Your Beliefs Are Officially Untrue

One commenter on a recent post said that he doesn’t see the state considering the church as direct competition.  I believe this is untrue both in principle and in fact; in principle because for a liberal state the only truth can be that all are free to believe what they want so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others to believe what they will, and in fact because the political theorists behind modern liberalism explicitly regarded the church as a competitor.*

Bellamy Salute

Standard method of pledging allegiance to the flag until Hitler ruined the gesture.

The perfect illustration is the official policy toward conscientious objectors when the draft was in effect.  Pacifists who applied for conscientious objector status were often tested to ensure that they were really committed to their beliefs (sometimes friends and family were interviewed, church membership demanded, etc.) but could ultimately be deemed conscientious objectors.  Christians who believed in the just-war doctrine and refused to serve on the basis that the current conflict did not meet the just-war criteria could not be deemed conscientious objectors.

Why is that?  Because in this case, pacifism could be regarded as a privately held belief (“I cannot justly engage in violent acts”) that did not intrude on anyone else’s privately held beliefs about violence or justice.  Just-war doctrine, on the other hand, cannot be so regarded; it is necessarily a belief that intrudes upon the public square (“This war is unjust; nobody can justly engage in it”). As such the first is a valid religious belief, and the state will not force you to violate it; the second is out of bounds as a religious belief, so the state cannot exempt you from military service.  The price one pays to have religious rights is to admit that they are officially untrue; what is true is the creed of liberalism, that the public square is transcendent of any or all gods.

Or, in more explicitly religious terms, so long as you are willing to sacrifice the truth of your beliefs on the alter of the common good, the liberal, tolerant, rational state will accept and protect you from illiberal, intolerant, irrational religions like Islam.  And if you will not lay your religion on the alter of liberalism, you are setting yourself up as the enemy.

*Hobbes integrates both church and state into his Leviathan; for Hobbes the state is the church, and must legislate both law and doctrine.  Hence for Hobbes there are precisely as many churches as states and no transnational church.  Rousseau and Locke, on the other hand, create the liberal private/public distinction by disentangling church from state to precisely the opposite degree.

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2 responses to “Your Beliefs Are Officially Untrue

  1. “illiberal, intolerant, irrational religions like Islam” And Christianity

  2. Allen G. Anderson

    Not sure how to interpret Robert’s comment (did he miss the fact that you were expressing the perspective of the “nation-state”, and not your own when you were referring to Islam that way?) IDK.

    Anyways…This is really interesting. I was unaware that a citizen couldn’t be exempt from the draft on the basis of “Just war” theory. Granted the draft is not currently in effect, still, it’s interesting to note just how many U.S. wars (and “quasi-war-like” invasions, and occupations etc.) absolutely fail to meet the formal requirements of just war theory!

    -Allen

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