A Few Grains of Incense: Law, Religion, and Politics from the Perspective of the "Christian" and "Pagan" Dispensations
Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Forthcoming
65 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2020
Date Written: September 29, 2020
This Article attempts to provide a schematic look at the dynamics of contemporary culture wars around law and religion in the United States. It proceeds from the framework provided by Steven Smith’s recent book Pagans and Christians in the City and engages with that book, sometimes positively and sometimes critically, but taking Smith’s framework as a given. A key insight provided by Smith is that the Christian-pagan conflict, past or present, had less to do with the belief that the other side was dangerous than with the view that it was obstinately unreasonable in refusing the terms of coexistence offered by the ruling dispensation. Culture wars of this sort thus start not with immediate conflict but with failed compromises. Differing premises and worldviews lead to a misunderstanding of what constitutes a large or small sacrifice, start a cycle of distrust, and lead each side to seek power so that it may be the side to set the terms of compromise rather than the one faced with accepting or refusing it. I examine this dynamic in two areas discussed in Smith’s book: religious accommodation, and wars over symbols. I conclude with an examination of the circumstances under which culture-war peace is most likely to occur, and find little reason for optimism that either currently applies.
Keywords: Steven D. Smith, pagans, paganism, culture wars, law and religion, religious accomodation, religious symbols, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise
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