Posts tagged with: Peter Lawler

Martyrs of Uganda Church, Detroit, Mich.

Martyrs of Uganda Church, Detroit, Mich.

Are you confused about religious liberty? Can I do this or say that without losing my job, a friendship, my freedom? Will I get my kid taken away from me? Is there a difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship? Yeah, we’re all a little confused.

At least we’re in good company. Peter Lawler is confused as well, and he shares his confusion at The Federalist. Of course, everyone agrees that church and state should be separate, says Lawler, but then things get wonky. At one point in American history, we could say that the majority of Americans shared some common religious values, especially regarding marriage and family, regardless of our faith. That’s clearly not the case any longer. In fact, Lawler claims, there are more and more Americans who believe that religion is a spoiler: it gets in the way of freedom.

More and more Americans—although still a fairly small minority—agree with our “new atheists” that “religion spoils everything,” that almost all of the repressive pathologies that have distorted the world can be traced to religious authority. A great number of Americans have proudly moved from the conformism of organized religion into an allegedly more spiritual or privatized realm of personalized belief, which skeptics call the “religion of me,” just as some have moved away from personal religion altogether in the direction of pantheism and kinds of Buddhism.

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Atheist SupermanLast time the Superman franchise was rebooted, I reacted pretty negatively to the messiah-lite qualities of Clark Kent’s alter ego. In this fine piece over at Big Think, Peter Lawler analyzes the nature of this tension in the context of the new film quite aptly:

The film also has all kinds of Christian New-Agey imagery that you can grab onto if you’re not much of a reader. Superman is compared in some ways to Jesus; he begins his mission at age 33, for example. But that kind of comparison doesn’t really hold up that well. Superman is only here to help us, not redeem us, certainly not to save us from our sins or from death. And he doesn’t have any deep insight into the meaning of life or love. His life, like each of ours, is shaped by choice and chance. He has extraordinary power that falls way short of omnipotence. He’s a man born to love and die—not a god. Superman’s Kryptonian father predicts that the people of our planet would regard his only begotten son as a god, but that we did not do. We’ve never become so Nietzschean or whatever that we’ve come to think a merely Superman can replace our need for God himself.

I haven’t yet seen Man of Steel, but Lawler’s examination has roused my hopes for the reboot. The imperial dynamics of Kryptonian technocracy look to be a fruitful vehicle for examining salient dimensions of our own experience today.

As Lawler concludes, “Krypton’s inevitable decline and fall is a victory of natural evolution over the effort to provide a conscious and volitional replacement for it. It’s not true that human liberty is defeated by evolution; the truth is that we are ‘hardwired’ for choice and chance and can’t flourish without them” (emphasis added; HT: Prufock).

Peter Lawler, Dana Professor of Government at Berry College, has written a piece at Ethika Politika urging those upset by last week’s election results to be calm and take a deep breath. First, Lawler says we have to understand that there are small political parties and great ones.

Great parties are parties of high principle.  Their dominance on the political stage has the advantage of bringing great men into political life.  They have the disadvantage of rousing up animosity that readily leads to war.  So great parties make great men happy and most men miserable…

Democracies, however, hardly ever have great parties.  Most of the time our parties are coalitions of diverse interests and short on clear and divisive principle.  Politicians make petty appeals to ordinary selfishness, and people vote their interests.  The bad news is that great men are repulsed by the small stakes and contemptible motives of political life, and so they stay away from it.  The good news is that the outcomes of elections aren’t so important, and people aren’t roused up to take to the streets or grab their weapons.  The winning candidate and party is the one that most effectively builds a majority coalition of diverse interests, and the losing candidate and party end up acknowledging that, most of all, it got outhustled.

The problem, as Lawler sees it through Tocquevillian glasses, isn’t one party winning over another or one candidate leading by shining example. No, the problem is that America is now obsessed with individualism. We don’t care much any more what is best for all, but merely what is best for me. I want what I want, damn the consequences.

I think Tocqueville would conclude his observations by noticing what’s changed the most since the America he wrote about is the breakdown of the religious-based American consensus on the limits of self-obsessive individualism.  His America was all about chastity, marital fidelity, what’s best for children, and common moral duties.  This consensus has broken down, and the resulting devolution of marriage into a contractual entitlement devoid of real duties or even duration is the real cause of the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.  The question posed by gays is roughly this:  Given how little marriage really means under the law these days, you have no right to exclude us from its benefits, which have become mainly symbolic.

Read “Tocquevillian Reflections on the Meaning of the Election” at Ethika Politika here.