Will US Secularists Be Afraid to Leave US Traditional Christians Alone?

March 13, 2015

Leave us alone and our ideas will triumph.

Religious freedom is dangerous for secularism because secularism is doomed in a free marketplace of ideas. Anti-religion can catch a wave of the moment if the dominant religions are receding, but revival will soon reduce them to the tide pools.

We are not afraid because Christians have faced much worse and prevailed. Nero was Emperor of the Romans, but then a Christian Emperor saved Rome for a millennium. Islam was going to sweep the church into oblivion until Islam ended up in the backwater of history for centuries. Stalin was the future that worked and now Stalin is the monster who murdered a nation. Mao was cool until the murderer was dead.

As bloody persecution sweeps the Middle East, American Christians understand our relative blessings. We have it better than Christians in the rest of the world and we know it. Our primary focus must be on the suffering church of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, but this does not prevent a secondary focus on the defense of religious liberty at home. American Christians are right that being “number one” in religious freedom is only comforting if based on growing freedom in American life and not only because American decline started from a great place and still leaves the US being relatively less awful.

If acquiescing to gay marriage or injustice at home would save one Syrian Christian life, I would consider the compromise. The Islamic State does not seem interested in such a trade.

In this broken world, Christians have to deal with multiple issues at once: foreign and domestic. Our worst day is better than an Iraqi Christian’s best day, but that does not mean that we must be silent about the erosion of our religious liberty. Christian thinkers are capable of opposing the Islamic State (serious) and fighting for full religious liberty in the United States.

Secularism dominates influential sectors of American society and is adept at framing the questions we face. Roe versus Wade demonstrates beyond a doubt that such victories forced through with temporary majorities do not last. Millions of traditional Christians are not going to change their minds and adopt secularism tomorrow, partly because secularism doesn’t work and Christianity does.

The poor are better off if they adopt Christian morality and practice it. They are destroyed by the consumerism and hedonism the secular media teaches. The Christian church will thrive in urban areas that see that our message works and that the alternatives are violent.

The greatest threat to religious freedom is that opponents of religion are afraid. They cannot be afraid of persecution, as atheists have never been burned at the stake in the United States. The bluster of the new atheists is to cover the fact that the religious have the cathedrals, the art, evensong, and Shakespeare. Secularists have modernity, 50 Shades of Grey, the Oscars, and Book of Mormon (the musical!). Even then, the best of their culture borrows, begs, and steals from Christendom: Christian fairy tales twisted, religious values mocked.

There is no creativity in a taking Jewish and Christian culture and stripping away the parts that bother secularists. The lame imitation is endless: secular Christmas is not better, just secular. Secular music is church music in bondage. How many genre of pop music got started in church music? Now that the church is shrinking, where will the next great genre develop? Educational curriculum came out of Christian civilization that was training people for eternal life, not preparing workers for the omnipotent state. The old Bachelor of Arts made sense in a Christian nation, but who will defend it or give it content now?

From the start of the nation, an Enlightenment-influenced American Christian super-majority faced radical dissent from our assumptions about the good life and we handled it with tolerance. With Christian apologist and philosopher John Locke, we valued human reason. Some groups placed less emphasis on reason. American Christians typically thought scientific progress was a good thing, but not all Americans did. A significant portion of Americans would not even swear allegiance to the United States. We let them affirm their allegiance.

As a result, dissident Christian groups- some as counter-cultural as the Amish- came from all over the world to practice their faith. They were welcome and we did not fear their dissent despite the fact that as the decades passed, their lifestyle served as a constant alternative to the majority’s choices. More conservative groups of Mennonites and Amish became less like the American majority over time, but the majority did not respond by forcing their “ways” on these little groups.

I dare our secular compatriots to us the same freedom the Christian majority gave to the dissident Amish: the right to live a counter-cultural life freely.

The Amish are allowed to run their businesses on Amish principles.

The Amish are allowed to educate their children on Amish principles.

The Amish are allowed to vote their values.

Let traditional Christians run our private businesses, even refuse to bake your cakes.

Let traditional Christians educate their children on Christian ideals.

Let us vote our values.

Whenever I have mentioned this solution to friends, they point to the obvious disanalogy: these were small groups and traditional Christians are the majority in parts of the United States. Federalism solves this problem. If Alabama or Utah were left alone on social and religious issues, then New York (as her population fades) should be left alone as well. If the federal solution is rejected, grant traditional Christians a large “private” sphere of activity (including our businesses).

Some studies suggest that the Amish population is growing. Are their civil and religious rights to be imperiled when they are large? I hope not. It would be a perversity in a secular democracy if the largest dissident groups had fewer rights than fringe dissident groups. This intolerance would suggest a lack of confidence in the persuasiveness of their cause and the effectiveness of their values from the majority!

Give the Church the freedom that we gave the Amish and within the century there will be a revival that democratically will sweep away the secularism of this particular historical moment. When Christians of that time gain a majority on issues where we are now a minority, I trust we will treat the decayed secularist parts of the nation with tolerance.

John Mark N. Reynolds

Dr. Reynolds is a Senior Fellow of Humanities at The King’s College in New York City, and a Fellow of the Center For Science and Culture at The Discovery Institute. He is the former provost of Houston Baptist University and was the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24