Brian Birch


[Trevor Petersen:] Hello and welcome to the
Bingham Gallery for another edition of the Speaker Series. Today we have the honor to hear from Dr. Brian
Birch, Director of the Religious Studies Program and Center for the Study of Ethics, who will
be speaking today on Heretics and Infidels: The Changing Landscape of Religious Diversity. Please join us again on October 3rd which
is also Thursday at 1 o’clock, for another edition of the Speaker Series, and which we
have the honor to hear from Dr. Ron Miller, Professor of Strategic Management and Operations,
who will be speaking on Impact Assessment: Humans Helping Humans and Habitats Holistically. Religious conflict has played a key role in
the cultural history of the United States, from Puritan immigrants to Massachusetts Bay
to Muslim immigrants from Syria. How we negotiate religious differences has
shaped our identity as a nation and given rise to our best and worst selves. This lecture will explore the dynamics of
religion and the American experience and examine key trends in our struggle to realize the
vision of a truly inclusive nation. Dr. Brian D. Birch is Director of the Religious
Studies Program and the Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University. His areas of specialization include religious
pluralism, comparative theology, and the dynamics of religion in civil society. He has served on the Board of Trustees and
the Executive Committee for the Parliament of the World Religions, and is currently a
senior research fellow at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He is the founding editor of the journal,
Teaching Ethics, and his current book project is titled, Radical Pluralism: Essays in Diversity,
Belief, and Religious Experience. We’d like to stop Dr. Birch for stopping by,
and please join me in giving him a round of applause. [Audience applause:]
[Brian Birch:] Thank you. {Applause continues.] [Silence:]
[BB:] I begin with a parable. Several centuries ago there was a pope who
decreed that all Jews must convert to Christianity or leave Italy. There was of course a huge outcry from the
Jewish community. The Pope, being a reasonable man, offered
the Jews a deal. The Holy Father would host a theological debate
with the chief rabbi of Rome. If the Jewish leader won the debate the Jews
would be permitted to stay. If the Pope won the Jews would have to leave. And there was one other condition. Because the rabbi did not speak Latin, and
the pope did not speak Hebrew, the debate would take place without the use of words. On the day of the great debate the Pope and
the rabbi took their sears on a stage that had been constructed in a piazza in old Rome. The two men sat opposite each other in complete
silence for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. The rabbi paused, stroked his long beard,
and waved a single finger into the air. Next, the Pope circled his finger around his
head. The rabbi responded by pointing to the ground
upon which they sat. The Pope then reached into his white vestment
and removed the silver chalice filled with wine along with a round communion wafer. The rabbi shrugged, reached in to his own
black robe and pulled out an apple. And with that the Pope stood up and said,
I concede the debate. This man has bested me. The Jews can stay. For a few seconds there was stunned silence
in the piazza. The cardinals in their red hats and robes
rushed to the Pope’s end of the stage and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, “It was unbelievable. First I held up three fingers to represent
the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind
me that there was still one god common to both of our religions. I then waived my finger in a circle to show
him that god was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to
show that god was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer, the Eucharist,
to show him how god absolves us of our sins, and then he pulled out an apple to remind
me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do? Meanwhile, at the other end of the platform,
the Jewish community had crowded the rabbi. They asked, what happened? “Well,” said the rabbi, “first he said
to me, you Jews have three days to leave Rome.” So I said to him, “Not one of us is going
to leave.” Then he tells me that the whole city would
be cleared of Jews, so I told him that Jewish community stays right here. A women then shouted from the crowd, “What
happened next?” “I have no idea,” said the rabbi. “He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.” So I open with this to illustrate one of the
challenges of interreligious dialogue, which is the effort to get our subject matter straight. Before I begin in earnest though, I would
like to take just a second or two to express my thanks to Lesli Baker, and the staff of
the Fulton Library for their very kind invitation to have me here today. I had the privilege of being involved in the
early stages of the Roots of Knowledge Project and I have to say that I am just delighted
with the kind of impact it’s had on the university. It truly is one of the crown jewels of our
campus. My remarks this afternoon will address the
shifting landscape of religious diversity. And in doing so I hope to provide a broad
map of the religious terrain in the United States. In reference to the title for today’s lecture,
the infidel is understood as the unbeliever, the person outside the faith to be converted. The heretic on the other hand is someone inside
the tradition who is unfaithful to, and who perverts, the correct teachings of a religious
community, whatever those teachings happen to be. These concepts help us to wrap our minds around
the key distinction in understanding religious diversity, mainly, that of interreligious
diversity versus intrareligious diversity. Interreligious diversity is that kind which
is present across religious traditions, where intrareligious diversity is the kind that
is present within a single religious community. With this key distinction in mind I can scarcely
think of a better time to be exploring ways in which human beings work through their religious
and ideological differences. One cannot pick up the newspaper or turn on
one’s computer without being bombarded with stories involving some form of religious conflict. At times I feel as if progress is being made. At other times I feel as if we’re back in
the 1640s in how we discuss the value of an entire religious population. In this country the debate over same sex marriage
remains front and center. You can’t get far into this discussion without
addressing the role of religion and public life and the tensions that result therefrom. Among the primary areas of contention is whether
the right to free exercise of religion deserves priority status relative to other constitutionally
guaranteed rights. Some legal scholars argue for a hierarchy
of rights in which religious freedom is primary, and was always intended to be so. A concrete manifestation of this is the ongoing
effort of the LDS Church to balance the free exercise of religion with the basic rights
of those in the LGBTQ + community. For many who have watched these efforts unfold
there is a sense of awkwardness associated with this whole affair. On the one hand the Church is commendable
for trying to work through a challenging set of issues. But doing so requires navigating some pretty
narrow straits. On the one side lies their advocacy for state
and national laws protecting the LGBTQ community in areas of employment, housing and what it
calls “some other areas in which this community does not have protections. Notably, however, these protections do not
include marriage or some forms of commercial transactions. On the other side has been the repeated affirmation
of religious freedom, understood to mean that the free exercise of religion could as indicated
above include the refusal of a pharmacist to distribute contraception or the right of
the wedding chapel to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. Or as we’ve seen most recently, right, the
right for a baker not to construct a cake for a same-sex ceremony. There are many many take aways here, but for
our purposes I cite this example to illustrate that negotiating diversity is no small feat. One reason for this I believe is that one
can be tempted to idealize a form of pluralism, in which people can independently live out
their vision of the good life without much contact or conflict with others. The stark reality however is that in many
cases one’s conception of the good life precisely involves others not living out their
vision of the good life. This situation I would argue is the belly
of the beast when it comes to negotiating not only religious diversity but pluralism
more broadly. Okay. So now that I have primed the pump a bit I
would like to move to our next snapshot. What is the religious landscape of the United
States and how has it changed in recent years? Beginning with the Plymouth and Massachusetts
Bay colonies, the colonization of the United States has been dominated by Protestants. The early wave of settlers included Congregationalists,
Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and Quakers. In the early 19th Century, numbers of Catholic
immigrants from Ireland and the Continent began to swell, and questions began to emerge
that question what many historians have called the de facto Protestant establishment. For many years the most popular metaphor to
describe American cultural diversity was that of the melting pot. It was given to us interestingly by Jewish
immigrants in the early 20th century whose numbers had swelled to nearly 4 million by
1925. However, it was another Jewish immigrant,
Horace Kallen, who argued for a better moniker and thus introduced the word “pluralism”
into the American lexicon. As diversity expanded in the United States
there were naturally various forms of resistance. For example, in 1951 the Christian Century
published an editorial declaring pluralism, a “National Menace.” On the other side of the debate was Will Herberg
who argued in 1955 that religious pluralism is quote, “not merely a historical and political
fact but the primordial condition of things, an essential aspect of the American way of
life.” And you see his quote there on the slide. However, a pivotal moment in American religious
history came in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson, with much fanfare, signed into law the Immigration
and Nationality Act. Coming on the heels of the Civil Rights Act,
this legislation opened up paths for immigration from non-European regions of the globe. Thus between 1966 and 2000, 22.8 million documented
immigrants arrived in the United States. And not surprisingly they brought their religious
beliefs with them. During the 1970s for example immigration from
Asian countries comprised nearly forty percent of the total population of immigrants. These events have introduced stronger and
more visible religious communities in the American landscape, including neighborhoods
and communities with Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and many others. Diana Eck’s Pluralism Project at Harvard
has played an important role in mapping this diversity and in highlighting the richness
of the pluralism in unexpected regions of the country. And this slide is intended just to give you
some interesting factoids regarding how religious diversity manifests itself, right? So for the first time in its history the United
States Supreme Court is without a protestant. Now the one possible qualifier is Neal Gorsuch
who refuses to identify himself as either a Catholic or a protestant, so he comes from
a Catholic background, he married an Episcopalian, and is quiet about his public religious identity. Interesting nevertheless, right? It’s like this bullet. Presidential politics has demonstrated, has
been demonstrated, or excuse me, has demonstrated religious diversity as well, right? The Republican Party ticket, as many of you
know, in the 2012 election included a Latter-day Saint, Mitt Romney, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan. This was the first Republican ticket without
a Protestant since 1860. Okay? The third bullet, there are roughly the same
number of Jews as Latter-day Saints in the United States. There are more Muslims than Episcopalians
in the U.S. and finally, that Los Angeles is home to the most diverse set of Buddhist
traditions and communities in the world. So regarding the situation Diana Eck argues
that quote, “In the past thirty years Christianity has become more publicly vocal,” or, excuse
me, “As Christianity has become more publicly vocal, something else of enormous importance
has happened. The United States has become the most religiously
diverse nation on Earth.” She goes on, “The questions that emerge today
from the encounter of people of so many religious and cultural traditions goes to the very heart
of who we see ourselves to be as a people.” Despite the remarkable work of Eck and her
team, other scholars have questioned the data and challenged the claim that the United States
is indeed the most religiously diverse country in the world. For example, a 2014 study by the Pew Research
Center with a rather stark title, “US doesn’t rank high in religious diversity,” asserted
that ninety-five percent of the US population is either Christian or religiously unaffiliated. While all other religions combined to account
for just five percent of Americans, as a result according to their study the US ranks 68th
out of 232 countries and territories on the religious diversity index. The study defends categorizing all Christian
groups for example as a single religious tradition in the same manner as Buddhism, Islam, and
Hinduism are treated in other studies. This appears to make good sense given that
each of these traditions has significant internal diversity in the same way that Christianity
has a lot of internal diversity. According to the study, Singapore is the most
religiously diverse country in the world, with Taiwan and Vietnam not far behind. Predictably, the least diverse countries are
Vatican City, Iran, and Afghanistan. The United States is classified in what they
call the moderate category. France, for example, ranks relatively high
on the index coming in at number twenty-five. Their Christian population stands at sixty-three
percent with twenty-eight percent of their population being unaffiliated and eight percent
identifying as Muslim. As you would expect, political implications
are often drawn from these kinds of studies. In a 2002 article in the Christian magazine
First Things, Philip Jenkins called Diana Eck’s assertions quote “flat wrong, and
not just wrong, but ill intentioned.” He says, ” America is not nearly as diverse
as many lands in the Middle East or the Far East, where religious minorities make up ten
or twenty percent of the population or even more. Why then do we often read about the wonders
of American diversity?” Jenkins answers his own question by referencing
the political appeal of an exaggerated pluralism. “The myth of American religious diversity,”
he says, “must be explained in terms of political rhetoric. An upsurge of non-Christian believers would
be an enormous boon for liberals who wish to deny that America is a Christian nation
in which it is proper for government to use Christian symbolism or terminology.” End of quote. He goes on. “This attitude helps explain the rapturous
reception accorded to Eck’s recent work as reviewers proclaim the glories of the new
pluralism that was sweeping away Christian fundamentalism.” Richard John Newhouse, the longtime editor
of First Things, the magazine that I just referenced, pounced on Eck as well, accusing
her of being little more than an enthusiast. This is Newhouse: “Eck’s book, like the multi-culturalist
advocacy literature of which it is a part, makes much of the fact that there are allegedly
more Muslims than Episcopalians or Jews in America, and that may be true. But how many Muslims are in Congress, or in
the boardrooms of major corporations, or heads of elite universities and philanthropies?” close quote. Though Jenkins and Newhouse make strong and
provocative points, they appear in their respective ways to have at least as much of a political
agenda than Eck and her colleagues do at the Pluralism Project. A more moderate critique can be found in the
work of Stephen Prothero, professor of religious studies at Boston University and the best-selling
author of “Religious Literacy.” Some of you may be familiar with that book. So this is Prothero. Here we go. He says, “The riddle is not as Miss Eck’s
subtitle goes, how a Christian county has become the world’s most religiously diverse
nation. It is instead how America has managed to become
both a Christian country and a multi-religious society at the same time.” Now of course much hangs on what we mean by
religious diversity. If what we mean is something like the availability
of spiritual options in the religious marketplace, then a clear case can be made that the US
is indeed in the lead here. If we mean how people identify by tradition
however, not so much. And this point takes us to another fact that
bears noting, namely that the Christian landscape of the United States has shifted away from
denominational affiliation and toward new forms of Christian identity and relationships. Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians are
giving way to evangelical fundamentalist progressive and unaffiliated. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, former president
of the Chicago Theological Seminary, has argued that the religious landscape in the United
States is quote, “Best described as post-denominational.” She based these claims primarily on another
major Pew study conducted in 2007 which interviewed over 35,000 Americans on their religious identities. One of the more interesting aspects of this
research was the suggestion that religious affinities are tied much less to denomination
and much more to shared social values. And not just shared values but also shared
political ideologies. These kinds of issues or, excuse me, the kinds
of issues that historically divided denominations, right, namely that of Real Presence—that
has to do with the Eucharist—female ordination, excuse me, Real Presence, congregational government,
and charismata, these were the issues that used to occupy Christianity, have given way
to divisions over things like biblical literalism, female ordination, and social activism. Another important work that zeroes in on these
trends is entitled “American Grace,” which was authored by Robert Putnam and David Campbell,
and this book, by the way, has had a tremendous influence in the way that policymakers and
others understand religion in the United States right now. Tremendously important book. Putnam and Campbell point out that conservative
evangelicals and conservative Catholics report having a significantly stronger affinity than
progressive members of their own denomination, and vice versa. This is especially true of the younger generation
who communicate, connect and identify in different ways from their parents, and of course this
is hardly breaking news to you. But in any event, social networks are much
more dynamic and fluid, the result of which involves different forms of religious community
building. Part of this dynamic involves the most dramatic
change in American, in the American religious landscape since the early 1990s, the so-called
“rise of the nones.” And I hope most of you understand what I mean
by none, right. The spelling is none, rather than nun, okay. A “none” is a person who marks “none
of the above” on the surveys seeking religious identification data. Otherwise known as the unaffiliated, this
category includes atheists and agnostics and is by far the fastest growing demographic
relative to other categories of self-identification, right? That’s an important thing to know. The most dramatic change in the American religious
landscape, right, lies with those who are defining themselves as unaffiliated, or who
don’t connect with a religious tradition. And some of you have heard the term “spiritual
but not religious,” right. That’s the category that is the fastest
growing category in the United States. Okay! In a response to standard questions in the
1950s about what is your religious preference, the result was that ninety-five to ninety-seven
percent responded with either a specific denomination—Methodist, Baptist, Quaker and so forth—or with other
religious traditions—Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. Only a very small fraction responded by saying
none. This was in the 1950s. According to the Pew survey, however, in the
last five years alone the unaffiliated have increased from just over fifteen percent to
just under twenty percent of all US adults. Their ranks now include more than thirteen
million self-described atheists and agnostics, nearly six percent of the US population, as
well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation,
which constitutes fourteen percent, and those numbers have gone up since the study. So the trend lines are continuing. In 1980 young evangelicals outnumbered nones
in the same range, in the same age range by a ratio of two to one. As of 2010 the tables have been turned and
nones outnumber young evangelicals by a number of 1.5 to one. Related to this situation is another category
called the “liminal.” That term might be to the scholars here but
not necessarily to others. Liminal refers to a kind of space in the boundaries
between two categories, right. So this term is meant to refer to someone
in a tradition who is, quote, “neither entirely in nor entirely out.” Putman and Campbell found that the percentage
of those who are in the borderlands has remained steady across religious traditions at about
ten percent. So that gives you a pretty good snapshot I
think. Okay. In recent years we have witnessed forms of
strident secularism, including the so-called “New Atheism.” Far from being non-committal liminals, the
New Atheists are decidedly anti-religious and advocate their positions with every bit
the messianic zeal of a Christian missionary. Since the Enlightenment various movements
have sprung up in anticipation of a golden age of science in which barbarism, priest-craft,
and superstition will be overcome by the blinding light of reason and empirical science. The New Atheism however comes with a 21st
century swagger and the benefits of the new media to spread its gospel. The leaders of the movement have been given
the ominous nickname “The Four Horsemen,” an image taken from the Book of Revelation,
for those who are familiar. And they include Sam Harris, the late Christopher
Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and the dean of the group, Richard Dawkins. In recent years Bill Maher appears to have
joined their ranks, at least in the minds of the media. The group is interdisciplinary with a philosopher,
Dennet, an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins, a literary critic, Hitchens, and a neuroscientist,
Harris, along with a comedian, who is Maher. With titles such as “The God Delusion,”
“The End of Religion,” and Hitchens’s book entitled “God is Not Great,” with the
subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything,” the New Atheists are anxious to spur public
debate on the existential value of religious belief and practice. Consider the following quote from Hitchens. There he is. “One must state it plainly: religion comes
from the period of human prehistory where nobody, not even the mighty Democritus, who
concluded that all matter was made from atoms–had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy
of our species, and as a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge,”—I
say this sitting in the Roots of Knowledge Gallery, right? He says, “a babyish attempt to meet our
inescapable demand for knowledge as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile
needs.” Pretty strong quote indeed. The quality of their analyses has been roundly
questioned, and one can say that they are least uneven. But there is no doubting the impact of the
New Atheists on public discourse. Though the research is not novel and the questions
they raise are by no means ground-breaking. But what they have been able to do it to smoke
out provocative ethical and theological questions for popular consumption. Though from the standpoint, right, from an
academic standpoint this is frustrating to watch, because the New Atheist literature
has a kind of shrillness surrounding it and I hope that the kinds of questions that the
New Atheists are raising will eventually lead to more productive forms of discourse between,
right, people of faith and people who do not identify as religious. A recent book by the scientist E.O. Wilson made me considered one example of a
more moderate take. Wilson, among the most respected scientists
in the country, entitled his book “The Meaning of Existence.” So, this is Wilson, he says, “this transcendent
searching has been hijacked by the tribal religions.” So I would say for the sake of human progress,
the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish to the point of eliminating
religious faiths. But certainly not eliminating the natural
yearnings of our species or asking these great questions. However, lest one think that the world is
moving boldly into the secular age, there is another phenomenon that we must bear in
mind, and that is the dramatic rise of fundamentalist forms of religious belief and practice. The rise of fundamentalism goes toward what
is known as the polarization thesis in religion, right. Advocated by scholars in various fields of
study. Trend lines show that in many parts of the
world, including the United States, religious communities are becoming increasingly splintered,
right? And on this other side of the spectrum lie
religious groups as I mentioned that are better known as fundamentalists. In their path-breaking work on the subject,
Martin Marty from the Chicago Divinity School, and Scott Appleby, they describe fundamentalism
as, quote, “a habit of mind found within religious communities and paradigmatically embodied
in certainly representative individuals and movements.” They say that fundamentalism manifests itself
as a strategy or set of strategies and this is the key part, by which beleaguered, by
which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identify as a people or
a group.” That’s their quote. Though the term originated in early twentieth
century Christianity, fundamentalism now describes a phenomenon present in a variety of religious
traditions and movements, and common characteristics include, first, the resistance to secular
ideas and institutions. Second, a form of scriptural literalism. Third, social separation, and fourth, you
see the rhetoric of religious purity in fundamentalist groups. And over the past few decades we have been
witness to the revolution creating the Islamic Republic of Iran, Christian secessionist movements
in the United States, right–did you know there were Christian Secessionist movements
in the US? They are here. Along with many others, right. And the unsettling trend that I’m trying to
point out is the idea that the center is not holding in religion. The most active elements at least demographically
in American religious life move toward people who are affiliating and self-identifying as
atheist or agnostic, or those who are becoming increasingly fundamentalist in their orientation,
and hardened to the broader social trends. And so the question that I want to throw out
there as we start the conversation is, what do you all make of this trend? I’ve demonstrated or tried to show evidence
supporting how these dynamics are at work in the United States and of course they are
in play in different ways depending on your region of the country, obviously Utah and
Utah Valley has its own particular flavor, and deals with religious diversity in different
ways. But I’m interested to engage in discussion
of what these trend lines mean for both the healthy practice and exercise of religion
on the one hand, but also in profound and deep forms of respect for other ways of living
and being. And so with that, I’ll thank you and open
it up for questions. [Applause:]
[BB:] Let me ask you this, let me just throw this out. What category obviously, people who self-identify
on this campus, right, the vast majority of, or at least the highest category are those
who self-identify as Latter-day Saints, right, obviously. What’s the second category that people self-identify
as? [Audience member:] Unaffiliated. [BB:] That’s correct. Unaffiliated is by far the strongest second
category behind those who self-identify as Latter-day Saint, right. And obviously those who do self-identify as
Latter-day Saint, there is a tremendous amount of intrareligious diversity, right, in terms
of how they see their own religious affiliation. So I pointed out that conservative Catholics
feel a deeper sense of connection with conservative Jews and progressive Catholics have a deeper
sense of affiliation with progressive Jews or Muslims or Latter-day Saints or whomever. And so equally as important in understanding
interreligious phenomena I think the work that, a lot of work that remains to be done
lies in understanding how people operate within religious communities. And in our particular community, how that
plays itself out among Latter-day Saints. Yes. [AM:] Do you know the percentage on this campus
of the nones versus affiliated? [BB:] Yes, it’s about seventeen or eighteen
percent. [AM:] I was thinking about when you were speaking
about France and how France has what they call “laicite,” which is the idea that
religion is not public, something that isn’t in the public square so much, something that’s
private that people don’t really talk about it as far as, oh, so you’re a Muslim, so
you’re a…and so they have these laws in place that prohibit different manifestations
of religion in the public space. Do you think that with the rise of the nones
and with people identifying more spiritually, we’re going to be moving eventually towards
that idea of it just not being a thing within the public square? [BB:] Yeah, that’s a great question. Let me just see if I can help supplement the
question by describing just a little bit about France, right? France has a very interesting history regarding
religious establishment and religious conflict, for anyone who studied European history. What developed in the French tradition is
this concept of “laicite,” which means a strong secular public space. In other words the French are very intentional
that their public space should be devoid of particular forms of religious symbolism and
discourse. And so over the past I would say ten or twelve
years there have been renewed debates in France regarding whether or not this is effective
or whether or not to actually increase and tighten the laws, especially in reference
to the growing Muslim population in that country. And so for example, and I can’t recall the
exact year they passed a law in which a person could not have on their person forms of religious
symbolism. So for example they passed laws prohibiting
people from wearing large crucifixes or crosses in public. And they also, this also at least was the
most talked about part of this law was what form of religious expression, do you know? [AM:] The hijab. [BB:] The what? The hijab. The headwear of Muslim women. And that created a tremendous amount of debate
and outcry regarding the marginalization of the Muslim community which many believe lends
itself toward more oppression and violent reactions against these religious minorities. But people who are advocating on that side
sometimes are not aware that there is a very strong tradition of maintaining neutrality
in the public space and the way in which the French see neutrality is in terms of what
is known as the naked public square. That’s a metaphor that’s being talked about
here. So the questions, is the United States moving
in that direction, there obviously are people who would like to see it move in that direction,
and that’s where a lot of the, the Supreme Court cases, there’s a lot of contested space
surrounding these kinds of questions. But the US really isn’t anywhere near the
French in terms of how they, how that issue is debated and the place of religious freedom
in their particular tradition. Because the First Amendment Clauses, the so-called
Establishment Clause, and the Free Exercise Clause, are at the center point of our legal
tradition. And so for those reasons I thinks that we’re
quite a ways away from doing that, though there have been many who have argued that
there’s a slippery slope, that if, that if we begin to try to neutralize the public square
more that it could lead in that kind of direction. [AM:] I have a question about the way in which
Christianity shaped secularism, or about the numbers of people who are non-affiliated,
if they ever were affiliated or affiliated Christians. So I wonder if you have thoughts about how
that might shape the way in which secularism looks to those who identify as nones, given
that they are coming from that tradition. [BB:] Yeah, I think there is a very strong
connection both historically and in terms of what’s happening right now. Protestantism has been the kind of chief driver
of the development of secularism. And of course if you look at the Reformation
in the way in which the Reformation unfolded, the Reformation was the, it established the
groundwork for secularism. Both political forms of secularism and individual
and non-Christian identities. And so the data show that the vast majority
of people who move into the unaffiliated category do so from as you mention, Protestant traditions,
in part because in Protestantism there has been much more fluidity across denominations
than there has been in other religious traditions. And so somebody who no longer practices, someone
who no longer practices is Islam, or Buddhism, but who comes out of that cultural environment
would still identify as Muslim or Catholic or Buddhist. But things are different with Protestants,
right, as you know, where because denominational affiliation is more personal and it’s more
made by intentional choice, I think that lends itself to people being able to move more easily
outside to no category, one of these unaffiliated, or none, or secular categories. Thank you. Did you want to follow up? [AM:] Yeah, I was thinking about the French
case, the ways secularism shows up. I wonder if it is the fact that [indecipherable]
It’s like a particularly Christian [indecipherable.] {BB:] Yes, absolutely. And yeah, I don’t think that… [AM:] I wonder… [BB:] I don’t think that “laicite,” you
can understand that concept without understanding the complex relationships between the Catholic
Church, right, the French monarchy, the Catholic Church, the Protestant minority groups, historically
and all of the violent episodes that some of you learn about, in your European history
classes I think they’re deeply connected. Others? [AM:] The way you present your religion—so
Christianity, at least the way that I understand it , always turns out to do with, being Christian
is about what you believe, what’s on the inside, and a lot of religions don’t have
clerics either in that way, so this idea that you could be religious but you do it in a
way that is viewed from the outside, like that to me seems to be a very Christian-centered
way of looking at what secularism could be, that maybe wouldn’t show up in an place
where you wear your religion on your head, like in a Muslim context, where the predominant
people were Muslim, like would that even occur to them. [BB:] Yes, that’s a great point. Many people have pointed out as you allude
to that the idea of trying to make religion a private, personal affair, it’s called “the
privatization thesis of religion.” That is another Protestant phenomenon. The idea that religion is personal, that it’s
between you, and your god. That concept has its home within Protestant
movements, and denominations. And then of course the establishment of the
United States is a Protestant phenomenon. They, you know, one can argue that that idea
was just transported into the political concepts that governed the exercise of religion. Without understanding the Protestant origins
of private personal religion you can’t understand why other religious groups might have a completely
different frame of understand what it means to practice their religion, whether in private
or public. Some religions don’t even have that distinction. But Christianity does. Yes. {AM:] So I know there’s a state senator
who was speaking about bringing back the legalization of polygamy in the state, which is interesting. [BB:] I have heard that. [AM:] But I am in the dominant religion. So how does that, if that were to happen,
how is the concept of infidels, what does that look like. Tell me. [BB:] What would it look like for it to be
legalized? [AM:] Yeah, like how would that impact the
discourse in the state, I’m thinking very local, right? [BB:] Wow, that’s a whole other very interesting
discussion. But I’ll make a couple of comments on it. Given the particularities of the state of
Utah it would open up some very deep historical and theological questions. So for those of you who are familiar with
the development of Mormon history, and the experience of the Latter-day Saints in this
region, plural marriage was understood to be the highest form of marriage. And it was only through legal action—violence,
marginalization, negotiation, and legal positioning—that the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy. And so it’s interesting. There was a court case and I couldn’t’ give
you the exact year. Some of you remember the Tom Green case? [AM:] They were in Orem, I met with some of
his wives about twenty years ago… [BB:] Just for fun. [AM:] They were completely educated, they
were articulate, and I thought, well that was not my stereotype of what they would be
like. [BB:] Yeah. [AM:] Yes. [BB:] There are all those interesting features
but one facet of that case was that Tom Green, who was practicing plural marriage in the
state of Utah and brought up on charges, the legal case, the legal issues are a little
complex. But he was brought up on charges and they,
the court, the trial was set for Provo. AND he actually appealed to have his case
moved from Provo to Denver, and what do you think his argument was? I know you know Amanda, but others of you,
what do you think Green’s legal argument was? [AM:] He couldn’t get a fair trial. [BB:] That he could not get a fair trial in
the state of Utah because of the demographics of Utah Valley. He did not believe, given the LDS Church’s
current position regarding plural marriage that he did not believe that he had the chance
to get a fair trial. So there’s a kind of historical irony there,
that the tradition that argued vigorously for the legalization of plural marriage is
now understood to be the most hostile community with regard to that practice among those of
other traditions or other cousins of that same tradition. So, fascinating. Others? [Silence:]
[BB:] Okay, I see cookies in the back, and so that’s great. I’m glad you’re here, and thank you! [Applause]

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