Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why All the Rage?

We are currently having a debate about political anger. The tea parties, in particular, are accused of being driven by anger toward this current democratic administration. In response, conservative commentators are pointing out the heated rhetoric that has been displayed on the liberal blogs and cable networks toward Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin. Anyone paying attention to politics in the past three years will have heard many angry words directed toward political opponents. So, what are we so mad about?

Political anger is rooted in moral sentiment. People justify their anger because they believe bad, harmful, or even evil things are being done. Conservatives and liberals see their anger as righteous indignation. The difference between the two groups are their definitions of right and wrong.

While we hear a great deal about moral relativism, it is in some ways a chimera. Relativism is a philosophy of convenience, allowing people to ignore moral obligations they believe interfere with their pursuit of personal pleasure. The side of the political spectrum most supportive of relativism, liberals, are just as capable of righteous indignation as any member of the religious right. It's not that liberals are relativists and conservatives are moralists, it is that they fundamentally disagree about what is right and what is wrong.

Since at least the 1960's the left has assumed the role of moral leadership for American society. Prior to that time, the moral consensus was shaped by widely understood Protestant values, such as marital fidelity, the work ethic, self-reliance, thrift, and personal decorum and responsibility. To see an example of this consensus watch a Doris Day movie from the 50's or a Leave it to Beaver re-run. With the freedom marches and the victory over racial segregation in the 60's, we saw one of liberalism's finest hours, and its rise to the place of defining acceptable and unacceptable behavior in our society.

Today they define what should be legal or illegal (Same-sex marriage-legal, hate crimes-illegal), what is important (stopping global warming) and what is unimportant (religion). What becomes disturbing is the lack of a real opportunity to debate the merits of these beliefs, and to question the qualifications of those defining these important decisions about our values and our laws.

Sadly, apart from their absolutely correct opposition to racial segregation, the left has defined its moral causes by the distorted values of the enlightenment. Over time, the anger of the left was directed at most of the previously held values of the American middle class. Eventually, they added the issues of environmentalism, sexual orientation, and economic egalitarianism to their list of things to be mad about. So, while the left has achieved moral leadership because it has achieved political leadership, that doesn't mean that its proscriptions for our values and behavior are right or beneficial.

The values of the previous generations and of the social conservatives today were built upon the foundations of the Bible and natural law. These values have been proven in the crucible of human history. They are a significant reason that America has been as successful as it has been. We turn our back on these values to our own peril, and a great deal of the anger generated by the Tea Parties is founded on the concern that we are endangering the future of our society by the rejection of these fundamental values.

In the end, the question isn't which group has the right to be angry. The more important question is which group has the right values upon which we should build our society. The testimony of history supports the Tea Party.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

No Prayer Allowed

In a pre-emptive strike against the National Day of Prayer, first established by President Truman in 1952 and re-affirmed by President Reagan in 1988, an atheist-agnostic group in Wisconsin took the issue to court and received a favorable opinion from the judge. Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in her opinion that government must operate in regards to prayer under the bizarre constraint of serving "a significant secular purpose and is 'not a call for religious action on the part of its citizens.'" (quoted from Worldnet Daily article, "National Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional," April 15, 2010) This becomes an impossible standard for how could prayer ever be for a significant secular purpose and not call for religious action on the part of citizens?

Here is another example of what Alexander Solzenitsyn described as "legalism" in his landmark speech at Harvard in the 1970's. His criticism of American society was that we use the legal system for political purposes rather than the maintenance of justice and morality. He spoke of the perversity of using the courts to justify activities that undermine the moral and social fabric of society such as traditional marriage and the family. In this instance, we see the courts used to strike another blow at the Judeo-Christian faith which forms the moral and spiritual foundation of American culture.

As I argue in my book, this use of the courts to prevent any public expression of the predominant Christian beliefs held by most Americans, implies that the government views Christian faith as a dangerous and destructive activity. Why else would it be considered illegal? It really is the courts, and thus the government of the United States, siding with the secularist view of Christianity as a great evil whose actions should be outlawed and its influence reduced or eliminated. By making public prayer, posting of the Ten Commandments, and Bible reading against the law the government can no longer claim to be neutral in regard to religious belief. It has taken a firm stand in opposition to any and all public expressions of the Christian faith.

We are only continuing to fool ourselves if we think this elimination of a national day of prayer is no big deal. It is another nail in the coffin of the influence of Judeo-Christian values on American society. We are sawing off the limbs of personal morality, unselfish concern for our fellow man, the Protestant/American work ethic, and the value of delayed gratification as we sit on them. We also rob our younger generations of faith and hope, because the two are related. We must recognize that God and goodness are entirely related. Nietzsche was the first of the modern philosophers to understand this fundamental truth. In denying God we face the unintended consequence of denying the good. I believe the descent into the relativistic darkness that characterizes so much of Western popular culture is merely the result of our embrace of a radical secularism that allows no place for God.

How ironic. Just when we need prayer the most we find it's not allowed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Problem with Taxes

April 15 seems to be the perfect day to think about the why's and wherefore's of taxes. In case you haven't noticed, an entire movement has risen in opposition to the expansion of government programs and the taxes needed to pay for them. As a conservative, my sentiments lie with the Tea Partiers. Yet, one of my frustrations with the conservative movement in America is our inability to explain why we are the party of No to those who don't buy into our point of view.

So, let me take a shot at explaining why we are opposed to increasing taxes. First, conservatives are as compassionate and as concerned about helping those in need as anyone. Our opposition to the present condition of our government is not based on a selfish desire to keep more of our hard earned money. It has much more to do with the way our taxes are being spent, and with the ever increasing deficits and debts that will dramatically reduce our capacity for economic growth. We are concerned about the impact this deficit spending will have on the economic conditions our children and grandchildren will inherit. We cannot attack the engine of our economy, which is the profit and income from the private sector, by designating an ever increasing portion of Gross National Product to government programs and entitlements without severely weakening our capacity to provide full employment and a decent middle class income.

Secondly, we are not opposed to paying taxes. We understand the proper role of government, and it's not just providing defense and infrastructure. Public education, social security, medicare, medicaid, and many forms of public assistance are important parts of a modern civilized society. My problem is not that we are spending money on these things, but that we are spending so very much with so little real results. It's really about efficiency and effectiveness. So many of our policies and programs are driven by ideology rather than pragmatism. Only government can mindlessly continue to spend countless billions on an educational system that has failed to adequately prepare so many of our young people for the demands of today's global economy. And no part of the public sector is more ideologically driven than public education. When we face the disastrous test scores and frighteningly low graduation rates of many of our inner city schools, we have every right to question how our taxes are being spent. When more emphasis is placed upon political correctness than upon mastering the basics of reading and writing, of science and math, of history and literature, and of critical thinking, we have every right to be concerned about our approach to K-12 education in this country.

What has made it worse is that non-ideological, proven solutions exist but cannot be applied because of the political power of special interest groups. The scandal that was the elimination of the school voucher program in Washington D.C. is a perfect example of politics and ideology trumping what is best for our children and what actually works in solving the serious problems we face as a society.

In addition, taxation is involuntary. We are forced to pay them under penalty of law. Yet, when we see our taxes used for programs and policies that offend our personal beliefs and values, our only recourse is political opposition. The Tea Parties are American conservatives declaring loudly, "No mas!" One of the great dangers of modern liberalism is its capacity to justify the imposing of its values and policies on others because it is being done in the name of "justice" or "equality" or "rights." The recently enacted health care bill is full of progressive attempts to make America "fair." The problem will be, as it always is, all the unanticipated consequences and expenses that end up making the policies un-fair.

As tax payers, it is our right and even our responsibility to question how our taxes are being spent. And with the massive bailouts of the financial industry, the ineffective and politically driven stimulus plan, and now, with the passage of mandated health insurance we have reached a tipping point. I fully expect this November to be a tax revolt via the ballot box.