The Case for Keeping Religion in the Public Conversation

Jan. 12 2017

There are many reasons, writes Walter Russell Mead, that move people to keep discussions of religion private, or limit them to houses of worship: the fear that one’s opinions will stir others to anger, reluctance to become a hypocrite by—in the New Testament’s phrase—“casting the first stone” when one is far from sinless, and the very modern sentiment that religion, and even morality, are fundamentally private matters. Mead makes the case for resisting such impulses:

If only perfect people were allowed to write about faith and morals, nobody will ever say anything on the subject. Parents wouldn’t try to teach their kids right from wrong; teachers wouldn’t try to help students build moral character. No minister, rabbi, imam, or priest would stand before a congregation to preach a sermon. No Buddhist monk would give advice to the faithful; no Sufi master would counsel disciples on how to approach God.

For some, like the group of atheists who rented billboards a couple of years ago to denounce all religions as scams, if a sudden silence were to fall over all the pulpits in the world, it would be very good news. But before too much time passed, even the most intemperate atheists would begin to notice that something was wrong.

Morality isn’t a private affair. Your personal morality is your own choice and your own responsibility, but the consequences of those choices matter much more to other people—and their choices matter much more to you—than we sometimes remember. Society really does depend on the imperfect virtue of its members. Self-restraint and moral behavior, even only realized in part, really are the foundations of liberty. If too many people do the wrong things too many times, nothing can protect us from the consequences.

The weaker the hold of virtue on a people, the stronger the state needs to be. If people don’t voluntarily comply with, for example, the tax codes, the enforcement mechanisms of the government need to be that much stronger. If more people lose their moral inhibitions against theft, and against using violence against the weak, then society has to provide a stronger, tougher police force—and give them more authority under less restraint.

Read more at American Interest

More about: American Religion, Atheism, Morality, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Must Make the Best of a Bad Deal

Jan. 23 2017

Were Donald Trump to tear up the nuclear deal with Tehran, Washington would gain little leverage while Iran would still have pocketed enormous sums of money, would continue to benefit from the lifting of international sanctions, and could continue work on its nuclear program unimpeded. Therefore, argue Emily Landau and Shimon Stein, U.S. interests would best be served by working to constrain the Islamic Republic within the parameters of the agreement:

[M]uch can be achieved simply by changing the U.S. approach to the deal and to Iran, and by altering the rhetoric. Given the strong reservations voiced by Donald Trump and his administration toward Iran, the new president should send an unequivocal message, . . . warning it against any erosion of the deal and the consequences that will follow from any violation. The next step will be to work with the [the other parties to the deal] to clear up [its] ambiguities—especially regarding inspections at suspicious military facilities and looking for unknown facilities—and set clear guidelines for responding to every type of Iranian violation.

The Trump administration should press to end the secrecy surrounding many of Iran’s nuclear activities and plans. . . . But the Trump administration must also carve out a more comprehensive approach to the Islamic Republic, taking into account the dynamics between the United States and Iran that have unfolded over the past eighteen months since the nuclear deal was presented and that underscore the absence of any convergence of interests between the two states. . . .

New policies that reflect the Trump administration’s determination to pursue an uncompromising course in dealing with Iran—both on the nuclear front and with regard to its regional behavior—could in the long run help to reduce the likelihood of an Iranian breakout, and contain Iran from further destabilizing the region in its drive to realize its hegemonic ambitions.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Donald Trump, Iran nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy