Should Christians Allow Secularists to Set the Rules for Debate?
“A foundational principle of academia is that religion is a private matter, never to be discussed in the public square. Citing Scripture and other religious texts is out of bounds – even though it is permissible for politicians or other public figures to quote their favorite philosophers, educational experts, rock stars, or New Age gurus. In 1984, Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote about this as what he characterized as a troubling trend in his seminal book, The Naked Public Square. Of course, this taboo against Scripture advantages the cultural elites, connoting by its very existence the correctness of their ideas and the backwardness of ours. This view is exemplified in an opinion piece that U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich published before the 2004 elections:
The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe human beings owe blind allegiance to a higher authority; between those who give authority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is no more than preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe truth is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma, and those who rely primarily on science, reason, and logic.
As long as the overwhelming majority of Americans define themselves as Christians, the marketplace of public dialogue, opinion, and debate is an appropriate forum for Scripture and religious reasoning, cited alongside scientific, philosophical, and other forms of knowledge. Law professor Steven D. Smith argues that public discourse needs to be freed from the constraints imposed on it by secularists. According to Smith, the demand that arguments avoid religious reasoning results in a secular vocabulary “too truncated to express the full range of values, intuitions, commitments or convictions” necessary for addressing common interests. Unable to use religious language and hemmed in by their own rules, secularists “smuggle” in religious concepts but call them by other names such as liberty, freedom, or equality. This, Smith says, creates a “secular cage.”
In order for genuine public discourse to exist in America, we must create the intellectual and political spaces where people can offer religious reasoning and scriptural proofs that undergird their deepest values. These values connect Americans today with the hopes and aspirations held by the founding fathers, who envisioned a society with an unswerving commitment to virtue and justice. Our forebears balanced a commitment to virtue and justice with a deep awareness of the moral conflict that lies at the heart of humanity. In doing so, they forged a nation unlike any other – with a deep sense of reverence for the human spirit, yet deferential to the God who weighs the affairs of men.”