The Talking Lion

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"Secularists" aren't imposing ANYTHING on Amerika

Charles Krauthammer's essay in this week's TIME (a link isn't available on the website yet...if I see one soon, I'll update) is titled "In Defense of Certainty," and the subtitle is: "It's trendy to be suspicious of people with 'deeply held views.' And it's wrong." Krauthammer, though "not much of a believer" himself, seems to think that religious conservatives somehow don't get fair play in the media:
The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers--principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics--bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy....There is something deeply wrong--indeed, deeply un-American--about fearing people simply because they believe. It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.
Ironically, his next sentence is "What nonsense," and I certainly agree with him. I want to state this as clearly as I can (and I'm going to violate my no full-stop rule): Secularists. aren't. trying. to. impose. anything. on. America. Gay marriage? NOT an imposition. Gay marriage is the final step in acknowledging the full humanity and dignity of homosexual relationships--dignity that does not extend, unfortunately for Rick Santorum, to man-on-dog love. Legalized abortion? Sorry, nope. No one is imposing abortion on anyone; there is simply no evidence that a fetus (at least up until a certain point) counts as a human life. The Schiavo decision? Every single judge, liberal and conservative, came to the same opinion, as did all respected medical officials. Bill Frist, who is not a neurologist and never saw more than a video of her--his pandering opinion DOES NOT COUNT. Everyone who had the expertise to have an opinion on her case was in agreement. What else? Denying ten judicial nominees the bench constitutes and assault on "faith"? Over seventy of Bill Clinton's nominees, most not nearly as liberal as these ten are conservative, were denied during his time as President. I could go on and on.

What Krauthammer, and I think most Americans, fail to distinguish between, are private and public reasons. Private reasons are those that personally motivate people; reasons based on religious faith, for instance, or any personal convictions. Beliefs formed from private reasons may be unshakeably certain (I don't happen to think this is a good thing, but I wouldn't claim I'm not guilty), but what they cannot do is serve as justifications in a public discourse where they are not shared by other members of the discourse. Only public reasons can be put into play in the game of public discourse. Why? Because the suppositions of public reasons are (or should be) shared by everyone in the community. They are reasons based on logic and evidence. Public reasons are SECULAR reasons. Moreover, secular reasons just are public reasons. They are one and the same. So regardless of one's private beliefs, one can only advance public/secular reasons in public debate simply because private reasons need not be respected by anyone else involved in the debate. So religious conservatives can argue any position they like, but no one need listen to them if they argue them on religious grounds. What Krauthammer is essentially saying, and what the various "need to respect faith" attitudes that abound in the national press now agree upon, is that the private reasons of religious conservatives ought to stand as public reasons. This is CLEARLY the road to theocracy, because it demands that the non-religious, and those of other religions, must accept conservative Christian beliefs as valid public reasons. In an even more pathological turn, everyone is still insisting that, because they are religious beliefs, they are exempt from public criticism. One cannot have it both ways. If you advocate policy based on Christian beliefs, prepare to have your beliefs subjected to scientific scrutiny. Otherwise, you have to play the game of giving and asking for reasons (hat tipped to the late, great Wilfrid Sellars) by the rules the rest of us abide by.

To recapitulate: "secularists" are imposing nothing on society, because a multicultural society MUST be secular in order to function. Rather, "secularists" (better name, anyone?) are the last defense against those who want to pollute the public space until it is totally under the control of one power-hungry group. There is more noxiousness in Krauthammer's article than this, and I will deal with that in one of my next two posts.

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