Monday, January 26, 2004

Public Religion

Americans are funny people about religion. In spite of 50+ years of secularization in the public square, we are still deeply interested in spirituality. Among Western nations the percentage of people participating in religious communities is quite high. We want to hear "God Bless America" sung in public and we do not mind politicians saying "God bless you" and "God bless America". Too much detail about the religious beliefs of candidates, however, makes us uncomfortable, especially if those beliefs are anything close to historic Christianity or Judaism.

Some of our ambivalence serves the public interest well. The first sixteen words of the First Amendment are still a beacon of light to the world. We enjoy complete freedom of conscience and religion without government interference.

Keeping government out of the religion business is good - good for freedom and, paradoxically, good for the religious communities themselves. Without subsidies and taxes, the faith communities must rely on the volunteer spirit of their members, which only enhances loyalty and effectiveness.

"Separation of church and state" is an interpretation of Jefferson's "wall of separation" rhetoric referring to the Virginia's constituional relationship with the Episcopal (Anglican before 1776) Church. Neither Jefferson or any of the Founders envisioned today's ACLU-inspired political correctness that removes Judeo-Christian symbols from the public square.

All the Founders recognized that religious values were critical to the moral and social fabric of a free society. They wanted complete freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, including religious speech. If public officials want to express personal religious opinions, they should not be vilified. If the electorate does not appreciate them, it has the power to elect someone else.

I am old enough to remember the controversy regarding JFK, our first Roman Catholic President. Even in 2000, some were worried about Senator Joseph Lieberman's Judaism and its effects on his policies. in both cases, all fears were (and are) unfounded. Agree or diagree with their policies, both men are Americans serving as well as they know how.

Our current President has a deep religious faith that has sustained him through life's turmoils and provided solace in the midst of political battles. I see no evidence of religious coercion. Having strong moral and religious convictions is an American birthright. Respecting the differing views of others is the other side of the same coin. I do not like many of our President's current policies, for a variety of reasons. But I respect his right to have and express his deepest ideals.

It is interesting that so many who seek a separation of religion and the public square seem to tap dance around the issue of Islamic ideology and its social implications. Politicians fall all over each other assuring the world that Al Queda, Hezbollah and The Islamic Jihad are a tiny fraction of the Muslim world.

It is true that most Muslims are not terrorists. So what? The statement is a non-starter, utterly irrelevant to the current debate on public religion. It is like saying that a particular TV evangelist speaks for all Christians. Are we going to tell American Muslims to abandon their conviction that America would be a better land under Islamic Law? Why do we insist that American school children spend weeks each year studying Islam while the Jewish and Christian roots of the West are ignored or even put down?

Our problem stems from the Baby Boomer's (those now 45-65) generational rejection of its image of America's past, religion and all. The Boomers forgot Martin Luther King's deep spirituality. They conveniently ignore The Greatest Generation's (those who survived the Depression and fought in WWII) deep piety. The Boomer's ideology is a pseudo-Marxist, New Age ethos that is best captured by John Lennon's 1970 anthem, "Imagine". Lennon's nasal vision of a world without borders, possessions or religion sounds wonderful until you realize its subversion of our deepest national values.

Where do we go from here? How about back to the future again? Let's stop muzzling religious expression and allow citizens freedom, in public, to express their deepest passions with civility and mutual respect.

Next time: Worlds Collide

Monday, January 19, 2004

Fiscal Fracas - Making Sense of (Your) Public Money

As we debate political policies and principles and begin a (too) long Election Year, there is one clear fact that must not be ignored by the electorate (that's us!) or the politicos (candidates and their spinmeisters). What is this fact? Here it is...brace yourself for an illumination: "government money" and "government programs" are using YOUR money.

This assertion is not the thesis of a right-wing diatribe against all government spending. After all, conservatives benefit from government just as much or more than liberals do. For every welfare program the Right criticizes, there are subsidies and tax breaks for the middle-class and wealthy. All of these programs should be evaluated; however, my purpose in this brief essay is to move us beyond facile generalizations to a very important personal decision we all must make if we want to have any influence on the future of our community and nation.

We must all realize that our elected officials are put is office by US and are fundamentally accountable to US for what they do with OUR resources we have given them to manage. We get angry at foolish laws and bad fiscal managment - but what are we doing to influence the process? We complain about special interests...unless they are ours, then they are lobbying for righteous causes!

We need an intelligent debate about how we want to use the limited resources that available. How do we balance free markets with environmental concerns? How do we care for the truly needy without subsidizing illegal or irresponsible behavior? What are the most important priorities for our educational dollars? Before the Right cries, "Cut administration costs!" they must define what such cuts involve. Before the Left says "more money for kids", they must explain who gets the money. It is dishonest for the Left to accuse the Right of "hurting children" when they do not advocate increases in social spending. It is also bad faith for the Right to advocate more for the military without streamlining the procurement process that wastes billions.

Will we rise above simplistic ideology and look for values to guide the 21st century commonweal we call America? Our future needs to rest on moral clarity and a mature social vision, not narrow interests or angry sound bites.

Next time: Public Religion

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Immigration Insanity

The recent proposal of our President to normalize the status of millions of "undocumented workers" is neither the end of the world nor a wise policy. On one level it normalizes the present state of affairs, catering to certain business interests and select political lobbies. At the same time, Bush's proposal undermines our nation's present need for sanity and security in light of 9-11.

When there is a shortage of labor, technical innovation - in agriculture and manufacturing - is accelerated. When labor is cheap and plentiful, old, lazy methods can continue as long as the bottom-line results are favorable.

Some type of guest worker program does make sense. But it is a misnomer to say that illegal immigrants are only taking jobs that Americans are unwilling to perform. In logical terms, this is asserting the conclusion as the premise. If millions of immigrants were suddenly removed from the workforce, there would be serious short-term consequences. But the long-term benefits might actually result is a healthier, full-employment world for citizens and legal immigrants.

Education and medical costs would be drastically reduced, ameliorating budget crises in several locations. Able-bodied welfare recipients would have more options. The way would still be open for legal applicants.

The present policy is morally bankrupt, politically expedient and economically short-sighted, not to mention injurious to long-term national sovereignty.

President Bush, we can do better!

Next time: Fiscal Fracas - Making Sense of Your (Public) Money