode what has been called the first freedom: religious liberty. (more…)
Today in The Federalist, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg looks ahead to Pope Francis’ American visit. Gregg, of course, cannot predict the future, but he can respond to others’ speculation; in particular, he takes issue with Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, in America magazine
argued that another old-style Jesuit—Pope Francis—will be coming to an America uninterested in virtue, mired in consumerism, and fast becoming a hyper-individualistic society obsessed with rights.
Turning on the television soon confirms there’s some truth in Sachs’ analysis. Witness the relentless advertising that tells you that you’re not fully human unless you have the very latest whatever. Yet materialism and consumerism are just as widespread in, for instance, social-democratic Western Europe, klepocratic Russia, Communist China, and crony corporatist Latin America. Hence, it can hardly be described as a particularly American problem.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Declaration of Independence is that it sought to overturn the long abuses and powers of tyrants. It revealed the truth of self-government and that power is inherent in the people. In the second introduction of the document, Jefferson declared:
…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Jefferson, always the philosopher, reminds the reader that governments are instituted to protect the natural rights of man, to preserve their freedom above all else. Government is not intended to serve the bureaucracy, rulers, or an elite class.
Next week at Acton University I am giving a lecture titled, “Calvin Coolidge and his Foundational Views on Government.” One of the great things about studying Coolidge is that he is extremely accessible. Coolidge noted during his political career that practicing law was valuable for honing communication skills that promote brevity and clarity in speech. The Coolidge lecture at Acton University will attempt to do likewise. He’s a president that probably would have little trouble with the 140 character limit on Twitter. If you aren’t able to attend Acton University, I’m told the lecture will be recorded, and at some point will be available for a very small fee.
One of the most relevant things about Coolidge today is that in his era he was battling the progressive scheme to perfect man in an attempt to move beyond the spirit of America’s founding principles. In one masterful broadside against the progressive scheme delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he declared:
Gregg has three competing stories to tell. First he wants to explain how a Catholic can responsibly defend limited government and the free market in accordance with Catholic teaching. This remains a crucial argument to make; since the 1980s, the welfare state has only expanded. As the financial and housing crises of 2008 show, many still look to government to control the economy, and bail out entire industries. Second, he wants to defend the substance of those teachings against both liberal Catholics and other sorts such as libertarians. Catholicism is not capitalism, and its defense of free-market exchanges and limited government is rooted in a certain view of the human person that is not the same as a secular liberal one. The Catholic view promotes human flourishing, but holds that flourishing must be consistent with the natural law and the ends of human life, such as the cultivation of virtue and the common good. Third, he wants to reconcile Catholicism specifically with the American form of republicanism. Gregg argues that the example of Catholics in America shows that the two are compatible, and that indeed the American experiment is consistent with the long tradition of Western liberty inaugurated by the Church.
As a brief follow-up to the story about the Samuel Adams beer company’s decision to redact “by their Creator” from a reference to the Declaration of Independence in a recent ad campaign, it’s worth examining again the company’s justification for that decision. According to a spokeswoman, “We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute.” The code in question includes the provision, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes.”
As some comments have noted, the reference to the Creator in the Declaration could be reasonably understood generically, and need not amount to the level of “employing religion.” But as another comment noted in response to the piece at LifeSiteNews, the Boston Beer Company’s retreat to the Advertising and Marketing Code is even more craven given the company’s history of violating that code.
For instance, between 2000-2002, the Boston Beer Company sponsored a morning radio stunt titled “Sex for Sam,” which was “an annual contest where the goal was to have sex in notable public places in New York City.” Point 5b of the Beer Institute’s code says that beer advertising “may contain romantic or flirtatious interactions but should not portray sexually explicit activity as a result of consuming beer.” Point 6 prohibits “graphic nudity,” while point 2 says that beer should be marketed “in a responsible manner,” including proscription of “illegal activity of any kind.”
Consider the case of “Sex for Sam 3,” in which “comedian Paul Mecurio encouraged Brian Florence and Loretta Harper, a Virginia couple visiting Manhattan, to have simulated sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on August 15, 2002.” The result of this stunt was an arrest for public lewdness.
Sam Adams also has also produced a seasonal craft beer called “Grumpy Monk,” which acknowledges that “the long held brewing traditions of Belgian monks aren’t meant to be broken.” So much for not employing “religion or religious themes.”
The Beer Institute code has been around since at least 1999, and provisions then were substantially similar (here’s a PDF from an appendix to a FTC report on self-regulation in the alcohol industry).
Between “Sex for Sam” campaign and the secularizing of the Declaration of Independence more recently, there’s a larger pattern of behavior emerging that illustrates the Boston Beer Company’s hypocrisy.
Jonathan Merritt reports on a decision made by the parent company that produces Samuel Adams beer, Boston Beer Company, to redact “by their Creator” from an Independence Day ad featuring the Declaration of Independence. As Merritt writes, “We have arrived at a time in our history where some people are so offended by even the idea of God that they can’t bear to speak God’s name or quote someone else speaking God’s name. Worse yet, they have to delete God’s name from the Declaration of Independence to make a point.”
“We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute – a beer industry trade organization – that states, ‘Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes’,” according to a statement provided by a Boston Beer Company spokeswoman. “We agree with that, and we follow these guidelines and approach our marketing with the utmost responsibility.”
As Will points out, brewing has a rich religious history, and many of the most popular specialty brews are branded with religious themes. Here are those produced by members of the Beer Institute he highlights: Bell’s Christmas Ale; Ommegang Abbey Ale; Marin Brewing Co. Witty Monk; Marin Brewing Co. Altar Boy; New Belgian Abbey Ale; New Belgian Lips of Faith. It is true that there is such a code and that point 7 reads as the spokeswoman declares. Right after point 6, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not contain graphic nudity,” comes point 7, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes.”
Some will blame market forces for Sam Adams’ decision to secularize its commercial messaging. But that doesn’t really add up. The most natural thing to avoid controversy would be to leave the text of the Declaration intact, especially when linking the text thematically to the person of Sam Adams. To redact the text as the commercial does is to, as the backlash makes clear, runs the risk of alienating a huge swath of potential customers.
There’s something other than economic caution going on here, and Merritt puts his finger on it.
This is less about a decision to avoid controversy for fear of alienating a consumer base than it is an expression of a corporate culture that embraces a radical secularism and is tone deaf to the point of editing one of our nation’s most significant documents. It has more to do with a secular political and social sensibility than it does with economic savvy.
In such a radical separation of faith from public life, Sam Adams the beer company has done something that Sam Adams himself would never have stood for.
As Sam Adams put it himself in 1776, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought, and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.”
Here’s the ad in question:
Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:
Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”
The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.
Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012’s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.
Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.
That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:
The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.
A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:
If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.
You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:
But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.
It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:
So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.
What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared that his state would not comply with President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In blatant defiance of the federal government, Florida will not expand its Medicare program or implement any of the other changes that “Obamacare” requires. While a flat-out refusal to comply with federal law on the part of a lower authority is relatively uncommon, it is by no means unprecedented. The history of the United States is filled with individuals and groups who have decided to obey their consciences in the face of laws that they believed to be illegal or immoral, or both. In fact, our country’s very founding began with an act of civil disobedience against the unjust and illegal actions of England’s King George III.
Even before our nation was formally established, adherence to true justice and the natural law, rather than to the whims of tyrants, was a hallmark of the American spirit. Witness the turmoil that took place in the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s over the actions of England, including the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (more…)