Critics of Religion

Ross Douthat wants more candor from religion’s critics and detractors:

It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.

It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.

This may be overstating things a bit.  I don’t know what circles Ross Douthat frequents, but I can say that whenever I examine religious objections to contemporary secular morality, such as in my previous two posts, the critical responses I receive are mostly facade-free, perfectly frank moral objections to the religious teachings on the table.

For good or ill, some of the world’s religions cling to old moral frameworks and principles, notably in matters of sexuality, putting them at odds with some contemporary moralities on a few key hot button issues.  Hence the conflict of values I like to analyze.  The critics of religion in my circles are not shy about saying what they really think.  Certainly not here at the League, where religion gets praised for its benefits by some and by others accused of obstructing moral progress and causing moral and physical harm.

Maybe we’re just especially cool around these parts.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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64 Responses

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    “pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued”

    Porn use is down, birth rates are up, divorce rates are down.

    Don’t they have fact-checkers at the NYT?

    • greginak says:

      And for all the hot air about CFA nothing has actually happened and isn’t the circumsision ban in Germany. I’m suprised he left out the War on Christmas.

    • Will Truman says:

      I’m not a big fan of the column as a whole (which I will get to below), but I think he’s more-or-less right about that. It doesn’t matter so much if they are up or down, but that none of this is desirable from a religious perspective and they are indicative, to me at least, that we do not exactly live in a repressed society in the overall.

      On a sidenote, how do we measure pornography? Also, while divorce rates are down, aren’t marriage rates down as well and out-of-wedlock births up? There are things to point to other than our collective iniquity, but family breakdown remains a concern from my perspective.

      • Kolohe says:

        A better measure is teenage birthrates, I think. (i.e. it doesn’t include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for most of the time they’ve been together)

        They’re down, at at least over the decade before the recession started
        (page 12 figure 5

        • Will Truman says:

          Disagree. Bran and Angelina are living in sin, from the religious perspective. That might be preferable to a complete oopsie, but still indicative of a problem.

          • Kolohe says:

            A problem for whom? For their dozen(?) kids that have two adult figures in their lives? For a five year old, wouldn’t it really be a distinction without a difference?

          • Will Truman says:

            A problem for those who believe that children should not be born out of wedlock, period. That includes the would-be puritans, for the most part.

            For my own part, a cohabitating couple having a kid together is preferable to a teenager having a kid by some random dude by a freakin’ mile. But the stability is a serious issue.

            (Incidentally, one of the reasons I support gay marriage is that I want the children of gay couples to be raised in a married household. My views on marriage still tend towards the conservative, at least by League standards.)

            Regarding your link below, how much is much? Does it say? I would prefer not use one of my NYT views, if you still have it open or remember off the top of your head.

          • Will Truman says:

            BTW, thank you *so much* for the link to that PDF. That’s awesome.

      • Kolohe says:

        also headlines will say stuff like Out-of-Wedlock Birthrates Are Soaring, U.S. Reports” which of course Heritage and Focus on the Family and everyone else will latch onto but

        Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34.

        Much of the increase in unmarried births has occurred among parents who are living together but are not married, cohabitation arrangements that tend to be less stable than marriages, studies show.

        Ok fair enough on the less stable, but that’s still a world of difference than a totally absentee father. (and it doesn’t really say the magnitude of the delta of the instability – and you’re starting from a baseline 40-ish% divorce rate anyway)

        And I can’t say I’m worried about a crisis of unmarried 32 year olds having kids.

    • NewDealer says:

      Ross writes op-ed. I imagine this gives him freer range.

    • Kazzy says:

      How much of our “porn saturation” is the result of puritanical beliefs, especially around sex and nudity?

      • Will Truman says:

        I suspect it actually has little difference either way. With the age of the Internet, absent a CPVPV (and maybe even then), I don’t think cultural iniquity or puritanism have all that much effect.

        • Kazzy says:


          This is how I think of it…

          I have parents, many of whim are nominally religious at best, who insist I shouldn’t use the word penis with kids…. We should say weewee or peepee or something that is not actually the anotomical term. They think there is something inappropriate and dirty about the word penis. As such, there are kids who grow up thinking the word “penis” is a naughty, dirty word. Which is why they laugh when using it in middle school health while the adults squirm. We also have folks who think a child should never see a breast until they’re 35. American society has a lot of hangups about sex. These hangups and anxieties mean manu don’t have healthy opportunities to learn about it and understand it, leading to some of thr odd behaviors we eventually exhibit around it.

          Compare it to drinking… American kids and young adults binge drink in a way not seen elsewhere. We also have one of the highest drinking ages. The restriction makes it taboo, therefor interesting to young people and something ultimately consumed in atypical, often unhealthy ways.

          Mind you, I don’t think porn is bad (especially if you read the reports that show how porn lowers sexual violence rates). But I do think its omnipresence is a part of us making sex and sexuality and the human body something that should not be talked about, especially for young people. Technology helps, too… A ton. But only at meeting a need that already existed.

          • Will Truman says:

            Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Religious Police.

            I get where you are coming from, but I just don’t think it applies to pornography. I think pornography taps into something extremely basic in human nature and is a relatively broad category.

            Binge drinking (where I believe we are on the same page) is a more specific kind of drinking. If you normalized alcohol consumption, I don’t think the result would be less of it. I think the result would be a change in consumption patterns.

          • Kazzy says:


            I suppose I’m thinking less of pornography itself and more of the broader “the sky is falling because of all the blowjobs” rhetoric. I agree that pornography and its natural bedfellow masturbation are an inherent part of the human condition. While I doubt there is reliable data on the subject, I’d be curious how masturbation rates in America compare to those elsewhere.

          • Glyph says:

            I’d argue this is an area where the US remains competitive.

          • Kazzy says:

            I know i’m doing my part…

      • Jaybird says:

        What culture do you think we should be comparing the culture in the US to?

        I have no idea which countries would qualify as more “open-minded”. Sweden? Denmark?

  2. NewDealer says:

    My general experience is that the more hardcore the atheist, the more strict their religious upbringing.

    I know several people who are hardcore Dawkins styled atheists. Most of them seem to have grown up in extremely strict Christian Fundamentalist households. The type of households featured in the documentary Jesus Camp. Households where kids are shown scary propaganda videos.

    These friends are occasionally frustrating because they refuse to see that religion can be used for social justice and is not all about scaring kids. I very patiently try to explain that social Justice Catholicism and Reform Judaism (or all Judaism) is nothing like their upbringing but they seem unconcerned to make the distinction.

    My Hebrew education was nothing at all like what my friends went through. So while I am very secular and if push came to shove would air on the side of saying there is no God*. I certainly can see religion being a source for good and am proud of my Judaism.

    That being said, Douthat once again seems to be hypenventlating. What is a pornography soaked culture? One in which porngraphy exists? Sex sells. Sex has always sold. There has never been a time when sex did not sell. I was at a Museum exhibit in Stockholm and there was a painting from around the time of the 30 year war. The painting featured a nun on her hands and knees with her habit riding up so you could see her vagina and anus. The point of the painting was to be anti-Clerical and pro-Protestant propaganda but also to work as pornography. We have pornography from thousands of years ago. Society has not seemed to collapsed. Though those cultures had their chicken littles as well.

    *I certainly don’t think that the Torah was written by God and handed to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was written by humans and as such deserves to be studied and followed like philosophy. Some parts are beautiful and moving, others are irrelevant to the modern age. My more strident atheist friends say this is me merely refusing to give up the ghost.

    • Kimmi says:

      It’s all the coverage on the massacre in Colorado.
      … or were we not talking about disaster pornography?

    • Morat20 says:

      Former believers tend to be angry. They feel lied to. it takes some time to fade. Sometimes it never does.

      It’s this big thing, this critical thing that’s supposed to be a core part of your life. That’s a core part of everyone around you’s life. And then you see through it. You doubt, perhaps you just realize it’s all smoke and mirrors. Things you’d prefer to be true, but aren’t.

      Sometimes they’re angry because they feel they’ve been fooled and lied to (and someone coming out of, say, a church that believed in Young Earth Creationism discovering geology tends to). Sometime’s they’re just angry at God for not existing.

      Most atheists, however, are quiet. We look just like everyone else. 🙂 Except we sleep in Sundays.

      • NewDealer says:

        How many people attend religious services on a regular basis?

        Being a blue-state, urban person, most of the people I know are secular in effect even if they do describe themselves as believers. So they tend to sleep-in on weekends regardless. Or go to brunch and read the Sunday Times.

        This might be yet another area where my NYC-suburban upbringing and San Francisco living keeps me in a bubble. I think of people as being largely not churchgoers and also that there is a lot of self-reporting. AKA as lying going on to pollsters. People say what they think makes them sound good, not the truth.

      • NewDealer says:

        Also, I would be angry if my religion pulled stunts like this as well. This seems really fucking insane to me. Like certifiably nuts:

  3. Andrew says:

    “Say what you really think”

    Translation: “Your approach doesn’t work for the vitriol I would like to spew, so hold on a minute while I readjust your position.”

    There, doesn’t that feel better?

    • Ryan Noonan says:

      Yeah, the question-begging here is a thing to behold.

      • NewDealer says:

        Isn’t that his specialty?

        I think Ross D as kind of a tragic figure. He is obviously very smart but he pulls off some impressive feats of cognitive dissonance.

    • MikeSchilling says:

      You know what I really hate about liberals, beisdes the fact that they want to put people like me in concentration camps where the men would be tortured, the women gang-raped, and the children indoctrinated into their evil, Satanist ways? It’s the ridiculous lengths they go to to claim victimhood.

      • Rodak says:

        He said, loudly proclaiming his victimhood (and that of all people like him) at the hands of the very people who invited “people like him” into the club.

  4. Ryan Noonan says:

    It’s not enough for some folks that other folks disagree with them. It must be because some folks really just can’t stand other folks.

    • Rodak says:

      @ Mike Schilling — What is it that needs elucidation? You claim the victimhood of being threatened with annihilation at the hands of “liberals.” Elsewhere you speak of your pride in being Jewish. I note first that neither the Nazis nor the Bolsheviks were “liberals.” I also note that it was liberals–certainly not conservatives–who worked against anti-Semitic discrimination in this country. I went to the University of Michigan. For many years one of Michigan’s nicknames was “Jew U.” This was because Michigan had no restrictions, or quotas, with regards to the matriculation of Jewish students. So many Jews, who otherwise might have attended Ivy League schools, which were, however, restricted, came to Michigan, which had one of the finest libraries of any public institution in the nation. (Our sister school, Michigan State, was at that time nicknamed “Moo U.” because of its excellent agricultural program.) So why you see liberals as a threat, with yourself as their victim, eludes me completely. Perhaps YOU would care to elucidate?

      • MikeSchilling says:

        Glad to elucidate. I’m proud to call myself a liberal, and my comment was such heavy-handed sarcasm, pointed at people like Douthat whose extreme, lifelong privilege doesn’t prevent him from claiming to be a victim, that I didn’t expect anyone to miss it.

        • Rodak says:

          Sorry, Mike. I guess I just don’t know you well enough to have been certain what you were getting at with those remarks. One meets all kinds of sufferers from cognitive dissonance on blogs–nothing can be taken for granted. I’m very happy to own the red face I’m now sporting due to my embarassing failure of insight into your inflection. Please accept my sincere apology.

  5. Will Truman says:

    For the reason that Andrew touches on, I can’t say that I agree with the piece as a whole. To the extent that anti-religious views color someone’s views of this debate or that, it’s for the best that we stick to the merits of each side rather than get into who doesn’t like whom. By and large, I extend this perspective to other debates (those with racial or gender components, for instance). I’m not 100% on this, but I think it’s best as a general rule.

    Having said that, the anti-Catholicism during the contraception debate was noticeable. There were a lot of good arguments set forth by those who felt that the religious institutions needed to provide for contraception regardless of their affiliation (and indeed, I was convinced), but the most agitating arguments were references to the child abuse scandal and besmirching the church in general. I’m not saying the church should be above besmirching, but it lent me to the view that, for some at least, this was not just about whether a relatively small percentage of workers might have to take care of their own contraceptive needs.

    Beyond that, there is a lot of anti-religious talk out there. Including but not limited to the Catholic Church. There is a lot of not just disagreement or criticism of the faith, but mockery of it. That sort of thing gets in the way when trying to argue that “No, it’s nothing against your church of your beliefs, it’s entirely about the merits of the disagreement.”

    Perhaps Douthat thinks that if people were more outspoken, we’d have a better idea of who isn’t being guided by this animus. That wasn’t the impression I got from his piece. My view is that… let’s assume that they’re not unless they let us know that they are. The thing about people who have animus towards the people they are debating with… they tend to let you know.

    • MikeSchilling says:

      A few points:

      I understand what you’re saying, but if you pointed at the really awful racist things people have said and written about Obama, Douthat would be among the first to point out that that doesn’t invalidate all the good reasons to oppose his policies.

      If you want to compare the anti-Catholic animus that might have been revealed with the number of people who defended calling someone they disagreed with a slut and a whore, I don’t think the anti-contraception side comes out with a moral victory.

      While I don’t agree with the anti-circumcision activists (I’m Jewish myself, and have no regrets about having been circumcised or having had my son circumcised), I’ve never detected any anti-Semitic or anti-Judaism animus from them. If there are any who don’t feel that an adult should be completely free to undergo circumcision as a religious rite, I’m unaware of them.

      • Will Truman says:

        I understand what you’re saying, but if you pointed at the really awful racist things people have said and written about Obama, Douthat would be among the first to point out that that doesn’t invalidate all the good reasons to oppose his policies.

        Agree. And in neither case does it in fact negate the good reasons. My primary disagreement with Douthat is that Douthat is essentially asking for the waters to be muddied by who-dislikes-whom, which is to my mind a distraction.

        If you want to compare the anti-Catholic animus that might have been revealed with the number of people who defended calling someone they disagreed with a slut and a whore, I don’t think the anti-contraception side comes out with a moral victory.

        Well, my main point is simply that we shouldn’t laugh off suggestions that there was anti-Catholic animus involved. If only to be more thoughtful of how such thoughts are expressed in the future. I could give similar advice to the right on any number of things, except that it would be much more pointed.

    • Kazzy says:

      Can’t the same be said of religious advocates? Some supposed staunch defenders of the 1st sought government intervention for Park51. There love of religion is often limited to their own.

      • Will Truman says:

        Certainly, though anti-Park51 people are more likely to be open about it. They didn’t argue against Park51 on the basis of traffic congestion.

        I’m not arguing that Catholics, or the religious, are uniquely subject to this. Just that they are not immune (and that this sort of thing is quite relevant to the people involved).

  6. Burt Likko says:

    Hey, Ross Douthat. You want to know what I really think?

    I think claiming that atheists believe that the exercise of religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that atheists want to use the levers of power to bend religous people to atheists’ will, is so gross and obviously false an overstatement of what all but the most radical and bizarre of atheists really want, that it raises an inference in my mind that the author of such a mischaracterization is engaged in a subconscious gyration known to psychologists as “projection.”

    It’s difficult to say what atheists want politically because all they have in common with one another is a shared lack of belief int he existence of the supernatural. But if athiestss can be characterized as wanting something from the government with respect to religion, it’s that the government be neutral about matters of religion and faith. Very few atheists I know want the government to encourage religious people to abandon their faiths; very few atheists want the government to endorse atheism. Nearly all of them understand that people have to be free to decide that sort of thing for themselves.

    You want a conversation with a non-religious person about politics and use of government power, Ross? Okay. I don’t presume to speak for other non-believers, but I will speak for myself. What I want, as a non-religious American citizen, is for the government to refrain from endorsing religion. What that means in particular circumstances may not always be clear, but a few things are. And those situations are ones in which it is the religious, not the skeptical, who have attempted to use the levers of governmental power to impose their will on others.

    So I say that neutrality about religion means teaching science in science class, not creationism under any of its assumed aliases.

    I say that neutrality about religion means not using government resources (time, land, buildings) to encourage people to pray, in the form of using public monuments to display religious symbols, the valuable time of legislative and executive assemblies to engage in sectarian prayer, or the incorporation of references to the divine in mandatory official oaths.

    Neutrality about religion means not giving static to government employees, like members of the military, who do not adhere to some version of the dominant faith. Itmeans making government facilities available to non-religious social organizations on the same terms that they are made available to churches.

    Neutrality about religion means not using public money to subsidize proselytizing, like the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it have done through what is presently called the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships.

    And neutrality about religion means not writing your particular religion’s definition of marriage into law. Other religions might define marriage differently than yours, did that ever occur to you? Maybe the government needs to have its own, non-religious reasons for its own legal definitions of marriage.

    So if you’re trying to engage non-religious people on political issues and the use of political power, Mr. Douthat, I hope that when thus engaging, you will bear in mind that the failure to endorse religion is not the same thing as suppressing it.

    You want know what else I think, Ross Douthat? (You did ask, after all.) I think that in your column, what set you off is local politicians granstanding against Chick-fil-A based upon the religious and political beliefs of one of its owners. The politicians who have done that are Rahm Emmanuel (who happens to be Jewish) and Ron Menino (who happens to be Catholic) and maybe Edwin Lee (I have no idea what religion he is but I suspect he’s Christian of some denomination and if he doesn’t want to say in public that would be his business). So what you’re angry about is not the result of non-religious people engaged in religious activism. If what you want is a conversation, let’s move the focus of that to why you are picking on non-religious people when they aren’t the ones doing what you think is objectionable?

    Someone with more standing than I to be aggrieved by the public statements of the Chick-fil-A guy has roundly condemned local politicians grandstanding against the business based upon the religious and political beliefs of its owners. I can’t say that non-religious people either agree or disagree with this stance, because here, I don’t presume to speak for non-religious people. But I do agree with this stance — a stance that is roughly congruent with yours, Mr. Douthat’s.

    Which is why I don’t understand at all why you’re taking a swing at people like me.

    • Burt Likko says:

      Among several typos in the above, I should have edited: “…what you’re angry about is not the result of non-religious people engaged in religious political activism.” Just so we’re clear.

    • Darwin says:

      Douthat doesn’t that that it’s atheists or non-believers who are at fault, he attacks people he attempt to use the law to penalize people for exercising their religion. This can (and often is) done by members of one religious group to another, or even members of a religious group to their own co-religionists, as when many American Jews sided with FDR’s New Deal legislation even when it was used to outlaw aspects of Kosher butchering practice. That was still an example of restricting the freedom of religion even though it was Jews and Christians restricting more observant Jews with no atheist involvement.

      • Burt Likko says:

        I’m not sure that’s 100% right, Darwin. Here’s where Douthat makes his leap from policies he disfavors to the kind of people who espouse them:

        To the extent that the H.H.S. mandate, the Cologne ruling and the Chick-fil-A controversy reflect a common logic rather than a shared confusion, then, it’s a logic that regards Western monotheism’s ideas about human sexuality — all that chastity, monogamy, male-female business — as similarly incompatible with basic modern freedoms.

        Douthat is targetting people who reject “Western monotheism,” or more narrowly, people who reject the sexual ethics taught by “Western monotheistic” religions. There are only three monotheistic religions of any significance that are viably practiced in the world today: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

        (An aside: I think it’s safe to say that “Western monotheism” is a polite way of excluding Muslims from this simultaneously favored-yet-simultaneously-under-attack category of religious belief. After all, Douthat thinks that it’s good that “…We do not allow people to exercise beliefs that require, say, forced marriage or honor killing.” I submit for your consideration that “honor killing” is dog-whistle code for “the barbaric practices of Muslims.”)

        Douthat goes on to offer a ridiculous example about worshipping Aztec gods but since that is a dead religion, the correct response to the example is “get real, Ross.” So who are the people who are not “Western monotheists”?

        There are negligible numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists, Ba’haists, and Shintoists holding any influence of any kind over the creation and implication of public policy in the United States, and at best a trivial number of Muslims. So what kind of person is even left about whom Douthat might realistically be complaining? Scientologists? No, by process of elimination, we’re left with the non-religious. The secular, atheist, and agnostic people out there who have relatively recently found their voices in the political and cultural sphere. I suspect he’s guilty of equating the non-religious with the anti-religious, and if challenged he’d say that he was only talking about the latter.

        Also note that nowhere in the article does Douthat use the words “liberal,” “left,” or even “Democrat.” Granted, since Douthat indulges in the use of code here and there, that may not be dispositive, and a reference to the “Obama White House” may code for “liberals in power.” But it sounds to me like “Obama White House” or “Obama Administration” means exactly what it sounds like on the surface.

        • Darwin says:

          I think that reading only holds if one is intent on holding Douthat to be saying something which, on the face of it, doesn’t make sense, and which also isn’t all that in keeping with Douthat’s writing in general. (I’m assuming familiarity with Douthat’s writing on religion in America, if that’s lacking then I can see how it’s easy to make a mistake reading this column only with certain presuppositions, though I still think that would be a misreading.)

          Rather than some super-secret scary “dog whistle”, I think what Douthat is simply saying there is that Western monotheism (by which I would actually take him to mean all three Abrahamic religions: Islam is no less ‘western’ in its origins than Judaism and Christianity) has traditionally defined marriage and sexual morality in certain ways, and that these definitions are increasingly seen by modern inhabitants of America and Europe as threats to civilization and a just society. This isn’t at all incompatible with the fact that the majority of people in the West holding these opinions are at least nominal Christians.

          I think you’re reading a controversy into this piece which simply isn’t Douthat’s topic in it.

  7. Darwin says:

    I think it’s important to look at the overall flow of Douthat’s argument. He’s not saying, “You guys clearly hate us, so you should just admit it and stop lying.”

    His argument is roughly:

    – In our constitution we claim to support the “free exercise” of religion, which means not just allowing people to think what they like or worship how the like, but allowing them to live out their religious beliefs.

    – We restrict the above only when we believe that someone acting on a religious belief (say, a belief in the necessity of human sacrifice) would constitute a major threat to human dignity and civilization.

    – Recently, Western liberals have in several high profile ways launched and/or supported restrictions or penalties against people living according to their religious beliefs (banning circumcision, defining sufficient health care coverage in such a way as to make it impossible for Catholic employers to both follow their religion and provide approved health care plans to their employees, denying business licenses to a company based on its chief executive expressing unpopular religious opinions)

    – Therefore, liberals should either openly make the case that these religious beliefs/practices are so socially evil that we should overrule religious freedom in banning them, or they should stop claiming to believe in the free exercise of religion and admit to practicing religious discrimination. (Or perhaps the most preferred, though unspoken, option: they should see the error of their ways and be willing to accept a pluralistic society even when that means allowing people they don’t like to live unmolested by the law.)

    • Jesse Ewiak says:

      I think the thing is, that you have a right to freely exercise your religion until it begins to hurt other people. As a godless commie, I don’t care if my boss is Catholic, Muslim, Rastafarian, or Jedi as long as that doesn’t effect my pay, benefits, and so on.

      Same thing with society in general. Even on the evil Balloon Juice, both Menino and the alderman in Chicago have been called idiots for the Chick-fil-A thing. OTOH, yes, I’m sorry, if you own a business that is in the greater society like a hospital, you have to follow the rules of society, even if they disagree with your tenets. I mean, it’s nice to pick on the birth control issue, but there’s a whole lot in the ACA that an asshole employer could decide he doesn’t want to pay for and suddenly find a “religious exemption” that he believes he should have for reason x.

    • Don Zeko says:

      Well the trouble here is that I, and I imagine most of the other liberals/libertarians/nonbelievers around here, would strenuously disagree with the notion that Douthat’s examples constitute any advocacy of violation of religious liberty by the people he says it does. Rahm et al were roundly and immediately criticized by all sorts of liberals for their idiotic anti-Chick-fil-a stance, I don’t even know who other than Andrew Sullivan is in the anti-circumcision camp, and the health insurance for birth control thing is, to my mind, an example of the religious claiming that they have a right to attempt to coerce others into following their moral teachings.

      • Ryan Noonan says:

        It would appear that the circumcision rate has declined dramatically in recent years – down to 32.5%. With almost 70% of the population opting not to circumcise their babies, it’s actually almost amazing how difficult it is to find anyone prominent who thinks it should be illegal.

        • Will Truman says:

          Give it a generation or two. Even though rates are declining, it’s still seen as a cultural norm and not just something that religious nuts do. As comparatively seculars and post-Christians do it with decreasing frequency, and those that continue to do it are the religious or Jewish (and even they might quit?), we will start seeing a lot more vocal opposition to it. Not enough to ban the practice (there are constitutional issues), but for more important people to start advocating the abolition of it and more people to start denigrating it in a circular fashion.

          • Ryan Noonan says:

            My understanding is that the decrease is driven strongly by two different factors:

            1. Increasing secularization
            2. Immigration, which brings in both non-Christians (i.e., Asians) and Christians who have no strong Jewish tradition (i.e., Hispanics)

            (The American West is where circumcision rates have really just dropped off the cliff.)

            The former seems to work in the direction you indicate, but it’s totally unclear what the latter does. Still, I think you’re right that it’s steel seen as a cultural norm among white people and, to a very large extent, when we talk about policy, that’s who we mean.

          • Ryan Noonan says:

            “steel seen”

            Oh, brother.

          • James Hanley says:

            I think you meant the “steel scene.” At least that’s one way to do circumcisions.

          • Will Truman says:

            I didn’t realize that circs were so uncommon among Hispanics. That changes my calculations considerably. It relies mostly (though not entirely) on #1. Whites, but also the middle-to-upper classes more generally (including Asians to a degree). Immigrants won’t really do it.

    • MikeSchilling says:

      We restrict the above only when we believe that someone acting on a religious belief (say, a belief in the necessity of human sacrifice) would constitute a major threat to human dignity and civilization.

      Nonsense. For person X to claim power over person Y as part of Z’s free exercise of religion is an extraordinary claim, which is (and should be) viewed with skepticism. So when X says that it’s a violation of his religious freedom for Y and Z to marry, or for W to have access to contraception, the clear answer is “B F-ing S”.

  8. Kazzy says:

    Kyle and others-

    Do you think the legitimacy of folks who are explicitly opposed to a particular faith is altered by their own relation to the faith?

    I was raised Catholic and, if asked today, would probably describe myself as a non-practicing Catholic, because of the extent to which Catholicism and the surrounding culture informs/ed my worldview. Atheist would be an accurate term, though I rarely apply it to myself, for whatever reason. As such, my feelings, both positive and negative, toward the RCC are different than towards others. I’m more comfortable offering criticism because I’ve been there, done that. Generally speaking, the criticism is more aimed at the institution and the men and women who comprise it, and less towards the laymen. Parts of the faith I find objectionable, but it is the practice that is really more bothersome (e.g., touring the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s made me wholly unsympathetic to Catholic requests for charitable giving). If someone has had deeply personal interactions with a faith that have turned them against it, is it wrong for them to harbor negative feelings?

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I don’t see why personal interactions with a religion one now opposes would necessarily alter the legitimacy of that opposition. Everyone is situated, “in the world,” relating to it in some mediating way. No one can have a perfectly objective, bird’s eye view of any religion or anything else.

  9. Kolohe says:

    I tell ya, a young white Christian man can’t catch a break in this country. Maybe they should form a club? Ah, better yet, an association.

  10. I just watched Dr. Oz tell everyone about tart cherry juice for arthritis pain. I Googled some from Fruit Advantage

  11. GordonHide says:

    “If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.” –

    If any person or group does not comply with the moral code of conduct prevailing in a society they should expect to be coerced by their fellows to a greater or lesser extent depending on the seriousness of the infraction.

    If members of a particular religion fail to comply with the law or the prevailing moral code of conduct any coercion that occurs is related to the infractions not to respect or its lack for the point of view of the group. The expectation of being treated as something special compared to other citizens is unreasonable even though the state should allow particular liberties for groups where by doing so no other citizens are significantly inconvenienced.