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I’m sure you are familiar with the pattern and know people who slip into it all too often and easily. “Oh woe on us,” they bemoan. “Our values are being lost! Whatever will we do?”
There are many, many versions and angles to the whine of value complaint. The sniveling I recently heard that prompts this piece was one of lost Christian values in America. I’ve heard it before and it got old very easily then and is no fresher now. To save myself the toll of awful and artless detail I told the complainer to “Stop your whining!” That’s what I said, and to make sure I was clear in my non-sympathy I added a more than implied rebuke, insulting actually. “If you don’t like what’s going on it’s in part your own damn fault for having allowed it and for not seeing a better argument than pointless and endless wrangling over values.”
I got a much aggrieved look followed by a sincere (but too pious for my taste) proclamation. “But we have to learn to get along. We all want happiness, and we all believe in the same things for our children.”
“There,” I jumped in. “You just did it. You just uttered a lame-dumb argument as if it had validity and merit, which in my view is missing.”
“But human beings have the same values. We believe in the same God.”
“If you really accept that then there may be no hope for you because the definition of human is not the same between groups. Touting “the same God” is a false claim. The only same god I know is well advertised but never produced. If it was the case you’d have every right to expect Buddhists to walk out of a Baptist church and Catholics to throng a Kingdom Hall. This does not happen because belief about humankind, divinity, and the nature of each is anything but identical from dogma to dogma.”
“But there is,” the arguing voice spoke with convincing eloquence and passion, “a common core of God-given respect for life.”
“I grant you that is an appealing fiction, but it is no less a fantasy. Saying there is a common core is like saying Old Maid, Canasta, Poker, and Bridge are similar as card games. The value you look for in assumptions about belief has only been on the table since the rise of secular states such as the US.”
“YES, YES, EXACTLY,” I was greeted with warm enthusiasm followed by closing the case by saying “The US is a Judeo-Christian nation.”
“Those are its roots or at least the roots of most early and later immigrants who enjoyed religious peace here based on separation of church and state. Among the activists in forming a new nation were many we’d think of as nonsectarian Deists and some who much appreciated the political design of the Iroquois Confederacy. The President has recently noted a role he claims for Islam but without much basis or explanation of how a theocratic form would turn secular here and nowhere else.”
“God can perform miracles in the hearts and minds of his children.”
“You will,” I tell them with a sigh, “get right back into an argument hopeless as one on values if you insist on adding miracle.”
“But God made.”
I am forced to cut the speaker off. “No, no, we have to drop that line of argument unless you want to give up the protections and reason of a civil, secular state. It took a Renaissance, Age of Reason, Enlightenment, and Reformation over centuries to finally bring some order among competing faiths. In a few hundred years science and civil government managed to do what religion could not do during all the time it enjoyed state power. The evils people with poor arguments put on religion count on the listener NOT recognizing incomplete and flawed reasoning. There were atrocities done in the name of religion, but Bloody Mary, the Spanish Inquisition, and Pogroms against Jews were acts done by states with assumed religious authority. The double whammy of church plus state is a setup for abuse. When belief is denied civil power, when it is limited to roles outside legislation, the executive, enforcement, and the judiciary then I think we’re OK.”
You’re obviously aware the above is not a word-for-word exact account. In any case, what I think is needed is not more muck about protecting values and not offending sensibilities. If I say something that bothers a person they can say so. I can explain the remark or modify it if needed, but that’s ALL I feel responsible for. An adult has to learn to live with having feelings bruised at times. We don’t always get our way nor will be always be understood. That’s part of growing up. If you’re dealing with a party that requires an excess of agreement you will do them and for yourself a favor by not being an ass kisser. Coddling infant adults or bowing low to infantile beliefs is not an adult responsibility and will distract from worthier aims.
Obviously, too, I did not address atheism in this or native beliefs. There isn’t space for all, but I think there is need for a better more complete and adult discussion about belief that does not fall prey to the monster of value appeasement. People who carry belief on their sleeves want to suck others into talk meant to drain with no aim but satisfaction of their own intent. It is a fools fame to play by those rules when we have others. In the western world the secular state has the unusual role being a neutral ally of religion. The president may have recognized or meant that when he commented that the US was NOT a Christian nation. He is correct in that the US has no established state religion. But whether he meant that statement as an affirmation of the secular state isn’t sure. Without its clear defense our tradition of separation is constantly at risk.