April 5, 2005

I think with pure logic, YOU are driven by fear...

I found this article at Brothers Judd, and it really embodies a certain viewpoint that cries out for discussion...

Culture of Life is a Culture of Fear, by Ira Chernus

The tragic case of Terri Schiavo writes a new chapter in the ongoing American saga that is often titled “the culture war.” It’s no longer just about a so-called “right to life.” The Christian right insists that it’s about a “culture of life.” They’ve been waving that slogan around for years. Now mainstream America is getting used to it. Those of us who actively oppose the Christian right had better get used it, too. We’re going to be hearing a lot about this “culture of life” from now on.

“Culture of LIFE?” we ask, with justified outrage. These same people who claim to be the guardians of life are the first to demand the death penalty for murderers, indiscriminate bombing for Afghanis, Iraqis, and anyone else they don't like, etc., etc. The hypocrisy is so blatant, it hardly seems worth spelling out the details.

You know the arguments to come are going to be persuasive when the author starts with ludicrous lies. Of course no one advocates bombing "anyone we don't like." (If we do, I have a little list.) And our use of bombing in recent conflicts has been astonishingly precise. Have you noticed how leftists love to refer to the invasion of Iraq as "bombing Iraq?" Makes it sound like Operation Arc Light, and lets them ignore the fact that Americans are fighting bravely to liberate the oppressed, while leftists sit on the sidelines, or worse. (And these guys are oh-so life-loving when it comes to murderers, but notice they never mention the victims.)

When they talk about a “culture of life,” though, the right-wingers are trying to tell us that we’re missing the point. The debate is not about life, it’s about CULTURE. Everyone agrees that life is good. But the United States is split by a deep cultural divide about what makes a life good. Once we bring that divide into focus, the “culture of life” side begins to look a bit more logically consistent. And those of us who oppose them begin to see more clearly just where the lines need to be drawn.

No, the debate is about life, and also about our culture. And NOT everybody agrees that life is good. Some people believe that SOCIETY is good, and that individual lives should be sacrificed to help society. Chernus seems to have some of that belief, without ever clearly focusing on what he believes.

Underneath the debate about the end of life, we find the same issue that underlies the debates about abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and all the other hot-button social issues of the day. The basic question that ties together all these issues is one that is all too rarely addressed or even spoken: How should we acquire our moral values? It may sound like the stuff of a college philosophy course. But it’s really the stuff of the headlines about the late Terri Schiavo and all the other battlegrounds of the “culture war.”

OK, watch what's coming. He's gonna tell us how wrong conservatives are in the way they "acquire our moral values." But he WON'T be clear on what HIS way of acquiring them might be...

On one side are the religious and social (no, they aren’t all religious) conservatives who wave the “culture of life” banner. Basically, they are people who are afraid of uncertainty, ambiguity, and change in the realm of moral values.

Watch this too: There's NOT going to be a paragraph that starts, "On the other side..." That would be his side, but he doesn't want this debate framed too clearly.

Their position is simple:

* moral values must be universal, timeless, unchanging truths
* we should receive them from religious traditions or authority figures
* once we get fixed truths, we should stick with them, no matter what

Notice that he has excluded from discussion the possibility that there actually ARE "timeless, unchanging truths." Debate, but some things are off-limits. And where's the paragraph that begins: "Our position is..."?

A society that doesn’t believe all this is in great danger, they warn. Why? Listen to a delightful story told by George W. Bush’s friend Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention. Land recalled what his wife said when Bill Clinton became president: “She said, ‘The people that were sitting around [in the ‘60s] in Volkswagen vans, smoking pot with peace symbols on their vans and hanging around their necks, are running the country now, aren't they?’ I said, ‘Yes, they are.’ Basically, it breaks down to this enormous fault line. On one side of this fault line, you have people who have a traditional view of morality: Some things are always right; some things are always wrong; and if you accept a society in which that's not true, then anything becomes possible.”

That’s just what thrilled those people sitting around in Volkswagen vans, smoking pot with peace symbols. Anything becomes possible -- even a world of peace and love.

The fact that they were thrilled didn't make them right. Lots of things are NOT possible. Quite likely including a world of peace and love.

For the right-wingers, though, the idea that “anything is possible” is terrifying. No, it's just stupid. Their “culture of life” is really a culture of fear. Care to offer any evidence for that? They believe that human nature is basically selfish, competitive, and aggressive. No, no, no. That's YOUR VIEW, the left-wing view. You guys always complain that people are too selfish or competitive or aggressive. (Of course you don't call it "human nature;" progressive schooling or re-education camps can eradicate such icky things.) We conservatives think man is basically good and made in the image of God, but is stained with Original Sin, so that, in the words of Paul, "That which I would do, I do not do."

If anything is possible, who can predict what crime or evil will happen next? How can anyone feel safe? The world would be spinning out of control. We need fixed rules that come from unquestionable authority. That’s the only way to keep us all from running amok.

"Who can predict what crime or evil will happen next?" He writes that as if it's obviously silly. Perhaps he hasn't got to the 20th Century yet in the history book...

You can’t get that kind of certainty if you leave the rules up to human choice, the conservatives insist. People are “flip-flops.” They change their minds to suit their whims. They think with their hormones. They do all sorts of dangerous things, if we let them. That’s why we have to agree with our president, who says: “The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not a personal opinion, but an eternal truth.” That’s why we need to believe in an eternal higher authority.

That doesn't follow logically. One can believe in "eternal truth" without thinking people are 'flip-flops," and vice versa. And Chernus slides past the problem of whether perhaps it's TRUE that people are flip-flops, and what that might entail...

From this very abstract point, it’s an easy step to the impassioned “defense” of Terri Schiavo’s life. Who gets to decide when someone dies. Is it the “flip-flop” human mind? Or is it the eternal will of the ultimate unquestionable authority, the good Lord Himself? For a conservative, that’s a no-brainer. Once you let the human mind decide when people die -- or which fetuses come to term and which don’t -- anything is indeed possible. The world feels like it’s spinning out of control. It’s hard enough already for most people to feel they have any control over their lives. A world with no eternal authorities might make it feel impossible.

Frankly, I don't think most people are defending Schiavo because they they think the world is slipping out of control. And Chernus offers no evidence for this. Whereas if you asked them if this is a MORAL issue, and whether they are concerned about the moral climate of our country, 97% would say yes.

And also, if you try to pin a person like Chernus down on the question "Is removing Schaivo's feeding tube MORALLY wrong or right?", you will never get a clear answer. They always skitter away into talking about "rights," or the law, or practical issues, or whether conservatives are hypocrites...

Of course, a world where some eternal authority tells us all what to do is not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind, as far as many of us can tell. We believe that a nation built on freedom has to free the mind to discover moral values for itself. That means moral values will indeed be different at different times and in different places. People will disagree. There will be conflicts. That is unavoidable.

Warning: Slippery reasoning here. There is a difference between "eternal authority tells us all what to do" and "eternal authority tells us what is right." One can know what is right and still have to wrestle with difficult decisions every day. And in fact the Founding Fathers DID believe that there are eternal moral truths, based on scripture. They write about this frequently. And they never ever expect that these will tell us exactly what to do, or demand robotic obedience.

So why not make a virtue out of necessity? Why not embrace the conflict as a sign of a healthy, creative diversity in society? We trust that people who have their basic human needs met can learn to get along reasonably. The problem is not human nature. It’s a society with skewed priorities that denies so many people their basic needs.

This is nonsense. It's another version of the argument that all problems are caused by poverty and social ills. But almost everyone in our country has their basic needs met, yet they show no propensity to always get along. The 9/11 bombers were middle-class Saudis who had never worried about their basic needs.

Chernus is a professor at CU, and this is a perfect example of how the lack of intellectual diversity at such places has crippled their ability to think and argue. I'm sure that in the faculty lounge at CU he can say, "The problem is not human nature. It’s a society with skewed priorities that denies basic needs..." and nobody will say, "bullshit." But it IS bullshit. If some redistributionist regime took over here, and guaranteed every living American $25,000 a year and a new car, would we suddenly all "get along reasonably?" No way. In fact it's beceause our basic needs are met that we have the leisure to worry and argue about moral questions.

But if we trust the free mind to find the truth, we have to consider all points of view -- even the “culture of life.” Do they have a persuasive point to make? To figure it out for yourself, you might want to take a college philosophy course, or three or four. You’ll have to start way back with Plato and Aristotle. Great minds have been wrestling with this one for thousands of years, and they haven’t come to any consensus yet. Either side might be right.

But that’s just what the right-wingers can’t admit. It’s the “might be right” that scares them and drives them nuts. They need a “MUST be right” to feel safe, to feel that their own lives are under even minimal control.

I have yet to hear anyone offer even a SHRED of evidence that "right-wingers" are driven nuts by fear. Actually, a lot of them try hard to hear God wants from their lives, and then follow it. Which is actually a very courageous and scary thing to do. (More than I could.)

We can’t let them inscribe their fear-driven beliefs onto our laws. No compromise on that one. And we ought to encourage them to join us in a civil discussion about the issue. All the while, though, it won’t hurt to remember that they are frightened and hurting.

Funny, I don't feel "frightened and hurting." I wonder if this guy is PROJECTING. Methinks he doth protest too much about other people being frightened. And inviting a civil discussion of a "no-compromise" position...Huh? You could say that's the theme of this whole piece: "Let us sit down and civilly discuss why YOU are wrong."

We also have to continue the agonizing discussion about the specific issues concerning the end of life. Now that technology can keep people alive almost indefinitely, we are in a brave new world with no simple clear-cut direction ahead. The disability rights movement rightly reminds us how easily the masters of technology can get control over us if we are not vigilant. The advocates of individual liberty and death with dignity rightly remind us that we can keep our individual right to our own death as well as life only if we are vigilant. There are no easy answers here, either.

Chernus is presuming that certain moral issues are already decided, such as an "individual right to our own death." He says '"there are no easy answers," and yet he slips his own answers in as if they are settled issues. This is the mushy thinking of the academic monoculture.

We can’t carry on that debate constructively, though, until we first disentangle it from the great cultural debate about how we get our moral values. Perhaps that clarification would move us all a small step beyond our fears.

This is exactly what I suspect Chernus will NOT debate. He will never say just how he decides on HIS moral values. They just arise somehow out of the leftish consensus.

What seems to me to be going on is that "progressives" accept traditional Judeo-Christian morality, pretend that it is merely what logic demands, and then each generation DISCARDS 10% of it. And then laughs at anyone who suggests that there might be some kind of slippery slope. They are sort of like a declining corporation that periodically has "re-organizations," each of which leaves it smaller than before.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He can be reached at chernus@colorado.edu

Posted by John Weidner at April 5, 2005 10:13 AM
Weblog by John Weidner