Americans, being liberals, believe in freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. It’s a sincere belief. Of course, when you press them, there are limits. ”What if my religion/conscience demands I do ______?” (Insert grossly evil and socially harmful act.) Well, freedom of religion can’t be entirely open-ended. How shall we state the limits? How about this: people can follow their religion/conscience/philosophy as long as it doesn’t involve breaking the law. That’s no good, because it renders freedom of religion meaningless; the Roman martyrs were breaking the law, after all. In practice, the way it works out is that a belief is respected–meaning life is not made intolerable for its adherents–if the majority believes it to be a belief that a reasonable person might hold, even if most of them don’t actually hold it. Yes, I know that liberal philosophers have attempted to find neutral, non-question-begging ways of ascertaining what counts as “public reason”, but the thing can’t be done. We must decide which version of reason is used to evaluate rationality and which epistemic community gets to call itself “the public”. Given this necessity, I actually think the informal rule of what gets tolerated makes a lot of sense.
We Christians have made a grave mistake in ignoring the informal limits of public tolerance. The American Catholic Church, for example, has decided for the past half-century not to make any attempts to convince people of the intrinsic evil of contraception. Apparently making life easier for the clergy is more important than trying to save the 90% of lay Catholics who are headed toward hellfire for regularly committing mortal sin, but that’s material for a different post. The point is that the episcopate assumed that traditional sexual morality would continue to be a respected and tolerated belief even if no effort was made to convince people that the belief is reasonable. And the only way to convince people that a belief is reasonable is by at least trying to convince them that it is true. You may not convince them, but if your arguments have merit, you will probably at least convince them that yours are beliefs for which society should allow room. If all you do is demand respect for your beliefs because of your sincerity, it will make no impression, because a person who is sincere about his beliefs doesn’t go on about his sincerity; he gives arguments for why he holds those beliefs. The liberal majority are not going to accept our beliefs as reasonable if we give them no reasons. Nor should they.
Today, there is a feeling that things are getting much worse for us. It can be a shock looking back at the television shows and movies from my childhood; I notice that even in the 80s and 90s, the cultural conversation about matters of sex, gender, and community was entirely one-sided. Even then, there was no visible defense of natural law positions; the only difference is that now, after so many decades of silence from our side, the majority has decided that there is nothing to be said for our beliefs, that they are irrational animus which not only deserve no respect in law, but should be actively suppressed. Like many other reactionaries, I often fall into the habit of suggesting that the liberals somehow cheated to get their hegemonic position. They propagandize through schools! They propagandize through the movies! Yes, true, but really, isn’t this what one would expect people with sincere convictions to do, tell the truth as they see it in education and art? Shouldn’t we do the same? It’s our own fault if they have the stomach for a fight and we don’t.