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Today in “On the Square,” Joseph Bottum reflects on the Bible’s hard sayings, which are “too many, too hard, to be entirely exegeted away in historical criticism, or eased with gentler passages in antidote, or shrugged off as the overstatement of prophetic rhetoric,” and what that uncomfortable aspect of Scripture tells us about America.

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, yes. Understand that God has allowed the sword to remain in the hands of the magistrate, indeed,” he writes in The Bible in the Public Square .

But the day may come when a prophet is told to enter the public square and cast down the nations—just as the day may come when a private man is told, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering.”

And with these possibilities, ethics in any philosophical sense has disappeared. Whatever political benefits a state gains from biblical religion, how can a liberal democracy allow even the chance of such things? They are  immoral on their face—or amoral , or  supermoral , or  extramoral , or use what word you will: They are outside the capacity of any ethical political order to allow.

Except that if the political order doesn’t admit their possibility, then the political benefits of religion cannot be held, and democracy itself decays.

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