George F. Will Puts on the Brakes
It's not just me and my fellow secularists... Conservative commentator George F. Will is concerned about the pendulum swinging towards theocracy, too.
I do not believe in God, and not for a lack of exposure to faith. My mother was raised as a nominal Catholic and my father is a lapsed Congregationalist. I went to Sunday School and to church on Easter and at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. My grandmother, my love for whom was immeasurable, was first and foremost a Christian and will forever be fondly remembered as such.
My wife is a woman of faith, albeit a different faith. She is from a Buddhist country and spent time as a Buddhist "nun" in a temple in the mountains after she finished college. Her uncle is monk who holds a high position in the monk hierarchy - I think of his position as being like that of a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. My wife's grandmother is a nun and my mother-in-law wakes up every morning at around 4:00AM to cook for the monks in the monastery nearby and walks a mile in the dark with her wicker basket full of food to bring to them. My brother-in-law escaped a dangerous drug habit by entering the priesthood and we were so proud of him. He just left the monastery to return to secular life after 9 years. Someday I'll show you a photo of the cute little house for visiting monks that I paid to have built in a mango grove at the monastery my mother-in-law brings food to. My teen-aged daughter, having spent much of her life in the old country with her mother, has been raised Buddhist by her mother and considers herself to be a Buddhist.
While choosing not to participate in acts or beliefs of faith, I have a profound sense of its importance to those who do choose to participate - and I respect that. I find faith and many of its physical accoutrements to be quite beautiful at times. Like most people who have traveled a great deal my memories of places are filled with visits to churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples, monasteries and ashrams.
Where tax money, public service and government here at home are involved, however, faith makes me very uncomfortable. Why is that?
Perhaps it stems from the fact that when one faith is asserted, there is an implicit message that it is the one true faith. Christians AND Muslims AND Jews AND Hindus AND Buddhists can't all have the monopoly on the one true faith.
I live in a blue town in a blue county in very blue Massachusetts. A few months ago we were at a performance at my daughter's public school. My daughter was singing in the school chorus. My wife and I sat in the audience as the kids filed onto stage. My daughter is small so she was in the front row.
The principal of the school started the performance by leading everyone in a prayer - a Christian prayer. The theme of the prayer wasn't a problem for me - it was actually a prayer that our fighting men and women overseas would return home safely. It was the prayer itself - a Christian prayer at a public school lead by a civil servant for a mixed faith audience.
Serious question: If you were in the audience watching your child and the principal came out and opened the concert with a Hindu prayer for Ganesh the elephant god, what would you think?
Next question: As Americans we are free to worship as we please in our homes and our churches/temples/mosques/synagogues. Nobody is challenging this. Again I live in the bluest of towns in the bluest of states and there are a dozen different flavors of Christian churches up the street for me to choose from, as well as a synagogue, mosque and Buddhist temple close by. If the basic rights to worship freely in home and at church are not in jeopardy, what more is it that conservative Christians are looking for from the state?
Final question: What is your reaction to the George F. Will article?
[Note from LiberalAvenger... I lost part of my original question in a mishap here. It has been my intent to try to rewrite it, but this hasn't happened yet. Since Dadmanly has already graciously responded, I am posting this with my question as is and Dadmanly's full response. Thanks.]
I read and was somewhat troubled by George Will's piece. I believe he himself exaggerates the import of some of the events he uses to support his assertions. I do think there is some element of truth, in noting a fair amount of exaggeration and posturing on the part of "aggrieved believers." But I think that is true for both sides of these debates of religion and public expression; both sides are using the "outliers," the extremes to paint a picture of the whole that I think distorts for effect.
There is almost no real argument here, unless we argue the exceptions to the rule. Most Christians in most settings are not remotely persecuted -- for true persection, try being a Christian in a Muslim country or a dissident in Cuba or China -- and likewise, most people of other faiths or atheists are not remotely persecuted or suffer any of the "oppression" of the majority. If given a majority Christian population in any particular setting, that public expressions might more often include those particular to the majority should be of no surprise and little consequence.
I have no inherant right to never or seldom be exposed to public utterances of religious expression that is contrary to my own. I have no inalienable right to never suffer offense, or never hear or see things I disagree with, no matter how strongly I disagree or am discomfitted. Believe me, Believers are living this every day in the continual degradation and lowering common denominators for public expression in conversation, media, television and other popular entertainments. To say we can "turn it off," "walk away," "ignore it," is to underestimate the prevasiveness and intensity of the onslaught.
I have been asked several times some version of, "imagine you are in the audience, and a public official (of X faith) makes a public expression of (X religious practice). My answer is of course, I would be somewhat uncomfortable, depending on the context. And that's a pretty big dependence.
Do public officials work for the people they represent 24 by 7? Only 9-5? Weekends too? If their official duties bring them to public events, but without official sanction (think sporting events or public celebrations), are they then freed from the constraint against public expression?
I do not disagree at all with the idea that public officials ought not to use their positions to at all promote a particular faith. I do however think it facile to suggest they somehowhave to "turn off" their spiritual or religious sensibilities as they might inform moral or ethical decision-making. (And no, I don't think I hjave anything to fear by the Jewish believer who allows his or her faith to inform his moral judgement in public decision-making, likewise the Muslim, or Buddhist, etc. Most faiths do not significantly impact or stress political activism, so I think it's mostly a non-issue.
Frankly, I think the lack of a moral or ethical framework, and moral relativity in both unfaithful believers, misguided adherants, or non-believers is potentially more dangerous to our society, and why I think a lot of this discusssion is a distraction. Money has way too much influence in politics, the employees and managers of some businesses behave unethically and irresponsibly, some industries take too little responsibility for their products and their after-effects, and in many walks of life individuals are way to self-oriented and self-absorbed and refuse to be accountable for their behavior and the condition of the thought, image, and behavior world they help create.
I would object to Will's passing shot at the buzzer of his article:
But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."
I think the notion that Republicans are using a Religious litmus test on appointees is stretching the point in two ways.
I do think Republicans are actively seeking judges who square up with the notion of articulated and enumerated rights, constitutional constructivists who want to drag the courts back away from judicial activism. I would not all that a religious litmus test. I would call it a test for a form of jurisprudence, and in that it emphasizes the rule of law as balanced by the constitution, and not some new construct of implied or derived rights, seems to be a legitimate grounding for judicial appointments.
In contrast, I believe Democrats are quite openly blocking or rejecting appointments specifically on the basis of a religious test. Jurists who are devout in their faith can't be trusted to perform their public trust impartially nor base their decisions in law versus their "beliefs." And yet it would be hard not to notice that ever since the Warren Court, many Supreme Court decisions have been decided in just such a way.