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).

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Read more at American Interest

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

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America