Liberals of 'Reason' Need to See Incivility of Intolerant Liberalism, Says Author Mary Eberstadt

(Photo: American Enterprise Institute)Mary Eberstadt at a panel discussion, "The American family: How a 'new normal' is reshaping religion, work, and today's economy," American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., Oct. 10, 2013.

Prominent conservative author and essayist Mary Eberstadt has released a new book that aims to show liberals of "reason" just how intolerant and incivil today's secularist political Left has become toward traditional religious beliefs on marriage, sex and abortion.

Eberstadt, the author of a number of books who has also been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, National Review, First Things and other news outlets, released her new book, It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, last week and spoke in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the main takeaways from her work.

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(Photo: HarperCollins)

"Today, as opposed to 40 years ago, [social issues] are no longer contested. They are regarded as settled. The progressive secularists side has chalked up victory after victory on cases involving school prayer, obscenity, abortion and same-sex marriage," Eberstadt told attendees at a lunchtime discussion at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

"Exactly because we have entered a new era of apparent secularist ascendancy, it is fair to ask for a new conversation out there," she said. "Why, given how victorious it is, does the secularist progressive alliance, by which I mean its activist wing, insist on treating faithful Christians as if they are some kind of unique threat?"

Although the idea of liberalism is to promote the concepts of free thought and pluralism, people and institutions who uphold traditional Christian views on issues like marriage and abortion in today's secularist society are more frequently being punished by governments and others for refusing to capitulate on their beliefs.

Eberstadt listed a number of examples of how religious believers have been punished in the last few years for following their Christian beliefs.

She mentioned the case of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran who was fired last year after he published a book for his Bible study group that mentioned his Christian belief on marriage.

Eberstadt also talked about a Christian daycare worker in Texas who was fired last year after she refused to call a biological girl a boy. She then noted the case of a Marine officer who was court martialed last year because she posted a Bible verse at her desk.

Eberstadt also listed institutional examples of hostility toward conservative Christian values by pointing to government agencies that have discriminated against Christian charities, adoption agencies, crisis pregnancy centers and other nonprofit organizations because of their religious beliefs on marriage and abortion.

A prime example of the institutional intolerance toward religious views can be seen in the Obama administration's attempt to force the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who give dignity to the dying by treating them as family, to abide by an Obamacare birth control and abortion drug mandate that the nuns believe would require them to violate their sincerely held beliefs.

As the Little Sisters face millions of dollars in crippling fines, the nuns took the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In May, the Supreme Court unanimously decided to send the case back to the lower courts and ordered the courts to find a way to reasonably accommodate the nuns' beliefs.

"This goes to show how irrational the attacks on traditional belief are these days," Eberstadt asserted. "If I were to tell you in any other context that there are people who get up in the morning and spend their whole day attacking other people's good works, any person of reason would say that is preposterous, that is wrong or bad. But, this happens all the time when charities in question are Christian."

"Adoption agencies have been closed in this country for refusing to change Christian teaching of the family and crisis pregnancy centers are also under legal and bureaucratic attacks," she added. "These are places where desperate women can get material help, ranging from diapers to medical care and support systems. Who would want to get in the middle of that? The answer is people who think they are in possession of a rival faith. Nothing else explains the mercilessness of the attacks on Christian charities."

Eberstadt also stressed that Christian education in America faces a "severe" threat in the future, saying that Christian colleges could be at risk of losing their tax-exempt statuses, accreditation and government funding if they do not capitulate on their views on sexuality.

"The Western world is home to a secularist faith, a faith that has risen out of ever-evolving tenets and dogma from the sexual revolution," she said, noting that the crackdown on religion and lack of religious liberty is a result of the "the demands" that the "secularist faith" makes on its faithful.

"What is beneath this merciless treatment by today's anti-religious [secularists] is a new faith that sees Christianity as a competitor to be crushed, rather than as a different set of beliefs to be tolerated in an open society," she argued.

Eberstadt explained that the point of her book was to open conversation and ask progressives "to reflect on how far their movement has become unmoored from stated principle when it comes to the treatment of people who think differently."

"The book is based on the faith that it is possible to reach people of reason and that arguments wielded with civility matter," she said.

Eberstadt further explained that at least one of her friends gently chastised her for "assuming that there are such people of tolerance and reason on the Left."

However, Heritage Foundation senior fellow and author Ryan Anderson, who participated in the discussion, said he knows there are reasonable liberals whom Eberstadt's book will appeal to.

"We legitimately have friends who disagree with us about the underlying issues but don't want to see us as individuals or the institutions to which we are members crushed out of existence," Anderson said.

"What we need to do is splinter the activists on the hardcore Left from run-of-the-mill, reasonable, everyday liberals because reasonable, run-of-the-mill, everyday liberals have a family member or friend who disagrees with them on the issue of abortion or same-sex marriage and they don't think those people are enemies to the human race. And, they don't want their schools shut down or regulated out of existence. We have to appeal to those people and make alliances with them. They are not imaginary."

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