I guess you can officially call me late to the party, at least, given the proliferation of articles about whether Christians ought to have the right to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony. Ah well, I'm writing anyways. The story goes like this.
We all remember the case in which a Colorado judge declared that a cake shop owner in Denver had to sell cakes for homosexual weddings. Last Thursday, Russell Moore wrote an ethics column on the Gospel Coalition arguing (roughly) that Christians ought to refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay couples. On Sunday, Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers wrote an article for the Daily Beast calling for Christians to stop being hypocritical and bake the blasted cake. Russell Moore wrote back over at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. People started blogging.
Cakes, Ethics, and Demagogues
I’ve noticed that in the Merritt and Powers article, the question about whether or not the government should coerce Christians to bake cakes for homosexual couples came down to a question of Christian doctrine. Is it hypocritical to refuse to bake a cake for a homosexual couples? Then it shouldn’t be allowed. It’s not? Okay, then, well, you’re good.
The problem with this simplistic line of reasoning is that the state becomes the enforcer of proper Christian doctrine. From a governmental perspective, the question isn’t, actually, whether it is right or wrong for a Christian to bake the cake. It is a question as to whether or not an American citizen is permitted to hold a religious belief without being required to defend it before the government. It is not a question of religious dogma, it is a question of religious freedom.
But this logical shift from morality towards government coercion is symptomatic of a larger problem, and it’s a question of social philosophy, not politics. It is a question of where moral authority comes from. Humans need moral authority, and in a society where absolute moral truth is under attack, people must turn to something else for authority. In the age of ideology, that alternative tends to be the state.
When the state is substituted for God, however, we find that she is a fickle lawgiver, subject to the whims and passions of mass movements, with all the demagoguery that comes with it. Has anyone else noticed that, in this day and age, it seems that outrage, not reason, is the guiding principle of political activity?
It makes sense, though. Once you’ve removed the entire category of “absolute moral truth,” there is no common ground for philosophical reasoning – there’s simply will (and a shouting match). In a strange twist, it seems religious liberty can only thrive if there is a common basis of moral belief that holds a society together.
Does America still have that? Perhaps. One thing’s for sure, we’re spending whatever borrowed moral capital we have left at an unsustainable rate. Sometime soon, we’re going to have to put some more in the bank.
Posted by Nick Barden