With atheism comes a culture of death

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

The Greek word "atheoi" ("[those who are] without god").

The Greek word “atheoi” (“[those who are] without god”).

It seems that the 40th annual convention of American Atheists is coming to town next spring, and its organizers sound like they’re looking to pick a fight with Utah’s Latter-day Saint population.

A spokesman for the atheists tells the Deseret News,

It is our perception that the Mormon Church is interfering with freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Utah by intimidating people. … We’d love to be proven wrong on that, but everything we see and hear about how the Mormon Church controls things in Utah seems to be a prime example of religious oppression. They are pushing Mormon values on people. I consider that to be un-American.

The Deseret News makes sure to mention how Mormons believe in religious tolerance, loving one another and doing the work of the Lord in kindness. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a big worry for atheists. The big problem for them isn’t anyone loving their neighbors. The big problem for them is anyone’s belief in God. Atheists despise citizens of faith as irrational and, with no small sense of irony, atheists claim higher authority to run the affairs of men and seek to disenfranchise citizens who actually believe in real Higher Authority.

LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson remarked in the most recent General Conference, “Without [Jesus Christ’s] redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice.” A gospel without God is exactly atheism.

I’m not too worried about Mormons not loving their neighbors. It is our second great commandment. I’d be much more concerned about atheists loving their neighbors, especially their Mormon neighbors. I know atheists argue that man can be ethical and moral without God. My reply is to look and see how unethical and immoral man is even with God. I can’t imagine peace, love, tolerance and happiness in a godless world.

But for that sentiment, apparently, I’m un-American.

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Guest post: The New Liberalism vs. the Restored Gospel

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

By Ralph Hancock

Part 3 of 3 of “Mormonism in the public square”

In the first two articles in this series, I have examined the relationship between religion and politics and shown the impossibility of keeping these completely separate, especially as fundamental moral questions are more and more a matter of very consequential political and legal contests. I have also shown that the New Liberalism goes far beyond the classical liberal task of facilitating free debate within a society of diverse interests and opinions; it now asserts itself as a substantive moral vision centered upon extreme freedom emancipated from all accountability to any higher moral standard.

Now I come to my most important point, which to me seems rather obvious but is somehow in fact quite controversial: This New Liberalism is not remotely compatible with basic LDS beliefs.

The New Liberalism posits open-ended individual self-expression — including, notably, sexual expression, however that may be defined by the individuals’ desires or supposed identity — as a fundamental right, as essential to the “dignity” of the person. The opposition of this view to the Restored Gospel could not be clearer: the Gospel situates sexuality within a distinctive view of the eternal destiny of the person, and subordinates sexual desire and expression to that definite purpose and to the commandments that serve that purpose. It is fundamental to LDS teaching that the family is eternal, and therefore that sexuality must be expressed within the bounds that serve the person’s interest in the eternal family.

All this and much more is clear to every LDS who is even passingly familiar with the great Proclamation to the World on the Family published under the authority of the First Presidency and the Apostles in 1995. This Proclamation would seem to present an insuperable obstacle to LDS wishing to reconcile their New Liberal commitments with Church teaching.

  • Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
  • …Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
  • …We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

The opposition seems clear. But in fact, as I have learned, a significant number of LDS who consider themselves and would like to be considered faithful are ready to discount the authority of the Family Proclamation and to subordinate it to the New Liberalism that they have adopted as an authoritative moral touchstone.

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Guest post: The sleight of hand in relativism

Abracadabra_magicianBy Ralph Hancock

Part 2 of 3 of “Mormonism in the public square”

In the first article in this series, I summarized a common contemporary view of the relationship between morality and politics as follows:

“But now society has fundamentally changed. It is no longer based on a moral consensus, but on the acceptance of diversity. ‘Pluralism’ has replaced moral-religious homogeneity as the basic character of modern societies like ours. So, even though we may not approve, personally, of many lifestyle choices among our fellow citizens, it is not only politically necessary but in fact a moral duty to respect the diversity of lifestyles that flourish in a pluralistic society.”

Pay close attention to the italicized assertion. For this points up a significant sleight of hand that plays an essential role in what I will call the New Liberalism. For the claim is not only that our political circumstances are such that we must accommodate and work with people with different moral views than our own. That is obvious, and our LDS leaders have provided excellent counsel and encouragement in our efforts to do just that. But the tendency is to go much further and to transform this practical accommodation into a new kind of moral imperative, the imperative of a respect for “diverse lifestyles,” which shades into the assertion that it is somehow wrong to affirm the superiority of one way of life over another.

With this sleight of hand that passes silently from necessary accommodation to the denial of real moral distinction, many are led, often in the name of “rationalism” or “public reason,” to deny the reasoned connection between religion, morality and political freedom that I set forth in the last article. Thus many fall, sometimes without knowing quite what is happening, under the influence of a new morality that presents itself at first as the simple recognition of new political realities.

Liberalism Then and Now

To clarify this change that has come about in liberalism in recent decades and to see the dangerous implications of this change, I propose a simple but helpful distinction between Classical Liberalism and the New Liberalism.

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Guest post: Mormonism in the public square

hancockBy Ralph Hancock

Part 1 of 3

There are two subjects to be avoided, it is often said, in conversation among casual friends and, especially perhaps, among relatives: religion and politics. Among people of the same faith, the first restriction can presumably be relaxed. But even (or especially) in the company of other LDS, with whom we share the deepest beliefs about things that matter eternally, we find ourselves avoiding political topics.

This reluctance to tread upon potentially touchy subjects is understandable, and it even makes a certain sense theologically: “My kingdom is not of this world,” the Savior said. Whereas pagan religions had always closely identified religious observances and beliefs with duties to a particular political community, Christ’s good news was proclaimed to all sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father, without respect to nations or kingdoms. Why complicate eternal truths and spiritual bonds with divisive questions surrounding how we run a country?

We express this same interest in keeping religion and politics separate when we affirm that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not an American church, nor of course a Utah church, but an international church that proclaims the Restored Gospel universally. None of us would want to burden a promise of eternal life with needless controversy surrounding mortal interests and partisan opinions. Alexis de Tocqueville saw this very clearly: “Religion,” he wrote, “cannot share the material force of those who govern without being burdened with a part of the hatreds to which they give rise.” The cost of mixing politics with religion can easily exceed the benefits.

In light of the Church’s divine mission, its official and consistent position of political neutrality therefore makes perfect sense: “The Church does not: Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms, etc.”

Principles Essential to Both Religion and Politics

And yet it is clear, on just a little reflection, that this wholesome distinction between religion and politics can never be an absolute separation, for the simple reason that certain common principles are essential to both. Tocqueville saw this with great clarity as well: religion and politics spring ultimately from the same source.

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How religion-free trend affects public policy

service1The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

A sign on a commercial building in the neighborhood where I live reads, “Interested in God, but not religion?” The invitation is to attend a church that advocates spirituality over any particular faith. Evidences of “unaffiliated” or “unchurched” people are on the rise – a trend unsurprising in an age of selfish individualism and progressive ideologies.

Younger generations, always the first group in search of themselves, obviously trend away from organized religion, let alone orthodox faiths such as Mormonism, Catholicism or Judaism. Even us old guys remember the Summer of Love and the hippie movement. Everything in the ’60s was about “spirituality” and finding purpose in life. But the fact is that everyone searches for purpose in life. Everyone is significantly spiritual at least at one point in life. And everyone seeks to belong to something meaningful and communal. It’s simply a part of the human DNA – we are spiritual creatures.

And yet so many disillusioned and disaffected people are convinced they aren’t really seeking God or answers to life’s most important questions revolving around human purpose. Like zealous journalists, they insist they are “objective” about such things. Everyone has an opinion – even those people who claim some sense of objectivity.

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Religious liberty in the crosshairs

800px-Cathedral_of_the_Madeleine,_SLC_The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has recently concluded hearings on religious liberty and the invaluable Kathryn Lopez of National Review has published an interview with Peter Kirsanow, one of the commissioners, about what he learned from that experience.

The entire interview is worth reading. Commissioner Kirsanow explains the commission’s interest in the topic:

In many respects, religious freedom has always been a civil-rights issue. It’s perhaps unique among civil-rights issues in that it was the impetus for many of the first American colonists to risk their lives to settle in the New World. That’s something that’s in our national DNA.  But over the last few decades there’s been a creeping erosion of our religious freedoms.

One thing Commissioner Kirsanow learned from the experience is “that there’s increasing hostility toward the religious — particularly, but not limited to, Catholics — who are seen as nettlesome impediments to an expanding benevolent state.”

Kathryn asked whether the commission heard concerns “about overreach of nondiscrimination laws” and Commissioner Kirsanow responded:

Absolutely. Scores did.  In fact, I’ve never seen such alarm about governmental overreach during my twelve-year tenure on the Commission. For example, students expressed concerns about the antidiscrimination rules in place at some universities that prohibit religious groups from requiring their leaders to sign a statement of faith or adhere to certain moral codes. Bishop Paprocki wrote about the nondiscrimination requirements in the Illinois civil-union law that drove Catholic Charities out of the foster and adoption business. Alliance Defending Freedom submitted a comment that detailed many incidents where small businesses were penalized by the state for exercising their religious freedom. The examples were endless. Read more

Is Martin Luther King Jr.’s faith in God ignored?

In “King’s Media Makeover,” Lee Habeeb points out in National Review that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s deep faith in Christ is mostly absent from modern media writings about King:

Listen carefully to all the celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. this week. Listen very carefully. There is one aspect of King’s life that you won’t hear much about, no matter how hard you try: his devotion to his faith, his devotion to God, his devotion to Jesus Christ.

Listen carefully and you’ll hear endless mention of Doctor Martin Luther King — but little if any mention of the Reverend Martin Luther King.

Listen carefully to all of the video and audio clips, and you’ll hear some of the greatest rhetoric and some of the most passionate speeches of the 20th century. The sound bites and clips will stir your soul. But you won’t hear the references to God that so often filled his speeches, nor will you hear references to the book that most inspired him: the Bible. … Read more

Support exercise of religious freedom: Shop Hobby Lobby Saturday

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio. (Photo: DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons)

For a nation with a yearning for religious freedom at its roots, we are seeing an awful callousness toward exercise of that freedom lately.

One of the more recent manifestations of this trend has the Green family, who operate Hobby Lobby, facing stiff fines from the federal government because they want to act on their beliefs in the marketplace. The Becket Fund, which is doing invaluable work protecting religious liberty, has more information on the Greens here. They are devout Christians whose beliefs inform their treatment of employees. They close their stores on Sunday and are exemplary in many ways.

The company, true to its religious convictions, will not pay for abortion-inducing drugs for its employees (it does cover contraception) — an eminently humane and reasonable position — but that means they have run afoul of a rule adopted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which requires employers, whatever their religious beliefs, to pay for the costs of such drugs. Read more

Tonight on PBS: 'First Freedom' documentary by Utah filmmaker

“First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty,” a film by Utah filmmaker Lee Groberg on the history of religious liberty in America, airs tonight at 7 on KUED as well as on hundreds of PBS affiliates across the country.

Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the 90-minute documentary “takes a look back at the religious rights America’s founding fathers intended through a mix of dramatic recreation – filmed in Colonial Williamsburg and elsewhere, mostly along the East Coast in historic, colonial settings – and interviews with contemporary historians.”

Click here to see a preview on the PBS website.

Owen featured “First Freedom” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV Week. He writes, “While the notions of religious freedom and separation of church and state may seem like topics out of a musty history book, look no further than the most recent presidential election to see how the topic remains relevant.” Read more

Good signs for Utah from study of charitable giving

A recent study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy looked at Americans after-tax charitable giving based on recent tax returns to determine how financially generous people around the country are. The results should be very encouraging for Utahns.

Utah ranked #1 in generosity, with the “primary reason” being “the Mormon tradition of tithing,” according to the study. The average Utahn gave $5,255 to charitable organizations in 2008 (the most recent year comprehensive tax data was available), amounting to 10.6 percent of discretionary income. Utah “far outpace[d]” any other state, with second place Mississippi coming in at 7.6 percent of discretionary income going to charities. Statewide, Utahns contributed $2.4 billion in total to charities (tied with Arizona and Colorado for 18th most). Read more