Why the Levant-rant has caused far more harm than good.

As entertaining as Ezra Levant can be, at least in a face-meet-palm kind of way, I really wish that he never turned his gaze upon the Harbour City. In his 45-minute piece  he did far more harm than good. Let me explain why.

The Issue Has Already Been Resolved:

The Levant-rant if nothing else is steeped in unbridled passion. Its purpose is to inflame, to invoke righteous anger, and to elicit a response from angry viewers. He wants said viewers to make city council recognize the error of their ways. Levant wants  them to pay.  The problem, however, is that all of this seething anger, righteous or otherwise, is created in vain. As you can read in my last post, the city council has already responded by providing the thing that was of primary importance for Christians and other religious groups: a guarantee that the city would abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and be able to rent city property. The issue has been resolved.

Now in fairness to Levant, the statement issued by the mayor on behalf of the administration happened shortly before his newscast went viral. However, it certainly would not have been difficult for him to provide an update with this information attached.

Now to be sure, council’s affirmation of religious people’s rights does nothing to resolve the issue of Leadercast but Leadercast was never the primary issue for either the Christians in Nanaimo or for Ezra Levant. That issue needs to be worked out by the Daily News, Council, and Leadercast.

Misrepresentation of the Facts:

Through Exaggeration:

A significant problem with the Levant rant is that he frequently distorts the facts. He distorts first of all by exaggerating—a common strategy for our species when we really want to win an argument. For example Levant states that council voted to “ban Christians”. This is incredibly misleading. The language of the resolution does not mention Christians by name at all; there was worry from Christian groups that the language had potentially scary implications for events that they would want to host on city property. In this sense Christians and other religious groups could be seen as collateral damage but it was simply not the case that the city council of Nanaimo was deliberately and specifically targeting Christians.

A second example is found in Levant’s statement that council is trying to “drive Christians out of town” (see 20:00). This despite the fact that the mayor and some of the councilors attended the annual prayer breakfast for Christians shortly after this mess was started. The mayor even paid his respects to the Christian citizens of Nanaimo by reading some sections of the Bible. You can make the argument that council was naïve or even ignorant regarding the implications their resolution had for Christians but they certainly were not intending to drive them out of town.

Through Minimizing:

Levant also distorts by minimizing. My last post indicated that I am unable to confirm or refute the claims made about Dr. Cloud’s stance on reparative therapy. In Levant’s rant he refers to Dr. Cloud’s alleged views on reparative therapy as “funny ideas about the gays”. Reparative therapy is neither a “funny idea” in the humorous sense of the word nor in the benignly absurd sense of the word. No, reparative therapy is something that has done horrific damage to many LGBT people over the past decades. Even prominent supporters of reparative therapy from yesteryear have come forward to apologize for their prior beliefs and have distanced themselves from people who still promote it.

Through Conflating Issues:

Levant distorts by conflating issues. As I’ve mentioned there are two issues at play: the issue of cancelling Leadercast (the specific target of the motion) and the issue of Christians and other religious groups being potentially banned from renting city property (collateral damage). Levant’s-rant, however, tries to make Christians the specific target of the motion by referring to Leadercast several times in his rant as a Christian conference. This is despite the fact that the event is not religious at all but rather a conference about leadership in general.

Tone:

The second reason why Levant has done more harm than good is his poor use of tone. Christian leaders in Nanaimo worked very hard to phrase their critiques in a way that honoured and respected the councillors and the mayor. They wanted the administration to know that they aren’t despised or hated by Nanaimo’s religious groups.

Conversely Levant uses the tactic of demonizing.  As human beings it is very tempting to treat people with whom we disagree as horrible human beings with no redeeming qualities; this is basically what Levant does. He frequently refers to the councilors and the mayor as “blowhards” and “bigots”. He suggests that they are only motivated by the advancement of their own egos and is never willing to grant that they may actually be trying to do the right thing for the city.

Levant’s demonizing tactics are taken to such an extreme that he actually takes an important act of charity undertaken by one of the councillors and presents it as a vile act of self-aggrandizement. At one point Levant shows an image of councilor Pattje wearing a pair of women’s shoes. He refers to this picture as a narcissitic selfie, intended to make, in Levant’s view, some sort of political statement he cannot understand. What a horrific example of self-indulgence! That is unless one realizes that the picture was intended to raise awareness for a very important fundraiser called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”. This event, put on by the Haven Society is a walk in which men wear women’s shoes in order to raise funds to help end rape, sexual, assault, and gender violence. Thank you Mr. Pattje for participating in this important cause and shame on Mr. Levant for not recognizing this.

Now to be sure Levant in no way claims to speak as a representative of the Christians in Nanaimo but he does present himself as their advocate. If people mistake Levant’s uncharitable tone for the tone of local religious groups, then terrible damage has been done indeed.

It was also a key priority for the Christians in Nanaimo to address this issue in a way that was respectful towards the LGBT community. Regrettably, many Christians have failed to live up to their mandate to love their LGBT neighbours and as a result many Christians in town feel burdened to be better. Christian leaders want their churches to be comprised of people that respect and love LGBT people.

Yet in Levant’s rant, we see subtle digs toward the LGBT community. The one that caught my eye was when Levant referred to them as a “community” in inverted commas (see 10:45). When we call something a “community” we are effectively stating that the group in view is not something that fits the standard definition and can therefore only be called a community in a qualified sense—hence the inverted commas. As a Christian I know I would take offense if someone referred to my co-believers or my church as a “community”. This may seem like a subtle point but when we are talking about Christians and the LGBT community, we must be aware of the pain that is there. When there is a history of pain, subtlety matters even more than it does in normal conversation. Now again, Levant in no way speaks for the Christian leaders or churches of Nanaimo but if he causes more pain towards the LGBT people of Nanaimo than he has most certainly caused more harm than good.

Halfway through his 45 minute rant, Mr. Levant says that the actions undertaken by the city council of Nanaimo was for the purpose of showboating for the camera and not about the facts. The irony of this comment leaps off the screen. If only Levant was innocent of the very error he accused city council of undertaking, he would have been able to do some real good. The fact that he wasn’t leaves me mourning the pain that he caused and hoping that a blog like this one can help minimize the damage.

 

Note: There are several different versions of Levant’s piece. The one that led to the writing of this blog is the 45-minute version which can be found on youtube.

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The Story behind Levant’s Rant

         By now you have seen the headlines or watched the report from Sun News’ Ezra Levant: Nanaimo’s city council has banned Christians from renting city owned property. If your reaction is “there’s no way that’s true” well, then, you are right. However, it is not as if Ezra Levant simply made a story up out of thin air. In this post I will explain the story behind the Levant-rant by outlining: the motion passed by city council that formed the basis of Levant’s story, the significance of the motion for Christians, how the church responded to the motion, and how council responded to the church.  My next post will outline why Ezra Levant’s viral video is doing more harm than good.

The Motion:

On May 5th during a city council meeting, councilor Fred Pattje introduced the following motion:

that the City of Nanaimo advise the VICC that as owners of the facility any events that are assoiciated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate, and as such advice the VICC to not permit the upcoming Leadercast event to occur in a City owned facility that is scheduled for May 9th”.

First and foremost, the grammar of this motion is a mess. It starts with a general statement about the VICC and events that are associated with people/organizations that have a history of hate but doesn’t complete that thought before abruptly moving to specific language about not permitting Leadercast on May 9th. One can only assume that the first part of Mr. Pattje’s motion was intended to ensure that no other organizations associated with “divisiveness, homophobia, or other forms of hate” could host an event at the VICC or other city owned properties. It is important to bear this in mind in order to understand the significance this motion had in the mind of Nanaimo’s religious groups.

The impetus for this motion was due to “one or two” phone calls that Mr. Pattje received from members of the LGBT community who were not happy with Leadercast coming to Nanaimo. Apparently this was also an issue last year when the Daily News wanted to sponsor Leadercast but dropped their pursuit of the event after members of city council spoke to them.

What is Leadercast?

Leadercast is an annual conference based in Atlanta that is simulcast in hundreds of communities across North America and is viewed by over a hundred thousand people each year. The conference includes speeches on leadership by well known figures including Nobel-prize winning Desmond Tutu, former First Lady Laura Bush, and the renowned, Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell. Keep in mind the conference is not religious but rather is on the topic of leadership in general.

Why did council ban Leadercast:

There were two reasons given by Fred Pattje for the banning of Leadercast. He made it clear in the meeting that either one of these reasons on their own would be sufficient reason to ban the event.

  1. The first reason was because one of the sponsors of Leadercast is Dan Cathy, the president of the fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A. Dan Cathy is well known for his opposition to same-sex marriage. In addition, the LGBT community has been critical of Cathy for funding organizations that make some dubious claims about homosexuality. For more on Cathy and the LGBT community’s feelings about him, read this.
  2. The second issue was that one of the speakers was a man named Dr. Henry Cloud, a psychologist who allegedly supports the theory that reparative therapy can “cure” homosexual orientation. For the record I can neither confirm nor refute this claim for Dr. Cloud as my google searches on the issue proved fruitless. If any of you can be of help in confirming or denying this allegation please comment below with your source.

So What’s the Big Deal:

The passing of this motion is a big deal for many reasons. First the arguments provided for cancelling Leadercast are weak.   The reasoning is classic guilt-by-association. It should not matter if the sponsor of the event is a saint, a villain, or whatever you think Dan Cathy is. The reality is that this event would do nothing to advance Cathy’s agenda about gay marriage nor would it in some way imply that the city was endorsing Cathy’s opinions on sexuality. It strikes me as ironic that a conference that included known gay-rights activists such as Desmond Tutu and Laura Bush was cancelled because Dan Cathy was footing part of the bill. Similarly it should not matter one iota what Dr. Cloud’s opinions are on reparative therapy, particularly since he was not addressing matters of sexuality at all but leadership.

Aside from the Leadercast issues, “the big deal” from a Christian point of view resides in the language at the beginning of the motion. Given the interpretation I have outlined above, many in the Christian community saw the motion as something that could be used to ban churches or other religious groups from renting city property such as the auditorium at Beban park which is rented for an interchurch Good Friday service each year. Christian people drew this conclusion because many churches in town, particularly of the evangelical variety, share Dan Cathy’s basic belief about marriage: i.e. that from a Christian point of view marriage is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. While this issue was of primary importance, many Christian people were also upset by some of the language used during the discussion of the motion that can only be described as insulting and offensive towards Christians.

What did the Church Do About it?

The pastors of the evangelical churches in town held several meetings once they heard about what transpired in council.  They prayerfully considered how they could respond in a way that demonstrated the appropriate level of love and respect for the Nanaimo City Council, even while raising concerns about the potential of being unable to rent city property.  Many pastors wrote letters to council members outlining these concerns.  On June 16th, the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship came with an official delegation to council and outlined their concerns.  The video of this can be seen here.

How Council Responded:

Although I did not correspond directly with any members of council or the mayor, I am told that some members of the administration responded to the pastoral letters with an apology.  The mayor and some of the councilors also made their regular appearance at the annual prayer breakfast that suggests that they do value the religious citizens of Nanaimo.

Shortly after the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship’s delegation appeared before council, the mayor reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and guaranteed the rights of religious groups to rent city property.  It is important to note that the mayor made this statement before the Ezra Levant video went viral

Though the events at Nanaimo City Council generated a lot of hurt and passion, I am very proud of how the religious leaders responded to this issue.  The intention was never to embarrass, demean, or disrespect council but simply to urge council to recognize the rights of Nanaimo’s religious citizens.  I am also thankful for the mayor and the members of council who have reaffirmed religious people’s place in the public sphere.  My prayer is that the members of Nanaimo’s civic administration feel loved by the religious people in their city.

Fully Human: How to Think Part III Why we need all 4 sources

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In the last post we discussed why it is important to think in such a way that gives priority to Scripture.  In this post I outline, in bullet form, 4 reasons why our thinking must still value the other sources of knowledge (Tradition, Reason, Experience.  For a review of those 3 sources, click here)

1)   Because The Scriptures don’t tell us everything we need to know:  The Scriptures are perfect in regards to what they are communicating but we must also recognize that they don’t address every situation we find ourselves in.  The Scriptures may help provide the basic principles for thinking about a modern topic, like say for developing an ethic of social media.  However in order to really hash out an ethic like this we will also need to use our rational faculties and draw on knowledge gained from our experience.

2)   Because The Scriptures cannot be accessed apart from the other resources:  As much as we are to preference Scripture, we must always recognize that we cannot consult Scripture in isolation from the other sources of knowledge.  Our experience, reason, and tradition will inevitably shape how we read Scripture, even as our view of Scripture will shape how we view our experience, tradition, and reason.  They key is to have these four sources in the proper order and in proper conversation with each other.

3)   Because Reason, Experience, and Tradition can teach us some good things:  There are many insights that the other 3 resources can teach us:  for instance our tradition may tell us that being faithful in a marriage is important, our reason may tell us that things like stealing and lying are wrong, and our experience may tell us, particularly while we are growing up, that things are much more likely to go well for us if we honour our parents.

You may have noticed that the examples mentioned all refer to a few of the 10 Commandments.  I chose these examples intentionally to show that some of the morality of Scripture can also be gained through the use of our other faculties.  My conviction is that the types of morality that we can gain from our other faculties are those things that can be found in the moral “lists” or “laws” (for more on laws see my post here).  This type of morality may be referred to as the “common morality” or “basic morality”.  It refers to the things that people can agree on regardless of their religious conviction.  From a Christian point of view, the “common morality” is good but is not the greatest good.  To discover what is at the heart of morality in Christianity, you need Scripture.

Part of the reason why I share this insight is because as Christians we find ourselves living in a nation that does not give primary importance to Scripture; in fact as a society Scripture does not even exist as a unique category.  This means that as believers we must temper our expectations in regards to what type of morality we will find in our society.  It’s unrealistic and in fact unfair to expect our society to be organized around the morality of Scripture.  We must instead be willing to accept from our society a lowest common denominator of morality, something that is OK but not perfect.

4)   Because If Christians want to impact society we must be knowledgeable enough to converse using the language of reason, tradition, and experience:  It’s perfectly fair to be motivated by Scripture but it does no good to quote something as authoritative to people who do not see it that way.  The way broader society hears our Scripture quotations is similar to the way we hear quotations from the Koran or other religion’s scriptures.  They may be interesting, they may in fact communicate something that makes good sense; however their claims will not be held as valuable because they belong to the category of Scripture but will rather only be held as valuable if they make sense according to our reason, experience, or tradition.  For that reason, if we want to make an impact and change on our society we must speak the language of our time and place.

Steven Harper the Irrational Evangelical?

At the beginning of last week, Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin wrote a column on Prime Minister Steven Harper which says that his “muzzling of the science community, its [sic] low regard for statistics, its [sic] hard line against environmentalists” has its origins in his Evangelical faith.  For Martin this is the most logical conclusion because no rational person would have such views, and with the exception of his faith, Harper appears to be a “clear-headed rationalist”.  Martin bases his claim in Harper’s membership in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church, a church which according to Martin, “believes the free market is divinely inspired and views science and environmentalism with what might be called scorn”

There are some pretty serious problems with Martin’s analysis. For starters, Martin’s dichotomy of evangelicalism and rationalism is a false one.  Sadly there is a tradition of anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in some Evangelical circles; however the movement also has a strong tradition of developing some very bright academics.  Judging the movement as anti-intellectual would be like judging atheism as communist or Islam as a religion of terrorism.  Such judgments are horribly inaccurate and ignore the overwhelming evidence which does not fit the thesis.

Also problematic is Martin’s belief that Harper’s convictions stem from his membership in the Missionary Alliance church.  This is a problem because it is commonly known that Harper is not a very dedicated churchperson—especially when compared to the former leaders of his party Stockwell Day and Preston Manning.  If Harper is a nominal churchman it seems likely that his policies are also nominally influenced by his church.  Preston Manning on the other hand was and is a highly active member of the Alliance church so certainly we should see even stronger examples in his policies of revering the free market and rampantly abusing the environment right?

 Well, not so fast.  You see Mr. Manning is a very bright, rationalistic individual who is also devoted to conservation.  That is right, Preston Manning is an evangelical who cares about the environment.  In a 2006 interview with a Saskatoon newspaper, Manning talked about how economic conservatism could be linked to ecological conservatism.  One idea he advocated for there was charging companies in the oil sands for the water that they use.  He suggested that doing so would promote conservation since the companies would be motivated to be waste less of a product they were being charged for.  This may not be the type of environmentalism advocated for by the Suzuki-ilk but it certainly does show creativity, a commitment to the environment, and something which falls far short of worshiping the free market.  The clincher, for Manning, is that he has recently been hired by the evangelical school Regent College to work in their Marketplace Institute which is dedicated to developing “new approaches to the intersection of faith with democratic governance, the market economy, pluralism and multiculturalism, science and technology, and environmental stewardship.”

Manning’s decision to work in an evangelical school which is deeply devoted to care for the environment suggests that it is not a mere coincidence that Manning is both an evangelical and a conservationist.  Manning is not an intelligent, conservationist despite his faith but rather sees both of these things as being a critical component of faith.

Martin certainly has the right to question the wisdom of Harper’s moves.  It is however, unfair to try and draw a link between his policies and his faith—especially given a lack of evidence.  Feel free, Mr. Martin to call Harper what you will but please do not suggest that his apparent scorn of science and the environment and his conservative economic policies are rooted in the teachings of Evangelicals.  The reality is that Evangelicalism is much more diverse than all of that.  Some of us Evangelicals love science, work diligently to protect the environment, and God-bless us some of us can even be found left of centre in the realm of politics.

Mennonite Takeover?

My friend Jen sent me an article (found by clicking here) by Mark Tooley that caught my attention.  The article argues that Anabaptist groups are starting to push their beliefs such as pacifism and pseudo-isolationism on the rest of America.  Unlike traditional Anabaptist groups, Tooley argues, many new Anabaptists are not content with holding on to their beliefs such as pacifism in isolation but now demand that “all Christians, and society, including the state, bend to pacifism”.

The part of the article that I want to respond to is to Tooley’s argument that an Anabaptist attempt to influence culture at large betrays the foundational Anabaptist principle of isolationism.  In other words, Tooley is saying that Anabaptists’ behaviour is contradictory the way a woman committed to a life of silence would be if she tried to convince others of the benefits of her lifestyle through use of speech.

Tooley’s remarks are not without some merit.  There certainly are many Anabaptist groups whose separation from society is a part of their fundamental character.  Groups like the Amish and the old-colony Mennonites certainly fit this description.  It is likely that us mainstream people view would not view such folk as quaint if they spent their time trying to convince us that we would be better served to adopt their lifestyle.  Yet while such Anabaptsist groups are important, they remain a minority and so should not be seen as representative of Anabaptism as a whole.  The largest two Anabaptist groups in Canada are the Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church Canada.  Both groups are involved in domestic and foreign politics and actively engage in trying to make society more just.  An excellent example of such engagement is found in the work done by Mennonite Central Committee, an organization which I have had the privilege of working for and have blogged about here.

It is important to understand that when Mennonite groups engage with culture they are not behaving in a way that contradicts any of their fundamental principles.  This is because isolationism is not an ultimate goal of Anabaptism but is rather, in my opinion, a by-product of the heavy persecution which the founders of Anabaptism faced combined with the Anabaptist understanding of separation of church and state.  At the time of the Reformation, Anabaptists originally attempted to reform from within the church but were pushed out by the various powers.  Upon being removed they formed their own communities in which they tried to live according to the principles of Scripture.  Unfortunately the church was not content with merely removing them from the church as they saw these Anabaptists as a threat to their political and church structures and so they were killed.  Persecution of course, has the effect of causing communities to clam up and look inward for the purpose of survival.

In regards to the separation of church and state, Anabaptists believe that they are citizens in two separate societies:  the church and civil society (i.e. the state).  Early Anabaptists believed that the realm of state exists in order to provide order and stability.  Menno Simons (the founder of “Mennonites”) argued that the leader of the state ought to be free to use any force (short of death) to maintain law.  In this way, the state for Mennonites functions as sort of a lowest common denominator of morality.  It is supposed to meet the basic needs of its people but is not where Mennonites stake their ultimate identity.  For Mennonites the church is a group of people who believe in Jesus and wish to follow the ethics he laid out.  It is in the context of this community, therefore, that Mennonites act out their virtues.

Menno Simons

Menno Simons

Fast forward to the present North American context and you can see how these factors inform the current practice of Anabaptist groups.  Thankfully persecution no longer exists meaning Anabaptists are free to practice their religious beliefs in their community.  Also the powers of the state are no longer “religious” but secular.  This means that the state does not try to meet the needs of any one “special interest group” (Christian, atheist, Jewish, etc) at the expense of others but rather appeals to meet the most basic needs of all.  Thus people who belong to specific religious groups—including Anabaptists—are able to participate in the state but do so not to further the particular goals of their special interest group per se but rather to promote the “lowest common denominator” goals of the state.  However it is also true that there are issues in which an overlap between the concerns of society and the concerns of a particular religious group may exist.  In the case of Mennonite Anabaptists, issues of social justice such as universal health care, foreign aid, and sustainable development fall under this category and so explain why on they tend to be noticeably involved in such issues.  However Mennonites tend to shy away from issues which other Christian groups get involved in like Christian prayer in public schools because they see it as a confusion of the two categories of church and state.

One of many "water projects" completed by MCC

One of many “water projects” completed by MCC

What this means is that it is misleading to describe Anabaptists as isolationist.  Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites remain committed to participation in the state through their understanding of church and state.  Mark Tooley and others need not worry, there is no Mennonite takeover in the works, no conspiracy, or secret agenda.  We Mennonites are just doing what we always wanted to be able to do:  behave in the ways appropriate to the church in the context of the church and in ways appropriate to the state in the context of the state.

Must Religion bring Armageddon: Re-appropriating the Separation of Church and State.

Some time ago I wrote a blog which outlined why I believe the metaphors used to describe the relationship between citizens and their government have serious implications for how people believe the state should function.  There I contrasted two common metaphors:  mechanistic and organic.  ‘Mechanistic’ metaphors suggest that the state should be viewed as a social-contract.  The view believes that the state is to function as the public sphere and is to legislate a lowest common denominator of morality.   Conversely organic metaphors suggest that members of society are bound  ‘naturally’.  Organic metaphors tend to suggest that the legislation of the state should resemble the ‘ideal’ status of morality as much as possible.  Furthermore ‘organic’ views of the state suggest that the good of the state takes precedence over the good of individuals.

Judging by several recent newspaper columns it seems as though the significance of this dynamic has come home to roost in Canada.  For instance, Jane Taber wrote a thought provoking article in yesterday’s Globe & Mail.  The article draws attention to the latest spat between the Conservative government and the CBC.  According to the Conservatives, the CBC is attempting to divide Canadians by emphasizing the (‘evangelical’ Christian) religious affiliations of several prominent members of the Conservative government and thereby effectively creating a “faith war”.  Meanwhile the National Post’s website has run a column by Don Martin which summarizes the ideas behind Marci McDonald’s recently released book:  The Armageddon Factor.  The book highlights various maneuvers of the Conservative government which suggests that Harper’s Conservatives are trying to get into bed (without anyone else knowing it!) with the religious right.  Some notable maneuvers include raising the age of sexual consent to 16, having a Chief of Staff who is pro-life, cutbacks to feminist groups and gay pride parades even while providing additional funds for faith-based colleges (on this last point I cannot resist pointing out that Regent College–a world class faith-based graduate school will cost a student about 2.5 times more per year than someone working on a research-based graduate degree across the street at UBC).

What I find fascinating about these stories is not so much that Harper is trying to please the religious-right of Canada (really?  just figuring this one out now?) but rather the tendency of Canadians to think that it is inherently negative for religious convictions to be brought into the public sphere (see the “reader comments” on the Globe link for examples).  The irony of course is that opponents of the political agenda of the religious right often hold to a twisted vision of secular liberalism which attempts to prescribe its own set of values on the masses.  For example, in a previous blog I cited the tendency of certain secular liberal groups to prioritize diversity over individual rights.  What I would like to suggest is that the problem in Canadian politics is not bringing religion (Christian or otherwise) or some other worldview to the public sphere but rather a group’s attempt to legislate their prescribed version of morality for all Canadians.  To explain why this is the problem requires a closer look at the meaning and significance of social-contract.

Social-contract theory suggests that the state exists to promote the well-being of its members.  The idea is that a group of otherwise independent groups and/or individuals come together to find common or public space based on the belief that this space will allow them to flourish better off than they could individually (health-care, infrastructure, protection of private property through police force are all appropriate examples).  In this model the public space exists for the benefit of the individual people/sub-groups—in contrast to say the former Soviet Union where the individual was to serve the state.  In social-contract societies individuals/groups must bring their particular identifying markers such as religion, ethnicity, orientation, or sex to the public sphere.  This is for at least two reasons:

  1. The state will not be able to allow particular groups to flourish if it is not aware/does not understand their particular needs/desires.
  2. If groups/individuals are prevented from bringing their particular identifying markers to the shared space then the contract metaphor has been forsaken and is replaced by a particularly bland, ignore-the-differences  ‘organic’  understanding of the state a la France? Quebec?).

That being said, separation of church and state (and indeed separation of any particular group and state) still needs to occur in the sense that particular groups need to recognize the existence and legitimacy of others who have ‘signed on’ to the contract who do not share their particularities.  Special interest groups which neglect to do so are deserving of harsh criticism since their actions attempt to undermine the very purpose of social-contract.

To be clear I am not at all suggesting that debate over what is the highest good should be abandoned.  In fact, as the very existence of this blog suggests, I am an advocate for the public discussion of virtue, religion, etc.  However as a Mennonite I am also painfully aware that the attempt to legislate the highest good of a particular group often has morally reprehensible results—the drowning of Anabaptists in 16th century Switzerland, the forced exile of Menno Simmons from Holland, or the mass-killings of 20th century Russian-Mennonites by the Bolsheviks are more than enough examples for me to remember what happens when we confuse categories.  This is especially true in the ‘global village’ where there is nowhere left for refugees to run to look for a tolerant nation.  In this context the prophetic words from the Eagles’ song “The Last Resort” come to mind:

There is no more new frontier,

We’ve got to make it here.