by Barrett Duke
First, a new religious fundamentalism among Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist groups began to grip many countries in the late twentieth century and the early decades of this century. Such groups use the power of the state to suppress other faiths, whether through the direct assistance, sympathy, or apathy of the civil powers.
Second, religious liberty is threatened in other countries by Christ-confessing groups. They believe in the superior nature of their sect or regard other Christ-confessing groups as nuisances or threats to their dominance. This occurs in the former Soviet countries, for example.
Third, the world’s remaining totalitarian states consider religious belief a threat to their dominance over every aspect of life. China still imprisons, tortures, and murders people who feel compelled to follow the dictates of their conscience in matters of faith. North Korea’s attitude toward unsanctioned religious groups is even more brutal.
Fourth, a fundamentalist type of secularism has emerged in many countries that considers the church’s denouncement of certain sins to be bigotry. A growing movement is afoot to label certain kinds of religious speech, such as sermons that characterize homosexuality as sin, as hate speech. The movement means to marshal the civil powers to restrict and to punish. In other quarters, a new militancy against the involvement of people of faith in political life is emerging, such that moral convictions are equated with religious beliefs and deemed unconstitutional intrusions of faith in the body politic.
As churches seek to speak to these new and old threats to religious liberty, they must also contend with a postmodern mind-set among Western intellectual elites who no longer believe in absolute moral truth. This abandonment of moral truth has led many to question whether any culture can demand certain behaviors of any other culture. After all, if one accepts the postmodern axiom that each community constructs its own reality, and that one community’s construction of reality and its attendant moral rules are as valid as another, within certain humanitarian boundaries, then it becomes nearly impossible for someone from one community to insist that another community change.
Postmodernism creates significant challenges for those who attempt to promote religious freedom throughout the world. Gene Veith provides a superb summary of its tenets:
1. Social Constructivism. Meaning, morality, and truth do not exist objectively; rather, they are constructed by the society.
2. Cultural Determinism. Individuals are wholly shaped by cultural forces. Language in particular determines what we can think.
3. The Rejection of Individual Identity. People exist primarily as members of groups. Identity is primarily collective.
4. The Rejection of Humanism. Values that emphasize the creativity, autonomy, and priority of human beings are misplaced. There is no universal humanity since every culture constitutes its own reality.
5. The Denial of the Transcendent. There are no absolutes.
6. Power Reductionism. All institutions, all human relationships, all moral values, and all human creations—from works of art to religious ideologies—are expressions and masks of the primal will to power.
7. The Rejection of Reason. Reason and the impulse to objectify truth are illusory masks for cultural power. Authenticity and fulfillment come from submerging the self into a larger group.
8. Revolutionary Critique of the Existing Order. Modern society with its rationalism, order, and unitary view of truth needs to be replaced by a new world order.
The implications of these tenets for religious liberty are obvious. If our concept of religious liberty is merely a construct of our community and not universally valid for the myriad reasons suggested herein, postmodernists will argue that this is a relative value and not binding on all cultures. They will respond by attempting to hinder any effort to “impose” this value on other cultures.