First Things Lecture: Yuval Levin’s The Perils of Religious Liberty

I had the pleasure of attending First Things’ lecture last night in Washington DC. Yuval Levin gave the address entitled: The Perils of Religious Liberty

A few big points I took away:

-Conservatives call for toleration based on freedom of religion, but the English tradition this harkens back to is more a personal freedom of worship, a freedom to believe as one wills, not actually a freedom to live in accord with those values. The latter requires a broader defense.

-However, the complicity required in supporting contraception or a wedding vendor serving a marriage he or she objects to is less like simple civic duty, and more like compulsion to cooperate with a belief system (if not a full fledged religion) that he or she does not agree with. It is therefore almost like the official establishment of a non-religion that is forced on all people

-The response then should be a defense and offense of the goodness of living our own values in communities, in groups and institutions that mediate between the individual and the state such as families, churches, clubs, etc.

-A defense of the freedom to live a traditional way of life will also include a proposal of the goodness of values, of virtues, of striving to live for a certain type of good. In this way, we can offer an alternative narrative and show a different way of life designed to attract, not to compel others.

-At stake is an important conception of the good. Goodness is not simply freedom from all constraints, as all societies put limits on behavior. Goodness and freedom is more importantly the freedom for formation, for moral and character development to become good, flourishing humans. This older notion of freedom is hard to defend because we lack the vocabulary in modern discourse, but it matters. I like that this provided an alternative to a completely relativist libertarianism that eschews all mention to values in order to avoid any coercion

-Traditionalism is repeating old truths in modern parlance. (I loved this; this is what I am about).

-It’s also not about being perfect or telling everyone else how wrong they are; it is about the ardent struggle to live well in accord with truth. No more and no less.

I am very grateful that First Things has taken the initiative to start hosting events like this that bring people together. It is the start of an alternative ordering of intellectual life outside of the universities. That could end up being a strong service to society.

Would you go to a event like this? Did you watch the talk? Do you have thoughts about the relationship between the individual, the state and mediating communities?

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