What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Things are getting serious in Russia

Russia has a long history of, shall we say, uneasy relations with Protestant Christians. This neither began nor ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. The idea appears to be widespread that non-Russian Orthodox groups are "cults" and that their attempts to make converts are ipso facto illicit. See the brief paragraph on religious freedom in Russia here. See also this article from 1998.

That tension is coming to a head in sweeping legislation against "missionary activities" that just passed the Duma, as reported by the Barnabas Fund.

It appears that the new legislation is worded deliberately vaguely. It is not (I gather) so much that the legislation explicitly says that ordinary conversation in which one promotes one's own faith is prohibited without prior government permission but rather that the legislation has that as an effect, given the vague, broad definition of "missionary activity."

The positively-inclined TASS reports that the legislation outlaws "missionary activity" by groups "whose aims contradict the law," activities that "violate public security and order," "creat[e] obstructions to getting mandatory education," that involve "coercion into ruining families," or "persuasion of individuals to refuse to perform their legally mandatory civic duties."

If you don't find these sweeping phrases ominous, then you have a tin ear for totalitarianism. I conclude based on previous conversations (with those sympathetic to such legislation, by the way) that "coercion into ruining families" is code for children's clubs and ministries that might (heaven forfend) include the children of families who do not already belong to the religious group in question. For that matter, such a phrase could be aimed at any religious group that attempts to evangelize individuals, including adults. (Anybody remember Jesus' words about not bringing peace but a sword?) I can't help wondering if the bit about "mandatory education" indicates that there is a nascent home-schooling movement in Russia. If so, then your religious organization had better not engage in "missionary activity" that promotes it.

In general, this wording is extremely bad and would allow the state to forbid "missionary activity" by any group it did not approve of.

Says the Barnabas Fund,

The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorisation from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present.
There are also restrictions on the extent to which churches can have contact with foreigners; for example, any non-Russian citizen attending a church service would be required to have a work visa or face a fine and expulsion from Russia.
If passed, the extent that this law is implemented will depend on local authorities. However, the bill is vaguely worded and, with a heavily politicised judiciary, could lead to a situation similar to that faced by Christians in the Communist era.

Confirmation of these concerns comes from various translated articles such as this one and this one.

Russia has never really understood religious freedom, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox church itself prefers to live in and encourage a monopolistic society in which all other religious groups, including Christian groups, are regarded with suspicion and contempt and in which this perception is enforced by laws that restrict their abilities to promote and spread their own versions of Christianity.

I make no claim to the effect that a government must be "religiously neutral" in some absolute sense. Obviously, Baal worship with sacrifice of children can and should be illegal. But outlawing the propagation even of heresies such as Jehovah's Witnesses (a group particularly targeted in Russia) is, frankly, ridiculous and bad law. And as for outlawing Baptist vacation Bible school because it "targets" children (a topic on which we had a lively debate some years ago here at W4), I have absolutely no patience with such an idea. While formalizing the concept is admittedly not an exact science, there is such a thing as reasonable religious flexibility and freedom as far as purely religious tenets are concerned. Nobody should be fined for "missionary activity" per se, nor should such activity have to be licensed by the state. Yes, even if it's missionary activity for a theological falsehood.

And it is sheer xenophobia of the most blatant sort for Russia to try to outlaw having a foreigner (gasp) speak to a church or religious body without a work permit. Could such a foreigner be an imam recruiting for terrorist activities? Sure, but if that's who he is, and if you have good evidence that he's a terrorist recruiter, then don't let him into the country in the first place. You may notice that t-e-r-r-o-r-i-s-t i-m-a-m is not the same as B-a-p-t-i-s-t m-i-s-s-i-o-n-a-r-y, even if both happen to be foreigners.

May God give strength and courage to Christians who (unless Putin decides not to sign it) will be victims of persecution under these regressive, oppressive new laws.

Comments (79)

While formalizing the concept is admittedly not an exact science, there is such a thing as reasonable religious flexibility and freedom as far as purely religious tenets are concerned.

You're right, but I am afraid the nut-cases will come out in force to prove you wrong.

One problem, as I see it, is that the fuzzy edge of that "not exact science" runs directly into the fact that government can do and does many things that promote or

discourage various things without actually mandating them or proscribing them. And that for some people, the notion of government even so much as merely helping along one religion by promoting constitutes infringement on everyone else's religion, where for others a failure of government to promote even so much of a "religious" sentiment as a religiously significant moral perspective is fundamentally for government to fail of its purpose. The two groups want two pictures of "government" that almost have no overlap - someone's picture is going to be trashed.

Also as I see it, probably the foremost solution to the problem is to conceive subsidiarity so as to formally approve local governments that explicitly promote one religion, and to have "local" at this juncture to be small enough (mainly, small to medium towns) that virtually anyone who doesn't like living in such a town can move away from it without leaving his county, state or country. And having higher governments explicitly constrained from stepping on local governments actively promoting religion within its own sphere, by (mostly) clear boundaries on what much of belongs to the local governments. For example, to the extent government has ANY role in school education, that role should be almost entirely met at the local town level, with very little input from states, which would allow towns to promote / pay for religious schools.

Ideally, all proselytizing would take place with due measures, using due means and respecting appropriate limits. It impossible to state definitely all the particulars these imply, which is why they are left vague, but here are some examples:

1. Using lies, or even just knowingly using subterfuge and deception, to convince and persuade and convert, should always be out-of-bounds. (Which is not the same as saying it should always be illegal, but it is perfectly reasonable to have laws that touch on EGREGIOUS cases of this sort. There is no universal principle that prohibits all government from speaking to unjust proselytizing that operates through lies, "freedom of speech" or no.)

2. Using heavy doses of Madison Avenue - type appeals to emotions and desires, with the explicit or implicit intent to overwhelm the reason, should be understood to be potentially gravely offensive to the nature of man, whose reason should not depart from the stage when his religion enters. It's not easy to come up with RULES that place appropriate limits on this, but just as an example, tobacco advertising was banned from TV ages ago, on much the same grounds as this (and the next...)

3. It is right and appropriate to expect that children are not to be treated as if they were adults in formulating both custom and law about proselytizing. This does not state a specific limit or constraint, but it implies that there are such, there is behavior that would be inappropriate precisely because the target is a child rather than an adult. Tied to 1 above, using arguments that rely on claims of "facts" that are heavily (and honestly) disputed as to whether they are facts, on children who are too young to have the wherewithal to recognize the disputed claims for what they are, would be a potentially unjust form of proselytizing. In certain contexts, making offers of a concubine / "service slave" to sate one's lust, to a 14-year old boy, as an inducement to join Islam would be an example related to 2 above.

As a qualifier on 3, I would add that any attempt to formulate a policy or rule that would create either social or legal restraints on such behavior would have to be taken with a very important principle in mind: it is right and just and normative for parents to raise their children in their own faith - which is itself "proselytizing" in an important sense. Any rule that would have the effect, or tend to have the effect, or even might seem like it could be used to target parents training their own kids, would probably be a bad rule for that reason alone.

All that said, Russia is an odd place. It has NEVER been a free and open modern country, with settled custom in favor of pluralism. These new attempts to turn the old clock back and to put the cat back in the bag, after 20 years of a much more free-range picture, in a country that was formally atheist only 25 years ago, are very much odd-duck ideas. I suppose that blatant repression can work (it has in the past), but it is hard to see this one working all that well in this case to put one religion on top. To me, it seems much more like a totalitarian spirit using religion as just one more tool to control people.

My immediate concern about your #3 (or perhaps a use others might make of it) is that parents can consent, and even tacitly consent, to their children's being proselytized, and it's not anybody else's business to try to stop that from the outside. (Obviously I'm _not_ including here offering sex to 14-year-old boys or anything like that, which should be illegal on statutory rape grounds in any event.) Here's what I mean by "tacitly consenting" to having one's child proselytized: Susie's mom and dad don't pay a whole lot of attention to what Susie does when she goes to spend the weekend with her school friend, Jody. Perhaps Susie's mom isn't really doing due diligence, but that's her prerogative. Accordingly, Susie is taken to Sunday School with Jody at Jody's church, where she learns what perhaps you and I would deem to be a tendentious set of facts (e.g., facts that are under dispute) concerning various religious bodies, including the one to which Susie's mother and father nominally belong, which set of beliefs Jody's family actively believes and to which they would be happy to convert Susie.

It is my opinion that it would be a *really bad idea* for the government at any level to get involved in saying that Jody's family's church can't have activities at which children like Susie are present--Vacation Bible Schools, Sunday School classes, clubs, etc. Obviously some kind of law that attempted to restrict children's ministries to the children of families already involved in the religion would be less harmful at the township level than at the nationwide level, but I would certainly lobby against it as a citizen at the township level as well. Quite frankly, even if I disagree with the "take" on church history or theology taught at Jody's family's church, any degree of outrage and anger over the fact that Jody's family is inviting and taking Susie along would, to my mind, be over-the-top. Susie's mother and father are responsible for her upbringing, and if they carry out that responsibility by letting her hang out with Jody without asking a lot of questions, and if that means that Susie ends up going to and being "proselytized by" Jody's church, then that is a private matter between the families, just as are a whole host of matters about what music the girls listen to, what movies they watch, etc. Jody's family's fundamentalist church shouldn't be treated as if, to be blunt, they're selling drugs to poor, innocent, unsuspecting little nominally Russian Orthodox (or Catholic, or whatever) children whose parents have no idea what nefarious goings-on are happening. If the children's ministries aren't kidnapping the kids off the streets but are relying on the perfectly _normal_ means by which children are invited to various activities and by which their parents consent, even implicitly, to their going to parties or after-school activities, etc., then that should be sufficient, even if the topic is religious. Indeed, _especially_ if the topic is religious. I daresay Susie will be done far less harm, and maybe even some good, by being taught disputed facts at Jody's church than by watching a movie that implicitly teaches an ardently secularist worldview at some other friend's house!

Tony,

While I'm a big fan of subsidiarity and using "exit" rather than "voice" to solve seemingly intractable political problems when they are related to first principles of how different communities want to live under different moral rules, your proposals raise some obvious questions:

1) What constitutes a lie? Should Protestants be allowed to argue that Luther was (broadly conceived) correct? Catholics (and most Orthodox) would obviously consider many of Luther's theological innovations some manner of lies -- should a Protestant be allowed to argue that Mary was not a perpetual virgin? That the Eucharist is just a symbol? Etc.

2) I'm not sure if you are familiar with Lutheran Satire -- I happen to think their web videos, most of which are aimed at secular folk or heretical sects like Mormons, are quite good. But as the name implies, they use humor and appeal to emotion as well as reason to make their point -- would you ban such videos? I wasn't thrilled with his take on Francis, although parts of it were funny...

3) We are in broad agreement and I suppose if a small town was all Catholic or all Protestant it would be quite easy to avoid a situation where a 14-year old boy has friends of other faiths and might want to join them in a Bible camp where he would be exposed to proselytizing (of a different faith.)

The problem, of course, with Russia is that they don't seem to allow for any Russians to live their lives as Catholics or Protestants within Russia proper. This seems like a basic violation of conscience and a road to tyranny.

I suppose if a small town was all Catholic or all Protestant it would be quite easy to avoid a situation where a 14-year old boy has friends of other faiths and might want to join them in a Bible camp where he would be exposed to proselytizing (of a different faith.)

But if his parents choose to let him go to a Protestant summer camp and he gets proselytized, or vice versa (Protestant parents let a kid go to Catholic summer camp and he gets proselytized), then thaaaaat's the way the cookie crumbles, folks. That's between his parents and the camp, or the people who invited him to the camp, or whatever. It's part of normal life and the normal interactions with people around you who believe differently than you do and might invite your child to an event. It's not up to your city or your state to try to fine the summer camp if, God forbid, some child is present who wasn't already a member of the denomination or if, God forbid, the camp is trying to get your child to receive Jesus as his personal Savior! Quite frankly, I think any such attempted rule is *crazy* and *incredibly* wrong-headed and might even (I'm being very blunt here) cause some souls to go to hell as casualties in a religious turf war where the poorly catechizing, complacent, coercive established church resents the intrusion of the upstart, energetic, proselytizing "sect."

Heck, parents have to contend with all _kinds_ of influences they might or might not want their kids to have, and most of them are a _heck_ of a lot more harmful than a proselytizing religious summer camp! If the parents are concerned about the matter, they should inquire into the kind of summer camp involved, and I'll bet many do, and consider saying "no." It's not like these things are hidden. If my child had a Mormon friend, I sure wouldn't let my kid go to a Mormon camp, and if I were careless enough to do so without inquiring, it would be ridiculous for me to ask the government to fine the camp because it "targeted" a non-Mormon minor.

I guess I really just understand proselytizing, and I don't resent it. If you think your religion is true, it's understandable and legit for you to want to spread it to other people. Christianity _is_ like that. It's the Great Commission. And I really have no problem with child evangelism. In fact, I support it. Not via deliberate deception of parents, of course, but I have no problem at all with "targeting" children when their hearts are likely to be tender to the things of the Lord, even if their parents are unchurched or attend a different church. Naturally, you don't snatch the children away against their parents' wills! But there are natural and unnatural ways to do these things. "Jimmy invited me to Sunday School, mom, can his family pick me up on Sunday?" ought to be more than sufficient. Jimmy's church shouldn't have to present some petty bureaucrat with a signed paper saying that the child's mother understands that this is a (gasp) _Baptist_ Sunday school and consents to his being there, as if the information he might receive is being tagged by the government as _bad stuff_ that parents are likely to _find offensive_ and have to sign off on using an "opt-in" form.

Not to mention the fact that this Russian legislation is far _worse_ even than that. Jimmy's church wouldn't be allowed (if the group is deemed to have "aims contrary to the law" or any of the other vague categories and if the law is enforced in that locale) even to invite a full-grown man to attend or attempt friendship evangelism of an adult over a cup of coffee.

I have to admit that I really have no patience or sympathy with any attempt to create an established church in this "no poaching allowed" sense. None. No sympathy at all. Even if it were my own church. Even if I thought it were infallible. Even outlawing attempted witnessing by a group I deemed heretical.

Quite frankly, even if I disagree with the "take" on church history or theology taught at Jody's family's church, any degree of outrage and anger over the fact that Jody's family is inviting and taking Susie along would, to my mind, be over-the-top. Susie's mother and father are responsible for her upbringing, and if they carry out that responsibility by letting her hang out with Jody without asking a lot of questions, and if that means that Susie ends up going to and being "proselytized by" Jody's church, then that is a private matter between the families,

Lydia, the whole structure of your example is one in which Susie is temporarily put in someone else's hands to act "in loco parentis" for the time being. Susie's parents have the right put that level of trust in other adults, and to approve or leave it up to Jody's parents as how far Susie will go along with Jody. (I certainly always made sure I knew exactly what my kid was doing on Sunday morning for getting to church, and never left it up to chance or whatever.) By acting in loco parentis, of course Jody's parents are deciding for Susie and it isn't any kind of infringement of parental rights for the church to teach its religion to those who show up. That's an "Of Course" result, doesn't even bear hardly a concern: parental rights are present and active in the process just fine.

What constitutes a lie? Should Protestants be allowed to argue that Luther was (broadly conceived) correct? Catholics (and most Orthodox) would obviously consider many of Luther's theological innovations some manner of lies -- should a Protestant be allowed to argue that Mary was not a perpetual virgin? That the Eucharist is just a symbol? Etc.

Jeff, those are fine questions. There is no one single completely satisfactory answer for all situations, but there ARE answers that are sufficient for some cases. The precept I am claiming is mentioned in Dignitatis Humanae, from Vatican II: there are abuses of freedom of speech (and freedom to preach and teach), and lying is one of them. To note, lying includes within the definition KNOWING that what you are saying is untrue, and so Protestants who go around claiming that Catholics worship Mary, when they actually THINK that, are not lying though they are wrong. Obviously disputed points of theology or creeds are disputed, and so are not examples of teaching what you KNOW to be false.

There is nothing strange about the state having a hand in reining in abuses of this sort: libel and slander are actionable wrongs at law, and some kinds of lying are punishable felonies (yelling "fire" in a crowded building where there is no fire). The standards for behavior in lying about religion are still standards about lying: if you provably knew what you were saying was false, "freedom of speech" (or of religion) ought not protect such behavior.

2) I'm not sure if you are familiar with Lutheran Satire -- I happen to think their web videos, most of which are aimed at secular folk or heretical sects like Mormons, are quite good. But as the name implies, they use humor and appeal to emotion as well as reason to make their point -- would you ban such videos? I wasn't thrilled with his take on Francis, although parts of it were funny...

What I have in mind is the sort of thing that would be the practical equivalent of putting a steak in front of a starving man, or (still worse), using drugs to undermine his reasoning or inhibitions (or both: drug the young warriors, give them a feast, send in scads of scantily clad nymphs, and then promise more of the same if they "die for God") - appeals to emotion or appetite that are intended to get a person to act without thought, that are so overwhelming (in the context) to the senses or emotions or appetites as to impose upon them almost an involuntary response. Advertising and packaging that engages the emotions and the sensibilities in order to get a person to attend to the message are simply not in the same category.

My point wasn't about what would be illegal (and thus prohibited) so much as about what is wrong, and has no legitimate claim to be respected on grounds of "freedom to proselytize". Part of the problem with making any such thing illegal is the difficulty of proving that they used emotion/passion appeals with the intent of eliciting reason-free behavior. And another other part, as you imply, is that the impact is very subjective.

I have seen Lutheran Satire, they can be funny. The point about satire, though, is that it engages emotion ALONG with reason, not to replace reason. I am not talking about that sort of thing at all.
Worlds apart. Satire can offend norms of good behavior (such as by ridiculing in a time, place, or manner things that, in that context, ought not be ridiculed so, or by using obscenity), but it's not merely in virtue of satirizing that it is objectionable. Nor in virtue of using humor on a religious topic.

Tony:

All that said, Russia is an odd place. It has NEVER been a free and open modern country, with settled custom in favor of pluralism. These new attempts to turn the old clock back...are very much odd-duck ideas.

Conservative acts are odd-duck? Perhaps it seems weird because you conservatives in the US have never succeeded in 'turning the clock back.

Lydia:

I can't say I understand the Russian background, but as a Protestant it seems reasonable if one chief aim is to block liberalism, theological or otherwise, from entering through Protestantism or Catholicism. It is so incredibly corrosive.

Yeah, GJ, because the _obviously right_ way to stop "liberalism" is to make up broad, vague definitions of a religion's having "aims contrary to the law," to restrict religious meetings to those who already belong to a given religion, and to criminalize private religious conversations by members of groups that are unapproved. Also not to let foreigners speak to religious groups without a work license.

When will you Russian-sympathizers stop with the special pleading? When? It astounds me. Here is a _blatantly_ totalitarian attempt to place arbitrary control of religious content in the hands of bureaucrats, power which could be used, for that matter, in *any* ideological direction, and the first response is, "Oh, I think of Russia as 'conservative', so I really don't have much of a problem with that. This is a conservative act, and they are trying to stop the spread of liberalism."

Frankly, that makes me pretty ill.

If they revive the Gulag and start throwing Jehovah's Witnesses and other putative "cultists" into it, I half expect to hear talk about how bad the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses is and how maybe some of the people being thrown in were "liberals" and how we always needed a Gulag for people who are "spreading liberalism."

Sheesh.

Tony, thanks for the clarification. From a purely practical point of view, I'd tend to think that any sort of "overwhelming the reason" activities that are really cut-and-dried (like your example of offering prostitutes to boys or the example of drug administration) would be outlawable on independent grounds. In contrast, there could be cases where *I* would tend to say that someone is a huckster and a Saruman-type who overwhelms people's reason by lying, bamboozling, and appealing to emotion (hey, we have a major political candidate like that!) but where I would say that nothing really can be done about it, legally speaking. There are unfortunately plenty of semi-mesmeric religious charlatans and prosperity preachers of this kind, but I think that allowing them to exist is a necessary evil. Some of them end up getting in justifiable trouble with the IRS, though... :-)

Similarly with religious lying. Suppose that I have acquired a smoking gun e-mail in which American Preacher Jimmy writes to one of his friends, "I know that it's not really true that in Catholic countries the priests use nunneries as brothels at which to find juicy young girls to satisfy their desires, but I find that ginning up anti-Catholic feelings in my audience really helps to increase their interest in giving money to my evangelistic ministry."

So Preacher Jimmy is lying, and we have hard evidence of that fact. (I'm trying to simplify the case by clearing away questions of what the person knows and doesn't know.) Now, if he named some *particular* monastery or nunnery in, say, Italy, and said this about that monastery, then that corporate entity might have standing to sue him for libel in American courts. At least, that's not wholly implausible, though I'm certainly not an expert in that area of law. All the more so if he named some particular monk, who is an unambiguously private individual! But if he just goes around making sweeping claims, which he knows to be lies, about the licentiousness of monks and nuns in Catholic countries, then I think it's one of those things where it's a good and wise thing in public policy that we allow even such lies legally when they don't cross a "bright line" of constituting defamation, libel, etc.

then I think it's one of those things where it's a good and wise thing in public policy that we allow even such lies legally

I completely agree, Lydia - there are lots and lots of wrong behavior that should not be illegal. And we generally want a pro-freedom stance, that most things are left to lesser forms of "policing" such as social penalties (shame, boycotts, loss of friends, etc) or just plain let alone.

I will note, however, that where the line is to be drawn is dependent on existing culture. 100 years ago, things that today are tolerated as not arising to a legal level would have been abruptly stopped under various indecency and obscenity laws, disturbing the peace, etc. The same principle applies in religious contexts: in an almost universally Protestant (or Catholic) country, some forms of preaching or teaching religion could amount to disturbing the peace (imagine a Savonarola, say, in downtown Oslo). The "pink protest" of some 8 or 10 years ago where a few dozen gays stood up in the middle of a Catholic mass in a Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage was (for legal purposes) treated as little more than a ho-hum event: as long as nobody was seriously hurt, there wasn't considered to be anything for the law to address. Sure, they disturbed the mass, but eventually it all got sorted out, so no harm, no foul, right? But the same protest, done 200 years ago in the cathedral in Madrid, for example, would have been perfectly adequate basis for fairly stiff legal penalties. And rightly so: (a) their rights to express their desire for a church that approves of them has no claim to supercede my right to worship at my church (which they don't wish to belong to) free of disturbance, and (b) advocating a behavior directly contrary to the natural law is per se scandalous, and should be viewed as an affront to lawful society.

Though we ought to tolerate SOME advocacy that is obnoxious to lawful society as the price of our freedoms, there is also rational basis for limits to that toleration. One way to express that is to be clear about what is meant by "rights": tolerating evil (under law) is not done because people have a RIGHT to do evil, but because the law ought to leave people room to make decisions even if that means allowing them to make evil ones. The judgment about which evils to tolerate rests on judging and balancing the evils of state intrusion into small matters versus the evils of allowing small(ish) evils to be perpetrated and perpetuated. It is not based on a principle that the state has no role in judging truth, for there is no such principle (every jury and judge decide truth, every law chooses to affirm one truth at the expense of some other perspective).

The Ukranian Catholic Church has been on the receiving end of Orthodox aggression for quit some time as well.

Lydia writes:

But outlawing the propagation even of heresies such as Jehovah's Witnesses (a group particularly targeted in Russia) is, frankly, ridiculous and bad law. And as for outlawing Baptist vacation Bible school because it "targets" children... I have absolutely no patience with such an idea.

Lydia, that point of view depends on the assumption that becoming a Jehovah's Witness or a Baptist is not damaging either to the young souls in question or to society. But consider the following proposition:

Unless a man hold the Catholic Faith whole and inviolate he will, without a doubt, perish for all eternity.

That was from the dogmatic Athanasian Creed. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Now if that proposition is false, I admit, your opinion could be correct, at least with respect to the individual children in question. However, I think you should admit that your opinion rests on the assumption that the Athanasian Creed and, by extension, the entire Catholic faith are false. And if you're honest, you should also admit that assuming for the sake of argument that the Athanasian Creed is true, then it would necessarily follow that it is your own opinion that is ridiculous.

As for your apparent view that religious liberty can have only a benign effect on society, well, that itself is based on the assumption that things like gay marriage and grown men being granted the right to enter the girls room are not, in fact, a case of the religious-liberty chickens coming home to roost.

Conservative acts are odd-duck? Perhaps it seems weird because you conservatives in the US have never succeeded in 'turning the clock back.

GJ, you need to reflect on what "conservative" means. It refers, at least, to conserving existing customs. Russia had been an officially atheistic country for 70 years, one full life-time more or less. Not everyone was an atheist, of course, but many were. Since the fall of the Communist state, it has been not officially atheistic, but it does not have a state-approved religion. Estimates vary, but some say less than half of the population self-identifies as Russian Orthodox, and of those who do, less than 10% actually go to church regularly.

You can't call it "conserving a custom" for the state to mandate support for certain practices, when (a) nobody alive remembers them being the norm in the country, and (b) when even the people who do consider themselves Russian Orthodox don't actually follow the customs. You might call it "restoring" a custom, and if it is a worthy custom then restoring it is a great idea - to the extent that restoration can be made in the current state of affairs, which are different from what they used to be.

I have no problem with a polity having an official religion, and in so doing giving aid and comfort to one religion at the expense of others - as I made clear above. But "having a state religion" cannot be by sheer fiat of the government, willy nilly, whatever the religious stance of the people already, it needs to be the encapsulation of a de facto socially normative religion into the official policy of the government. And whatever official promotion the state religion is now given, it cannot legitimately do so contrary to the immediately prior state of affairs with respect to other religions, in the name of "conservatism".

You make an interesting point there; one that I find appealing as a traditional conservative.

But I can understand the appeal of the State when one has seen the tradition extirpated. But I do fear it is a dangerour temptation.

Lydia and Tony,

Your respective responses and back and forth has been most edifying. I think we are coming to something of a consensus, with perhaps my own views of the bigger picture questions aligning more toward Tony's.

I would only continue to emphasize that I think an important piece of this puzzle is solved by federalism, local autonomy and real freedom of association. If we truly had strong State's rights in the U.S. and we set aside the thorny issue of the incorporation doctrine for a moment, I could imagine an alternate history of the U.S. with certain states having an official religion or at least laws on the books discouraging certain religions and religious practices and I would be fine with those laws (again, like Tony, I would want them carried out in a less than totalitarian manner.)

But the above is speculative and theoretical -- and all premised on the notion that within a large country there will be plenty of options for believers of all different sorts to live peaceably with one another next to one another. None of this is true in the Russian case and it appears that the Russia Orthodox Church has trouble envisioning itself living beside any other thriving community of faith (as Mr. Moore pointed out is the tragic case in Ukraine.)

I do want to make one last comment to George R --

you do realize of course that European history is not exactly salutary on the subject of religious liberty and promoting peace via State identification with one religious faith? Not to mention the fact that even without a Bill of Rights most of Europe managed to embrace the so-called "gay rights" agenda and in some countries even lead the U.S. on the subject of same-sex "marriage" (like the constitutional monarchy of the Netherlands and Belgium.) I suppose you could counter that all of this is the inevitable price of religious freedom, which those constitutional monarchies also 'foolishly' permitted, but my guess is that places that are holding the line against the gay rights onslaught are doing so for a variety of reasons. After all, when you look at China, India, the Muslim world, Malta (sort of), Uganda, and Rwanda -- it is not clear what exactly they are doing to hold the line, as many of these countries (with the exception of the Islamic ones) permit religious freedom.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church has been on the receiving end of Orthodox aggression for quite some time as well.

The Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukraine has been on the receiving end of persecution from Ukrainian Catholics since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Lydia;

Does the Russian civil state have a right to limit Muslims from evangelizing? I assume you would say yes.

How about other non-indigenous cults like Scientology? Latter Day Saints? Jehovah's Witnesses? Christian Science? Non-Trinitarian Pentecostals? Pacifist Baptist groups? Groups that owe allegiance to a foreign prelate? What criteria do you use to distinguish the right of one group to evangelize, but not another?

Lydia, that point of view depends on the assumption that becoming a Jehovah's Witness or a Baptist is not damaging either to the young souls in question or to society.

George, it doesn't. Believe it or not, it doesn't. My actual opinion on that is that "yes" becoming a JW is damaging to the soul and "no" becoming a Baptist isn't. So that's a split opinion. But my opinion on "letting" people "proselytize" for JW and the Baptists isn't dependent on a premise either way on that question.

As for your apparent view that religious liberty can have only a benign effect on society,

Actually, I didn't say that either, and don't think it. But I do think that when what I mean by "religious liberty" is in question (which, no, has nothing to do with teaching people to build bombs or advocating sacrificing to Baal or such examples), the benign effects outweigh any bad ones. By far, in fact.


Does the Russian civil state have a right to limit Muslims from evangelizing? I assume you would say yes.

No, I wouldn't. I think we should debate Muslims about whether Mohammad was a prophet, not outlaw their arguing for it. (Besides, their arguments are incredibly poor.) *Of course* the state can and should stop them from advocating terrorism, and I'm on record *in general* supporting stopping Muslim immigration, but refusing to let someone come into your country is a far cry from stopping him from advocating a theological proposition once you've let him in. The distinction couldn't be sharper, in fact.

Pacifist Baptist groups?

This would be funny if it weren't so sad. Seriously? Pacifism is supposed to be some reductio of religious liberty advocacy. Yeah, how dangerous. Couldn't *possibly* let *pacifists* engage in proselytism.

The "pink protest" of some 8 or 10 years ago where a few dozen gays stood up in the middle of a Catholic mass in a Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage was (for legal purposes) treated as little more than a ho-hum event

Tony, I'm assuming that they didn't just "stand up" but were chanting and generally interrupting for a period of time, right? Surely this would be readily addressed in terms of trespass and disturbance of the peace on private property, no? But in that case, it could be easily legally addressed in a way that would apply just as much to having a bunch of Baptists interrupt the Mass or a bunch of Catholics interrupt a Baptist service or whatever. (Not that I'd ever heard of the latter's happening. But I'm just giving examples.) Nobody ever said that anybody has a right to walk into the middle of an on-going meeting on private property and disrupt it. As far as I know, there are _existing_ laws that address that pretty handily, and you can spend a night in jail for doing it, regardless of the ideological content of your position or the position you were protesting or the nature of the meeting you invaded. I'm quite sure that you or I would get in legal trouble if we organized a protest *inside* interrupting, say, a Kiwanis Club meeting over some completely dumb reason that nobody would predict. Standing out on the public sidewalk isn't even what we're talking about.

The reason most Anabaptists emigrated from Switzerland; which is reasonably tolerant of divergent religious view points, is their pacifism. If the Mennonites were not willing to serve in the militia then they were not welcome in Switzerland.

The history of the Hutterites is a little more complicated. They emigrated from Tsarist Ukraine in part to escape compulsory military service.

A legitimate function of the civil state is to provide for national defense. The civil state, including the Swiss and Russian civil states, have a right to suppress pacifist proselytism.

Tony, I'm assuming that they didn't just "stand up" but were chanting and generally interrupting for a period of time, right?

Quite right.

Surely this would be readily addressed in terms of trespass and disturbance of the peace on private property, no? But in that case, it could be easily legally addressed in a way that would apply just as much to having a bunch of Baptists interrupt the Mass or a bunch of Catholics interrupt a Baptist service or whatever.

True. And part of my point: rules against interfering with others are valid rules, even when they run roughshod over someone's erroneous views of their "religious freedoms" And so the state can and does have a role in interpreting how far to tolerate some people's views of what they need for religious freedom. That they think they need to be free to do X for religious reasons does not mean that the state must tolerate X. That's my point.

As far as I know, there are _existing_ laws that address that pretty handily, and you can spend a night in jail for doing it,

But "a night in jail" is really barely more than a 10-minute scolding in front of a judge, as legal penalties go. Consider the likely "crimes" they will discover, and the penalties you will suffer, if you walk into a transgender self-help meeting and do the exact same things. You will wish that the "one night in jail" was all you got thrown at you! The point is that society can and ought to view some kinds of disturbance as more grave than others, and disturbing someone in their public worship is a lot more serious than disturbing the Kiwanis meeting. The right to preach and proselytize, while valid, doesn't extend to a Catholic walking into a Baptist service in America and denouncing everyone there for failing to hold the whole Christian truth, and that can be upheld by civil law without defeating the right to religious freedom.

Thomas:

Does the Russian civil state have a right to limit Muslims from evangelizing? I assume you would say yes.

Lydia:

No, I wouldn't. I think we should debate Muslims about whether Mohammad was a prophet, not outlaw their arguing for it. (Besides, their arguments are incredibly poor.) *Of course* the state can and should stop them from advocating terrorism, and I'm on record *in general* supporting stopping Muslim immigration, but refusing to let someone come into your country is a far cry from stopping him from advocating a theological proposition once you've let him in. The distinction couldn't be sharper, in fact.

Lydia, the obvious middle ground between "not letting them in" and "letting them proselytize" is to put an explicit condition on letting them in: you can come in temporarily under the express condition that you not proselytize. This would constitute a kind of a contract with the individual Muslim in question, to which they ought to either agree and live by, or refuse outright. (I suspect many Muslims who actually desire earnestly to proselytize would view it as morally appropriate to accept the contract in bad faith - intending to disregard it - as "made with infidels" and therefore not binding. But it would be a prudential judgment call for us on whether we think most Muslims would feel that way and that even offering such a contract would be pointless.)

There is a kind of irony, but I suspect that most American non-Catholic Christians would view the claims for religious freedom the Catholic Church makes in Dignitatis Humanae as being, to a certain degree, hypocritical or special pleading.

On the one hand, the document makes the most far-reaching demands for civil-rights based religious freedom that any Catholic document ever allowed (up to that time), and expressly made it in favor of all religions, not just Christianity. On the other hand, the second part of the document makes a fairly serious claim for the rights of the Church to preach in any and all lands, regardless of their existing religious position, and thus holds as unbinding civil laws that would forbid Christian evangelism, while specifying that this right to preach the Christian message obtains not insignificantly because of the Great Commission - i.e. a special right applicable to Christianity that does not obtain for all other religions. At the same time, the document upholds the right of a state to be a confessional state, where the vast majority of the people hold and embrace one Christian faith, it is not contrary to religious freedom for the state to recognize that the state has a special relationship in that one special religion and to promote that relationship as formal (even constitutional) policy. As a consequence of this, confessional Christian countries where the government aids the religious customs of the people by that very fact may put other non-Christian religions at a disadvantage in terms of spreading their creeds.

The result: the Church says that Christians have a right to preach in all countries, and on the other hand it seems to allow that a Christian country can hobble others preaching their religion.

I am sure that there are plenty of liberals (both Catholics and Protestants) who view the last point as putting the Church in tension with its own claims about the civil right to religious freedom: if everyone has a right to be whatever religion they want, and part of "being religious" includes spreading it, then a state that crimps the right of someone to spread their own religion because it is not the state religion is not a religiously free state. And, not to put too fine a point on it, many such Catholics and Protestants simply reject that notion of religious freedom.

The correct answer, as I understand it, is to recognize religious freedom as part and parcel with freedom properly understood, which bears within it boundaries and limits given by human nature as well as by custom and actual facts and circumstances.

Freedom properly understood is the capacity and readiness to act in a way that leads to and brings about true happiness. Because man has a definite human nature, some acts cannot lead to happiness, whatever mental disorder someone may have that mistakes the case: eating rat poison is not something attuned to human nature so as to bring happiness. Likewise, adultery and murder have not the possibility of making someone happy, regardless of how many people mistake them so. Thus there are things that are intrinsically disordered.

On the other hand, there are things and actions that are neutral in themselves, which may be good in some situations and bad in others. And because what decides when they are good or bad is the wealth of particulars, and part of that wealth of particulars can come from customs, it can be the case that what is neutral "in itself" is never good GIVEN a specific custom or stable state of affairs now obtaining.

Part of human nature, part of "what makes man happy", is to express his own capacity for action by SELF-direction in those matters which are, in themselves, neutral: man completes and fulfills himself as a fully mature, fully conscious and energetic man by taking command of his own life within his proper sphere of deliberation and choice. "God left man in the hand of his own counsel." To have no choice about the details of neutral matters is to not be fully human in act.

Hence law, all law and not just religious law, must thread a course in limiting man's behavior so as to preclude fake "freedom" in actions which are inherently disordered, and to set out boundaries on what would OTHERWISE be neutral or good acts but given customs are not so in the here and now, and yet at the same time leave man alone and free to self-direct in those matters that may be good or bad in the here and now.

So, proselytizing by lying about another religion is one of those intrinsically disordered acts: true worship of the Divine must take place in truth and light, (for man, as an intellectual being, is ordered to truth). It may be tolerated under civil law for the sake of other goods, but no man has a right to such actions.

More tenuously, but still following from the principles: proselytizing by using arguments that are way above the capacity of the listener to discern truth from error could be the sort of thing that is neutral in and of itself (the argument being used is, itself, a viable argument) but bad in the here and now because of the specific circumstances of the hearers. Using graduate theology level distinctions between essence and form, between good absolutely and good simply, to persuade an 8th grader to abandon belief in the Christian God might be an example.

I take it then, that one way for a Christian monarch to deal with foreign missionaries of some foreign faith who insist "we have a God-given right to preach to all nations, including yours" would be to say: fine, come along, and preach to our scholars and theologians. If you can make your case before them and prove to them your claims are sufficiently supportable as to warrant consideration at large, THEN you may proselytize broadly. Until then, you may not."

Part of the claims of Dignitatis Humanae is that Christianity (and, indeed, Catholicism specifically) will bear up well to that imposition: that God has so granted, by His grace, such evidence and support for the truth of Christianity that honest investigation (at whatever level of expertise) will bear good fruit. So, the Christian missionary put to the exact same test would say "Good, bring it on. God defended Isaiah in his case against 400 priests of Baal, He can defend me."

Hence, the so-called hypocrisy is not really there. The Church does not demand more freedom that it would grant others. It DOES demand, though, that any foreign land that would bar Christian missionaries to at least allow them to make their case - if only to the "experts" and the wise, at first. And it claims that the evidence in support of the Christian revelation is good enough to meet that challenge and satisfy it - something that it does not suggest obtains for any other religion.

Tony:

GJ, you need to reflect on what "conservative" means. It refers, at least, to conserving existing customs...And whatever official promotion the state religion is now given, it cannot legitimately do so contrary to the immediately prior state of affairs with respect to other religions, in the name of "conservatism".

So conservatism conserves existing customs, including legally recognised homosexual marriage, abortion and decadent practices?

Well, this understanding of conservatism certainly does explain why 'conservatives conserve nothing': what is conserved is the continually liberalising status quo; in general, as societies plunge into 'darkness' true conservativism is to preserve the increasing darker state. And if conservatism is merely friction resisting any change then conservatism alone will not reverse the darkening of society but will actually oppose any increase in light.

So I am curious: when do you plan to invoke "at least" to shoehorn some normative standard into your definition of "conservatism"?

You can't call it "conserving a custom" for the state to mandate support for certain practices, when (a) nobody alive remembers them being the norm in the country, and (b) when even the people who do consider themselves Russian Orthodox don't actually follow the customs.

So trying to return to some age-old state of limited government is not part of true conservatism. I see.

But "having a state religion" cannot be by sheer fiat of the government, willy nilly, whatever the religious stance of the people already, it needs to be the encapsulation of a de facto socially normative religion into the official policy of the government.

I don't see how this is at all relevant.

GJ, what, if anything, does the 1st Amendment mean to you?

Lydia, the obvious middle ground between "not letting them in" and "letting them proselytize" is to put an explicit condition on letting them in: you can come in temporarily under the express condition that you not proselytize.

I wouldn't advocate that. Not least because I think it's a really bad idea to treat proselytizing under public policy as a specific activity, separate from "talking with people naturally" and what-not. Relatedly, I think it is *and should be* nearly impossible to define "proselytizing" in a way that can be addressed by civil law. If you believe that x is true and important and valuable for other people's lives, whether x be the value of taking lots of Vitamin C every day or cutting processed sugar out of one's diet or the prophet status of Mohammad or the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, it *is going to happen* that you try to induce other people to agree with you. And believe me, people with dietary enthusiasms are a really good example here, because they are out there "sharing their faith" among their friends all the time. It is an incredibly bad place for the civil authority to be to try to make proselytizing a specific crime and place restrictions on it. If the x in question is something that is *already a crime*, and legitimately so, then that is and always has been different, because it has always been illegal to incite to it. So that covers direct incitement to acts of terrorism, to overthrowing the government (insurrection), and so forth. But generally telling someone that it isn't wrong to believe that Mohammad is a prophet but that you can't come here and try to induce other people to think that Mohammad is a prophet is poor public policy. It involves, by its very nature, micromanagement of people's natural activities and conversations as religious believers or believers in whatever is important to them.

I can't help wondering if any of the defenders of Russia's policies here, or implicit defenders, are really grokking what those policies are, just how bizarre and draconian they are. If so, and if you are really all right with that...well...that's creepy.

(Tony, I'm not including you in that designation. I take you to agree that the policies discussed in the main post are a very bad idea. I take you just to be discussing some larger questions.)

Terry Morris:

GJ, what, if anything, does the 1st Amendment mean to you?

I'm not sure why you ask this, but sure: it is a foreign, historical curiosity. Which is to say that it a relic, some old part of a foreign country's constitution.

As to present invocation and usage: these are complicated but in general the Amendment seems functionally analogous to Rorschach tests, revealing sociopolitical beliefs,.

So conservatism conserves existing customs, including legally recognised homosexual marriage, abortion and decadent practices?

GJ, so, you don't understand the difference between custom and currently fashionable actions?

Let me explain them. Custom is something that is practiced widely, and has been so for many years. "Many", as in a good deal more than a few. Legally recognized homosexual "marriage" has been recognized since 2015. That's NOT EVEN a few. No, legally recognized homosexual marriage is not a custom.

There is no definitive cut-off point between customs, which have been in place for many years, and something a bit less than custom but has also been practiced for years. It is one of those things that is subject to the problem of sorites. One year doesn't do it, and the addition of one day to what, previously, was insufficient, doesn't do it either...until the addition of one more day, many times over, results in "enough". You can't place your finger on which day, there ISN'T such a thing. But we all know what customs are, and we can all point to things that are customs unambiguously. Since we are at July 3rd: fireworks on July 4 is a custom in this country - not so much, in Britain. Fireworks are a custom in Britain on November 5, not so much here.

St. Thomas points out that not all evil actions should be legislated against. Legislation should take into account, among other things, custom: if people have a custom of doing X (say, smoking), the legislature finding that smoking is bad should not lead automatically to a law against smoking. The lawmakers have to account for what people are used to doing. If they want to change a bad habit by law, most often they need to do it gradually, in stages, so as to allow for existing customs to diminish in scope and intensity. They need to address the practice in ways that will lead to it ceasing to be a custom, without trying to ban it directly and immediately.

So also with trying to restore what USED TO BE a good custom, many many years ago (especially, outside of living memory). The farther back the custom was once a custom but has not been, the more intervening parts of society have re-molded themselves to new practices, and so the more of current society must be changed to accommodate the old custom if you try to restore it. It used to be a custom, here in the US, for people to observe Sundays as the day set aside for the Lord. (Not any more: we now have trash service on Sunday in our neighborhood (I won't contract with that company, the jerks), and we get US Postal package delivery on Sunday (I can't help dealing with them) ). It would be good to restore that old custom. But not by simply mandating directly and at one blow a return to the practice of 1800. You have to account for commonly existing practices, even if those practices have not yet crystallized into "custom" properly speaking. There are zillions of ways social change has adjusted to Sunday not being observed carefully as the Lord's day, and you cannot justify abruptly changing ALL of them at once to try to bring back 1800 Sunday conditions.

what is conserved is the continually liberalising status quo
And if conservatism is merely friction resisting any change then conservatism alone will not reverse the darkening of society but will actually oppose any increase in light.

Au contraire. It would be totally fine if the Supreme Court went about reversing itself on Obergefell and all 50 states enacting laws that directly forbade gay "marriage", all to go into effect immediately. The contrary state of affairs is only 1 year old. (I would be totally fine with all 50 states passing and enforcing laws against it and thumbing their noses at the Supreme Court on the issue, too. That's what they should have done on June 30 last year.) I would also be fine with any state or local government deciding that fornication and cohabitation were wrong and ought to be illegal, and enacting laws intended eventually to diminish the practices that are now endemic to the point where it would, again, be feasible to directly outlaw the behavior. But any attempt to simply restore local law to the way in which cohabitation was prohibited in 1850, in one step, would be imprudent at best. To "take into account" the status quo isn't to resist or forbid change away from the status quo, it is to account for habits and commit to dealing with them in stages.

I know that people who are impatient with the process of changing for the good and want it all at once get angry at those who are willing to take time to achieve change. All I can say is, God works the latter way, I can live with it. Rarely does God change a person from a great sinner into a great saint all in a moment. Usually he works gradually. Almost everyone I know who thinks they are better now than they were years ago says it happened in stages. Rarely, IF EVER, does a great Christian say that God made them perfect all at one blow and they don't need to get any better. He works His way in stages. The history of salvation was to bring humanity forward in stages from the Noahite code to the Mosaic law to the Prophets, on up to Christ and with the Spirit leading us to His truth ever more fully.

As a homeschooling mom of 15 years (where does the time go?) your comment regarding a possible "nascent homeschooling movement" caught my attention. I hopped over to the HSLDA site and they posted a figure of 70K families educating at home in Russia. If they are reverting back to a time of religious oppression, then this can't be a good thing for those families. BTW, I want to apologize to you if I wasn't supposed to share your article on Licona on FB? Your article was great and your points were exactly the ones I had tried to make in class, only I wasn't able to articulate them as well as you did. Do you have a policy about re-posting your content on here? Have a blessed Sunday!

I wouldn't advocate that [letting Muslims in with an express agreement not to prosyletize].

I wouldn't either. Because it would be IMPRUDENT, though, not because it violates some fundamental principle. I would, like you, just forbid immigration of Muslims to begin with and let that be one line to stand on.

The reason I pointed out a middle pathway between "not letting them in" and "letting an immigrant proselytize a foreign creed" was to point out that if a state has the authority to prevent people from coming in here (because of knowing they will want to proselytize a pernicious religion), then in principle the state has the authority to speak to proselytizing, including deciding when not to tolerate it. And, therefore, in principle the state has the authority to LIMIT the behavior in some carefully thought-out fashion, even if it is difficult to achieve and doesn't work perfectly. The alternative is untenable - it would be to insist that the government cannot have any laws that speak to proselytizing in ANY sense.

And believe me, people with dietary enthusiasms are a really good example here, because they are out there "sharing their faith" among their friends all the time.

Agreed.

It is an incredibly bad place for the civil authority to be to try to make proselytizing a specific crime and place restrictions on it. If the x in question is something that is *already a crime*, and legitimately so, then that is and always has been different, because it has always been illegal to incite to it.

I am not confident it works that way. Indeed, I think that the history of religion, not just that in the last 2 centuries since the French Revolution and the Endarkenment, but for centuries before that, is that all governments tend to view the "new practices" as a threat to the established order and often are an incitement to do what is "already a crime". Christianity brought with it the practice of REFUSING to sacrifice to the state's idols. It was considered, by the Roman authorities, perfectly reasonable to tell Mitrhidites and Egyptians "you can still sacrifice to your old gods, we just want you to sacrifice to Jupiter once a year". What could be more reasonable? What they found civilly offensive was this new Christian demand that its adherents only sacrifice to ONE god. Indeed, to speak as if there were only one God, and Jupiter wasn't it.

When civil law says "do X", and a religion mandates "do not do X", then one of them has to give way to the other. Absolutists of modern "religious freedom" say that civil law has to give way in all cases regardless of how outrageous the religion (but they don't really mean it, they just say it to make it so in the cases they care about). Absolutists of civil order say it must be religion that gives way, the state has the "final word". But we who applaud the martyrs of the early Christian era cannot applaud the latter, and we who would defy the Supreme Court on Obergefell (and other gay cases) cannot applaud the former. We conservatives who believe in the natural law can point to a standard outside of legislative positive law, a standard that can decide in some cases: religion that defies the natural law need not be granted the same status of respect that normally obtains for religious freedom. And we conservatives who uphold the natural law can point to natural law and natural theology to dispute the position that a state can UTTERLY forbid preaching Christianity (in defiance of the Great Commission and Acts 5:29 (and we can defy such laws as being without authority), while at the same time giving obedience to laws that aim to restrain _unjust_ proselytizing, to regularize proselytizing within reasonable bounds so as to make it not disrupt society and cause avoidable disorders.

So trying to return to some age-old state of limited government is not part of true conservatism. I see.

Not at all, GJ. Trying to restore the practice of the natural law, when we have abandoned it, is indeed part of conservatism. Even if it has been customary to disregard the natural law, for natural law - being written in our hearts - is always a sort of "custom" beneath custom: custom and habit are "second nature" to us, but natural law is FIRST nature, and has pride of place where custom defies nature.

And trying to restore the practice of OBSERVING the actual Constitution, and the actual laws in place, instead of a hodge-podge of practices that make hash of the laws as organized by due authority, done by disorganizing and hateful magistrates who want nothing more than to throw down the law, and who want to operate a tyranny instead of the rule of law - that too is part of conservatism, where the Constitution and the written laws respect natural law anyway.

Scarlett, I'm glad you see the point. That bit about trying to get out of mandatory education is...exceedingly ominous.

Sure, perfectly fine to share the Licona article anywhere. It was published publicly, so I hope it will do some good.

I wouldn't either. Because it would be IMPRUDENT, though, not because it violates some fundamental principle.

Tony, this raises the kind of interesting question as to what we mean when we talk about fundamental principles in governance. I tend to think that with a *great many* policy principles, one could always say that they apply because of considerations of prudence rather than, say, involving intrinsically wrong acts, but that this isn't really saying much. And perhaps we need some category that recognizes this.

We can all agree that it violates a fundamental principle for the government to knowingly execute innocent people to entertain the masses. We can think of other examples where we can say that the policy in question involves *intrinsically wrong acts*, where these intrinsically wrong acts are essential to the policy in question, and where participating therein (knowingly) is intrinsically wrong.

On the other side, we can think of policies that are in a genuinely debatable area where one person might say, "Okay, I think that's an imprudent policy, but reasonable people can disagree about that." An example here might be a daytime curfew for school-age children. On the one hand, home schoolers have run afoul of these because their school hours aren't always the same as those of children in bricks and mortar schools, so they can have unnecessary trouble when their children want to play outside or walk to Grandma's house or when teens are walking to a job or whatever. On the other hand, one can understand how such a city ordinance could be a mildly ham-handed attempt to get control of genuine issues of truancy and problem kids gathering in gangs or whatever. So anyone who opposes it should oppose it in a fairly easy-going way, just ready to debate the pros and cons in the particular circumstances, not getting all up in arms about it. There are zillions of these.

And there are all kinds of things in between.

Now, I would say that there is an important category of bad policy for which the term "imprudent" just doesn't cut it (as far as I'm concerned) but where one might argue that no one is committing an *intrinsically wrong act* in enforcing the policy. I would definitely put into this category fining or otherwise punishing people by government edict merely for attempting to induce others to hold what one might call "purely theological propositions," even if those are, in fact, badly mistaken.

Yes, there can be arguments about what counts as a "purely theological proposition," and we may be forced to fall back on family resemblances and examples, but here are a few examples of importantly false ones that definitely should be so considered:

--God isn't triune.
--Mohammad was a prophet.
--Jesus isn't God.
--God demands pacifism.

I would say that it is a *seriously bad policy* and violates the principle of reasonable freedom of religion which should obtain in a wisely governed country to fine or otherwise punish people *solely* for promoting those beliefs, so long as the promotion does not violate some *other* uncontroversial stricture--e.g., against using threats of violence.

I am not confident it works that way. Indeed, I think that the history of religion, not just that in the last 2 centuries since the French Revolution and the Endarkenment, but for centuries before that, is that all governments tend to view the "new practices" as a threat to the established order and often are an incitement to do what is "already a crime".

That's why I added "and legitimately so" to "If the x in question is something that is *already a crime*." I think we're agreed, hopefully, that it *shouldn't* be a crime to believe that God isn't triune, even though it's importantly false. Hence, any law against "proselytizing" for that heresy can't be justified on the grounds that it's incitement to something that is legitimately already a crime.

We have a tendency to view freedom of religion as an enlightenment concept, or as a uniquely American concept. In Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that freedom of religion was in the the long run desirable. He held that freedom of religion reduces intolerance and civil unrest.

Prior to the enlightenment:

In Transylvania, in 1558, the Diet of Torda permitted freemen to practice either Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. Toleration was not extended to the Zwinglian Reformed. A few years later, King John Sigismund modified the decree; and toleration was extended to all Christians, including Calvinist Reformed.

A year after the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the Warsaw Confederation of 1573 extended religious tolerance to nobility and free persons [including small holders] in Poland and Lithuania. Toleration of Jews had existed in Poland as early as 1264.

In 1579, the Union of Utrecht extended religious freedom to all including Jews in the Netherlands dispute with Spain.

I am not aware of a similar precedent for freedom of religion in the Orthodox East.

I am not aware of a similar precedent for freedom of religion in the Orthodox East.

That is hardly either a recommendation of their despicable new laws nor an excuse for them. Time for them to catch up. High time and long past time.

Funny how the animus against Russian laws starts with tearful remarks about people being denied salvation, but quickly - VERY quickly - has devolved into explicit demands that Russia's government and culture bind take on a slew of new secular values.

On the one hand, Tony insists that it's wrong for the Russians to pass laws which attempt to sustain and uphold Russian orthodoxy's presence in Russia, because you can't impose such cultural mandates from on high when they aren't the norm. Even encouraging them with laws is foolhardy.

On the other hand, Lydia declares that it's 'high and long past time' for the Russians to change their laws to impose Western secular values, norms be damned.

We have a demand for Russia to conform to Western cultural and governing practices, coming from people for whom practically every other post is one noting that Western cultural and governing practices have gone completely down the toilet, and keep getting worse as time goes on.

I've got to say - it is a sight to behold.

Crude,

Your internet name seems suggestive of your argumentative style.

To wit,

1) "On the one hand, Tony insists that it's wrong for the Russians to pass laws which attempt to sustain and uphold Russian orthodoxy's presence in Russia, because you can't impose such cultural mandates from on high when they aren't the norm. Even encouraging them with laws is foolhardy."

Tony said no such thing. Here are his comments on the subject in their fullness:

You can't call it "conserving a custom" for the state to mandate support for certain practices, when (a) nobody alive remembers them being the norm in the country, and (b) when even the people who do consider themselves Russian Orthodox don't actually follow the customs. You might call it "restoring" a custom, and if it is a worthy custom then restoring it is a great idea - to the extent that restoration can be made in the current state of affairs, which are different from what they used to be.

I have no problem with a polity having an official religion, and in so doing giving aid and comfort to one religion at the expense of others - as I made clear above. But "having a state religion" cannot be by sheer fiat of the government, willy nilly, whatever the religious stance of the people already, it needs to be the encapsulation of a de facto socially normative religion into the official policy of the government. And whatever official promotion the state religion is now given, it cannot legitimately do so contrary to the immediately prior state of affairs with respect to other religions, in the name of "conservatism".

Later on, he clarifies further:

St. Thomas points out that not all evil actions should be legislated against. Legislation should take into account, among other things, custom: if people have a custom of doing X (say, smoking), the legislature finding that smoking is bad should not lead automatically to a law against smoking. The lawmakers have to account for what people are used to doing. If they want to change a bad habit by law, most often they need to do it gradually, in stages, so as to allow for existing customs to diminish in scope and intensity. They need to address the practice in ways that will lead to it ceasing to be a custom, without trying to ban it directly and immediately.

So also with trying to restore what USED TO BE a good custom, many many years ago (especially, outside of living memory). The farther back the custom was once a custom but has not been, the more intervening parts of society have re-molded themselves to new practices, and so the more of current society must be changed to accommodate the old custom if you try to restore it. It used to be a custom, here in the US, for people to observe Sundays as the day set aside for the Lord. (Not any more: we now have trash service on Sunday in our neighborhood (I won't contract with that company, the jerks), and we get US Postal package delivery on Sunday (I can't help dealing with them) ). It would be good to restore that old custom. But not by simply mandating directly and at one blow a return to the practice of 1800. You have to account for commonly existing practices, even if those practices have not yet crystallized into "custom" properly speaking. There are zillions of ways social change has adjusted to Sunday not being observed carefully as the Lord's day, and you cannot justify abruptly changing ALL of them at once to try to bring back 1800 Sunday conditions.

I know Tony likes to be thorough and therefore writes comments that are somewhat longer than normal, but do try and keep up -- it will help you when you are ready to write something silly like Tony thinks "encouraging [Russia Orthodox] with laws is foolhardy" when he basically thinks the opposite.

2) As for your comment to Lydia, I suppose it is strange that you think avoiding tyranny and allowing people the most basic freedom of conscience are "Western secular value." I suppose it is Western, as freedom of conscience properly understood and the individual dignity of man are very Biblical concepts -- so we in the West can point with pride to our fight against tyrants of all kinds throughout the ages. But the idea that Lydia is forcing the Russians to adopt any sort of secular, modern notions of license and/or Casey v Planned Parenthood type freedom is silly.

Again, try and read up on what the Russian law proposes and what we are all opposed to what the law will do to non-Orthodox believers in Russia -- that is what Lydia is talking about.

On the other hand, Lydia declares that it's 'high and long past time' for the Russians to change their laws to impose Western secular values, norms be damned.

Crude's reading skills appear to need some updating. Freedom for Protestant evangelicals to share Jesus Christ with their friends is a secular value? And "norms be damned" if I say it's high time for Russia to stop trying to repress it? Yeah, that's what I'm all about. Secularism.

Hey, Crude, just a word to the wise: We've gotten a little less shy about banning people around here. If you're a jerk, you may get banned. I realize you've really, really, really disliked me for a long time, and the feeling has been mutual, and it's _super-easy_ for me just to delete your comments from my threads, without even banning you per se. So, try hard not to be a jerk and a troll. Or, if that's the only reason you felt moved to come around here again, go away again.

Many American Protestants tend to think that state sponsored religious intolerance, with the consent of the established Church, is historically found only in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran nations and is not part of the Protestant tradition.

Reformed Protestants historically held that having a State Church, and having the civil magistrate suppress heresy was desirable. In Article 36, the Belgic [Netherlands] Confession of 1561 we are told concerning the civil magistrate;

"...And their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also that they protect the sacred ministry, and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship, that the kingdom of the antichrist may be thus destroyed, and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must, therefore, countenance the preaching of the Word of the Gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshiped by everyone, as He commands in His Word....Wherefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce a community of goods, and confound that decency and good order which God hath established among men."

Likewise, in Article XXX beginning in Section 2, the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 teaches:
"The chief duty of the civil magistrate is to procure and maintain peace and public tranquility; which, doubtless, he shall never do more happily than when he shall be truly seasoned with the fear of God and true religion - namely, when he shall after the example of the most holy kings and princes of the people of the Lord, advance the preaching of the truth, and the pure and sincere faith, and shall root out lies and superstition, with all impiety and idolatry, and shall defend the Church of God. For indeed we teach that the care of religion doth chiefly appertain to the holy magistrate. Let him, therefore, hold the Word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereunto.....Therefore let him draw his sword against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those who God has commanded him to punish and even execute. Let him suppress stubborn heretics (who are heretics indeed), who cease not to blaspheme the majesty of God, and to trouble the Church, yea, and finally to destroy it....We condemn the Anabaptists, who, as they deny that the Christian man should bear the office of a magistrate, deny also that any man can justly be put to death by the magistrate, or that the magistrate may make war, or that oaths should be administered by the magistrate, and such like things...."

Similarly, Article XXIII Section 3, of the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 teaches:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept true and entire, that all blasphemes and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all of the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

The close relationship between the Russian civil state and the Orthodox Church is historically the norm in Christendom, not some novelty. Our Reformed Protestant friends can not have it both ways: they cannot be for freedom of religion in an Orthodox state, and for having the civil magistrate bearing the sword to suppress heresy in a Protestant State.

Lydia,

Crude's reading skills appear to need some updating. Freedom for Protestant evangelicals to share Jesus Christ with their friends is a secular value?

When it's framed in the context of insisting upon expansive, western-style freedom of religion legislation? Yes, it is. Hence your focus on all the other religious beliefs - and, presumably, irreligious as well - that should be allowed to be propagated freely, many of which are antithetical to 'Protestant evangelical' belief.

Demanding the enshrinement of some secular law doesn't become !secularism just because you think its enshrinement will be a net positive for the spread of your religious beliefs.

I note again that WWWtW is one constant stream of bemoaning the ever-rapid decay of western civilization, government and culture. And now the complaint is that the Russians don't embrace enough of it! I notice there seems to be not a moment where it's considered that perhaps the Russians are wise to want to insulate themselves from western culture and thought - that maybe it's got some problems which they may want to ward against. But acknowledging that would make it harder to chastise them, so the topic is stepped around.

Hey, Crude, just a word to the wise: We've gotten a little less shy about banning people around here.

I'm as concerned about this now as I was when you first raised the prospect many moons ago. And I don't really, really, really dislike you, Lydia. I just think you make really bad arguments at times and have some poor conduct.

Jeffrey S,

Your internet name seems suggestive of your argumentative style.

It's suggestive of a lot of things. I'm not enamored with fopisms and the do-try-to-keep-ups. Too femme for me.

Your reproducing of what Tony said doesn't argue against what I've said - it just highlights his attempt to justify his view. Why, Russia hasn't been sufficiently Orthodox in a while, why they were officially atheistic until recently, legally supporting this is too far - look at all these other extant customs! Etc. So much the worse for Lydia's position then, as the country that went from officially Orthodox to atheistic to now mostly-orthodox and somewhat-atheistic is certainly not 'southern baptist' in any meaningful capacity. Freedom of religion certainly isn't a custom either - best not to be encouraging that one with laws, eh? Maybe in a hundred years from now, if the culture goes in certain ways...

As for your comment to Lydia, I suppose it is strange that you think avoiding tyranny and allowing people the most basic freedom of conscience are "Western secular value." I suppose it is Western, as freedom of conscience properly understood and the individual dignity of man are very Biblical concepts -- so we in the West can point with pride to our fight against tyrants of all kinds throughout the ages.

Actually you can point with shame, given how those most recent adventures have gone. When you can point with pride, you can do so largely when we were defending ourselves from threats. Our attempts at idealized nation-building have largely been a disaster - as has, come to think of it, our attempts at self-preservation culturally. I note again: WWWtW is one long series of posts about an intense cultural, intellectual and governing sickness that afflicts the west. Not just the US, not just Europe, but the whole of the west - including in our churches. We have a lot less to be proud about nowadays. Yet somehow the idea that the Russians - and maybe anyone else - would look at the West and go 'Oh, so that's where your freedom leads? Maybe we don't want some of that.'... that seems alien to you all. Unthinkable.

I imagine it seems just as perplexing to you lot that Russia would seek to bar 'the most basic freedom of conscience' with regards to pride parades and LGBT organizational outreach. How savage. Can't they see what they're missing out on?

I'm Catholic, Jeff. I understand that Russia is trying to keep my faith out too. I'm not saying the law isn't worth criticizing. I'm marveling that you're all treating Russia's desire to insulate itself from western influence - of which our religious outreach is just yet another avenue - as xenophobic and unjustified, as if 'the west' (or for that matter 'western churches') is just one big fountain of good things. Plus there's the comedy of complaining about Russia's view that the religious spread has a political component, combined with the demands that those damn Russkies update their laws to be more like us. Frankly, let me speak some heresy here: there's a chance that Russia is doing things that the West should learn a thing or two from.

Anyway, I just was just amazed - maybe even impressed - at the lack of appreciation for the Russian view of the West. Please, get back to singing the praises of the Western appreciation for freedom of religion. I hear they love it in Dearborn!

I am enormously sympathetic to your point of view, Crude. I will add that I object to Lydia's emphasis on religious freedom as something "necessary". It may or not be prudent, but I am not willing to throw out our long tradition of laws against Heresy, and treat them as if they are somehow inherently wrong. I will freely admit that I am a man who prefers the traditional and agrarian to the modern.

But, I do have my serious misgivings about centralized State power. And I often note that the "official" "right" is often extremely modernist, and acts against the interests of the peasantry and aristocracy. Now...we should perhaps consider that such may be the case here, particularly given the issue of home-schooling. The cruelty against the Old Believers in Russia is an example of similar issues in the early modern Russian past, that ultimately turned baseless. There is a similar example in actions by Japanese schoolteachers and militarists against traditional festivals in rural Japan, in favor of official celebrations.

But; is there any tradition left to defend? If not, I admit I am less concerned about State action against those who are its enemies.

The close relationship between the Russian civil state and the Orthodox Church is historically the norm in Christendom, not some novelty.

(Drily) As a specialist in the English Renaissance, I'm well aware of this as an historical fact.

It didn't work out well then, either.

Ask the English Catholics from the time of Queen Elizabeth.

It's even more inexcusable today.

And now the complaint is that the Russians don't embrace enough of it!
I'm marveling that you're all treating Russia's desire to insulate itself from western influence - of which our religious outreach is just yet another avenue - as xenophobic and unjustified, as if 'the west' (or for that matter 'western churches') is just one big fountain of good things.

This is the kind of thing that is just plain dumb.

Any thinking man knows that it is *perfectly possible* to see the west *as it is now* as *not* "just one big fountain of good things" while at the same time seeing a long-standing principle of Western civilization, worked out long before "gay marriage" and all the rest was even a gleam in anyone's eye--namely, religious liberty--as being right and a good thing.

That's a matter of making distinctions. The enemy of my enemy is not automatically my friend, though I realize among some nowadays on "the right" it's de rigueur to assume that he is.

Guess what? It's possible for Russia to be *both* xenophobic *and* opposed to, e.g., sodomite rights. That's possible! It really is! Who'd a thunk it? In fact, we have strong evidence that it's _actual_. (Perhaps you were unaware of this, but when Russia banned foreign adoption of orphans who are, in fact, currently starving to death in Russian orphanages, one brainy xenophobe stood up in the Duma, a member of the Duma, and pontificated about how Westerners want to buy Russian orphans to cannibalize their organs and how this is why they have to be left in the orphanages. Rather than, y'know, being adopted by American evangelicals.)

It's possible for people who think carefully and make distinctions not to make dumb, sweeping claims about the wonderfulness of the present-day West such as those you attribute to me, or us, or anybody here.

You obviously think very highly of yourself. And you probably want to believe of yourself that you care about the truth. So give a whirl at avoiding careless misrepresentation such as you are engaging in here.

Any,

But, I do have my serious misgivings about centralized State power.

So do I! I think there's reason to criticize in Russia's new law - heck, its new orientation altogether. Their regarding religious conduct as being of keen interest of the state can play out in some ominous ways, like it did just a few decades ago. ('It's ominous -now-!' someone may cry. 'American southern baptists are under risk of not being able to promote their faith there! Those dirty orthodox have a monopoly!' Sorry; I think there's bigger concerns.)

I am not naively regarding the Russians as having everything right. But it's just as big of a mistake to regard them as having everything wrong. Especially when we're in the odd situation where the Russians are the ones with the government and people, for all its flaws, more and more promoting something that resembles a Christian moral ethic and outlook. Why, even their churches seem to do that with more regularity than ours as of late. Maybe there's a thing or two we can learn? Maybe the demand for secular-style religious freedom is mistaken? We can't even get such freedom right in our -own- lands, and last I checked, our first amendment was being pointed at as justification for continued import of ever-more-massive increases of muslim immigrants, while simultaneously being regarded as irrelevant when people decide they don't want to take part in same-sex weddings.

Again: maybe the Russians are right to be pretty damn worried about what western missionaries are important to their lands. Just as many of us are rightly concerned about what 'refugees' and illegal immigrants are ultimately bringing to ours. Moral sickness and cultural decay isn't limited to Islam.

Anymouse, on "inherently wrong," see my comment to Tony from yesterday at 4:29 p.m. You will probably disagree with it anyway, but you'll see that the whole notion of a govt. policy that is "inherently wrong" is rather a subtle one.

Here's another example: Would it be *inherently wrong* for some U.S. state to declare that every private home must have a surveillance camera constantly recording outside of every entrance and exit, with the recordings going directly to a state department, data to be collected and used as the state sees fit to "fight crime, disorderly conduct, and terrorism" or some such phrase?

Maybe not in the sense that an electrician who previously worked for the state doing completely normal things like setting up stoplights should prefer to be tortured and shot than to work to install such cameras. Maybe not in the sense that cooperating in the policy would be on a par with denying Jesus Christ or shooting a toddler to death or raping someone.

And guess what else? If we tried to talk about the _principle_ that such a horrible policy would violate, we might start sounding like lefties. Oh, no! I guess we can't talk about violations of privacy, government intrusion into private life and so forth. *Those* have been used to justify abortion and other evils, so we _conservatives_ don't believe in them! Right? Right?

So I guess this means we all would have to sit around and pull on our collective beards and discuss how maybe that policy really would be understandable and how we couldn't really condemn this state for putting it into place. Because it isn't "inherently wrong."

Or maybe not.

Maybe we need to expand our categories so that we understand what it can mean for a policy to be horribly bad in principle even if it isn't, literally, the worst thing ever. And even if some people would say that we would "sound like a liberal" if we tried to articulate the principle in question.

Any thinking man knows that it is *perfectly possible* to see the west *as it is now* as *not* "just one big fountain of good things" while at the same time seeing a long-standing principle of Western civilization, worked out long before "gay marriage" and all the rest was even a gleam in anyone's eye--namely, religious liberty--as being right and a good thing.

Here's another one, Lydia: a thinking man should also entertain the possibility that the 'long-standing principle of Western civilization' you're defending played a role in how the West has gotten to the rotten state it is now. The West has liberty'd itself into decay, partly because liberty isn't treated as a means to an end, but an end itself. 'Liberty' was eventually valued over the prosperity of the church, or of local cultures, and more. Not exactly surprising that liberty's thrived a heck of a lot better than the other things.

Guess what? It's possible for Russia to be *both* xenophobic *and* opposed to, e.g., sodomite rights. That's possible! It really is!

It's also possible, Lydia, that 'xenophobia' is like 'islamophobia', or for that matter, 'homophobia' - a slur which denies the possibility that the fear is legitimate.

Here's a fact: a lot of churches in the west are rotten. Does Russia really need more episcopalians? More unitarian universalists? Are they impoverished for the lack of UCC influence? Do they require more muslims? Could they use more Presbyterians sending up praise for Mohammed? More New Atheists?

If you tell me, well no, but they need more -liberty- most of all, come what may! ... well, then pardon me as I glance in the direction of Russia with a bit of sympathy. Or in your direction with bemusement as abortionists, GLAAD, feminists and more raise up their fists and yell 'Hear hear!' after your declaration.

Moral sickness and cultural decay isn't limited to Islam.

You can't be too careful about those Seventh-Day Adventists who want to witness to people about Jesus. They might be carrying moral sickness.

Or in your direction with bemusement as abortionists, GLAAD, feminists and more raise up their fists and yell 'Hear hear!' after your declaration.

My heart goes out to the Russian Duma in its sad inability to find any way to stop homosexualism and abortion except by outlawing missionary and witnessing activity by all non-government-approved specifically religious groups and people.

It must be tough to go through life with that little imagination. Especially if you're the member of a legislative body.

Oh, wait...

Lydia,


Any thinking man knows that it is *perfectly possible* to see the west *as it is now* as *not* "just one big fountain of good things" while at the same time seeing a long-standing principle of Western civilization, worked out long before "gay marriage" and all the rest was even a gleam in anyone's eye--namely, religious liberty--as being right and a good thing.

Not for nothing, but when on earth was this considered a long-standing principle of western civilization? Since the french revolution? There's a reason Europe was entirely Christian basically since Charlemagne created the Holy Roman Empire, and it wasn't because they valued religious freedom.

Thanks, I do understand your arguments, LM. However, I will admit I do have my disagreement as you acknowledged. Also, I would draw the line rather sharply between something as blatantly intrusive as cameras under centralized authority, and something as old as heresy laws (which usually required some good evidence be presented to a man who is quite possibly the Medieval theological equivalent of Pope Francis; unfortunately, also sometimes Savonarola). I think part of the impasse is another instance of the question: How much of modernity is to be conserved? My bias is *very little*.

Also, I would draw the line rather sharply between something as blatantly intrusive as cameras under centralized authority, and something as old as heresy laws

Well, first of all, the fact that something is old doesn't necessarily mean that it's good any more than it necessarily means that it's bad.

But second of all, my point in the example was to point out the inherent ambiguity in a phrase like "inherently bad" as applied to public policy. I think that sometimes a kind of confusion arises when we say, "That isn't an inherently bad policy" if our standard of "inherently bad" is, e.g., literally throwing Christians to the lions.

It's entirely possible for a policy to be *really, really bad*, so bad, in fact, that it is virtually impossible outside of some highly convoluted sci-fi scenario, and maybe not even then, to imagine circumstances in which it would be a *good* policy, without involving *intrinsically wrong acts*. It's not an *intrinsically wrong act* to set up a security cam outside of an innocent person's house. It's not an *intrinsically wrong act* to collect a fine from a Seventh-Day Adventist for selling unlicensed materials.

But it's really bad policy in both cases. One doesn't have to agree that it's *equally* bad policy, but that isn't the point of the example.

How much of modernity is to be conserved? My bias is *very little*.

I won't wish that you get your wish and regret it, because that would be uncharitable, and I have no actual uncharitable feelings towards you. But be careful what you wish for. You might get it and regret it.

That's the problem with reaction. It's not carefully enough reasoned. It's reaction for its own sake. Crude's sweeping claim that I'm some sort of accidental friend of GLAAD is an example of such poor thinking and reasoning.

Not for nothing, but when on earth was this considered a long-standing principle of western civilization? Since the french revolution?

You may perhaps have heard of England? They were getting these ideas in the 18th century and had been gradually developing them in the crucible of the previous century. They were expanded yet further in the 19th century when the remaining restrictions on Catholics were removed in England. America had those ideas too, at its founding. I think that counts as "long-standing." Oh, and you may also have heard of a fellow named Burke who argued that the American founding wasn't the same as the French Revolution.

You can't be too careful about those Seventh-Day Adventists who want to witness to people about Jesus. They might be carrying moral sickness.

I'll admit they're not all bad. Why, the most prominent one I know of made a great political endorsement!

Still. Funny how I named muslims, New atheists, episcopalians, presbyterians, the UCC, and unitarian universalists, but you fire back with a church I didn't mention. Positive influences one and all? Do the Russians need a little bit of Chrislam spread around?

If you tell me that not all churches are equal, and that some influences really are ones the russians should watch, then I have a suggestion: maybe they'd be justified in putting said churches through a vetting process, eh?

If you tell me that not all churches are equal, and that some influences really are ones the russians should watch, then I have a suggestion: maybe they'd be justified in putting said churches through a vetting process, eh?

Because vetting churches by the Russian government is obviously *the best* way to "keep out bad influences." The best. Should work out just great.

Oh, by the way: The misuse of a word doesn't mean that there are no accurate uses of that same word. So it is with "xenophobia." The fact that it's been abused doesn't mean nobody is ever really a xenophobe. I'll leave it to you to think of other examples.

By the way, as any Baptist missionary to Russia can tell you, suppressing non-Orthodox religious sects is a major *purpose* of such legislation, not some sort of accidental side effect. That's why the legislation looks so much like, whaddaya know, an attempt to suppress non-Orthodox religious sects.

You can't be too careful about those Seventh Day Adventists who want to witness to other people about Jesus. They might be carrying moral sickness.

The 7th Day cults are a perfect example of religious groups; that the civil state has a clear interest in prohibiting. The civil state, within Christendom, not only may legitimately, but should designate Sunday, the Lord's Day, as a day of rest from ordinary work and commerce. 7th Day cults like the Seventh Day Adventists disagree with and oppose that Christian consensus on the civil state having a role in the observance of the Lord's Day. The civil magistrate would do well to suppress such cults.

Lydia,

I actually don't count that as long standing. When did western civilization begin? In ancient Greece? We're talking over a thousand years when this wasn't even considered on the radar as a bedrock principle of western civilization.

Because vetting churches by the Russian government is obviously *the best* way to "keep out bad influences." The best. Should work out just great.

Where'd I say it was the best? I've expressed my skepticism and awareness of the risks of having the government do such things. And I said they had good reason to want to do that. You seem to have a problem even admitting they have anything to protect against, all evidence to the contrary. Again: constant complaints about the rot of the West, then amazement that Western influence is seen as something to guard against. Go figure.

I will say, it may not be the best way, but at least they're trying. They're not holding up freedom of religion as a reason to just go all hands off and let the scientologists throw down a hundred million dollars to make a Xenu-tower or whatever they do.

By the way, as any Baptist missionary to Russia can tell you, suppressing non-Orthodox religious sects is a major *purpose* of such legislation, not some sort of accidental side effect.

No doubt. I would imagine that the Orthodox don't like the competition one way or the other, that others don't like any foreign religions with foreign links, that they don't like the idea of Russia becoming more 'diverse' than it already is, etc. Some good motives, some not. Some of the Orthodox may even believe that their religion is true, and they shouldn't be exposing their members to influences that may lead them astray. You treat 'some souls may go to hell' as a live option if the Baptists aren't green-lighted in. I wonder if you'd accept that defense from the Orthodox as to why they support red-lighting it.

Of course, Baptists have their own problems. I wonder what they'd say to Russians who barred them from preaching, on the grounds that they have a history of racial injustice that is deplorable or some such, and Russia can't abide such a hateful legacy. Given that link, my money's on their meekly saying 'Sorry, we're better now, but sorry' and going away.

For the record, I regard the willingness to buckle and repudiate the Confederate flag (and I'm about as southern as a polar bear) in that manner to be 'a negative influence'. I think it speaks poorly as to the character of the church's members, their leadership, and their priorities - much as I think it speaks poorly of the Catholics to be jumping on yet another apology-train as -they- have done recently, even as I'm Catholic.

An article from Russian Television about the crackdown on Scientology by the Russian Federal Security Service can be found at:

www.rt.com/news/347693-russia-scientology-offices-raids/

Obviously phony made up cults, like Scientology, and Latter Day Saints should have no claim on protection under religious freedom laws in any realm.

"...there is such a thing as reasonable religious flexibility and freedom as far as purely religious tenets are concerned."

Toleration of obviously phony cults, and cults that disrupt the good order of society like pacifist cults, Sunni Islam, and 7th Day cults is something the civil state should not be obligated to do. Toleration of such groups goes beyond reasonable flexibility. They are different then religious bodies like the "Old Believers" and Churches that arose out of the divide between Eastern and Western Christendom.

but at least they're trying.

Trying to micromanage religious conversations. Trying to prevent 7th Day Adventists from preaching the _horrible_ message of worshiping on Saturday. (See Thom Yeutter's comments on this thread. At least he's honest about what he's defending.)

This is despicable insanity.

I wonder if you'd accept that defense from the Orthodox as to why they support red-lighting it.

No, I wouldn't.

In fact, it's one of the incredible ironies of this whole thing: The fundamentalist sects who really don't have any ecumenism in them and who really do think that, say, Orthodox and Catholics are going to go to hell are *not* the people trying to suppress or defending the suppression of religious freedom. Anywhere. Not even to benefit themselves. You never heard of the most fire and brimstone, anti-liturgical, fundamentalist Baptist trying to get his own church established as a state church with the power to outlaw "proselytizing" for Catholicism! Even though he thinks becoming a Catholic may well mean and probably does mean that the person goes to hell. He's willing to (figuratively speaking) duke it out in the realm of preaching, evangelism, and ideas and let the Holy Spirit take care of the outcome. But the far more ecumenical mainline denominations, and those sympathetic to them, who on _ordinary_ days of the week don't fret too much about hell and who's going there, are the ones who suddenly discover a terrible fear that "stolen sheep" will be lost forever when they are advocating and defending Russian laws outlawing missions work by other religious bodies. Interesting.

"This is despicable insanity."

I find it rather extreme that you make such an argument.

One of the central issues here is that people are *genuinely* afraid that protestant Christianity is a gateway drug to tolerating gay marriage etc., and can therefore easily lead people to hell. It also separates people from the Sacraments, as understood in Orthodox and Catholic Tradition. I don't think that is an unreasonable fear. It makes sense that traditional societies, and those who want to advance the interests of traditional Christians, might want to prevent such things. This is *entirely* apart from the question of whether this is remotely prudent.

protestant Christianity is a gateway drug to tolerating gay marriage etc., and can therefore easily lead people to hell.

a) I don't know who these "people" are, but if you really think that Vladimir Putin and the majority of the members of the Duma who voted for this, much less the petty bureaucrats who will be tasked with harassing people for having *private conversations about religion with their friends*, are motivated by such a purely theological argument, you are nuts.

b) Second, suppose someone does seriously think such a thing. If we're going to talk about extreme statements, that's one for the books. I like you, Anymouse, but if you are *defending* people who literally want to use the force of the tyrannical state to prevent someone from inviting an adult friend to church or witnessing for Jesus Christ to that person, because the witnesser is a (gasp) Protestant Christian and because someone is "genuinely" *that* afraid of Protestant Christianity and wants *that* kind of power to suppress it, then you are defending an extremist bigot. I'm sorry to be that blunt, but that's what I think.

"It also separates people from the Sacraments, as understood in Orthodox and Catholic Tradition."

c) You wanna talk theology? Which is worse? A Protestant Christian on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ, reading and studying his Bible and praying earnestly, who doesn't take the sacraments (because he belongs to a memorialist church and isn't a sacramentalist anymore) or a nominal member of a liturgical/sacramental denomination who doesn't believe a single dam' thing about God, nor loves him, nor sincerely prays, nor has been properly catechized, but takes the sacraments repeatedly in a state of indifferent, worse-than-lukewarm ignorance and complacency and thinks he's A-okay because "My family have always been ____________" (insert mainline denomination here)?

Because even your Catholic theology, rightly applied, ain't gonna answer that by telling you that the second guy is def. better off spiritually than the first guy.

And if you find some theologian to tell you that he is, he's wrong.

Lydia,

Trying to micromanage religious conversations. Trying to prevent 7th Day Adventists from preaching the _horrible_ message of worshiping on Saturday.

Trying to keep from turning into some religiously pluralist, segregated, Western-cultured place. I keep mentioning the problems they see, and you keep ignoring them.

Is it that you think the Baptists should be let in as a good influence, but the Episcopalians and the UCC can be - and should be - excluded?

No, I wouldn't.

Ah. 'Saving souls' counts for southern baptists. Orthodox? C'mon, they're like papists with beards, what souls are they saving.

You never heard of the most fire and brimstone, anti-liturgical, fundamentalist Baptist trying to get his own church established as a state church with the power to outlaw "proselytizing" for Catholicism!

Well, why would I? They don't have a great population anywhere but in a country where that's illegal - and at their most populated, they don't comprise an outright majority. And that's taking every baptist as part of the same group. They have, however, tried to write their religious preferences into law as much as they were able. Not something I condemn them for, by the by, even as a Catholic. Not just because we have views in common on some things by and large either.

But if you shake your fist and say "Well the BAPTISTS don't think the state has ANY role whatsoever in upholding and promoting their values!" okay - others disagree. And I notice the Baptists are rotting in the West, in numerous ways. I'm not so hasty to declare that it's all for the best and nothing to want to ward off if one is not already steeped in western 'values'.

You wanna talk theology? Which is worse? A Protestant Christian on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ, reading and studying his Bible and praying earnestly, who doesn't take the sacraments (because he belongs to a memorialist church and isn't a sacramentalist anymore) or a nominal member of a liturgical/sacramental denomination who doesn't believe a single dam' thing about God, nor loves him, nor sincerely prays, nor has been properly catechized, but takes the sacraments repeatedly in a state of indifferent, worse-than-lukewarm ignorance and complacency and thinks he's A-okay because "My family have always been ____________" (insert mainline denomination here)?

First, I note with distaste the explicitly stacked comparison where you're either comparing the idealized baptist best with the Orthodox worst.

Second: someone being 'on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ', and who's up to their necks in Western cultural rot, is not unheard of. If someone screams that all whites are racist and they have to accept that because Black Lives Matter, and LGBT people who love each other deserve to be married and recognized by the state because 'Separation of Church and State is valuable and God doesn't care who you love!' and more, then you know what? I'm going to have more sympathy for the nominal orthodox gent whose faith may be lukewarm at best, and who wishes to preserve their culture and customs. That person has more potential - dare I say, more hope - for spiritual success than someone whose frantic devotion to all things liberal is studded with cries of 'Praise Jesus!'

And, to take a page out of your book: if someone tells me otherwise, they're wrong.

Well, why would I? They don't have a great population anywhere but in a country where that's illegal - and at their most populated, they don't comprise an outright majority.

No, that's not why. *In general* the concept of an established state church is contrary to Baptist doctrine and teaching. This is actually pretty fundamental stuff. It's explicitly taught.

They have, however, tried to write their religious preferences into law as much as they were able.

I don't even want to know what silly examples you have in mind here. Seriously. I don't want to know. Because part of the problem with you, Crude, is that you think that you think clearly, but you really don't. You make these bizarro-land connections that have nothing to do with anything real and then slap labels on them. For all I know, in Crude World it's a "Baptist religious preference" to support gay "marriage" or something. But really, I don't want to know and risk dying of boredom while answering whatever weird connection you think you are making here.

First, I note with distaste the explicitly stacked comparison where you're either comparing the idealized baptist best with the Orthodox worst.

Feel as much distaste as you want. The stacking was deliberate, because Anymouse's argument was simplistic, even by Catholic theological terms. The fact is that if we're going to talk about people's going to hell, then taking the Sacraments _per se_ isn't always a good thing. In fact, it can be a bad thing if the person is receiving unworthily. Moreover, the example was stacked in that way *precisely* because the Russian legislation is meant to prohibit *missionary work* by Protestant evangelical groups, which is going to be carried out by, and is meant to and likely to bring into existence, the kind of harmless, sincere, and ardent Christians that I pictured there. And the laws are meant to prevent the production of such converts! You want to talk about distasteful? *That's* distasteful.

I'm going to have more sympathy for the nominal orthodox gent whose faith may be lukewarm at best, and who wishes to preserve their culture and customs.

Anymouse and I were talking about saving souls. That guy, as I pictured him, is very, very probably going to hell. I went into some detail deliberately.

And by the way, it should be *dead obvious* that the type of convert to Protestantism I was picturing is not in favor of gay "marriage," for crying out loud. I didn't need to mention that. I was answering Anymouse, who was literally suggesting that conversion from Orthodoxy to Protestantism per se is bad for souls because it takes people away from the Sacraments.

Let me tell you something, Crude. And anyone else on this thread who wants to defend these insane Russian laws because "liberalism is bad" or whatever the argument is supposed to be: When you find yourself in a position where you are thirsting for or defending the seizure of near-absolute power over people because you think "your side" could do "so much good" with it, realize this: You are being corrupted. Lord Acton's dictum should be kept as a frontlet before our eyes.

Lydia,

No, that's not why. *In general* the concept of an established state church is contrary to Baptist doctrine and teaching.

They certainly don't mind state laws which are rather in line with their church values, as well as exerting cultural influence as much as they can. Which is expected, and which I defend and encourage. This isn't Russia, and I don't want it to be, for the most part.

Because part of the problem with you, Crude, is that you think that you think clearly, but you really don't. You make these bizarro-land connections that have nothing to do with anything real and then slap labels on them.

If you believe you think clearly, Lydia, it may have something to do with your ability to block out any points or claims that may complicate your thoughts.

As for baptists and others: I think they're exhibiting some uniquely western signs of cultural rot, and that just by virtue of their being rooted in the West, they're prone to ways of thinking and errors that others may want to insulate themselves from. Once again, I note that 'the problems going on in the West' are not at all alien to anyone at WWWtW, including you. But the thought that anyone else in the world may see these problems and take action to minimize their influence makes you forget them. Go figure.

Moreover, the example was stacked in that way *precisely* because the Russian legislation is meant to prohibit *missionary work* by Protestant evangelical groups, which is going to be carried out by, and is meant to and likely to bring into existence, the kind of harmless, sincere, and ardent Christians that I pictured there.

Not every missionary is harmless and sincere, not everyone is a positive influence, and even well-meaning Christians can do harm - and at this point I'm sure that what you and I regard as 'positive influences' are in opposition in part. I already noted that this harmless, sincere, ardent group of Christians in particular - your pick, not mine - just fell all over themselves to condemn a symbol that I recall you yourself defended against such nonsense. I'm Catholic - ask me if I can point at Catholic failings, even among the zealous, things that should be guarded against. How's Baylor doing nowadays? It's Baptist, ergo it must be spiffy.

Let me tell you something, Crude. And anyone else on this thread who wants to defend these insane Russian laws because "liberalism is bad" or whatever the argument is supposed to be: When you find yourself in a position where you are thirsting for or defending the seizure of near-absolute power over people because you think "your side" could do "so much good" with it, realize this: You are being corrupted.

I'm not defending the seizure of near-absolute power. I'm pointing out the reasonableness of some motives behind these laws, I'm noting a very real cultural problem with the West, all while acknowledging, expressly, the dangers of government oversight of such things. I just happen to also recognize the dangers of your view as well. Regarding Lord Acton's dictum: the fact that you're angrily demanding that the Russians 'get with the program' and enforce your particular vision of proper religious laws doesn't exempt you from it. Good intentions and calls for 'freedom!' don't do the trick, now do they? For the record, 'those people' aren't 'on my side'. I just recognize that they have something they value that they seek to defend, and they care more about defending themselves than making you and yours happy. Or, for that matter, me and mine. Good for them.

I wonder who Lord Acton would find the bigger worry - me, at least understanding why the Russians are doing what they're doing, and what motivations they may have, in a world where most of the West hates them. Or you, the American screaming in outrage and demanding a recovering Christian country, on the other side of the world, change and be ashamed because you find it personally outrageous that they don't run their government the way you think is best. A way which, looking Westward, hasn't exactly done a bang-up job thus far.

And by the way, it should be *dead obvious* that the type of convert to Protestantism I was picturing is

Then tell me you think the Russians should block the kind I'm talking about, who exist in abundance.

Wait, such examples will no doubt muddy your thinking and bore you so. Best to ignore it.

Crude,

What's funny about the concern you have, and supposedly the Russians have, of being invaded by 'liberal Protestants' of the Episcopalian or UCC stripe is that they are the last groups imaginable that would bother to actually engage in missionary activity!

I was actually fine with an earlier law in Russia (I'm not 100% it passed, but I'm pretty sure) that banned foreign funding for non-profits and/or political activity. There the threat from outside, liberal groups is real (hello George Soros) and it actually makes sense that the Russian state would want to control what kind of influence foreign media has. Frankly, I would ban RT if I was in control of American media (just to get started) so it is not a totally crazy idea that the Russian people want to be free to some basic extent from foreign meddling in their politics.

Finally, it is kind of crazy for Putin, the Duma, and the Russia Orthodox Church to be worried about their people becoming Baptists or Reformed Protestants. I mean, it's not like they have a terrible economy, a population with bad health, high abortion rates, low fertility, etc. and rather than roll up their sleeves and try and solve some real social problems they decide to pick on some foreign missionaries. I'm sure it will work out great for them in the end

Jeffrey S,

What's funny about the concern you have, and supposedly the Russians have, of being invaded by 'liberal Protestants' of the Episcopalian or UCC stripe is that they are the last groups imaginable that would bother to actually engage in missionary activity!

I think the Russians are on guard against western influence in general, whether good or ill. And as I keep saying - even groups you'd think of as being 'generally good' may well be part of the problem. I submit that Lydia here, while certainly not some kind of big proud liberal, nevertheless has a mentality that isn't particularly good, and people may well want to do without. I'm not left-wing either, but some right-wing people think they'd be better off without my influence. Crazy, right? ;)

That said, I think you underestimate things. I see you're on a similar page as me (God forbid) since you recognize the foreign funding for non-profits being a legit concern. What makes you think churches are immune - or better yet, claimed churches are immune? You think Soros won't use those as well? You think no one ever decides to fund a church's missionary activity because it makes for a good touchstone for something else? Once again, I remind you of the state of Western churches. Some of them suck, or are getting worse.

Again, let me light this up with neon: I'm not saying that the threat is just from expressly liberal Churches, though that's certainly an issue. Even the 'conservative' ones have values and outlooks that are part of the problem at times.

Finally, it is kind of crazy for Putin, the Duma, and the Russia Orthodox Church to be worried about their people becoming Baptists or Reformed Protestants. I mean, it's not like they have a terrible economy, a population with bad health, high abortion rates, low fertility, etc. and rather than roll up their sleeves and try and solve some real social problems they decide to pick on some foreign missionaries.

They don't like foreign influence, and given the current state of things, who can blame them? One difference between them and us is that they actually openly treat their high abortion rates and low fertility as problems. Likewise they treat their poor economy as a priority to fix for Russians, without fretting whether their decisions may harm would-be Dreamers who also deserve a chance. We celebrate those things over here, pleased as punch at our abundance of freedom, our rapidly changing demographics (even the 'conservative' churches are -thrilled- to aid and abet that), and more.

I submit we're both sick, with different illnesses. But we're the only one of the two talking about how healthy we are, by and large. And those of us who aren't, are convinced our illness isn't communicable. I urge you: reconsider.

Crude, you seem to have the mistaken impression that I am against the Russian Duma trying to turn Russia back into a confessional Orthodox state. I am not. Other than wishing that the confessional state be Catholic rather than Orthodox, it is perfectly fine for Russia to become a religious state once again, and I never said otherwise.

The issue I have is the how.

Unlike Lydia, I am not opposed to a properly ordered state having a fairly significant role in promoting one religion, and the effect of that being to cause a series of limitations and constraints on other religions with respect to how readily free they are to spread their religion. But "a series of limitations and constraints" is not the same thing as outright banning people from other religions even talking about their faith, nor code-word laws intended to forbid homeschooling because then the state cannot monitor what you teach your own kids.

But the critical term in that paragraph was "properly ordered". A properly ordered state in which those in government love God and wish for all to love Him do not need to forbid all mention and talk of other religions absolutely, they require only that it take place within due norms. And "due norms" can to some extent be spelled out with limitations and constraints, as I said above: for foreign missionaries, "Fine, you want to evangelize us, well first run your theories and arguments and confessions through our EXPERTS, and if you can walk out having held your own, we will accord you due place in evangelizing others." This is not simply a total lockout on missionaries of other faiths, it is a permission and opportunity to those missionaries to put their best foot forward and "carry the day" if that's the Lord's will. And if not, well, that too is as the Lord permits. It allows those foreign missionaries to ACT on their belief that they are called to spread the WORD, but also puts them to the test (as the New Testament says) so as not to naively accept anyone who cries "Lord, Lord" as being true apostles.

[In this Lydia and I do not see eye to eye: she would prefer that government never entangle itself in theological issues so directly, whereas I would have it do so subject to subsidiarity. I believe that as soon as you say the government can judge theology enough to condemn Moloch worship, you allow it to judge matters of natural theology - in principle - and even to judge irrational claims of revelation. (In practice, I more closely agree with her on restraint of government in such areas because of human failings.) ]

A properly ordered government does not use the sheer DIFFERENCE of a missionary's words to be the basis for rejection: truth and error are the right basis, not "they are promoting what appears DIFFERENT from our stuff, so it's bad". Sheer xenophobia, sheer disgust of the foreigner because he is different is not a recognition "he is wrong".

A properly ordered government does not need to try to impose uniformity of customs by taking education out of the hand of family - that's a disordered understanding of custom. Children are supposed to be inculturated into their nation by means of their family in first instance, not in opposition thereto.

Because of these and many other details, what stands out to me is the suggestion that the Duma is trying to use Russian Orthodoxy as one mechanism for instilling uniformity, not because they are overwhelmingly convinced that Russian Orthodoxy is RIGHT and THE TRUE PATH TO GOD, but because it is unequivocally Russian and by promoting it one can automatically exclude many unwanted questions from being asked. This is to make religion a means to a secular end, rather than the other way around. It is not the "keeping out pernicious Western religious pluralism" that I object to, it's the "keeping control of government by keeping control of the people's perspective" that I find problematic. There's a right way to go about making your religion top dog in the country - and that ain't it.

Tony,

But "a series of limitations and constraints" is not the same thing as outright banning people from other religions even talking about their faith, nor code-word laws intended to forbid homeschooling because then the state cannot monitor what you teach your own kids.

And I'm not happy with that either. I imagine it is heavy-handed not because they rue homeschooling, but because they're closing down loopholes that will be exploited. Even then, it's a rotten solution. But if a rotten situation has other solutions, I am all ears. 'Just treat religious belief as a huge free trade marketplace' is not so simple, nor am I convinced, so wise, or so moral.

A properly ordered government does not need to try to impose uniformity of customs by taking education out of the hand of family - that's a disordered understanding of custom. Children are supposed to be inculturated into their nation by means of their family in first instance, not in opposition thereto.

Sure. On the other hand, Russia's still within living memory of totalitarianism and state atheism on one hand, and propaganda and some severe foreign manipulation on the other. Put roughly: we don't feed obese people or the malnourished 'a normal diet'. We feed them a corrective diet. And Russia's sick. So are we, for that matter. Is 'a properly ordered government' appropriate, even if it's ultimately desired?

Because of these and many other details, what stands out to me is the suggestion that the Duma is trying to use Russian Orthodoxy as one mechanism for instilling uniformity, not because they are overwhelmingly convinced that Russian Orthodoxy is RIGHT and THE TRUE PATH TO GOD, but because it is unequivocally Russian and by promoting it one can automatically exclude many unwanted questions from being asked. This is to make religion a means to a secular end, rather than the other way around.

Absolutely, I don't doubt that the 'secular' concerns are considerable here. And they are not pure motivations.

On the other hand, Tony. I don't know about you, but I certainly sell the secular advantages of religion at times. I believe in them too, even if I believe in God, believe in classical theism, and the Church. To be perfectly frank? A secular person who values their faith and who adheres to it, even if they aren't fully invested in it heart and soul, is not the worst situation to be in - nor is it the worst motivation to have to get one in a Church to begin with.

I imagine a Pole who is proud of his church, who believes Poland is Catholic, who likes to celebrate Christmas and who upholds traditional Catholic moral law, but who ultimately has little faith in it being the absolutely true, and who's even ambivalent about God's existence or at least goodness. Can they be a lot better? Yes, they can. Absolutely. They are flawed, they have problems. But you know what I call that hypothetical Pole, as opposed to Richard Dawkins - or, frankly, even a more fervently believing John Shelby Spong? 'A vast improvement.'

Good heavens....xenophobia? Is that what you're worried about? This is a nation whose national identity was destroyed, who became a wild west when released from communism, and who is now attempting to reestablish their culture. This means that the Eastern Orthodox church itself is attempting to reestablish its culture. It is foolhardy to believe that Americanizing them with Baptist missionaries will be helpful in this regard. What would be helpful is prayer for the Orthodox church in Russia who is still emerging, albeit to an unstable political world. The gospel is a powerful force, and the Orthodox church has been carrying the gospel torch for centuries.

I don't know about you, but I certainly sell the secular advantages of religion at times.
but because they're closing down loopholes that will be exploited. Even then, it's a rotten solution. But if a rotten situation has other solutions, I am all ears.

It is common and reasonable in discussions of religious freedom and tolerance to consider as separate cases religiously "plural" states versus a state that has one religion. When we talk about a country that "has one religion" we generally mean a country in which the VAST, overwhelming majority hold one religion, upwards of 90% and perhaps even upwards of 95%. And where the customs of that religion are not just embedded in the habits and thoughts of the 90% or 95%, but are recognized and deeply familiar even to those who do not belong to that religion. In THAT kind of environment, laws that promote the one religion fall on the 5% or 10% differently than in a fully plural environment.

As I understand it, in Russia today somewhere between 45% and 60% of Russians call themselves Orthodox (there are no solid numbers, apparently). And somewhere between 5% and 10% attend church regularly. It is manifestly that, after their 70+ years of Communism, Orthodox customs and thinking are not deeply familiar to the vast majority of the population, nor even to the (at most) 60% that call themselves Orthodox.

It's one thing to impose significant constraints on how and when you can engage in active proselytizing (like: "you are will be given opportunity to try to persuade, through direct proselytizing - in venues such as moderated debates - and your ACTIVE proselytizing is to be limited to those") on 5% of the population in order to maintain and promote the already existing religious and social unity of 95%, and quite another to impose rather all-encompassing constraints (like: "you may not talk about your religion to others") on 40% of the population in order to promote a hoped-for eventual unity of the 60% who are, at best, only mildly conforming to one religion. What you call "loopholes" is just ordinary daily life for millions of _native_ Russians who have already, in the hurly burly of the fall of atheistic Communism, attached themselves to something other than Russian Orthodoxy. Not to mention the 3-generations-long atheism of the Communist era that millions more retained after its fall. You can't just make laws against ordinary daily life for 40% of the population that is conformed to what has been a kind of norm for years (even if not generations and generations), in the HOPE to achieve a future social unity. The social and "secular advantages" of religion don't justify that.

Reasonable laws in support of a religion have to recognize the actual state of the citizenry. Sure, that means that measures to promote Orthodoxy are going to be more limited than would have been reasonable in the year 1900. That's the hand dealt them right now. Sure, that means the most stringent laws that are reasonable right now will leave non-Orthodox more room ("loopholes") to operate in and potentially spread their divisive beliefs. That's the nature of the beast that is real life politics: it is messy. You can't just write laws the way you would like them to be in best-case-land. You have to write them for the actual situation.

On the other hand, Russia's still within living memory of totalitarianism and state atheism on one hand, and propaganda and some severe foreign manipulation on the other.

And these laws - combined with the clamp down on secular media with perspectives different from the government's agenda, and other institutions that don't like Putin - are part and parcel of a new totalitarianism, not of state atheism and an agenda of dialectical materialism, but of state rule for the sake of retained state rule: power alone.

This is speculation on my part, but let me offer it: After 1993 and the fall of the Soviet state, there arose a period of wide-open nearly anything goes in reaction to the excessively controlled Soviet. That period saw the rise of, not least, Russian mafias and other forms that took advantage of chaos and disorder. Since 2000, and more since 2004 or so, Putin has been riding a reaction to the ills of that period of disorder and chaos by pushing more government controls, more government generally. That's not surprising (or even necessarily bad) in itself.

What's troubling is the end goal he seems to have in mind. If we propose that "good" government attends to and regulates neither TOO MUCH, nor TOO LITTLE (the goldilocks standard of "just right" in between), it is to be expected that after a period of vastly too much government, they would swing right past "just right" into "too little". Reaction is like that. You would hope that when THAT excess comes to be recognized, within living memory of the "vastly too much", they would swing back toward the middle and actually AIM for a more middle course. A course of (hopefully) reasoned moderation that avoids BOTH forms of excess that living memory can recall. But Putin, from many accounts, seems bent on something very much like the Tsars' level of autocratic despotism. Sure, it will be dressed up in more modern clothes - but will also use more modern technology to control people. It does not appear, to me at least (with admittedly very limited data), that his intent is to moderate impulses toward the two extremes and arrive at a reasoned "just right" amount of government, it is to ride the second reaction away from "too little" right back into "too much" territory.

Maybe in 1900 a reasonable reform of Tsarist Russia would have tempered the excesses of the Tsar's powers and arrived at a reasonable modern monarchy that still retained true monarchic powers. We could speculate all day on what that might have looked like through the 1900s. But today, after 2 decades of democracy, (whether failed or only partly successful), you cannot just stuff the cat back in the bag and pretend people have no capacity or claim to participatory forms of government. You cannot erect a new monarchy just because that COULD have been a reasonable form for the Russian people had things gone differently for the past 100 years. You cannot jury-rig elections to create authoritarianism as a justifiable response to the ills of democratic rule.

Then tell me you think the Russians should block the kind I'm talking about, who exist in abundance.

There exist in abundance Protestant evangelicals in Russia, or would-be missionaries to Russia, who are all in favor of gay "marriage"? This is the kind of thing I meant by "Crude World" and a detachment from reality.

In any event, there are about five hundred kajillion ways for _any_ society to oppose propaganda for homosexual "marriage" that have precisely _zilch_ to do with opposing "missionary work." Please note, too, that these laws aren't just about "foreign influences" but also prohibit "missionary work" by people who, for all anyone knows, have a Russian ancestry of hundreds of years. It's against "missionary work," period.

One would have to lack imagination very seriously not to be able to think of how to oppose homosexualist propaganda without anything *remotely* like these types of law. Some of the forms of opposition are probably already in place in Russia. For example:

--Remove and prevent the reinsertion of all homosexualist propaganda in public school curricula.
--Ban all "gay pride" events as clear violations (which they are) of existing statute on public lewdness.
--Prevent the direct use of any public funds for the promotion of homosexuality.
--Start a campaign similar to American anti-smoking campaign on the health dangers of homosexual practice.
--Block by law the recognition of surrogacy contracts, thus preventing homosexual couples from using women as surrogates.

Heck, for that matter, even an outright law against sodomy and then punishing all direct incitement to sodomy under incitement laws would not *begin to be anything like* these types of laws.

Crude, your attempt even to *relate* these laws to homosexuality and homosexual marriage is bizarre, strained, and frankly, trollish. There is no real connection at all. This is all about controlling *religion*, generally. You are merely trying to make the connection because you fancy yourself some kind of intellectual reactionary and want to paint Russia as "at least trying to preserve their culture," blah, blah, and want to connect these laws _somehow_ to _something_ on which you can play some kind of silly "gotcha" game against a more mainstream and less reactionary conservative like me.

The idea that this law is _about_ homosexuality or has _anything_ to do with the spread of homosexual propaganda or that it is somehow _so difficult_ to think of ways to prevent the spread of homosexuality and homosexualist policies in Russia without _this_ type of law about "missionary activity," clearly directed at and intended to squelch socially _conservative_ Protestant and other specifically religious sects, is so weird and dumb as scarcely to deserve answer, which is why I haven't bothered heretofore.

In theory, I am a full fledged antidisestablishmentarian. In the early days of the American Republic, most of the States had a State Church. The State of Delaware did not. Indeed, Delaware prohibited clergymen from holding public office. You would be mistake to believe; that Delaware was seeking to become a proto-secular state. Delaware restricted voting, and the holding of political office to Protestant, Trinitarian, Christians. Delaware thereby sought to exclude Quakers, Shakers, Deists, Unitarians, and other cultists from participating in the civic life of their community. That seems reasonable to me.

It also seems reasonable to me for the civil state of Russia to De Facto designate the canonical Russian Orthodox Church the State Church. What government restrictions then should apply, to other faith communities in Russia?

1. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating obviously phony made up cults, like Scientology?

2. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating pacifist cults, like the Mennonites?

3. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults; that argue against the keeping of Sunday as the Lords Day, like Seventh Day Advenists?

4. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults with foreign prelates, like the Armenian Apostolic Church?

5. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults that are organically connected with foreign Churches, like the Uniate Ukrainian Catholic Church?

6. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults that are not Trinitarian, like Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter Day Saints?

7. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults that do not recognize the validity of Orthodox Baptism, like the Baptists?

8. Does the State have a legitimate interest in excluding/regulating cults that are members of the World Council of Churches?

These are all related, but different questions. The enabling regulations to the legislation enacted by the Duma will tell the story of what form religious freedom takes in Russia.

Thom, I'm sorry, but the fact that you keep using pacifism and, of all things, the teaching that one should worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, as some sort of reductios of broad religious freedom, and as some sort of thing that the state _clearly_ has a compelling interest in prohibiting, just shows that you and are a living in different _universes_ on such matters. This is one of those moments when one says, "So-and-so is my friend, and I like him and all, but now I remember that paleocons are plain crazy about some matters. Sorry, buddy. I love ya', but the more often you keep saying this stuff the harder I have to try to forget that you're saying it."

Tony,

When we talk about a country that "has one religion" we generally mean a country in which the VAST, overwhelming majority hold one religion, upwards of 90% and perhaps even upwards of 95%.

What you mean we, kimosabe.

Besides, there's little in the way of competing religion in Russia - in large part, and certainly historically, it's just been 'Russian Orthodox' with a whole lot of irreligion. And even the irreligious had their cultural roots in the Orthodox.

You can't just make laws against ordinary daily life for 40% of the population that is conformed to what has been a kind of norm for years (even if not generations and generations), in the HOPE to achieve a future social unity. The social and "secular advantages" of religion don't justify that.

With respect, Tony - they can, and they have. With tremendous success. Is it perfect? No. Good God no. But it is a tremendous improvement. And before you object that these results came before this law, I'll note that they've been playing this game for a while now. Apparently they can do the very thing you said they can't, with the results you insisted would not come to fruition.

I note that you talk about the ethical lack of warrant (based on what? who knows) to introduce laws that favor a particular religion in Russia, on the grounds that for decades they had atheism imposed on them. Supporting orthodoxy would therefore be unthinkable. But they've had free and unrestricted influence from foreign religions - indeed, western style democracy, in a tangible sense - pretty much never.

And these laws - combined with the clamp down on secular media with perspectives different from the government's agenda, and other institutions that don't like Putin - are part and parcel of a new totalitarianism, not of state atheism and an agenda of dialectical materialism, but of state rule for the sake of retained state rule: power alone.

Well, no. It seems more like power for a particular view - Russian supremacy. What are the alternatives? Tell me 'Freedom! Sexual liberation!' - we could use some comedy here.

It's weird that you keep saying what the Russians cannot do, what they are unable to do, what the people won't have imposed on them. Then I turn around and look at what Russia's done, and how they're celebrating Putin and company for doing it. The irreligious in Russia have expressed their outrage at Yeltsin's law by converting in droves, buoying belief in God, and more. Apparently no one ever told them it was impossible.

Lydia,

There exist in abundance Protestant evangelicals in Russia, or would-be missionaries to Russia, who are all in favor of gay "marriage"?

I keep noting that the problem isn't limited to gay marriage, Lydia, but to a host of other influences. But frankly? If you think Soros and company are above funding churches, keep dreaming. It's like you people regard NGOs trying to influence governments and public opinion as some kind of nonsense bogeyman. Surely churches would never advance such things!

Please.

In any event, there are about five hundred kajillion ways for _any_ society to oppose propaganda for homosexual "marriage" that have precisely _zilch_ to do with opposing "missionary work."

Isn't this just so like us Americans.

'Here's five hundred kajillion ways to oppose propaganda for homosexual "marriage" that isn't like Russia's!'
"Oh, how many of them worked in your country?"
'None, but there are WAYS, damnit.'

Perhaps the ways aren't enough. In fact, perhaps focusing on gay marriage alone is insufficient.

You are merely trying to make the connection because you fancy yourself some kind of intellectual reactionary and

Gong.

The idea that this law is _about_ homosexuality or has _anything_ to do with the spread of homosexual propaganda or that it is somehow _so difficult_ to think of ways to prevent the spread of homosexuality and homosexualist policies in Russia without _this_ type of law about "missionary activity,"

As I keep saying, and which you keep ignoring - perhaps due to that 'boredom' - this isn't limited to LGBT nonsense. Not by a longshot. I notice you've bitten your tongue with regards to how the Southern Baptists are dealing with their 'confederate flag' issue, and what it says about their mentality and character.

Not that the Russians are so great; they have some considerable cultural successes, and some major flaws too. Different flaws, but flaws all the same. You, meanwhile, can only notice that there may be fewer baptist missionaries in Russia. Believe me: not the biggest problem in the world right now. And if the Baptists wish to help spread the faith and convert the lost, they may want to focus more on their own backyard, what with their declining numbers.

Or maybe they can't. Maybe they don't know how to solve that. I wonder why?

Lydia, Thomas didn't say "a compelling interest" but rather, "a legitimate interest".

In virtually every one of his 8 cases, I would suggest that in some cases,, yes.

But only in some cases. The telling point is not whether the attempted proselytizing is by some cult who are WRONG, but whether what their wrongness and their presence does to the body politic. The polity doesn't have an interest in suppressing a phony cult like Scientology merely because it is phony (nor does it have a role in suppressing someone spouting erroneous science merely because he is wrong), but only if and when that wrongness amounts to a worse public evil than the ills attendant on locating and suppressing such error. For all pursuit by the government to find and suppress a body of false claims has unfortunate side effects. So, while the polity has a legitimate interest in good and true religion, and therefore has an interest in bad and false religion also, it does not have a legitimate purpose in suppressing a false religion solely on account of its error alone GIVEN the irreducible reality of undesired side consequences.

notice you've bitten your tongue with regards to how the Southern Baptists are dealing with their 'confederate flag' issue, and what it says about their mentality and character.

Crude, you pretty much define troll.

The fact that I don't respond to every single one of your stupid, free-association comments never, ever means that they are some kind of unanswerable knock-downs, but you always come back and talk like it does. So bizarre.

Yeah, because it's just *so relevant* to laws cracking down on non-Orthodox faith-sharing that oh, noes, some Southern Baptists have distanced themselves from the Confederate flag! This must be addressed! As an argument for Russia's prohibiting native Russian Baptists from sharing their faith over coffee, this is _important_! And the fact that Crude has been banging on and on and on about homosexual "marriage" and how Protestantism in any form is supposedly the high road to it won't stop him for a minute from trying to waste *more* time by shifting to *something else*, hopefully something sufficiently vague as to take 100 more comments to try to "answer."

Gah. Sick-making.

What a time-waster you are, Crude.

Lydia,

Yeah, because it's just *so relevant* to laws cracking down on non-Orthodox faith-sharing that oh, noes, some Southern Baptists have distanced themselves from the Confederate flag!

Actually, yes, it is. Because as I keep saying - we have problems in the West. Believe it or not, when the southern baptists feel the need to gather then condemn a symbol with a complicated history like that - largely in response to media pressure and cultural insanity - it says a lot about them. And it's only one of the most recent problems.

And the fact that Crude has been banging on and on and on about homosexual "marriage" and how Protestantism in any form is supposedly the high road to it

I've actually said remarkably little about it, save to note that the Orthodox have had more success in general in their lands as of late. Frightening amounts of it, for all their very real and serious problems. Here's a thought: maybe instead of trying to convert the Orthodox and establish churches in Russia, the southern baptists should be asking the orthodox for advice. Between their declining numbers and influence - even in their own schools - it seems like they could use some. So could Catholics.

Also - 'how Protestantism in any form is the high road to it'? The heck are you reading there? You're apparently confusing me with someone else, since not only have I not said that, I've actually criticized Catholics as well on that front. You know, my own faith? The Orthodox have it in for Catholics more than Baptists besides. I've been saying that the West has a problem, period, and that we should pause before raging that others are rejecting our ever-benevolent influence. Perhaps they have good reasons to do so. Perhaps 'But freedom of religion, that sacred ideal...!' isn't a good reply. Maybe it's even part of the problem.

What a time-waster you are, Crude.

My ability to waste your time by making you read things I haven't even written is uncanny, I admit. Somehow I'm able to make it look as if you're not even reading what I write and are instead arguing with hallucinations. That must get tiring.

Regardless, I've given some good links. Links showing what the Russians have been seeing in terms of religious belief, respect and more in the past couple decades. Also some links, I believe, illustrating how (of all people) George Soros has been more than happy to use churches and religious groups as pawns - who have been more than happy to comply. Maybe that has a role in Russia's uptick in distaste for unvetted foreign religions?

I await your evasion of that point, as 'Billionaires using churches and religious groups to spread ideology' shall be declared irrelevant in this conversation too.

Crude, you pretty much define troll.

Of course; he disagrees with you (on your own blog, le gasp!). Why, he even questions your BASE ASSUMPTIONS!!!

All of you should be ashamed of yourself for your ridiculous reactions to somebody who has, as you have pointed out you *want more of*, actually come down to debate with you. But instead, you call them trolls and mock them.

Guess what? Intelligent people are disagreeing with you and agreeing with Crude.

Maybe that should give you pause.

But it won't.

MA, Crude flits about from claim to claim and "argument" to "argument" and then trolls by repeated comments like, "I notice you haven't said anything about _____" where _____ is some incredibly lame free-association allusion or assertion. Insinuation: _____ is just unbeatable, and one hasn't said anything because one is struck dumb by the force of, say, the implication that Russian Orthodoxy (even if purely nominal and connected with no commitment to God) is a talisman against supporting homosexuality, while any religious affiliation that could be deemed "Western," including extremely conservative Baptist, carries an ideological virus that makes one liberal. Or makes one's society liberal if permitted to Spread. Or something. Then for umpteen comments we get, "I notice you haven't said anything about ____." Then one responds to ____, gets a snarky, non-responsive reply, and it's, "I notice you haven't said anything about _____#2" where ____#2 is some new, bizarre, free-association allusion.

We've gone from something or other to do with being a Baptist and homosexuality, something or other to do with the Confederate flag and some Baptists, to something or other to do with George Soros. *This* is argument? Without _anything_ connecting *these laws* (preventing, you know, Russian Baptists from inviting you to receive Jesus as your personal Savior in a coffee shop) to *any* of this stuff. (Because, hint, there isn't anything.)

I tell you what: *I* think these Russian laws are an attempt to Do Something about wife beating and alcoholism. I will proceed to make up some b.s. vaguely associating the laws with the prevention of wife beating and alcoholism. Then I will demand, in comment after comment, that someone _respond_ to these associational assertions. I will also demand, "What do _we_ do in _our_ country to stop wife beating and alcoholism? Huh? Huh? What do _you_ suggest, huh? Huh? I notice you haven't responded!" When the blogger finally responds with a list of suggestions for addressing these problems that have (of course) _nothing_ to do with the Russian laws, I will then snark about how those measures haven't been notably successful in the U.S. (after all, we still have alcoholism and wife beating) and will go on triumphantly saying, "At least the Russians are _doing_ something! At least they are _trying_!" Then I'll mention George Soros. Because of the penguins. Then I'll start saying, "But what about George Soros? You haven't answered _that one_!"

And so on. And so on.

But if the blogger gets impatient with this sort of silly trolling and harassment, that's a "ridiculous reaction," and intelligent people should agree with me and disagree with the blogger. Maybe (lowers voice impressively) the blogger should be given pause.

I've gone this round with Crude once before, three years ago, when I wasn't onto his game. Back then (after I'd taken him seriously for about a hundred comments) the repeated, incessant demand began to be that I denounce some performer I'd never heard of who uttered the words "God hates ____s." Since then he's evidently reimaged himself in a slightly (!) different political mold, but the modus operandi is the same.

So I'm going to be shutting down comments to this thread. I do have a life. I have, in fact, replied even to some of Crude's more absurd arguments. ("But you didn't say anything about George Soros!! Obviously, you have no answer to this knockdown argument that favors the Russian laws!!" Right.)

It's a shame that blogging has to be like this. Crude, I'm guessing, knows full-well (at least deep down, but maybe even right on the surface) that he devils people for the sake thereof, because he gets a kick out of bring up some ever-new "argument" and then saying, "I notice you haven't answered _that_" for comment after comment.

And that whole m.o. is not dialogue. It pretty much ruins dialogue. See Tony in this thread for someone who disagrees with me and knows how to dialogue.

Take care, gents.