Today’s Secularists Seek to Contain, Not Defeat, Religion

Dec. 21 2015

The Texas state bar recently decided not to allow a class on religion and legal ethics, offered by the law school of a Catholic university, to count toward continuing education requirements, on the grounds that to do so would constitute violation of boundaries between church and state. In his dissenting analysis, Peter Berger explains the underlying conflict between “secularity” and “secularism.”

Secularity is not an ideology but a fact, like it or not. Much of the time there is no choice: you cannot operate in a modern economy by following the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and you cannot fly an airplane on instructions from the Talmud.

By contrast, secularism is an ideology (as the suffix indicates). It celebrates secularity and seeks to enlarge its space at the expense of religion. It comes in different versions. Its extreme version, from the Jacobin cult of reason to the “scientific atheism” of the Soviet Union, has become quite rare. Certainly in the U.S. it usually takes the form of a program to confine religion to private spaces—churches or other overtly religious institutions—and keep it out of public spaces, especially when these are supported by tax funds.

Probably there have always been tensions between the “no establishment” and “free exercise” phrases of the First Amendment. Secularists rank the first over the second. As in this case: the Texas state bar committee is offended by the intrusion, however academic, of a “Catholic orientation” into a program of necessarily secular legal education. The spokesman of a Catholic institution regards its religious orientation as the right to free exercise. . . . [E]ven if I were a committed secularist, as a sociologist I would observe that a broad understanding of religious freedom is conducive to civic peace (especially in a democracy).

Read more at American Interest

More about: American Religion, Freedom of Religion, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Secularism

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy