Concerning Public Discourse

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 2.59.29 PMReflections after reading Faith in the Public Square (Rowan Williams, 2012):

The life-blood of the mature kind of secularism (‘interactive pluralism”) that Williams is championing is comprised of rigorous debate with all parties at the table.  Engaged in the debate are also those from religious traditions — not as ones that HAVE the TRUTH, but as ones who refer to a sacred dimension as part of their argument.  These religious traditions are not excluded from the debate, nor are they privileged in it.

In the political/social realm of the US, Williams describes the ‘typical post-modern trap” — namely, “argument is replaced by parallel assertions.”  Unfortunately, the right wing (politically and religiously) has fallen prey to assumptions about TRUTH as moral issues, instead of dealing with the truths that are theologically based and metaphorically stated).  Because of their religious background, they impute moral issues with theological urgency and, therefore, assume that anyone in disagreement with their moral argument is theologically a heretic.  We have heard this shift in the argument of evangelicals who posit that support of gay marriage or support of abortion or …  as clearly indicative of the failure to honor Scripture.

The place where ‘interactive pluralism’ shines (in a mature secularism) is the debate over the limit of moral positions.  A given culture or society can approach those moral issues without theological overlay and make decisions that not everyone will agree with.  There is always a minority report in ‘interactive pluralisms’ because not every view can be privileged.  Unfortunately in the US the right wingers believe that any disagreement with their moral position is a challenge to their theology…   and, since their theology is undoubtedly correct (their starting point), any challenge is a threat that must be met with whatever force necessary to “repel the boarders.”

When in South Dakota I appreciated the few times I was able to lunch at the table of former US senator James Abourezk (the first Arab-American senator).  He loved to tell stories of how Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch worked together to move the senate’s debate to fruition:  “What can our two sides agree upon now?  Enact that and work on the rest of it as we go along.”  They could then walk out of the senate chamber with their arms around each other’s shoulder, even though their political conclusions were extremely divergent.  As one commentator exclaimed, “The US Senate has given up its role as the great debating society and has become the House of Representatives advocating for a narrow set of predefined perspectives advocated by their constituency.  And their understanding of constituency is limited to those who got them elected (including voters, lobbyists, and ideological bloks).

Instead of an interactive pluralism celebrating diversity the current Republican presidential candidates and the religious Right seems more interested in growing a culture of theocratic xenophobia admitting only uniformity. Those views have always been present, but for one of our two major political party to have become so enamored of such a limited vision does not bode well for our country. Without a resounding repudiation of such fear-based narrow-mindedness, the United States will lose whatever credibility it still has and American-style democracy will become an interesting footnote in the history of humankind.

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