The Lesson of Indiana

The outrage in the wake of the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act — directed not just at Christians, but at truth and the facts of the matter — makes it clear that as gays are welcomed out of the closet, Christians (along with Muslims and conservative Jews) are being shoved into it.

I spent a long time on the phone last night with a law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools. This professor is a practicing Christian, deeply closeted in the workplace; he is convinced that if his colleagues in academia knew of his faith, they would make it very hard for him. We made contact initially by e-mail — he is a reader of this blog — and last night, by phone. He agreed to speak with me about the Indiana situation on condition that I not identify him by name or by institution. I do know his identity, and when he tells me that he is “well-informed about the academy and the Supreme Court,” I assure you that from where he sits, and teaches, and from his CV, he is telling the truth.

I will call him Prof. Kingsfield, after the law professor in The Paper Chase.

What prompted his reaching out to me? “I’m very worried,” he said, of events of the last week. “The constituency for religious liberty just isn’t there anymore.”

Like me, what unnerved Prof. Kingsfield is not so much the details of the Indiana law, but the way the overculture treated the law. “When a perfectly decent, pro-gay marriage religious liberty scholar like Doug Laycock, who is one of the best in the country — when what he says is distorted, you know how crazy it is.”

“Alasdair Macintyre is right,” he said. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off, but in slow motion.” What he meant by this is that our culture has lost the ability to reason together, because too many of us want and believe radically incompatible things.

But only one side has the power. When I asked Kingsfield what most people outside elite legal and academic circles don’t understand about the way elites think, he said “there’s this radical incomprehension of religion.”

“They think religion is all about being happy-clappy and nice, or should be, so they don’t see any legitimate grounds for the clash,” he said. “They make so many errors, but they don’t want to listen.”

To elites in his circles, Kingsfield continued, “at best religion is something consenting adult should do behind closed doors. They don’t really understand that there’s a link between Sister Helen Prejean’s faith and the workd she does on the death penalty. There’s a lot of looking down on flyover country, one middle America.

“The sad thing,” he said, “is that the old ways of aspiring to truth, seeing all knowledge as part of learning about the nature of reality, they don’t hold. It’s all about power. They’ve got cultural power, and think they should use it for good, but their idea of good is not anchored in anything. They’ve got a lot of power in courts and in politics and in education. Their job is to challenge people to think critically, but thinking critically means thinking like them. They really do think that they know so much more than anybody did before, and there is no point in listening to anybody else, because they have all the answers, and believe that they are good.”

We have passed a tipping point. It’s not even a post-Christian culture anymore, it’s openly anti-Christian. Having gained the upper hand, the Social Justice Warriors feel free to display the same intolerance they’ve long accused Christians of holding. They have no intention of being satisfied with a seat at the table; they want to break the table up for kindling and light a bonfire.

The ugliness of the reaction to the law is evidenced by the raw hatred directed at a pizza shop in a town of 2300 people. The owner truthfully answered a reporter’s question, and for it — thanks a a small-market news editor’s decision to blow up her response into a story fabricated out of nothing — has closed the doors of the restaurant. A female golf coach at an Indiana high school has been suspended for going to Twitter to ask volunteers to help her burn down the shop.

This is the face of tolerance and social justice in 21st century America. We’d better get used to it. More is coming.

We also need to get better about making a case for the protection of religious liberty in this country. Contrary to public belief, the law in Indiana is not all about gay marriage. But we have reached a point in American history where sexual autonomy very nearly trumps the First Amendment.

One other thing: The public outrage triggered by the Indiana law is not an example of reason responding to bigotry cloaked in religion. As I noted above, American is not so much post-Christian as anti-Christian. Our leftward shift in morality is the result of the paganization of America. The tide won’t be turned at the ballot box.

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