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Bill Barr’s speech and the problem with generic religion

On October 11, Attorney General William Barr delivered a powerful speech on religious freedom at the University of Notre Dame. The Attorney General detailed the many ways in which the State has taken sides with various anti-religious pressure groups not only to curtail religious freedom, but to force irreligion and secular values on people of faith.

Barr reminded his audience that religion provides great benefits to the State which the State cannot provide for itself; and without which it descends either into totalitarianism or licentiousness. “The fact is,” said Barr, “that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

There’s nothing new here, of course, and Barr cites a number of brilliant thinkers who have said as much—John Adams, Edmund Burke and James Madison. The main point they all agreed on is that you can’t have self-government unless individuals learn to govern themselves. And the most reliable way that people learn to control their appetites is through religion.

But, as Barr points out, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the connection between religion, virtue, and freedom because, when we forget, religion declines and social pathology abounds. At which point the State steps in to restore order—but almost always with a heavy hand.

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