Of Platitudes and Political Attitudes

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I am naturally optimistic.  So you will understand that I rejoiced to see several of my friendly neighbors, who sometimes disagree with me politically, place signs in their yards supporting positions consistent with the views of free market liberty-loving constitutionalists like myself.  That would appear to bode well for candidates in this election who also tend to trust markets, liberty, and constitutional rights.

I will confess that to some the signs might read like a public creed of platitudes.  Perhaps they are intended to present an impressionist attitude of some kind.  Here are the phrases, written in bumper sticker style.  See what you think.

To begin with, who could argue with the obvious truth that “Black Lives Matter”?  I personally know no one who does not naturally embrace the idea.  I do notice that those who in published media lionize the eponymous organization laying claim to the title reveal little material interest in the lives of black police officers, black small business owners, or unborn black children.  That may be why the lady running for Congress in Baltimore’s 7th Congressional District emphasizes that “all black lives matter.”

Next on the signs is the phrase, “No Human Is Illegal.”  That is surely the case in the United States as long as it remains a nation of law and order.  Things that some people do are illegal, but enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is the concept of individual worth.  The notion that people themselves can be illegal is reserved for socialist governments and monarchies, where large portions of the population can find themselves illegal.  That is a crucial reason why the American founders broke from the monarchy and why applying socialism here terrorizes lovers of liberty.

Third on the signs is the bromide, “Love Is Love.”  Surely it is.  Perhaps it appears because love is the core principle of many religions, such as Christianity, which rests on two commandments (also taught in the Old Testament):  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  As Jesus taught, on these rest “all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)  Jesus also taught that with the breakdown of law and order, “the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12)  I am thrilled that churches are being allowed to open again so that they might continue to teach their doctrine of love.

The phrase, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” is given fourth billing on the signs.  That is absolutely true, even if it is violated in many parts of the world.  I am reminded, by my neighbors who have come to the United States from such nations where women’s rights are routinely violated, why I am grateful that my daughters and granddaughters live in a country where their rights are real and protected.

I am grateful that the signs include what is in danger of becoming a meaningless cliché, “Science Is Real.”  Our nation was midwifed by the enlightenment, a rejection of the medieval notion that scientific verities were determined by government or ecclesiastical agencies and votes of councils.  We are all indebted to courageous scientists who stood alone and refused to accept any scientific debate as “final,” who asked more questions that often led to better answers that have made mankind healthier, wealthier, and more flourishing.  May our nation of freedom encourage the continuation of that story.

The penultimate phrase on the signs is the prosaic declaration, “Water Is Life.”  I remember Barry Goldwater, Senator from Arizona, explaining to a skeptical Senate the importance of water rights.  There would appear to be a longtime tug of war in our government agencies about the importance of water management.  As with many important issues, relying upon our federal system of state and national interaction is most likely to give us the best management answers.  National mandates are likely to leave local communities dry.

The final phrase on the signs is the catchall, “Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.”  An unlimited aspiration, mankind has wrestled with it from the earliest times.  As this is to be an ongoing struggle of which we should not tire, the question is how best to proceed?  Our founders asked that question.  They recognized that arbitrary governments were the worst offenders.  The structure of liberty they established has fostered the multitudinous avenues for virtue that have not ceased to make progress in combating injustice.

I cheer such display of worthy attitudes of support for our nation’s growth in liberty.

By the way, there is a website where you may go to purchase these signs, $10 each.  Free enterprise is wonderful.

Of Religion and Liberty

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In recent days the Supreme Court of the United States, in two related decisions, gave a welcome reaffirmation of the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.  The cases involved practical application of the principle First Amendment right.  One case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, involved the Obamacare Act and contraceptive insurance coverage.  The other, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, concerned religious schools and their employment policies.  Both cases were decided by strong 7-2 votes. 

Readers will look to other forums and formats for the specifics of these interesting decisions.  I raise them as noteworthy inasmuch as governments in the last few months have acted unkindly toward religion and its exercise, much to the harm of people and the  jeopardy of their other rights protected in the First Amendment.

Not only is freedom of religion and the exercise thereof found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is the first freedom mentioned.  Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom peaceably to assemble, and the right to petition the government follow next, in that order.  This is not necessarily a ranking of importance of these five freedoms.  All are essential, but I would suggest that the latter four are strengthened by freedom of religion and will be put at risk without a vigorous regard for that freedom.

This is not hypothetical.  As an experiment to deal with the unknown effects of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) many state governments (and the federal government to a lesser degree) engaged in an abrupt and progressive impairment of the constitutional rights of nearly all within their jurisdiction.  Of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, governments applied or tolerated the harshest limitations on religion and its practice.  Churches were closed, its members forbidden to meet together, even in small groups.  Administrations of religious rites considered sacred were blocked, even in application to the dying as well as the living.

In my congregation, in my church, we gather, we fellowship with one another, we sing together, we pray together, we teach each other, we provide service to one another, we follow the pattern of what Jesus Christ did and calls upon us to do in the practice of becoming kinder, more loving people.  Government restrictions have made that very hard to do, and are unable to replace it with anything.

One of the leaders of the church, David A. Bednar, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lately said this in remarks on the importance of religious practice:

Latter-day Saints are hardly alone in this need to gather. . . Our Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical friends gather for mass, baptisms, confirmations, sermons, and myriad other religious purposes.  Our Jewish friends gather for worship in their synagogues.  Our Muslim friends gather in their mosques.  Our friends in the Buddhist, Sikh, and other faith traditions likewise have sacred places to gather and worship together. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.

In the United States and elsewhere, in this experiment into which we were rapidly immersed, people “throughout the free world,” as David Bednar reminded, “learned firsthand what it means for government to directly prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

Science, including the science of self government, requires us to learn from our experiments.  What have we seen in the social laboratory within which we have been living?  While freedom of religion has been curtailed, other liberties have eroded.  Freedom of speech has been restricted; people have become very careful about speaking their minds, avoiding certain words, even limiting their associations with neighbors, and they do not like it.  Communication even on social media has been censored. 

Press freedom is no longer robust.  Media broadcasters are careful to avoid use of newly minted proscriptions of this or that phrase or word, with correspondents and announcers disappearing from their jobs almost overnight for violation of some new taboo.  People have become increasingly mistrustful of “the news.”

Many assemblies are prohibited.  Where allowed, numerical limits have been imposed on how many people can assemble in the same place.  More nettlesome, as is the usual case with the violation of rights, restrictions are applied and enforced unevenly, some favored and others not.

Governments, especially local governments, turn deaf ears to constituents raising concerns with the application of restrictions.  Arrangements for schools run by local governments are in confusion. 

Overall, people feel isolated, alone, helpless, and, for too many, hopeless.  They look for and find temporary relief in acts of rebellion, minor or otherwise.

This is where freedom of religion can be seen as important to the other freedoms.  Churches have often in western societies been a counterweight to government tyranny, which is why the governments of Europe tried for centuries to control them.  As the Red Army imposed its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe, persecution and control of religion were a priority. 

The first amendment prohibits government control of religion, specifically to preserve freedom of the churches, which in America has also worked to accommodate variety of religious practice.  All of the churches, together, need the first amendment to thrive, as do their members.  No other human organizations are as organized, enduring, and meaningful to people.  Without vigorous, free religions, people are left alone to defend their other rights, with alternative organizations that at best are anemic by comparison.

In the words of David Bednar, “With goodwill and a little creativity, ways can almost always be found to fulfill both society’s needs and the imperative to protect religious freedom. . . . Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.”

Of Defending Freedom and Divine Aid

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a kingdom rich in freedom, freedom from want, freedom from oppression, with much freedom of opportunity.  What could go wrong?

The generation that participated in building that freedom—it did not come free—yielded to a generation led by a dissolute king.  Under his leadership the society neglected the defense of that freedom.  That was a great danger.  The kingdom was encompassed and its people greatly outnumbered by enemies who nursed a centuries-deep hatred reinforced by an ideology of grievances of perceived victimhood.

Alluringly prosperous, the kingdom was a tempting honeypot to its much poorer neighbors, and yet for more than a generation it kept its enemies at bay.  That success stemmed from the intertwined combination of strenuous exertion and divine help from their faith in Christ.  Each time attacked—by overwhelming numbers—the people drew all of their might into the muster, on one occasion placing young and old into the ranks.  Appealing to and blessed by God, who strengthened their arms and demoralized their foes, the people of the kingdom repelled the invaders.

Their new king followed a different formula.  Governed by his appetites and the mirage of perpetual security, he taxed the people and he taxed his army, diverting resources to feed the wanton consumption of his court.  The people came to tolerate and then ape this corruption.  The generation that had deep faith in Christ and reliance upon that faith, passed on to one that at first kept up the forms of religious observance but without the spirituality in worship or soul.  Their focus shifted from heaven to the transient things of mortality.  They had plenty of reason to be unhappy with the king, from the escalation in taxes, to the perversion of the religious leadership, to the degradation in public morals, including the whoredoms and drunkenness.  Yet while there may have been dissatisfaction at first, the lavish public spending and the example of undisciplined revelry became popular, as it so often can.

The situation fit the pattern mentioned by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, “What Dercyllidas said of the court of Persia may be applied to that of several European princes, that he saw there much splendour but little strength, and many servants but few soldiers.” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p.392)

The enemies began to notice, too.  Overcoming years of intimidation from their inexplicable defeats, the very proximate hordes commenced a series of minor raids.  As the scripture record relates,

And it came to pass that [they] began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.  And [the] king . . . sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and [their enemies] came upon them and killed them, and . . . began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.  (Mosiah 11:16, 17)

The king responded to the raiders by sending his army, which “drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing . . . saying that their fifty could stand against thousands” (Mosiah 11:18, 19).  Their enemies took them up on the boast.  “And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced . . .” (Mosiah 19:2)  Their enemies, though, came with their thousands, and the fifty, indeed the king’s entire army, fled at his command; the people exchanged freedom for bondage and poverty.

The message is clear, as intended.  Freedom for the people and for the nation, any nation, resides in the people doing all that they can and should for their defense, and a reliance upon God to reinforce their efforts.  That has been the formula for the United States, from the Revolution to now.  It is the duty of each generation to take the handoff of the responsibility from the previous one and pass it on secure to the next.  Hubris for accomplishments in the past will little overcome provocative weakness.  Maintaining freedom is a gift from God, who will help us to the extent we seek His help and demonstrate that we will do what we can to help ourselves.

Of Freedom and Federals

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News Flash, Washington:  The national government sometimes gets it wrong.

Another News Flash, Elsewhere:  So do the States.

Of course, this is no news to anyone, rather old news to everyone.  We all know that the national government is neither perfectly right nor wrong.  The same is true for state governments.  All are staffed by human beings, like you and me, with the similar packages of wisdom and foolishness.

For nearly two decades I worked in the U.S. Senate for a very wise man.  I once heard him say that when he came to Washington he was frustrated at how little one person could get done.  He said he soon came to rejoice in the fact.  Yes, it is hard for one person to achieve the good that he envisions, but it is even harder for one person to impose on everyone else the good that he envisions.

The founders of the nation did not seek to perfect mankind.  They left that for God, as flawed humans cannot create perfect humans.  For now God has left governments to imperfect people (though He is willing to provide as much wisdom as people are willing to accept).  The wisdom of the founders, thousands of miles away from other nations, but drawing upon thousands of years of history, was to create a system of government that did not rest upon the wisdom and foolishness of one individual or even a small cadre of them.

The founders arrived at a system of government for the new nation that neither guaranteed nor expected officials to get it all right.  It was designed to make it harder for them all to get it all wrong.  Moreover, the founders worked to limit the field of that government, so that as much as possible of the getting things right and wrong was left to the people themselves in their myriad of daily activities, far too complex for a government to manage.

The arrangement divided governing responsibilities among many hands.  States have their responsibilities, which they share with local governments.  The national government has its share of duties and powers to be applied where appropriate for a national sphere.  Those powers are further divided among three interdependent branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial.  I say “interdependent,” because neither was given enough power to operate without involvement with the other two.

Impasse arises, frequently, because schemes for government to govern too much wreck upon the shoals of the diversity of our people and the multiplicity of their needs and preferences.  Such impasse is not a sign of inefficient government but of our system of government efficiently reminding us when it is trying to overreach, going beyond government’s competence.

The founders formed their plan as they realized that it was the only way to govern a nation so geographically broad, increasingly populous, and already socially diverse.  As the 13 states have become 50 from sea to sea, and the several million have become several hundred million, it is even truer today.  There are things that governments must do.  There are many more that need to be left to the governed.

In recent months we have witnessed waves of expanded government restrictions, probing the limits of government wisdom and power.  Space here will not allow an evaluation of the successes and failures, or the effect on individual freedom.

I rejoice in this federal system of government that allows for a diversity of approaches and accommodation of a diversity of conditions.  In my view, the governor where I live has gotten more wrong than right and is out of step with his state’s conditions.  I find the contrast of other examples a source of hope.  The purpose of dividing governmental power is to allow the exposure of mistakes and thereby preserve and promote individual freedom.

The division of error in our system offers hope of relief and recourse from error. It still leaves room, as well, for individuals to get it right and when they get it wrong to learn from the errors, with the freedom to try again and do better.

I will tattle, that the Senator for whom I worked for so long sometimes got it wrong.  Having been a college professor, he told us that we learned so much by working for him that we should pay tuition.  We did not agree.  He did not press the point.

Parting News Flash, New York:  The United Nations gets it wrong almost all the time.  Details, daily.

Of Models and Living

Photo by John Matychuck on Unsplash

My sons and I are modelers.  We love to build models.  We have spent many a pleasant time, creating very pleasant memories, building models together.  I prefer constructing models of buildings, houses, and bridges.  My sons make those, too, but their preference is for vehicles, especially airplanes.

Building models is beautiful and satisfying.  Models and making them stimulate creativity.  Modeling is a bridge between fantasy and reality.  With enough abstraction, you can model just about anything, real or imagined.

Models are not reality, though.  They are a thin representation of elements of reality, on a scale reduced from reality.

Modeling, by intent and purpose, is always a tremendous simplification from actual things, a focus on certain characteristics.  If we want the fullness of reality, we go to reality itself.  You cannot model life, for example, only aspects of it.  Doing so can help with our understanding of a particular aspect, which new idea we can take back to life to see how it fits.

The model itself, though, is not reality.  You cannot live there.  I am reminded of a story from The Twilight Zone.  As I recall, it goes something like this.  A man finds himself trapped inside of a child’s model village.  At first it looks quite real, until examined more closely.  He looks about him, and with increasing anxiety finds that things do not work, discovering an artificiality in all about him.  In despair he discovers how thin a replication of reality the model village is.  He struggles to make sense of it all, until he hears above him the laughing voice of the child who built the model.  He abandons hope as he finds no way out.

Sometimes we build model environments for fish or other pets or creatures to live in.  They never seem to be quite convinced, always trying to get out.  Even the ants in the ant farm work to get beyond the limits of the glass.

In recent months we have all been placed by our governments—especially by our state and local governments—in a model and forced to live there.  We are assured that, according to the models guiding them and us, this will all be for our own good, or at least for the good of someone even when we can see that it is for our direct harm (such as farmers and business owners and their employees, all put out of work).

With each day we see how far from reality these models are.  They are growing increasingly thin in meeting our social, economic, and health needs.  In this model we are separated from family, friends, and neighbors.  Virtual reality turns out to be very little reality at all, highly artificial and daily less satisfying, the virtue going out of it.  Economic buffers like savings erode.  Government relief plans, based on economic models, do not seem to work anywhere near as well as the real economy did.  Educational substitutes are a joke to the students and frustration to their teachers.  Many valuable healthcare treatments are put aside, postponed to some indefinitely promised day, governed by those who control the model in which we are living.

Back to reality, as a cause for rejoicing, which should be embraced and celebrated by all, the horrific models of the future used as justifications for the models imposed upon us by our governors, are turning out to be very thin, indeed wrong.  That is great!  That means that fewer than predicted are dying, fewer are getting sick.  We are thankfully learning each day that the actual numbers used to measure the extent and effect of the flu disease have been and remain a small portion of the overall population.

Policymakers need to make policy based on facts, with a view of and concern for the whole population.  The gap between the models and reality yawns wide.  Time to let us out.

Of Introvert Heaven and What to Do with Extroverts

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The Introverts must be taking over the world.  Utterance from official sources is that gatherings—if they must take place at all—should be narrowly restrained.  The new limit is to be 50, tops.  Governors in states from New York to California are ordering these social curbs or yet stricter limitations.

Private sector organizations are closing their doors entirely, some with a mentioned end date, others indefinitely.  Sporting events—professional, amateur, scholastic, even clubs—have been shuttered.  The local rec center has closed its doors.  Movie theaters are locking up, voluntarily or by official order.  New movies are rescheduling their start dates or being offered on-line.  Schools, government and private, are sealed (home schoolers remain unaffected, no reports on what home scholars think of that).  The list grows by the hour.

In short, it all sounds like Introvert Heaven.  Stay home, keep inside, work on the computer, read a book, watch a cable movie, play a video game, take a walk, go for a drive, do a puzzle.  As an introvert myself, I recognize that while I would soon tire of it, the thought of solitary confinement has never held terror for me.

I ask, but what of the Extroverts?  No allowance seems to be made for them.  Being the father of both, I know that the sense of being “cooped up” comes quickly to extroverts, who draw personal energy from human interaction, the bigger the group, the better.  Sustained restrictions on access to people are not easily tolerable.  Social media can be a temporary substitute, but a poor substitute, clearly suboptimal for an extrovert, who craves face-to-face association, the more the merrier.  Suppressed long enough, they will revolt—no hyperbole.

Sporting events, theater, parties and such like were invented by and for extroverts.  Since they may make up half or more of the population (the Internet hosts a mildly interesting debate on the exact proportion), the broad assault on extroverts surely will have societal consequences, ones for which the introverts who seem to be making the rules (or who fancy themselves exempt) manifest little recognition.  Promising that the restrictions are probably for no longer than eight weeks offers little comfort to extroverts.  Neither should introverts who must live with them find therein any comfort.

Of Free Speech and Insensitivity Training

There is a poignant scene in “Lawrence of Arabia”, a movie with many poignant scenes, in which Lawrence demonstrates to a fellow officer how to snuff out a candle. He pinches the flame with his fingers. The other officer gives it a try but jerks back his hand when his fingers are scorched.

“That hurts,” the officer complains. Lawrence replies, “Certainly it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts.”

There is a lesson there, particularly important for a society that has become hypersensitive to injury, real or imagined. Hurt may come from something as small as a look—or failure to look. It may come from an article of clothing, either worn or neglected. Lately flags have been targeted as sources of personal and even societal pain. Hurt may come from something as small as a word. Indeed, I think that most often today and in our society, both words and our sensitivity to words have become sharpened.

If we are to preserve freedom of speech—in all its important varieties—we need to develop some insensitivity, as in not minding when it hurts. Freedom of speech only matters when someone hears something he does not like. The choice then is intolerance and silence or freedom and not minding the hurt.

Another way to look at it is that we most desire freedom of speech when we are the speaker. From the point of view of listener, we may have mixed emotions. We may like what we say, but when we do not like what we hear do we wish to silence the speaker, or do we accept the options of free speech, to turn away or to endure another’s unpleasant rodomontade?

Freedom of speech was made part of the First Amendment, because rulers and monarchs were at pains to inflict genuine physical hurt whenever they took offense at the words of their subjects. The First Amendment’s protection of free speech was needed to protect people using words that hurt people in government, that offended people in power.

Even though enshrined in the Constitution, freedom of speech has to be won by each generation, because it is constantly in jeopardy. Americans are nearly unanimous in their support of freedom of speech when it is speech that they like, speech that reinforces their own views, and especially speech that praises and flatters. We do not particularly need the Constitution to protect that kind of speech. Speech that is unpopular, speech that goes against the grain, speech that is obnoxious to our opinions, speech that challenges our beliefs, that is the speech the Founders fought to protect. Most of human progress has come from that kind of speech. It is speech that is worth protecting today and that many try to silence.

President Obama and his political friends are fond of declaring that “the debate is over,” whether referring to Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank Act, climate change, same-sex marriage, or other important issues of significant disagreement. I expect that soon we will hear President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and other administration spokesmen insist that the debate is over with regard to the nuclear deal with Iran. In a free republic, can the debate ever really be over?

This is nothing new; it is a continuation of a very old struggle. Despots great and petty since early ages have exercised what power they might to silence ideas and expressions they did not want to hear, or did not want others to hear. The gallows, flames, and torture chambers of yesteryear are matched today by bullets, bombs, and bayonets from radical Islam and totalitarian governments. In the West, where constitutions solemnly embrace free speech, voices are silenced by public ridicule, elaborate and intrusive regulations on what can and cannot be said and when and where—reinforced by government fines, restrictions, confiscations, and jail time.

I recently visited my son at his new job at a large factory. He was very careful to spell out to me a lengthy list of subjects I should not bring up, whether from fear of his colleagues, company policies, or federal, state, and local regulations. I have been given similar training at my place of work.

When I was young I was taught to be courteous and not seek to offend. I was also taught to be slow to take offence. Do children today repeat the rhyme I heard as a child? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” I wonder. Or are our children taught today that there is great reward in being the sensitized “victim” of someone else’s “offensive” words? Where do we find freedom in that?

Of Warming Planets and Cooling Economies

Did you notice when the Obama Administration paused in its ballyhooing about global warming? President Obama and his officials had been busily hustling the warming of the planet and its attendant disasters—which they insist can only be fixed by increasing government control of our lives, from birthing to breathing. The President was in Florida, blaming the future hurricane season—which has not yet happened—on global warming. “The best climate scientists in the world are telling us that extreme weather events like hurricanes are likely to become more powerful.” What President Obama did not mention—anywhere in his speech at the National Hurricane Center in Miami—was that the scientists predicted a “below-normal” hurricane season for 2015. Was that mercy because of or in spite of global warming?

Perhaps we should not blame the President for leaving that little item of information out, since for each of the last several years the cited “best climate scientists” (whoever they are) had predicted extraordinarily active and destructive hurricane seasons. Since each season turned out to be unusually mild, the official forecasters have now changed their tune, putting themselves solidly in-sync with recent trends. Do not put yourself at risk with a long investment on it either way.

As for global warming, however, the President and those who say they agree with him insist that the debate is over (in either science or a free nation can the debate ever really be over?), meaning that it is unacceptable to disagree with them. If you can’t say something calamitous, then don’t say anything at all.

Then, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the global warming talk stopped. There was a mercifully, if brief, moratorium on warming warnings. Instead of predicted calamity, a real calamity was at hand that required some ‘splaining. The most recent report on the nation’s economic growth was announced. Not only had growth slowed, as measured by government number crunchers, the economy had actually declined in the first 3 months of 2015. That seemed to come as a surprise to no one who is either without a job or working in a job that is something less than the job held before 2009. But it was unwelcome news to the Administration that has been working on economic revival for going on seven years.

Instead of global warming, the Administration needed cold weather to blame for the decline in economic activity during January, February, and March. The lead official White House explanative was, “harsh winter weather”. I did not make this up, and you are not supposed to notice how convenient White House excuses are. It was better that global warming talk was cooled for a moment lest people recognize the contradictions in the official propaganda and begin to wonder whether White House policies were working.

Winter weather is not a novel excuse for failed government programs. The old Soviet Union blamed repeated crop failures on harsh winters (in Russia? Who knew?). The similarity in excuses used by the Obama White House and the Soviet Politburo is not accidental. Central planners can survive only if they have at the ready a list of excuses of things beyond their control. The list could be a long one, since in the end there is not very much about the economy that central planners can control, if control means making things go they way intended. To quote the character Jayne Cobb, in Serenity, “what you plan and what takes place ain’t ever been exactly similar.”

Of Humanism and Religious Freedom

Can a creed that claims to be non-religious be itself a religion? Is the professed irreligion of the leading social elites not only a religion but America’s state religion, reinforced by Federal, state, and local governments?

Consider a typical school commencement ceremony, whether college or high school. A speaker declares that we must leave all talk of God behind, toss into the dustbin the dogmas of religion that divide us, and embrace a view of life that brings people together in a common cause of humanity, a village of fellow passengers on this tiny planet as it wends its course through the universe. At another similar commencement ceremony a different speaker declares that we should rise above the hates and lusts of mankind and embrace the love of God, join together in our common heritage as children of the family of God, learning to live with each other here that we may all the better live with our Heavenly Father in the eternities. Which of these, today, is likely to receive the greater applause and public commendation? Which of these speakers, on the other hand, is more likely to be censored and not even permitted to present his views, perhaps under threat of a lawsuit? Or, to make the question easier to answer, which is more likely to receive favorable coverage in the media?

Expressions of skepticism about God and His existence are embraced, praised, and rewarded in contemporary American society. Declarations of faith in God meet anything from patronizing smiles, to hostility, to punitive sanctions under the prevailing culture. The predominant American society, while professing to be neutral about religion, has some very strong opinions about religion and its expression.

In a land of constitutional free speech, that allows no state religion, this should seem an odd discussion, a throwback to history. Cursory familiarity with the historical chronicle would bring to mind other places and times when an incautious word on religion could earn a speaker severe punishment, not excluding cruel execution. Deviation from the local religion was certainly risky business anciently. We also may recall tales of the Spanish Inquisition and the bloody controversies of the Protestant Reformation, as well as the perennial anti-Semitism that has followed the House of Israel throughout its Diaspora. Social revolutions have dealt harshly with religion, from the French revolution to every communist regime, while clumsily endeavoring to create new secular religions (that failed miserably to engage adherents).

The malodorous plant of state religion followed the colonists to America, but it had trouble taking root, particularly among the English colonies. The freedom of wide open spaces, and the need for an armed populace, made oppressive government difficult to maintain. Thomas Jefferson considered the establishment of legal guaranties of religious freedom in Virginia to be among his life’s most important achievements (the other being the founding of the University of Virginia). The principle of that law was later made a part of the United States Constitution with the adoption of the First Amendment.

The public outcry from media and politicians (with little echo from the general populace) over recent efforts of states to reinforce freedom of religion against encroachments by regulatory dicta and court edicts strongly suggests that there is one—and only one—protected national religion in the United States today. It needs no protection offered by these state laws, because its tenets are the motivating heart of the government actions threatening all of the other religions. It goes by many names—as do many broad religions—and includes a variety of sects, also not uncommon among religions. For facility of discussion, I will refer to just one of its appellations, Humanism.

The religion of Humanism has a core belief—shared by all of its sects and denominations—that man is the measure of everything. Man decides what is truth, what is good, what is real. Yes, that is more than a bit narcissistic, which is probably the key to its attraction, particularly among the intelligentsia and the elites. The chief corollary to this main tenet is that God does not matter, whether you believe in Him or not (some Humanist sects tolerate a belief in God or some sort of Supreme Being for reasons of nostalgia and to broaden popular acceptance).

Humanism has an elaborate set of dogmas, commandments, taboos, and rituals. It has its own liturgical language, which is required to be used, for example, in all doctoral dissertations—especially those in the social sciences, though its linguistic hegemony is now reaching to hard sciences as well—and in more colloquial versions observed by all media outlets, especially broadcast journalism. Humanism has its sacred texts along with its college of revered and beatified Humanists of yore.

I was going to write that Humanism has its own seminaries, but, frankly, that includes nearly all colleges and universities in the nation. The clergy of Humanism is largely self-appointed, though it has intricate, Byzantine hierarchies, with no one at the top for long, though all presume to speak for everyone. The clergy are supported by varieties of orders of acolytes and sycophants, the gathering of disciples a key method of rising in Humanism’s hierarchy, and the loss of disciples a sure path to disfavor and obscurity.

While most religions preach exceptionalism, exclusivity, or preeminence, whether in faith or favor with God, Humanism may be the most intolerant of all. Being the state religion, it uses the full power of legislatures, regulators, law enforcement agencies, and the courts to advance its cause and bring in to line people who disagree with its tenets and prescriptions, who violate any of its taboos—particularly who utter any of its taboo words—or who remark on the foibles of its revered demigods. Significantly, any practice by any other religion that interferes with Humanism must yield to Humanist demands, not excluding the profligate use of federal, state, and local moneys to fund its projects, prescriptions, and priests.

Therein lies the explanation for both the desire of various state legislatures to reaffirm religious freedom and the inveterate and fierce hostility to these efforts from the media and a bevy of national celebrities. Freedom of religious belief and practice is a threat only to an established national religion, erecting obstacles to forced conformity with the state church. Failure of efforts to reaffirm the protections of the First Amendment will result in an increasingly intimidating society, constraining intellectual freedom and unauthorized religious observance to a degree unseen in the United States since 1787.

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Those words are the most prominent inscription in the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson might get into trouble saying such a thing at a modern commencement ceremony at the University of Virginia.

Of Blasphemy and Racism

Blasphemy! Heresy! Treason! Racism! All loaded words, used less to convey meaning than for their effect as weapons. Few weapons in history have been as powerful. They have killed thousands, perhaps millions, and silenced many more. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” These will. They are intended to.

Consider “blasphemy.” It is a common hammer of religious leaders who are doubtful of their deity’s ability to defend himself. These nervous clerics and acolytes step in to threaten and, where they can, inflict the harshest penalties against any and all they accuse of “blasphemy,” which usually means saying anything that the listeners consider untoward or disrespectful vis-à-vis their deity. The harshness of the penalties, and the vagueness of what qualifies as an infraction, create a terror that intimidates both speech and action among others, which is the basic purpose of the label. The religious leaders of Judea during the days of Jesus’ mortal ministry repeatedly tried to silence Him by hurling “blasphemy” at Him. On the day of His death, they cried blasphemy to stir up the anger of the population—although they used another word, “treason,” when addressing the Roman authorities. Several dozen nations today (with little opposition from the U.S. State Department or other executive branch officials) are seeking to make blasphemy a globally recognized crime, at least when touching upon Islam or its sensitivities.

“Heresy” has similar uses. Rather than a crime of the impious, it is invoked in pious disagreements about whom or what is sacred. The Spanish Inquisition comes readily to mind. The accusation seems to be most commonly employed by those who lack confidence in the convincing power of their doctrines when faced with competing ones. “Heresy” is intended to close ears, “heretic” to silence speakers, both intended to end the debate.

Next we come to “treason,” which can be a real phenomenon and a genuine crime against the nation or people, and when proved and the traitor caught usually answered with stern—if not brutal—penalties. Genuine treason puts the nation or community at risk by exposing weaknesses to enemies.

In former times, as well as in nations governed by authoritarian regimes, “treason” has been invoked, however, less to label traitors to the state and the society as to subdue opponents to the supreme leader. Kings, emperors, czars, dictators, and others of the ilk sit nervously on their thrones—and for good reason. They lack legitimacy yet enjoy immense power (or its illusion), which lures other would-be despots. Nearly every one of the Roman emperors, for example, met death at human hands. The Soviet Union never had a legitimate transfer of power from one boss to the next. Tyrants, therefore, have little tolerance for opposition and are credulous of every rumor of resistance. That makes accusations of “treason” powerful tools of terror for scoundrels in such societies to employ to settle grudges, dispose of enemies, steal lands and wealth, or otherwise gain advantage. Many innocents have been so victimized.

Which brings us to “racism.” This is a modern weaponized word. Originally coined to identify people who would justify plunder and oppression by employing racial prejudices, it has been preserved long after such plans and schemes are suppressed by law and proscribed by social convention. Indeed, the word only works as a weapon because of the universal social opprobrium already attached to it. Its power as an epithet comes because no one in civil society considers it tolerable, any actual existence a bizarre aberration. Calling someone “racist” is tantamount to accusing him of being unfit for public association and worthy of ostracism. It is therefore used most commonly today, like the use throughout history of the other weapon words, to end debate, to intimidate opponents, to plunder wealth, and in general to gain advantage. “Racism” is the modern world’s “blasphemy,” “heresy,” and even “treason.” “Racism” is used to cause hurt, even where the absence of authentic racism causes none. Worse, it is used by real racists to shield or camouflage their own bigotry.

Employed as a weapon word, racism is losing meaning. When was the last time you heard a reasoned discussion and debate of racism? Intellectual dialog is avoided for fear that raising the subject in an impartial way will court exposure to accusation, much as discussion of blasphemy, heresy, and treason in times past. What is left, for example, when racism no longer means conscious prejudicial action but is applied—as it is by the Obama Administration—to mean manufactured statistical discrepancies among people who admittedly have no intention to act in a prejudicial manner?

For the wielders of the weapon, the meaning of racism must be kept general and undefined to maximize the number of potential targets. Feeding the outrage attached to it is a constant labor as is constantly finding new eruptions of racism where none exist. The recognition of racism (especially where it is absent) must be automatic and assumed proven when employed—addressed if at all only by the mea culpa of the accused, followed by public contrition and the ceding of wealth or advantage to the accusers.

Where, I wonder, does the real racism lie? Can racial distinction and prejudice wither when they are regularly conjured for personal advantage? What does that do to a society where laws and culture already universally hold racism in contempt? What is the appropriate term for the moguls of the racism industry who prosper by the preservation and promotion of racism? When will the public immolations for private gain end?

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