Saturday, September 4, 2010

Liberty and Libertines of Faith

With Glenn Beck’s recent rally as a source of yet more politico-religious fervor and controversy, I thought it appropriate to comment on others’ commentary on the importance of the gathering that happened to coincide on MLK Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech” at Lincoln Memorial. There were obvious observations that Lincoln was not exactly the most limited government supporting president, along with the potential opportunism that Beck utilized to make his alliance of Tea Party supporters seem less racist since they are honoring MLK Jr. The civil rights leader’s niece, Alveda King, was in attendance, along with Sarah Palin, somehow rounding out the general consensus that this was a mixed bag of political minds. Beck called for people to return to God, honor and to ally together to accomplish this task. At first glance, there seem to be sympathetic ideals within this message, particularly the concluding virtue of cooperation. But the presumption that America has somehow turned from God and honor seems not only mistaken but short sighted.

The loss of honor alleged is potentially the only justified claim in some sense. Any loss of honor would be due more than likely to inaction on the part of people that tend not to care about politicizing everything that happens in the news or just don’t feel that they make a difference in the system of voting for representatives that supposedly speak for them but then turn around and do the opposite. In this way, Beck at least tried to bring back a sense of worth in the individual to try to change things one person at a time.

However, when you start shifting from political apathy to religiously censured morality, you’re just shifting the conversation from fruits to vegetables. It’s not as if people demographically have become more atheistic or generally shifted away from their Abrahamic religions they were raised in, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic or otherwise (since Beck is Mormon, which was an issue I won’t even get into). The claim that people need to “turn back to God” seems to be founded on a particular idea of how one follows “God” to begin with. Not to accuse anyone of explicit theocracy, since there is in the rhetoric of such people as Beck an equally dangerous ideology of theonomy. This is only distinct from theocracy in that it puts the power more squarely in the hands of the clergy, whereas theonomy just places the authority of the law within a sacred text instead of socially/communally derived contracts. For all intents and purposes, the two are almost inseparable. Advocating some kind of civil religion that the majority of the citizens agree upon seems to me still risky and problematic in that you assume that the minority will go along with the suggestion that even though there are groups in America that have no belief in God or no interest in God, they should just quietly sit to the side while the God believers revel in the fact that they can be so outspoken about their theism, while the atheists and agnostics are silenced either by apathy or desire to stay within social propriety, as if being a nonbeliever in God was a sentence to social ostracism or exile from the community; which by the way, it should not be at all. As one of this minority, I cannot stand by apathetically when some people take their liberties too far and abuse them to the detriment of people not like them only in their particular beliefs.

If anything, America should seek out ideals that are shared by everyone as much as possible. Liberty, equality, individualization without fear of isolation or alienation by peers, minority protection along with majority rule, as well as others I could list off that, regardless of creed or lack thereof, I imagine that people ranging from devout Christians to pragmatic hedonists could agree to being ideals that America should advocate. The fact that we can allow tolerance to the extent of permitting the practice of things we would find otherwise reprehensible outside of adherence to laws is already a legacy we should have pride in. A return to honor or God should not be the first thing we should be concerned with. Rather, a return to liberty and liberalism (particularly in the classical sense it was founded in around the point of America’s founding) should be our goal for the future. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha

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