Those who have read The Myth of American Religious Freedom will know that the issue of religious authority is a major theme of the book. Religious partisans have long argued that their religion provides the morals to be enforced in law. Another way of saying it is that religious partisans made their religious authority determinative in law and government, sometimes explicitly, sometimes less so. The success of religious partisans in imposing their religious authority on law resulted in a moral establishment, a proxy religious establishment that provided religious authority with the coercive powers of law.
My book focuses on the role of dissenters to the moral establishment—those who objected to the reach of religious authority into law and government. Dissenters were central to the decline of the moral establishment and the secularization of American public life, a secularization that, I must add, is tenuous and seems, in the last several decades, to be moving into reverse. And it is this understanding of secularization that apparently did not come across as clearly as I wished. Williams, for example, thinks that I depict religious liberals as people “who quickly realized that their arguments did not depend upon religious faith and who therefore embraced secular language in advancing human rights.”
But this is not quite what I say, or at least what I intended to say. I sought to say something at once more specific and also stronger: Religious liberals, precisely because of their religious beliefs, were agents of secularization, a secularization that involved the expansion of rights because it meant the decline of religious authority outside the sphere of religious institutions.
Just a short addendum. IN the middle of his response, after a lengthy explanation of how exactly he is using the term secularization (basically, to mean a decline in the public authority of religious institutions, not to mean a decline in individual religiosity), Sehat says that this secularization is "tenuous and seems, in the last several decades, to be moving into reverse.." Just after initially posting this, I came across this piece about Governor Rick Perry (R, Texas) and his call for and imminent leadership in an August 6 "day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation." The event is sponsored by (among other groups) the American Family Association -- of which much could be said, but which most recently linked homosexuality to "increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation" (you know, like all those political sex scandals, Ensign, Weiner, et all -- oh wait, they weren't gay scandals, never mind). Perry described the event, which will be held in a stadium in Houston, as an "apolitical Christian prayer service" which will provide "spiritual solutions to the many challenges we face in our communities, states and nation."
This blog expects Historianess to be there and live-blogging this latest gathering of the erstwhile moral establishment.