Against Public Atheism
Whatever you think of National Conservatism, Timon Cline’s writeup on the Christian nature of the United States is well worth the read. It begins with a critique of Mark Tooley’s approach to public Christianity:
Tooley warns that coercion, which presumably encompasses culturally cultivated social stigma, never works. As a good son of the Great Awakenings, he insists that only spontaneous revival will root the nation in transcendence. Any hint of state involvement therein, any governmental thumb on the scale, would be counterproductive, making religion forced, stale, or counterfeit. Best to not meddle as to not muddle.
Hypothetically, if national conservatives are “establishmentarians,” then we could call Tooley’s position “public atheism.” This is not to imply that Tooley or Christians like him—and there are many—are disingenuous or embarrassed by Christianity and the Bible. Rather, public atheism is a typical right-liberal posture akin to what used to be called practical atheism.
Public atheism, for our purposes, is marked by suspicion of, and hostility to, whatever smells of formal, state-level recognition and privileging (i.e., honor) of Christianity over and against other faiths on offer. It decries “public Christianity” as an artificial limitation of the realm of possibility. It is, in a word, pluralism, insofar as it features a kind of religious market fundamentalism.
My problem with the above article is that it doesn’t recognize the context in which the Church exists in many of the world’s societies.
For example, Tooley’s concern for an established church to exist in western nations like the US is legitimate because of the democratic setting in which those churches exist. Besides the fact that our democracy is very weak at best, according to my fellow leftists, there is a certain egalitarianism that is implied by the word ‘democracy.’ That is because a democracy is a rule of the people and though majority rule is a large part of any democracy, as Jefferson warned us against in his 1801 Inaugural Address, the majority must take care not to oppress the minority.
Establishmentarianism not only leads to the oppression of some parts of the minority, it works against democracy because it is an instantiation of an ethnocracy where a given ethnic group, rather than the demos, rules the nation to some significant degree. And here, we should note that religion is an ethnicity according to anthropologists.
My fear of establishmentarianism as a Christian is that people will see its oppression or desire to rule over unbelievers before they will hear our preaching of the Gospel. And so establishmentarianism works against carrying out the Great Commission.