Policing Moral Boundaries
Published on: March 13, 2013
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  • Gary Novak

    What must progressives think when they see their egalitarianism described as rigidly moralistic? Ultra-Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics are used to being seen that way and, like Barry Goldwater, may very well endorse the idea that extremism in the defense of liberty (or morality) is no vice. But progressives? They must regard Berger’s classification as a joke, a mistake, or a clumsy attempt at character assassination through guilt by association. The thought that the shoe might fit is not entertained— indeed, is not even conceivable. We’re mellow by definition, man; that’s our brand. The duck/rabbit is supposed to alternate. But not for progressives: a duck is a duck is a duck. Progress is good, and so are we who embrace it. What could be more self-evident? Or rigid.

  • DF

    The chassidim and the catholics should not simply defend their rights in court; they should be counter-suing the “human rights commission”, for money damages and for their attorney fees. The commission is attemting to violate thier freedom of religion. There are provisions under law to sue under the Civil Rights Act and other laws, for money. Defending is never enough. They must counter attack and sue.

  • Jacob Silver

    There are two components of the constitutional religious liberty. First, no one can be compelled to join or not join a religion, nor can a person be compelled to express a religion when serving in a public office. Second, places of worship are protected. But the store of the hasid was not a place of worship.

  • Gaelic Idiom

    I wonder if a woman in a chador would be served in the ultra Orthodox stores in question.

    • Grigalem

      Why wouldn’t she be served?

      What do you know that no one else does?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Ten years from now we may see Christian churches having to surrender their tax exemptions if they do no allow same sex marriages in their sanctuaries. We may then see a religious consensus to privatize all marriage to keep the state out of the business of legitimizing what is and is not marriage.

    But then churches might have to relent to the state not opposing plural marriages as well. The moral issue of plural marriages is fractious and was one of the bases of the political platform of the Republican Party in the 1800’s. The other moral issue that was part of the Republican Party platform of that era was slavery.

    Dr. Berger might have something to say about same sex marriage and plural marriages as expressions of de-modernization. It’s liberating but lonely being modern. As Dr. Berger might say, gays wants institutions as a prophylaxis to the “homelessness” of modernity. But will this end up furthering or limiting religious freedom?

  • The public/private distinction is important, in my humble opinion. And the point is well-made that as a practical matter, the ultimate power to coerce compliance lies with the state.

    I am reminded of something that happened to a friend several years ago. She was teaching at a private school in Florida, which required its teachers to completely abstain from alcohol use. Someone from the school came to her house one morning and looked in the recycling bins she’s set out for collection. In the bin was a wine bottle. She was fired.

  • Gary Novak

    Mr. Lusvardi sees same-sex marriage as an expression of de-modernization. Gays want institutional recognition of their relationships as a protection against the homelessness of modernity. In a previous post, I suggested that most gays do not want to marry but want the right to marry. They want the institutional normalization of homosexuality. Why? Is it primarily a matter of health insurance and visiting rights for partners? Is it, as Lusvardi sees it, a kind of escape from existential freedom? But the existential interpretation would seem to require that homosexuality be viewed as a choice exercised under the heretical imperative. Not wishing to take responsibility for that choice, gays seek to normalize homosexuality so that it is as insignificant as a preference for chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Choice? What choice? Gays typically claim that homosexuality is not a choice, deviant or otherwise. But Sartre rejected Jean Genet’s claim to be naturally homosexual. Nothing much is changed on the existential front whether homosexuality is socially acceptable or not.

    But a great deal is changed on the social front. If gays can lay to rest the idea that there is anything queer about being “queer,” then the tables are turned, and the presentation of the homosexual self in everyday life becomes much easier when the “hateful bigots” are on the defensive. Just as blacks are not satisfied with purely formal recognition of their rights but are still uncomfortable with informal prejudice, gays, too, are ultimately seeking R-E-S-P-E-C-T—(find out what it means to me).

    I see same-sex marriage primarily as an attempt to achieve that respect by portraying those who continue to think that there is something queer about homosexuality as being out of step with the majority, which will then have institutionalized its acceptance of homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is a battle in the culture wars, not primarily a matter of legal rights or existential inauthenticity.

    (Thanks to Lusvardi for his recommendation of Arthur Herman’s “The Idea of Decline in Western History.” I like his approach to writing history.)

    I’m not sure I understand Bill’s point. He says that the ultimate power to coerce compliance lies with the state, but his teacher friend was fired by a snoopy private school. And Berger defended the right of bishops to police moral boundaries—even if they seem narrow-minded to outsiders—because there is no constitutional right to teach at a Catholic school. (And I don’t think outdoor garbage cans are protected by the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches.)

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Anton Zijderveld in his little known but important book The Institutional Imperative: The Interface of Institutions and Networks makes the convincing case that humans cannot exist or even develop their individuality without institutions.

    The same sex marriage movement thus may be seen as conservative, contrary to images otherwise by political and religious conservatives. Gays crave an institutional structure rather than living in existential chaos (or as conservatives might say it “living in sin”).

    But gays, like straights, may soon find they will never be satisfied with the “thin” institutions of modernity over the “thick” taken-for-granted institutions of less pluralistic cultures. Modernization tends to de-institutionalize and relativize both what is considered traditional and what is considered “avant garde.”

    Religious freedom many mean religious institutionalization of same sex marriage but not at the expense of official de-institutionalization or even criminalization of those who advocate conventional marriage and the nuclear family. Gays can only find a middle ground when they “come out” and affirm the rights of those who espouse conventional marriage; and vice versa for religious fundamentalists. A middle ground is needed between religious fundamentalism and equally fundamentalist advocacy for same-sex marriage.

    Berger and Zijderveld’s book “In Praise of Doubt” carves out a middle ground with the understanding that fundamentalism and relativism are two sides of the same coin because they are both produced by modernity. Finding a middle ground in such culture wars may be crucial to preserving religious freedom.

  • Pingback: Orthodoxy pledges for teachers and dress codes for customers pose religious liberty questions on both coasts()

  • Peter

    Mr Dreher errs, possibly motivated to do so by the spirit of charity.

    First, denying the Orthodox Jew the right to enforce a dress code in his shop violates his freedom of religion, to an extent, but he can still practice his religion regardless of what his customers are wearing.

    The requirment by the diocese of Santa Rosa that all teachers in Catholic schools adhere to a code is in no way a violation of freedom of religion. The contrary, in fact: not requiring teachers to adhere to the code, and enforcing such a situation, would violate the freedom of the diocese to exercise its religious principles.

    Surely, common sense dictates that an employer can require employees to sign what amounts to a code of conduct. Private sector employees do this all the time. In some cases, such a code might require that employees do something that violates their consience. In that case, the employees have a choice. Similarly, teachers in the diocese of Santa Rosa can sign, or work elsewhere. No organisation can afford to employ people whose views are diametrically opposed to its own, and to those of its market (Catholic parents). Imagine a defense systems manufacturer employing people who firmly believed that producing weapons was wrong.

    It is curious that Mr Dreher says “However, I don’t see that the constitutional rights of the refusenik teachers in Santa Rosa are also protected by the First Amendment: Being employed by a Catholic school is not a civil right, and a church has the right to decide whom to employ in any of its institutions, even if the criteria for the decision seem unduly coercive to an outsider.” And he is correct, but how can the requirement to “be a “model of Catholic living” and must “adhere” to Catholic teaching” be in any way coercive?

    And even if it is, the church is simply doing what other organisations do all the time. Imagine a public school in California hiring teachers and not requiring that their behaviour demonstrate that they hate racism?

    Imagine a teacher in the state education system saying “It violates my conscience. I am a racist, and now they are telling me that I am not allowed to be a teacher if I am a racist.”

    Would Mr Dreher call the state education authority “unduly coercive to an outsider”? I don’t think so.

  • Peter

    With reference to the comment above, it should be Mr Berger, not Mr Dreher. I had just finished an acerbic comment to an article at American Conservative. My apologies to Mr Berger.

  • Regarding Bloomberg, the “Soda Jerk.”

    When Berger notes that “Mayor Bloomberg has an advantage over the bishop in this—and thus poses the more serious threat,” I’m reminded of Stalin’s comment when it was suggested to him that the Pope could cause him trouble, asked “how many divisions does he have?”

    And besides large sugary drinks (NY Post large headline: “SODA JERK”, which was struck down for being “arbitrary and capricious”, and thus the appeal process is in full swing), we learn this past week that the Mayor also wants to ban the display of tobacco products in stores so teens won’t see them and be induced, as if by sirens, to smoke (Iceland and Canada already do this). In the meantime, the 18 tobacco companies that signed to pay nearly $230 billion from 1998 through 2025, are trying to “claw back” the monies and add fees to cover the cost because states are not spending the money for what they agreed to spend it on (which is how the Social Security “lock box” had its funds replaced with IOU’s, and so it goes).

    Bloomberg also said last week he wants to ban the use of “too loud ear buds.” Every city department can come up with regulations. Ditto the Federal Government and state government departments/agencies/bureaus. Why? Because they can.

    Thus, from a election standpoint, votes matter. But also the moral compass of the individual voters and the moral compass of the executives (President, Governors, Mayors, countless agency heads).

  • 387 Bloomberg both imitates and has imitators

    In Cypress last week the decision was made to “tax” all savers 3-12.5% (it keeps changing) of what they had in the bank to help save the banks. Some have called it “the great EU Bank Robbery.” Cypress’ Archbishop Chrysostomos “thundered: ‘This is a villainy of Europeans. Cyprus must as soon as possible leave the eurozone.’ “

    We quickly heard “it can’t happen here” in the U.S. But didn’t it already with the bond holders of GM?

    The EPA has built new buildings and will hire 10,000 new workers to enforce/coerce their new regulations. Ditto the IRS hiring thousands to enforce/coerce the requirements of “Obamacare” (the Affordable Heath Care Act).

    From George Washington to 1933, 14,000 executive orders were signed (a power not explicity defined in the Constitution so it is fungible). Since 1933 another 14,000. Coercion? President Obama recently said, ““I intend to do everything in my power right now to act on behalf of the American people with or without Congress. We can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won’t act, I will.” Those in agreement with him are urging him to do even more. Those in disagreement are not. Here we see two sides clearly comfortable with their “convictions”. Is there coercion then justifyable or an example of “fanaticism?”
    I like Berger’s use of the term “boundaries,” and his muscular verbal umbrella of “policing,” for many of these regulations carry fines and imprisonment to those who don’t obey. So what boundaries and whose boundaries?

    Regulators have gone beyond the “consciousness raising” Berger discussed in “Pyramids of Sacrifice,” dismissing the “teaching moments,” and are now just outright dictating. What will be most tragic is the number of people ruined, displaced, or jailed by these dictates and executive orders, especially in retrospect when they are later be overturned, returned, and overturned again by successive successors and regulators (from the President to the Governors to the Mayors and any bureau heads under them).

    With all of these we have the double-barreled shotgun of what Berger identifies as “an intention of coercion.”

    The most chilling line of Berger’s is his description of the enforcers of the discussed moral codes having the belief that they not only have the “right” to enforce the respective codes in their “jurisdictions,” but also an “obligation” to enforce them.

  • Bringing religion into the conversation.

    Do we not see an intertwining of both the “issues of freedom of religion” but also freedom as understood under the umbrella of “liberty”? Most recall the words of Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death.” But the key to that ringing phrase is what came before those words, when he essentially asked about peace and security, saying to give in to the Crown to seek the security of “peace” and “life” was really a trade for “chains and slavery” at the price of freedom and liberty, hence his famous finish about fighting, if need be, for liberty.

    Novak, of course, brilliantly skewers the fact that the progressives are often as legalistic and puritanically literal minded about their sacred texts as religionists are, and, thus, are not progressive at all, as they now have their “golden” future in the present, the left’s utopian version of the right’s golden age in the past, with both being fictions (in the extreme we have the conviction of the necessity of killing or let die tens of millions, as the Soviets and Maoists,did, having them pay the price to climb to the paradise at the top of the mountain when neither the paradise nor the mountain exist.

    Novak also identifies the trigger of the gay marriage movement: “a matter of health insurance and visiting rights for partners.” The respect issue was always there. Indeed, friends of mine who were veterans of “the baths” and of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising (or riots, as they were also called), burst with pride when, in 1972, friends attempted to rob a bank in Flatbush (see the film “Dog Day Afternoon”). The event earned them, in their view as expressed to me, a great deal of respect: “it proved to straights that we are real men.” It was only the problems of dying alone (no hospital visits) and the need to cover medical expenses (spousal health insurance) because of AIDS that, in my view and in talking with gays, that led to advocating for gay marriage. Indeed, a very well known pastor, gay, in a presentation last year at a local “welcoming” and “reconciled” church (code words for “we accept gays”) stated there were 1,424 (or some such large number) reasons for gay marriage: the 1,424 ways in the tax code that would benefit gays if married. He never once mentioned love or relationships. Thus, depending on the “wing,” gay marriage is and is not part of “de-modernization.”

    Had Bill said the ultimate power to coerce is anyone is authority over others with something they can take away (job, pay, freedom, time etc.) he would have a better case, in my view, as the coercion as suggested by Berger that affects more people, it seems to me, is that at the closest hierarchical levels to them.

  • Berger’s non-boring approach to answering the question of what makes modernity didfferent from any other period in history, if it is.

    Berger would agree with Lusvardi’s observation about Zijderveld’s argument that humans cannot exist or even develop their individuality without institutions, as he has pointed out elsewhere that “family” (in its many forms) was the first institution, predating the institution of religion. This is what makes Berger and Zijderveld’s book “In Praise of Doubt” so relevant and important, for without the fundamentalists and relativists (whether transcendent Bible thumpers or progressives of any stripe including atheists) being able to carve out what Berger calls a “middle position” and they both call a “balance,” it will be hard to forge “prosperity, equality and liberty.” If I remember correctly, they don’t use “common ground.” To me, “ground” means something already mutually shared, still leaving the missles of difference to hurl at the other, whereas “position” suggests a process to in discussions with the other to get to what Berger and Zijderveld call “balance” between the two extremes, using an “ethic of moderation,” as they see fundamentalism and relativism as two sides of the same coin because they are both produced by modernity. This is perhaps one reason why Freud said that if God doesn’t exist, man would have to invent him.

    My sense is that the seven areas Berger outlines at the end of “The Capitalist Revolution,” the “seven commonly held values” (pp. 218 – 221) provide a frame work for avoiding coercion of the calculus of pain type, that he outlines as starting points to to seek balance. His context is that “the most significant choice of the age, for most people, is that between capitalism and socialism” (or, admittedly, various versions of either). The following seven starting points suggest ways to greatly reduce the current tendency to increase, not decrease, coercion of the powerful to the less powerful regarding how they are to live, work, and play:

    • The material well-being of people, especially the poor.
    • Equality (as in “equities” or “equalities,” such as in equal access and equal opportunities not LBJ’s distributionist “equality of result”, if I am reading Berger correctly. LBJ’s phrase: not just equality of opportunity but equality of result.)
    • Political liberties and democracy
    • Protection of human rights
    • Individual autonomy
    • Preservation of tradition
    • Community

    If in discussing these, one can achieve what Berger calls “the most fundamental wisdom” (pp. 223-234) as suggested by this Stoic maxim: “knowing the difference [I would also add “learning” the difference] between what one can and what one cannot do.” He then modifies it as a social scientist: “knowing the difference between what one can probably do and what one can probably not do. Can we then say that shifting to the religious attitude to resolve this also provides a way to find the balance?

    In his A Far Glory, Berger juxtaposes two events he attended, a civil rights church service and a KKK rally, both trying to legitimate their moral imperatives in Christian terms, with both using a cross as a central symbol (one on fire, one not) and both singing “The Old Rugged Cross,” each using the same symbols “to legitimate two diametrically opposed political causes.” Given his seven commonly held values above, we can clearly see that there is no moral equivalency, just “shared” symbols. Berger then outlines how we can come “to know” actions that are morally acceptable as opposed to “believing” they are not.

    I like Berger’s discussion of St. Paul’s epistles that enable us to be “non-legalistic without being relativistic, and non-utopian without lacking concern for the welfare of human beings.” Accepting Berger’s differentiation that both legalism and utopianism “secularize the Christian Gospel,” we see how there is a “shifting [of] its message from transcendence to the affairs of the world.”

    Could we say that when we are left with a legalistic or utopian impulse that close behind is the follow-up impulse to coerce others to live as you would have them live, now, as this (earth) is all there is. Can there be anyting more inducing of coercion that to shift “from transcendence to the affairs of this world,” a most lonely existential “place” indeed?

    As Berger points out (and as suggested by Lincoln in his Second Inaugural), when we accept the love of God and that we are one of his, then we can see that others are also. Hence, (p. 195), the most “basic … moral implication” is that, as “God cares for me, it follows that He also cares for all my fellow men.” And then Berger’s knock out punch: “this will inevitably have moral implications for how I ought to deal with them,” which, decidedly, would not be through coercion except, it seems to me, the most extreme form of self defense. These then become key ingredients in baking a “balance cake.”

  • My apologies. Only the first two lines of the preceding entry should have been bold.

  • Gary Novak

    Near the end of post #15 Jessen asks if we could say that the legalistic and utopian secularization of the Gospel leads to coercion because all goals must be achieved here and now. Secularists mock pie-in-the-sky religion but ignore the dangers of trying to achieve perfect social justice in a five-year plan. I think we could, indeed, agree with Berger and Jessen and say that.

    In post #14 Jessen comments on my claim that the ultimate goal of the gay marriage movement is respect for homosexuality. While agreeing that “the respect issue was always there,” he also says that it was only the problems of visitation rights and spousal health insurance that led to the advocacy of gay marriage. No doubt strategies have changed since the days of Stonewall– bank robberies and provocative Act-Up gay pride parades seem to be out—but I think it is significant that the introduction of civil unions (which generally meet the practical demands of gays) has not lessened the desire for the symbolic gold standard: marriage. (Indeed, one could talk about a revolution of rising expectations.) Civil unions alone have the whiff of “separate but equal.” Of course, the Supreme Court ruled that separate is inherently unequal, and gays agree in their case.

    Here’s a thought experiment: Quite apart from the question of homosexuality, there is already considerable controversy over tax policy regarding singles and marrieds (the “marriage penalty,” etc.). Suppose gays were offered full recognition of their marriage rights—but at the expense of being classified with a less favored tax category. Gays generally are better off financially than straights. As progressives, wouldn’t they acknowledge that their “fair share” is a bit more and not quibble about the intricacies of the tax code when the Holy Grail of marriage is in sight? That would be my guess. Practical matters make good talking points, but social acceptance is the true goal.

    Which brings us back to the Berger quote Jessen cites in post #15: “If I believe (amazingly enough) that God cares for me, it follows that He also cares for all my fellow men” (p. 194 in my edition of “A Far Glory”). The love of Berger’s Christian for the homosexual does not await the social acceptance of homosexuality—and is not effected or affected by it.

  • Clearly Novak catches me in a time warp I hadn’t realized before: my gap between the Stonewall liberty/oppression/illegal days vs. marriage/security/legal days of now. “Now” also provides a contrast in prosperity gains since the “then” days, as the GLBT special interest group takes advantage of now being among protected minorities available to benefit from government programs and funding for protected minorities (a former head of Minneapolis’ Dept of Civil Rights, himself a Black man, famously said – or infamously, depending on our your point of view – that Minneapolis could meet their minority hiring compliance requirements “without hiring a single Black person,” showing how more and more it is the political elites being in position and power that counts, not color nor historical redress).

    Novak points out how proposals for civil unions meet the practical demands. I used to think that civil unions would be the less troubling approach in the inevitable march to “same sex marriage,” which I have held is inevitable ever since Gavin Newsome, in 2004, as San Francisco Mayor, directed the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. To me it was also a sign of how far less influential the institutional church had become.

    Civil unions would provide a middle “make haste slowly” incremental approach before trying out the suit of fully named same sex “marriage.” Civil Unions provide a practical aspect more acceptable to straight men and women, enabling a pause allowing more acceptance before taking the next nomenclature step to “marriage.” And it would give a more empirical sense to the quarrelling sides what the actual costs and benefits would be, useful information for any discussion using Novak’s thought experiment.

    Recall the 2007 film, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” (I recommend it for those who haven’t seen it. It is available from many viewing platforms). In the comedy, Adam Sandler and Kevin James play Brooklyn firefighters pretending to be gay in order to receive domestic partner benefits (remember that GLBT are self identified realities, as are ethnic and racial categories). They are challenged. Biel, an old friend (whose Sandler character secretly lusts after) is their old friend who is a civil rights attorney who champions their marriage. She defends them in court as “true” gays and not pretenders for benefits, defending their “right” to attain the “gold standard” of “marriage” (and she hilariously gets the “shy” Sandler character to overcome his “hesitancy” and “revulsion” of touching a woman by taking his hands and holding them to her breasts and “forcing” him to heavily fondle them with his hands in her grip).

    Add to this the neither hesitant nor shy push by polyamory advocates to marry (usually two women and one man, as in the polyamory slogan, “meet the women who want to be shared”). Thus the “civil rights” complications accelerate into other potential combinations, not to mention legal Gordian Knots and potentially soon-to-be reality widows, making Novak’s thought experiment all the more relevant.

    I eased fears of a heterosexual married friend that his passion for seeing same sex marriage legalized would come true. He has a discriminated against homosexual brother. He also believes the church should support and advocate same sex marriage. When Newsome made his move I suggested he fear not, for Newsome’s allowing same sex marriage move meant, in my analysis, that same sex marriage, despite some speed bumps, would become legal sooner rather than later. Of course there is no clear sense of where same sex marriages will lead, as (1) the future is empirically unavailable and (2) we can’t predict the exact direction the inevitable dialectic of “reciprocal causation of reality” will take.

    So I’m intrigued by Novak’s thought experiment: same rights but a less favored tax category not unlike the unequal aspects of single vs. married filers. What makes it such an excellent framework for thinking about consequences and the attempt to achieve Berger and Zijderveld’s “balance”, is that it would also be a useful experiment to apply to every aspect of government policy, as the current trend (lookout for potential policy “widowerships) is to ask not “is this _________ [fill in the blank] necessary” but rather to ask, “how can we get more money for it.” Any program or infrastructure fueled/supported by taxes/fees seems to be viewed by politicians and administrators alike as “because it exists it/they should continue to exist,” combined with “if we haven’t taxed it or put a fee on it, why not and how and when can we tax and/or fee it/them?”

    So Novak’s experiment (suggesting what Berger might call a “pedantic utopian contestation”) immediately sheds light on the two approaches, “should this be taxed?” vs “all social actions and transactions should be taxed.” Thus, would those who would gain status benefits from same sex marriage be willing to pay a tax premium in order to get the social status benefits? It would certainly cause some “notice” changes to previous “of course” realities.

    It also comes up against Gavin Newsome’s famously bad timing over-reach when he said, during the Prop 8 debate, that in terms of gay marriage, “This door’s wide open now. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not,” causing some to say it contributed to Prop 8’s first round defeat (a wiser politician would have held off his gloating until after winning the election).

    That brings us back to Novak’s recognition of the centrality of Berger’s notion and our question of morality: “If I believe (amazingly enough) that God cares for me, it follows that He also cares for all my fellow men” (my point about Lincoln in his 2nd Inaugural). My sense is that most Christians would agree that this is applicable to ALL public policy whether officials apply it or not. This opens us to Novak’s statement: “The love of Berger’s Christian for the homosexual does not await the social acceptance of homosexuality—and is not effected or affected by it.”

    I look forward to future essays in which Berger might bring his analysis to bear (capital punishment, abortion, the economy, other social issues) that would include his take regarding “normative” and “cognitive” assumptions, as in his statement that: “positions based on specific assumptions that are cognitive rather than normative or moral, assumptions about what israther than what ought to be.” Thus, “any debate over morality will be fruitless unless there is some agreement about the realities to which the morality refers” (A Far Glory, p. 194).

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