Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hobby Lobby, Gene Robinson and the Golden Rule

Last Friday, a series of links I posted included a Daily Beast article by V. Gene Robinson about the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court. In it he argues that A Victory for ‘Religious Freedom’ is a Loss for Religion.

In the article, Robinson tries to claim the "moral high ground" writing that while he doesn't "agree with religious condemnation of homosexuality, I would die in the ditch for protecting churches, synagogues, mosques and other truly religious entities from having to ordain or marry LGBT people, based on their religion." The statement rings hollow and the high ground collapses knowing that Robinson was the first priest in an openly bisexual relationship to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church, a church that historically had not allowed such consecrations. Further, his consecration caused deep division in that church. Rather than "die in the ditch" he pushed his lifestyle upon many congregations and congregants who could not accept it.

The essence of the Hobby Lobby case is whether a company can opt out of the Obamacare requirement of providing contraceptives to their employees (some of which are considered abortifacient) based on the religious convictions of the owners. Robinson claims this is discrimination that "flies in the face of what every world religion claims in their own version of the Golden Rule: 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'"

The "Golden Rule" (in Christianity) is based on Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." This is a summary of loving your neighbor and doing good to all men. But it is not a binding that forces men to violate their consciences, as Robinson would have it. Robinson has a very different concept of the "Golden Rule" than do I. I don't use the Golden Rule to force people to do what they wouldn't do, to pay for what they wouldn't pay for, take pictures of what offends them, or accept my version of morality. In its context following the goodness of God, it reminds us to imitate the goodness of God. This wrests from the Golden Rule the misuse of it, applying our desire for things that are not good to others. Ellicot points out there is an "implied limitation," writing: "The rule is only safe when our own will has been first purified, so that we wish only from others that which is really good."

Robinson notes that "...the devoutly religious owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores do not want to fund the contraception coverage offered in the Affordable Care Act because they consider certain types of birth control to be abortificients." He goes on to say that "This is in the face of the medical community’s clear determination that this is not the case." But here we descend into the arena of words and semantics rather than life and death. The "medical community" may have determined that contraceptives are not abortifacients based on their definition of abortion and pregnancy, and not solely the actions of the drug. According to many, a woman is not pregnant until the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, and an abortion then occurs only after implantation. Many Christians believe life begins at conception, and therefore a deliberate medical attempt of prevent implementation of a fertilized egg is a deliberate attempt to end that created life. I have read and also asked doctors, and it is a common effect of contraceptives to prevent the attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus (if it does not initially prevent fertilization).  

Robinson discusses the effect that the Hobby Lobby case means that "the freedom to practice one’s religion without interference by the government extends beyond individuals to corporations." Further he considers that such "an assertion trivializes religion itself. Corporations don’t gather in religious community, don’t worship anything, don’t pray, and they don’t possess a soul in need of redemption." In pointing out that "Corporations don’t gather in religious community," surely Robinson has a low view of worship and the practice of our religion. Bart Barber points out, "The idea of following Jesus certainly involves more than just the way that you spend an hour of your time on Sunday mornings." If an individual Christian's religious freedom can be circumscribed to the brief periods we gather in religious community and not extend to how we conduct our daily lives, then we don't have much religious freedom at all. Robinson seems to think Christians who want to live out their faith are unnecessarily greedy. Rather we should be "grateful for such accommodations and freedoms" instead of "wanting more."

Robinson characterizes the desire of the Hobby Lobby owners as allowing them "to decide for their employees what is moral or immoral in their decision-making" and trumping "the rights of their employees and their families to exercise their right of access to contraceptive care." In effect, Hobby Lobby is encroaching on the freedom of their employees and pushing their morality on them. But to be clear, the owners of Hobby Lobby are not making moral decisions for their employees. Rather they believe that they should not have to pay for the moral or immoral decisions of their employees.

Finally, Robinson employs a slippery slope argument. He says that some religions (which he sets off in quotes) "have beliefs and practices that border on the bizarre and disturbing. If Hobby Lobby is accorded these exemptions, there will be no end to the attempts to 'protect' these more radical beliefs and practices, all in the name of religious freedom." The simple fact is that there will never be any end to philosophies from both the right and the left attempting to have their day (and way) in court. The courts always can (and do) assert "this far shalt thou come, and no farther."

Without a doubt, many will leave the religion of their childhoods "because of such narrow and limiting attitudes." Some others will leave the religion of their childhoods because of what they see as broad and unbiblical attitudes. Neither action of leaving determines what the true observance of the Golden Rule is. We do not place an asterisk on the Golden Rule, or wish to be exempted from the command to love and treat others as we want to be treated. But there is a wide divergence of opinion between liberals such as Robinson and conservative libertarians such as myself as to how we want to be treated.

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