A couple of months ago Arkansas’ Secretary of State rejected the request from the Universal Society of Hinduism to erect a statue on state capitol grounds.
A good friend from college, himself a Hindu, sent me an email asking me what I thought about it. What could I say? It seemed patiently unfair: Arkansas had approved a monument for the Ten Commandments on state grounds, but rejected the Hindu organization’s privately funded statue. I commiserated with my friend, saying only that I thought it was the sign of a people—Arkansas Christians in general—who feel increasingly under attack by secularists.
My friend was incredulous. Christians feel like they are under attack? They are paranoid and delusional, he declared. They are the clear majority in this country. I tried to explain that, while this may be true, there are plenty of examples of Christianity’s diminishing influence in the public sphere: a Pew study that found a large increase in secularism, a cultural and political shift away from Christian marriage and family values, recent healthcare legislation that has forced religious groups to go to court to defend their freedom of conscience.
It wasn’t long before we were debating religious liberty in general and I found myself in the unenviable position of trying to explain why I think that Americans ought to try an tolerate the views of religious groups—even those views that we may find personally distasteful. Why, my friend asked, should we try to protect those who promote ideas that we think are wrong? That’s a good question, I found myself saying. (more…)