Northern Ireland and Palestine
Published on: November 22, 2009
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  • Phil Beaver

    Peter Berger’s thesis
    is catchy: “religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in
    private.” The statement lacks consideration of children. But I want to address four
    issues: “secular,” the preamble to the United States Constitution, a people as
    defined therein, and the sexual analog to Berger’s idea. I think Berger is
    premature in his predictions about America, where a people is emerging but few people know about it.

    Berger cites four court
    cases then states, “An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all
    these cases.” I suggest that “secular” is a circular
    idea imposed on a people by religion, perhaps Christianity. “Secular” means
    first “not religious.” Not religious is meaningless until you define religion.
    But a civic people does not need to debate religion. A civic people need to
    civically, candidly discuss civility: the law. By accepting the label “secular”
    a people unintentionally isolate the people in the religious domain of public
    debate: mere personal opinion. Both
    theists and non-theists, persons, want peace so that they can each pursue the
    happiness they perceive, not their government’s idea of happiness. However,
    their institutions keep them from discovering this commonality, by prejudicial
    meanings such as “non-religious,” “under god,” “god bless,” when religion is
    not the object of civic accommodation. The preamble to the United States Constitution
    is a civic sentence.

    The preamble to the US
    Constitution lies fallow, perhaps because it is maligned as a secular idea in a
    country that in 1790 had 100% Christian citizens, 99% Protestant. However, in
    2014, 227 years after 70% of the delegates to Philadelphia signed the preamble
    along with the articles that follow, a 77% Christian population has 51%
    Protestants. A minority holds a new view of that civic sentence, and it like
    everything else in the US Constitution can be amended or merely employed in its
    new meaning by a people. The new view may be expressed in paraphrase: A people
    agree to govern on three levels in order to fulfill eight civic goals in
    negotiating civil order. Our goal is for 70% of citizens by September 17, 2017,
    to be pursuing the cooperative happinesses they perceive in every decade of
    their lives and using the preamble to
    compromise with each other so as to accommodate fellow citizens in civil order
    (the law and its institutions). Dissenters may reform or risk the rule of law
    as it stands, as always.

    Berger argues that “The
    new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new
    sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed.” Berger’s conclusion, when
    viewed from a civic perspective
    instead of the non-religious
    perspective seems predictably false. America, with 319 million people, has over
    110 million who suffer sexually transmitted disease (STD) with 20 million new
    cases each year, primarily among the young. Some STD increase rates are highest
    among same-sex partners. Marci Hamilton’s work suggests that over 30% of
    Americans are involved in child abuse. A people cannot continue such neglect of
    its posterity. Two concepts are expressed by the people who support use of the
    preamble as described above: first, benefitting
    from the ethics of physics and second, use of that ethic to civically provide a
    community that is welcoming to both the children and the children to be born.

    Berger would influence
    more than observe when he asserts,

    Yet Christian churches
    (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who
    do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the
    nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of
    clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!

    It is novel for a same-sex advocate to admit to
    hostility; but maybe Berger is just throwing daggers. Berger’s liberal hyperbole
    perhaps reflects the difference between European acceptance and American
    determination, maybe resulting from America’s colonization by European powers
    and the European inability to relate to American independence. Transcending an
    unrecognized “too holy alliance of clerics and . . . politicians,” Americans, fortuitously
    pursue the benefits of the ethics of physics. Take, for example, vehicular
    regulations. An ethical nation continually improves the efficiency of vehicular
    technology and limitations in order to protect the safety of citizens. The ethics of physics requires both 1)
    drivers to know and observe vehicular regulations and 2) the nation to provide
    the best facilities and regulations. In a “soft” example of the ethics of
    physics, conversation-efficiency is lost when people lie to each other and the
    consequences are inevitably costly: The ethical practice is not to ever lie, so
    that people may communicate.

    Americans deliberately
    manage their religious institutions in privacy. However, so far, the people
    have brooked politicians who, upon election, claim divine authority through “legislative
    prayer” and “ceremonial religion.” But Americans have the means to govern of by
    and for a people any time Americans decide that a people will emerge.

    Burger did not give his
    brilliant idea the balance it needed. His idea mimics “sex is to be an activity
    engaged in by consenting adults in private.” This statement is limited by
    civics. For example, if the activity subjugates one of the parties, causing
    physical harm or death, it is a civic matter. If the adults have the intent to
    procreate, it is a civic matter. If procreation occurs, it is a civic matter:
    The conceiving adults are both civically obligated to the child for life. Civic
    equality and dignity begin with the ovum, which should not be abused. If one
    party would expose others to STD, it is a civic matter. These points relate to
    the STD and child abuse issues I raised earlier, and civic matters must be negotiated by a people to arrive at civil order. If these arguments are
    accepted regarding sex, what is the implication for the religious analog?

    Repeating, “Religion is
    to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private.” A first concern
    is the exclusion of children, which I need not resolve, since Berger did not
    support his claim. The tendency to restrict religious expression in public is
    understandable, based on past abuses of non-religious minorities. Another
    approach is appreciation of religious
    and cultural diversity among a people who nonetheless attend to their civic
    obligations–govern selves civically so as to accommodate all other citizens.
    This requires the integrity of
    appreciation of the other citizen’s private sources of motivation and
    inspiration. The result is separation of church and state, but not separation
    of citizens. Religious institutions aggressively negotiate civil order that
    fulfills a people; there cannot be governance under theism. As a consequence,
    international religious institutions that oppose American law must have American
    leaders who do observe American law. If the international organization
    separates from its American leaders, it is a private issue. Moreover, government must give up the notion
    of “legislative prayer,” and election to divine authority. A people must
    impress elected officials that a people does not brook claims of divine
    authority: Authority to govern comes from a people, even when a mistaken
    majority has voted. In America, a people is defined by the preamble to the
    United States Constitution, and governance of by and for a people pursues
    benefits from the ethics of physics.

    These ideas are
    developed more fully yet incompletely on the blog
    The purpose of the blog is to expand the idea of mutual civic accommodation by
    a people, which can happen efficiently if people (candidly) comment: please

    Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is
    hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as
    this complete copyright notice is included.

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