During the Dark Ages, the individual’s religion was defined by whatever the religious beliefs or sanctioned beliefs of the royalty were. If your king was Roman Catholic, then that was the official faith of the entire realm. Legally, there were no allowed deviations from the state-sanctioned religion – Catholicism. Those who held views that differed, no matter how minor, could find themselves charged with either apostasy or heresy (depending on how serious or grievous the infraction was) and would face some sort of corporal punishment – the stocks, lashings, burning at the stake, beheading, or a lengthy prison sentence. As the Enlightenment brought about the printed word and as literacy began to rise, by the time of the American Revolution, and for the first time in world history, there was a land where its citizenry were allowed to worship according to what they believed in their hearts. After the ratification of the Constitution, freedom of conscience became a part of the American social and cultural landscape.
We are now entering a stage in American society that has also been a long time in the making. It didn’t start under the Obama administration, but finds its roots in 1877. Since those early days, the individual right to worship and to believe what is taught within the confines of religion has been questioned and even challenged as being anti-intellectual. Without even so much as a debate, the American Left has declared that religion and science are not complementary, religion has no role in proper society, and should be left as something people do on the weekends, much like a recreation activity. In 2008, while still a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama made a comment that not only disturbed me but reminded me of my Medieval history classes. He has repeated this term in 2010, 2012, and now in 2015 with the Iraqi government – the term collective salvation. Progressives have always attempted in every nation where they have come to power to create a common consensus in every aspect of the citizen’s life including the faith or beliefs of the populace. This is no different from what existed during the Dark Ages.
Within the teachings of collective salvation is a belief that there is no such thing as individual redemption or salvation. Everything comes through the state (or society) as a whole and there is no salvation unless everyone has been “redeemed.” Although this concept uses the same terms that most Christians believe, it is far from a biblical Christianity. Salvation becomes a function of the government who becomes the ultimate arbiter of who has been redeemed or condemned. It is for this reason that leftists will claim that Jesus taught and condones socialism and/or communism and the confiscation of wealth for government redistribution to all. Once the government and bureaucrats become the deciding agent of what is acceptable, it then can begin to explain and interpret any religious text with absolute authority regardless of previous teachings or understanding of the faith. This is why statements made by both Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, and others regarding religion needing to become reformed to be more receptive of abortion rights and gay marriage should disturb anyone who openly practices any faith. When government – or those who are employed by government – claim that they alone have the only and correct way to define standards and that religion must conform to their viewpoint is in direct opposition to true freedom of conscience.
When the assumption of defining faith does not work, then the other extreme is brought to bear against those holding onto the rejected view – a complete removal of all religious influences from society with worship of a deity being replaced by worship of the party and/or of the state. Within the United States, we have become accustomed to what the American Left associates as the separation between church and state; however, this has now extended that simply posting the national motto, In God We Trust, can result in lengthy litigation and be considered a criminal act. Beginning in the early 1960s, Progressives in both parties sought to define what was acceptable for religious institutions to teach by amending the regulations regarding tax-exemption status to define and restrict political speech such as speaking out against abortion, the Cold War and nuclear armament. It is expected that homosexuality, bisexuality, and gay marriage will also be added to these regulations within the next decade.
Freedom of conscience extends, within a free society, to those who have a belief in a deity or deities and to those who do not have a prescribed faith equally – which is why freedom of conscience was considered as a part of our natural rights by the Enlightenment era writers. No one should ever be forced to change their basic understanding of the tenants of their faith, their place within the world, or the world around them. Already there are scientists from Progressive and Liberal institutions who are claiming that free will – the ultimate exercise of freedom of conscience – is actually an illusion and is defined by genetics and the environment, not by conscience choice. Again, as we rapidly head towards this Second Dark Age, all debate about freedom of conscious will face a similar outcome as the debates around man-made global climate change, abortion, and homosexuality. There will be claims that science proves it does not exist and it is an illusion and if you disagree, then you must be shunned, silenced, and eventually, removed from influencing others by any means necessary.
The outlook is bleak but not totally without hope
Although I do believe that we are already in the early stages of the Second Dark Ages, I do believe there is some hope. The art of discussion and debate must be supported. The debate must be based on fact and not on emotional appeal alone. Those who can see the warning signs of the pending age must begin to educate others through conversation of the importance of freedom of conscious, individual accomplishment and effort, and free thought. We must remind those we debate with that they, like everyone else, are individuals whose rights must be defended, respected, and celebrated. They must be reminded, as we remind ourselves, that because of our uniqueness, we must learn to respect the differences and seek out and celebrate the similarities. The media and many of our nation’s politicians have most Americans convinced that there are no similarities in the fears of black families, white families, upper income families and those that depend on various aid programs. In reality, there are glaring similarities – fear of the future, fear of continued economic problems, etc. – that all of us face. E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one – the original motto of the United States (changed by Act of Congress in 1956, see 36 U.S.C. § 302.) means much more than the member states, but that we are a nation of individuals whose individuality should be revered, celebrated, and respected.