- - Sunday, March 14, 2021

Religion is divisive.

That was the sum of a Twitter comment to a news story that President Biden, like a billion or so of his fellow Catholics, had gone to Mass recently.

At first, I was prepared to take offense. But on reflection, it occurred to me that the commenter was correct — religion is divisive. Jesus himself noted that he came not “to bring peace, but a sword. …  to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”

So, yes, religion is divisive. So is art. So is scholarship. So is love. So is family.

Pretty much everything that makes life worthwhile is going to cause discomfort to some and serve to divide human beings along lines of belief and preference.

That is OK.

The alternative is to live in a homogenized state of conformity in which we all agree about everything, and we accept the status quo (to not accept the status quo would be divisive). In other words, to live in a world without progress or meaning or beauty.

It is no accident that totalitarian regimes always seek to shrink the human experience, to shear away religious beliefs, scholarly and artistic accomplishments, and familial and social attachments, and to emphasize unity above all else. Unity is nothing more than a call for intellectual and social conformity, so that those who are ruled can be ruled more efficiently. Alternative thoughts are dangerous to societies that depend on conformity.

It is no accident that the Chinese communists emphasize unity above all else.

This compulsory unity is in direct opposition to the primacy of the individual, individual freedom, intellectual tolerance and even of all the things – limited government, respect for God-given rights or emphasis on a constrained and knowable law — that make individual freedom truly possible.

This nation was not built by and will not survive on hazy notions of unity. It was built by cantankerous, divisive, searching people who decided that self-rule was better than rule by a distant and indifferent aristocracy, that candle light was insufficient, that there had to be a better way to make cars, that steel is better than iron, that polio could be cured, etc.

When the leader of a nation calls for unity without any clear action around which we are to unify (like winning a war), what they really mean is, “stop disagreeing with me.”

Think about our current situation. Our present leader has called repeatedly for unity. Does he mean unity of purpose in making the nation great? Or does he simply mean that we are to stop disagreeing with him?

Does he intend to achieve this unity by limiting his own preferences and accepting some of the preferences of others? It is difficult to say. Perhaps we should ask the Republican senators whose policy preferences were ignored, but who were nonetheless used as props in a photo opportunity when they went to the White House a few weeks ago.

Surely, our current president must understand that his own calls for unity are, in some measure, efforts to suppress disagreement with the rulers and the governing leitmotif. No self-respecting Irishman conscious of his history could possibly misapprehend the dangers inherent in the demand for unity in thought, word and deed.

Yes, religion is divisive, especially the Christian religions, which specifically and repeatedly demonstrate indifference to secular rulers. It is no accident that almost certainly more Catholics are killed now because of their faith than at any time in history. The current age demands … and in many instances can enforce — unity more than ever.

Yes, religion is divisive. Each of us, irrespective of belief, should be thankful every day that it is. Something needs to be.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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