Thursday, March 26, 2009

My friend, Clayton Emmer, blogs at The Weight of Glory, and has an excellent take on the President's 2006 Call to Renewal keynote address. Go read it.

Like I said, I think Clayton does a bang-up job of things.

There are a few points on which I would have been somewhat more precise, or on which I would have a slightly different, though by no means incompatible take.

The President's text is bulleted, and Clayton's comments are in [bold brackets], while mine are in LD Blue:

  • Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. [This is a legitimate concern.] Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. I would take issue with the ambiguity of this statement. We are, whatever religion our fellows practice, "[A] new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Participation in this common conviction, in dedication to which is forged the soul of the nation, does not require a real assent to the data of faith. Nevertheless, the notion that all men are created equal is unthinkable - I mean this in a strict, technical sense - outside the cultural and institutional context that is explicitly Christian. So, the president's discussion actually begs the question. It presumes that what we might call the cultural commitments of a society desirous of securing ordered liberty to itself and its posterity are not necessarily those, which as a matter of historical fact did give rise to the first, and arguably only nation on Earth to be successful in such an experiment.
  • This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. [This is a very good point. Many religious groups in this country could stand to look critically at their initiatives in this light. I remember going to the March for Life a few years ago and seeing "God is Pro-Life" buttons everywhere.] I agree with the President's understanding of the requirements of democracy. I agree therefore with his explicit discussion of abortion, insofar as the negative aspects of it are concerned. I am not entirely convinced that a legislator in, e.g., Mississippi, need explicitly consider the possible objections of, e.g., a Buddhist, in his formulation of his arguments in favor of a legislative ban on abortion. The point is that legislators build consensus among themselves, and enact laws that represent that consensus. In Roe, the Supreme Court said a state legislature is not competent to regulate abortion. If a legislature is not competent to impose its consensus regarding an act that may be directly destructive of a human life, then a fortiori, it is not competent to set speed limits or a legal drinking age. In sum, what appears to be the expression of a desire to see our public discourse conducted reasonably, actually ends up setting the bar too high, as it were.
  • Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. [Impossible merely on the basis of human resources, perhaps. But not de facto impossible.] If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. This is a false dichotomy. The art of politics is compromise, but the essence of politics is the common good, and this is knowable. Indeed, at some fundamental level, the continued existence of a given political society requires that efforts at compromise be put aside. We may disagree over where that point lies, or whether it has been reached. We cannot, however, deny that it exists. Ask Neville Chaimberlain.


Clayton said...

Bravo. I'm amending my gloss.

If I can't always be the brightest bulb in the room, at least I know how to be derivative. :)

Anonymous said...

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Lazy Disciple said...

Welcome, Shrin. Glad to have you, and looking forward to your participation.