Ambassadors for Religious Freedom
Published on: March 6, 2013
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  • Canadian

    One recent development in the study of religious freedom is the attempt to link it to national security. There is a great deal of evidence regarding the emergence of violent religious extremist groups and religious persecution. One example is the emergence of al-Qaeda and Salafi-Jihadism in general. Salafis as a group have been brutally suppressed by the Saudi monarchy. The radicalisation process of Salafis correlated with increasing persecution by the Saudi states, crystallizing in events such as the Grand Mosque seizure.

  • Suzume

    Most all the wrinkles that arise to do with religion would be ironed out when Islam is reclassified to its genuine status – which is not a “religion” nor is it a cult. It is a complete system. Islam has religious, legal, political components, economic components social and military dictates. The religious component is a beard for all the other components.
    It was designed out of the desire for revenge and wealth and Mohammad’s need to make a name for himself. He had no parents and was all alone in the world and was put out in the dog house and treated like he was a dog by the woman of the household where he stayed. As such, the ideology exists also to keep the male believers happy no matter what they chose to do in life. The only way a male can be punished in Islam is to either be homosexual or to be a “bad” Muslim by not following its dictates to a “t”.

  • The use of the term “Ambassador” by Harper and the modalities. Berger asks with two penetrating questions: the “obvious question of what can be accomplished with the agency’s budget,” and “What other military has actually imposed a grid of ‘commands’ over most of the planet?” Could we say that the second question provides the “hard power” that enables the “soft power of the first, with the budget of the first then actually supporting the work of the second?

    Regarding the 3 religious modalities: how akin are they to what St. Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NRSV): that we are called to be “Ambassadors for Christ” (v. 20)? Is this a compromise between the mission of the Western countries (a pacified world) and that of the church, pacific with Christ (leaving aside that some of the historic “pacification” has been with hard not soft power)? St. Paul describes the mission of transforming everything into newness, that God, through Christ, reconciled everything to himself. St. Paul then offers two statements that make up what Christians are to be “as Ambassadors for Christ”: (1) God has given us “the ministry of reconciliation,” as God is (2) “entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

    Or are these new “Ambassadors for Christ” part of the “hard power” of the state to encourage peace and discourage tyranny (hence the “grid of commands”)? Which message entrusted to them, by God, by Caesar, will prevail? Will they find the middle ground that will work for both. I’ll watch with fascination.

    I would have hoped that Harper would have been more inclusive with his “We will use our freedom to plead for yours,” as if persecution were only for the religious. Wherever there is religious persecution there also occurs persecution across a whole spectrum of of socio-economic-political activities. Religious freedom is not enough (as Berger reminds in books and articles). Do other liberties have to be present before religious liberty? Is this another chicken and egg question? On the other hand, what about the position of militant Islam that religion has to come before full liberty, with liberty defined as having the freedom to follow the dictates of Islam?

    Berger well reminds us that “Interests are generally stronger motivators than moral principle.” And thus, from the standpoint of religious freedom, he expresses the equivalent of what younger readers will recognize: the principle of “Saint” Spider Man: “with great power comes great responsibility.” So whose interests will these modalities represent if continuing budgeting dictates “adjustments”?

    Berger is both reporting and being prophetic. Reporting: “There can be no doubt that many people in Western democracies strongly believe in human rights and liberties.” Prophetic: “In a democracy it is both right and inevitable that citizens will seek to make their values effective in the actions of their governments.” Back in 2008, I did a study of pollution control technology for Chinese in Singapore seeking to build a business on pollution abatement/cleanup enterprises, which they felt would reduce pollution, make money, and contribute to reducing the nearly 20,000 local uprisings or revolts or reactions (call them what you will, with emphasis local), that were based on reaction to pollution and pollution generating activities upstream causing damage to their rice paddies, etc. I suggested that they could kill two birds with one stone: pollution and uprisings(“revolution”) by instituting that which makes capitalism great: democracy. They said a Chinese version was coming.

    Barnett has lately been maintaining that China to succeed without going through a disruptive revolutionary stage (see de Tocqueville), they would have to give up the reins of power to the localities, through some democratic structure that allows free expression, ownership, and more localized market freedoms as well as those associated with many of our Bill of Rights.

    So you can imagine the satisfaction I felt reading in the Feb 22, 2013 WSJ, p. A11, that “the Chinese communist party have recently instructed their underlings to secure and read Tocqueville’s book, ‘Ancien Regime and Revolution’” (which, in the Age of the Internet, can lead to them also encountering, purposefully or accidentally, de Tocqueville’s “Democracy”). De Tocqueville, of course, applauded what Berger calls “mediating structures,” volunteerism, and the market oriented economy. This could have influence throughout the Chinese sphere of influence, including Vietnam and North Korea.

    Or is one a Trojan Horse that is not recognized by the other?

    It will be interesting to see which “masters” or both that these religious modalities serve, especially in China, that meets the missions of both the USA and the religious “modalities:” which morals and values, with accompanying change in social policy, will occur inevitably or accidentally, and how their missions will benefit from the new de Tocqueville reading list given to the boots on the ground.

  • Thanks for the interesting and well-written post. While I agree that interests tend to be more powerful motivators that moral principles, I think that most of the time (if one looks carefully) they are in alignment. Perhaps the challenge then is to help persuade those guilty of persecution that religious liberty, for its own sake, is in their nation’s best interest. A formidable task, to be sure.

  • Gary Novak

    Jessen asks if we could say that the hard power of military commands (regions) enables soft power. I think Berger is saying that the soft power of the U. S. isn’t really soft and that the soft power of the Canadians isn’t really power. The use of hard power can be religiously justified (e.g., “just war” in defense of the defenseless), but states do not make the best ambassadors of religion. Berger contrasts power (whether it is called hard or soft) with non-coercive influence. Effective ambassadors of God operate in the latter realm, with Christ showing the way through innocent suffering (driving will-to-power Nietzsche up the wall). But in Nazi Germany, Jesus would be rounded up and gassed before he could even start his ministry. So the use of power (let’s drop the adjectives—I’m not as careful as Berger in not speaking beyond his competence) is, indeed, important in enabling meaningful lives in which the way we live our lives becomes existential testimony to our values.

    I don’t read Berger’s blogs solely for the jokes. But one could: they are pointed as well as funny. One of my favorites illustrates the “mythic deprivation of capitalism” (in “The Capitalist Revolution,” 1986). Two dressmakers are having financial difficulties and draw straws to see who will jump from the top floor for the insurance to save the business (a more chilling image, post-9/11). On the way down, the loser looks in the windows of their competitors and then shouts to his partner, “Abie, cut velvet!” Capitalist “greed” is not something to die for. But many have died for the socialist myth that socialism brings about the noble goal of social justice. Capitalism is not very inspirational, but empirically it provides the economic freedom which, when combined with political and religious freedom, enables us to work out our salvation with meaningful life choices. Socialism provides a fraudulent religion.

    We may be “condemned to freedom” (Sartre) in any case, but our existential choices will be a lot more interesting if they are made under conditions of political freedom. States can use power to “export democracy” (which, despite what social problems texts usually say, is not synonymous with ethnocentric, militaristic, imperialistic policing of the world). But the real ambassadors of God touch hearts at the I-Thou level of interpersonal relations. (That’s what I was getting at in questioning the concept of a global neighborhood.) So, when Jessen asks how akin the government religious ambassadors are to St. Paul’s ambassadors for Christ, I would answer “not at all.” State power can help to make the world safe for St. Paul’s ambassadors, but the government religious ambassadors themselves are mostly window-dressing. Indeed, Berger is suggesting the diplomacy in general, as opposed to the power that backs it up, is mostly fluff—“Would you please stop beating up on Tibetan monks?” That only works with Canadians who are out of the pool before you can finish your request.

    So I would prefer to say that power can enable non-coercive influence and that, therefore, states have an indirect role to play in the drama of salvation by making room for the real ambassadors of God.

  • Novak is to be thanked for exposing my sloppiness that hid my thought regarding “ambassadors.” His statement of their being “window dressing” is correct (I researched and wrote for three U.S. National Commission is the 70’s, and so experienced it, at least in those three encounters).

    Reading Novak’s response enables me see I should have been more clear in distinguishing Berger’s “Ambassadors for Religions Freedom” and my use of St. Paul’s term, “Ambassadors for Christ.” I did not mean to suggest that these three modalities represent Christo-centric Ambassadors, and welcome this opportunity to clear that up. My focus was the word “ambassador.” Clearly, if there was religious freedom everywhere, you’d reduce 2/3 of the armed conflicts (leaving mostly political conflicts, as at the U.N. or in Congress or in various Parliaments). That would make it much easier to deal with those still wanting to be ambassadors Mao style with the barrel of a gun.

    I got caught up in the power of transcendence, which was not Berger’s point in this essay (in his Facing Up To Modernity, Berger reminds us that religion will not have a renascence trying to be “relevant to modern man”). And Ambassador-ness is as relevant to modernity finding as you can get.

    Government ambassadors reflect the major definers of reality (what Berger wonderfully refers to as “reality police”) that have essentially declared transcendence “inoperative” but not religion. If I understand Berger correctly, the point, which may be part of why we have these three modalities, is that “a world view without transcendence must eventually collapse, because it denies ineradicable aspects of human experience,” and it is that collapse that such nodalities seek to prevent in the minds of those who create them, who still can’t understand what Berger calls a “demand for contraband transcendence” (p. 210), almost as if these modalities are like next levels on the pyramid of modernity, levels used by non-transcendent secularists to cover over any potential transcendence underneath (the dark side of the modalities is to show that if all religions should be free to be, enabling reality police to entertain their notion that the Babel of beliefs, if allowed, proves their point of no transcendence).

    Thus, in Berger’s coined phrase, reality police can contain their secularist reality through “enforced triviality.” That unintentionally, as Novak put it, “makes room for the real ambassadors of God.” This is where we can insert Novak’s “indirect” role of the states (unintentional) “in the drama of salvation” by (unintended consequence) “making room for the real amabassadors of God.

    When Novak says “many have died for the socialist myth,” I’m sure he means in both senses, (1) dying in battle for it and (2) killing those who won’t believe (the 1930’s left who stated that if it took 30 million lives to create the socialist utopia by Stalin, it was worth the price. I relate because in the 1970s in graduate school, I was told, in the most friendly terms possible – nothing personal – by the nore fervent “ambassadors for socialism,” that I would be one of the first ones shot come their socialist revolution because I was not a Marxist.

    Which bring me back to Berger’s “A Mormon Moment,” of July 13, 2011. Having forgotten everything I probably never knew about Mormons beyond Zane Grey western novels read as a youth, I was surprised that little was said about it by Romney. Then I was invited to a Mormon friend’s daughter’s wedding at the L.A. Temple in summer 2011. Signing a visitor card was rewarded with a knock on my door. Intriqued and wanting to learn more, I agreed to teaching sessions and Ward (church) attendance when possible (their Ward building has two congregations, switching twice a year between holding services in the morning and afternoon). Three hours: sacrament worship then gospel or doctrine study then split into women (Relielf Society) and men (Priesthood lesson) groups.

    I’ve also attended their Stake (bunch of Wards) young people’s afternoon service (18-30 year olds, 1/3 of which are former missionaries). What wonderfully engaging discussions. Here are real ambassadors, and without government subsidy. It is projected that the 14 million Mormons worldwide will grow to nearly 280 million by the end of this century. And now with the new revelation allowing women to become missionaries at 19 (a 400% rise in applications by young women) they reduce the “separation” of young men going off and then coming back after two years only to then see their girl friends taking off for two years. When I sit in the young people’s groups it reminds me of sitting in on between session discussions at the State Department training various level diplomats.

    So despite its attempt at “repressive triviality,” we might say that the “contraband transcendence” will still result in various forms of ambassadors, despite the “reality police,” carrying the message.

  • Gary Novak

    Jessen needs to offer no apology for merely asking about the kinship between political ambassadors for religious freedom and St. Paul’s ambassadors for Christ. He did not claim that they are akin. I was having trouble getting started, so I’m glad he gave me an entry point. And, if he got caught up in the power of transcendence, well, what a nice place to be! I turned to the page (210) he cited in “Facing Up to Modernity” and found I had underlined “contraband transcendence.” I once used that essay (“The Devil and the Pornography of the Modern Mind”) in formulating a response to a librarian’s discussion question about the popularity of vampire stories. We became friends.

    But on the question of the role of states in the drama of salvation, I was not thinking in terms of enforced triviality. I was thinking of the contrast between religious freedom in the liberal democracies and Nazi Germany or Saudi Arabia. I was endorsing the principled (intentional) protection of religious freedom. Jessen makes the interesting point that the very attempt to create modalities of religious ambassadorship implies a failure to grasp Berger’s claim that “a world view without transcendence must eventually collapse, because it denies ineradicable aspects of human experience” (a claim Jessen and I both accept). By attempting to protect all religions, the religious ambassadors are, in effect, trivializing transcendence by reducing it to (cultural) “religion,” which, in its plurality, cancels itself out. But, because transcendence is ineradicable, the repressed returns as contraband transcendence. It’s the religious ambassadors who are cancelled out! Sequester them!

    But I would distinguish between the ineffectual ambassadors (keeping their lists of good guys and bad guys—especially in countries of “particular concern”—you know, the countries God really cares about) and the state. The First Amendment is not fluff. I hope my image of Jesus being rounded up and gassed was not offensive to anyone. Jesus set Pilate straight about where the power to crucify comes from. But we ordinary folks fare much better if we don’t have to be martyrs to pursue our signals of transcendence.

    Chomsky says morality is not a property of states, which always act for reasons of state. He sees the purpose of the American state as “deterring democracy” both at home and abroad. C. Wright Mills saw nothing ineradicable in human nature. We could all become “cheerful robots.” That was the kind of intellectual milieu I grew up in. But today, thankfully, it seems that I have enough ineradicable common sense to recognize that liberal democracy does a good and moral thing in intentionally protecting religious freedom. Berger and Jessen had enough sense to avoid Marxism in the old days. I’m a slow learner.

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