April 27, 2005

A Reasoned Alternative to the Ongoing Name-Calling in America's Public Discourse

Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written a nasty editorial entitled "Right-Wing Jihadists Chip Away at Americans' Liberty."

It is yet another example of the intolerant behavior toward people of faith that has become the norm among secular left fundamentalists as they seek to intimidate and silence American citizens who disagree with their worldview:

...the DeLay wing of the Republican Party is on the rise, and its antediluvian agenda represents a serious threat to American democracy.

That's no exaggeration.

If the DeLay wing gets its way, the entire nation will live according to the rigid rules of a handful of self-righteous folks who distrust modernity. They would dictate the way we worship, live, work, have sex and even die.

...the nation's cultural divide -- a bitter disagreement over social issues that cleaves the nation roughly in half -- the fact is that the entire country is being manipulated by a much smaller group...

Nevertheless, the generals among the religious extremists -- men such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family -- have used...polls to exaggerate their influence and browbeat less reactionary Republicans into supporting their agenda. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions, is the latest to bow before them.

Don't be fooled into believing that the DeLay-Dobson axis represents the beliefs of most ordinary, God-fearing Americans, Christian or otherwise. It doesn't...

After judges refused to ignore the law in the Schiavo case, religious extremists stepped up their attacks, suggesting that the federal judiciary is dominated by liberals out to ruin a moral America...

...Yet there is an increasingly vocal group of extremists who want to deny adults the right to contraception.

Across the country, women are complaining of ultraconservative pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions, sometimes quizzing women on their marital status before making a decision. The next thing you know, they'll be barging into your bedroom to make sure you're wearing your flannel nightgown.

These extremists have much in common with the jihadist wing of Islam. While Christian extremists usually don't practice violence, but merely threaten it...they share with extremist Muslims the belief that all people should be forced to live according to their views. That's about as un-American as it gets.

Oh, pleeeease! If people like Tucker weren't so over-the-top on such serious matters as the right to free speech and the right to engage in political activity, we would all be chuckling and asking what she had been smoking.

Unfortunately, while I believe the evidence suggests the secular left has dominated the practice of extreme name-calling, there are examples of certain conservatives and people of faith who have stooped to name-calling as well. This is reflected in the following comments by a Christian friend of mine, as quoted by Marvin Olasky on the World Magazine blogsite:

I do miss some of the regular posters from whom I learned a great deal and who caused me to think things through in different, and welcome, ways... but after fourteen months of frequent posting to the World blog (much of which was enjoyable, interesting and entertaining), I've stopped even going to the web site... While I was an active participant, I was regularly shocked by the harshness and condemnation thrown at innocent (and sometimes not so innocent) posters by bloggers claiming to be born-again Christians. I don't know how many recipients of the nastiness written to them will ever pay attention to a Christian witness again, and it regularly broke my heart--as well as caused me to pray for the Christian and non-Christian bloggers themselves.

Olasky writes: "Maybe some of those claiming to be born-again are trollish impersonators, but we should all take to heart the writer's critique:"

Scripture advises us we will be called to account for every word we have spoken (and I take that to mean write, as well). God knows I will have plenty to account for myself, but while we are called to be honest, we are not called to be nasty and unloving. Unfortunately, some of my brothers and sisters on the World blog didn't seem to understand that--even when we reminded them. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us how we are to behave with both the world and the church. Based on my experience with the World blog, an awful lot of us are nothing more than clanging cymbals.

Such behavior is wrong, regardless of political persuasion, and all of us must cease such behavior so the health of our public discourse in America can be restored.

I find the polarization in America's political discourse to be most unfortunate and dangerous to the long-term well-being of our country. Today's public discourse often labels nearly all people of faith as "religious right fundamentalists" while failing to identify and critique the aggressive political agenda of secular left fundamentalists. This has created an under-reported and under-discussed imbalance in our discourse. Here is how Richard John Neuhaus has described that imbalance:

The conflict in American public life today then is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

On a personal level and as a practicing Roman Catholic, I do not agree with certain political and religious beliefs of Christian fundamentalists. I certainly do not agree with the most of the political and religious beliefs of the secular left fundamentalists. Nonetheless, like every American, I have an ethical obligation to reach out to all Americans and make my own small contribution to advancing a thoughtful discourse in the public square. Or, as William Voegeli has written:

A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

Therefore, as a reasoned alternative to Tucker's rant, here are my counter-arguments grouped loosely by subject matter:

The Founding Principles of America
Honoring The Land We Love
Our Declaration of Independence

America's Tainted Public Discourse & Competing Worldviews
Liberal Fundamentalism, Revisited
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part I
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part II
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part III
The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part IV
The Meaning of Tolerance
Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy
What Does "Social Justice" Mean?
Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity
John Paul II, Requiescat in pacem
Pope Benedict XVI: Offering Faith as an Antidote to Relativism
Discussing Justice, Rights & Moral Common Sense
The Filibuster...Continued

Ideological Problems in Academia
Where is the Moral Outrage?
Where is the Moral Outrage?...Again and Again

Questions & Ethical Issues in the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Case
What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life?
What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life? Part II
Why the Rush to Kill Terri Schindler-Schiavo?
Let's Not Delude Ourselves About the Consequences of Killing Terri Schiavo
RIP, Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo

The Serious Problems Within American Public Education
The Deep Performance Problems With American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
A Response to: Why Teachers’ Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children’s Educational Decisions?

Politics & Taxation Issues in Rhode Island
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part II: Our High Tax Burden
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part III: 2004, The Political Year in Review
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part IV: Soviet-Style Disinformation Antics by the Teachers' Union in East Greenwich
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XIV: The Teachers' Union Continuing Attempts to Legally Extort East Greenwich Residents
[Note: As of April 14, 2005, an ongoing series on Rhode Island Politics & Taxation had 15 separate postings. The entire series can be accessed from the beginning of the 15th posting.]

Public Policy Structural Challenges
Lawrence Reed on "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy"
Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation

Summing It All Up
Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

I challenge philosophical opponents like Tucker to put together a similar set of reasoned arguments for their worldview instead of merely engaging in nasty name-calling. Let's have a real and substantive debate about our competing worldviews.

I am willing to wager that the reason the secular left engages in such name-calling is because they see their ability to lead the political debate slipping away. This is due, in no small part, to their inability to offer an equally coherent explanation of their worldview. As William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote:

What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals? [Wilfred McClay] refers to Martin Peretz of The New Republic, whose views he summarizes. “Liberals, he argues, find themselves today where conservatives were a half-century ago, without ideas, without a vision of the good society, bookless, forced to feed on stale ideas from the 60s, and therefore, dying.”

There are many people across America who are committed to articulating their political beliefs in a reasoned manner that reaches out to all Americans - religious or not - in an effort to stay true to the Founding Principles of America and build a broad coalition for positive change. And we will proudly continue to do so without having to stoop to the vehement name-calling that only poisons the discourse of our beloved country.


As a further example of the venom toward Christians spewing from the Left, consider these editorials written here and here by Stanley Kurtz. Further discussion of such behavior continues at Discriminations. Additional perspectives are added by Jonah Goldberg and David Limbaugh. A Washington Times article discusses the "theocracy" threat:

...Understanding and answering the "religious far right" that propelled President Bush's re-election is key to preventing a "theocracy" from governing the nation, speakers argued at a weekend conference.

"The religious right now has an unprecedented influence on American politics and policy," said Ralph White, co-founder of the Open Center, a New York City institution focused on holistic learning. "It is incumbent upon all of us to understand as precisely as possible its aims, methods, beliefs, theology and psychology."...

"This may be the darkest time in our history," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the left-leaning National Council of Churches and former six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. "The religious right have been systematically working at this for 40 years. The question is, where is the religious left?"...

The United States is "not yet a theocracy," Joan Bokaer, founder of TheocracyWatch.org, said Friday night, but she argued that "the United States is beginning to fit the model of a reconstructed America."

Tax cuts combined with increased funding for faith-based social programs and decreases in welfare spending, Ms. Bokaer said, were examples of "the theological right ... zealously setting up to establish their beliefs in all aspects of our society."...

I am glad to finally have someone begin to define a theocracy. Let's see, tax cuts have been shown empirically in the 1920's, 1960's, 1980's and 2000's to spur economic growth that lifts all boats. Don't tell Eastern European countries or certain Asian countries who are cutting their taxes that it is the first step toward a theocracy. Engaging faith-based programs to help out by doing social programs like they did successfully - and almost exclusively without government - for most of the first 150 or more years of this nation's history is certainly a scary thought, too. Finally, welfare reform in 1996 is one of the few unqualified public policy successes in recent decades and that must mean it needs to be killed. Joan Bokaer's biography touts how she was active in the nuclear (unilateral) disarmanent movement in the 1980's, a not-very-mainstream movement that history has shown was infiltrated by Soviet agents and accomplished nothing - especially compared to what President Reagan accomplished via "peace with strength." Bottom line: All of this silly talk is nothing more than the secular left fundamentalists indirectly defining a statist ideology through the labeling of their opponents.

But, after you read all my earlier postings, ask yourself if a theocracy is really the risk here given the unabated and ongoing success of the left in realizing their agenda. Rather, I would assert that the secular left fundamentalists are just angry that their forty-year forced march to strip naked the public square and promote a state-based religion of secular relativism has finally met resistance from reasonable people all across America who cherish the Founding Principles and religious traditions of our beloved country.

But you have to hand it to the secular left fundamentalists - they are really good at getting attention focused on everything but their own aggressive agenda and its threats to our liberty.


Justin Katz has written one of the most elegantly argued postings I have read on this subject. Here is an excerpt:

Andrew Sullivan is prominent among commentators throwing about the dark image of theocracy, but again, he seems to be playing games with terminology. Theocracy does not describe a particular set of policies — or even the moral authority that informs them. It describes the civil authority that determines them: those acting as God's explicit representatives. With democracy, on the other hand, all authority must filter through the people.

That Sullivan has now gone so far as to suggest that the Constitution establishes a "civil version" of — and replacement for — religion reveals how much closer those of his political persuasion are to theocracy than are the "conservatives of faith" whom they oppose. That zealots for individual license traverse a dim alleyway to tyranny is evident in their conviction that their preferred policies — from abortion to same-sex marriage — are subjects of Constitutional guarantee.

Even those supposed "theocrats" who would go so far as to argue for mandatory prayers in their local public schools don't argue that the judiciary ought to find that the Constitution requires them.

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Dear Mr Hawthorne, your recent comments regarding nasty name calling are well thought through and appreciated. Ms Tucker is right on when she identifies a publically elected congressional leader who choses to attack our judges for doing their job. His recent comments regarding Justice Kennedy were not only inappropriate but in fact were ment to harm.
Your opinions regarding the fate of TS are full of medical mis-information and you should research your material more carefully before you put it out for comment.
You must know by now that the TS case went before 20 different judges and these judges upheld the law as it stands today. Please re-review the KQ case etc.
I agree that there is a right way to express one's point of view that does not offend yet informs, teaches and clarifies.
I feel that MS Tucker's piece was informative, well researched and most importanly what she said is true.
Name calling is bad but sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. I am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts in the near future.cpf

Posted by: C P Fuhrmann MD at May 2, 2005 5:33 PM

I have responded to C P Fuhrmann's comments in a new posting.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at May 3, 2005 1:32 AM

I have two general comments here. First, to suggest that the right is less guilty of name-calling than the left is totally unsupportable. I give you, just for example, your own statement that "the secular left fundamentalists ... they are really good at getting attention focused on everything but their own aggressive agenda and its threats to our liberty."

How is that statement any less ad hominem or unproductive than the comments from my secular-left side of the aisle characterizing the misbehavior of the Kansas school board (for example) as an attempt to promote theocracy?

I'll tell you what. I'll trade you: theocracy for threats to liberty.

And don't even get me started on Pat Robertson. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or any number of Republicans in Congress. Or Ann Coulter. Or Sean Hannity... the list goes on and on of right-wingers who spew unbelievable amounts of bile at the left.

My second point is that as the opposition party, I think we're entitled to a little more anger than the people who are in charge right now. Whatever may be said about the republican/conservative "majority" (which I think is a fiction, but that's another discussion), the fact is that your guys are in power, and you're using it in a terribly high-handed fashion. For example, whatever you may think about the virtues of the fillibuster, the Democrats didn't try and abolish it for judicial appointees when they were in power. Combine that with the initiation of a major war for reasons that, frankly, were bald lies (and every honest Republican should be able to admit that) -- a war that's been an expensive and bloody disaster thus far -- and with the 2000 "election," and I think we're entitled to spew a little invective.

Posted by: Paul Gowder at May 5, 2005 3:33 PM

And then there's This column, from your own guy. I'll let you read it for yourself.

Posted by: Paul Gowder at May 5, 2005 4:08 PM