“He was a good man in the worst sense of the word.” We all know the guy Mark Twain is talking about. We run into him every now and then. Folk singer David Wilcox wrote a song about him that you can listen to by clicking here. When people become self-righteous, they develop blind spots and biases. They bring criticism on themselves, especially when they appear in public, demanding that we all see it their way. Their knuckles turn white holding onto their perspective without any consideration of others. Still, this described stereotype has come to justify the way faith-based views are generally pressed to the margins these days. It is in vogue to dismiss faith as something merely private, parochial, and unexamined. Ironically, it takes only a label to deflect it without actually dealing with ideas that are “faith-based.”
But open-mindedness can also be a kind of faith or even dogma. Being inclusive or tolerant is so assumed that few people stop to question what all they might be including. Yikes. Inclusiveness will keep you out of trouble in the media though, and at first blush it seems very gracious. Every competing idea wins a prize. It reminds me of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s old musical, The HMS Pinafore, “If everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody!”
Usually when people disagree with each other, they center upon some issue or situation. Seldom do they take time to ask why one person sees it red and another person sees it blue. Like the sign on the desk that says, “be reasonable…do it my way,” we all have biases–even the most scientific among us. It is difficult to see our own. They create a kind of window through which we look out at the world. But it is possible not only to look through our windows but also to see the window itself–the smudge from a careless painter or the build up of grime from splattered rain and dirt. To see the window itself is to consider what some heady German called our “Weltanschauung.”
Most people look at things through one of the following three windows: The naturalist considers only material things to be real, reducing everything to what we can sense or measure. The agnostic is decidedly unsure whether anything real lies beyond what we can measure, but sure that if there is something, it has no connection to the natural world. Someone with a transcendent worldview believes that there is more to what meets the eye than what meets the eye.
For all of us, assumptions are in play at some level. They influence the way that we look at everything. We cannot claim that faith-based views alone are biased. Everyone believes something–even if it is to believe that it is best not to believe. The question is, faith or not, do you see your window or do you only see through it?
What do you think?
Okay, this is a good time to interject a bit of controversy. This seems most relevant in the public square, where faith and politics often collide instead of intersect. Such as where religion is blocked from public schools based on perceived Constitutional mandates. Defining religion (as contemplated in the First Amendment) as a faith-based belief system calls into question what can be taught if, as you suggest, all beliefs are faith-based and, therefore, religious, whether atheistic, agnostic, secularist, scientific, Christian, Muslim, or other. Or do we, instead, permit the teaching in the public schools of all of these faith-based systems in order for one faith not to be unfairly denied a seat at the public table? Do we construe the First Amendment more narrowly so that it applies to traditional religions only? Or is the First Amendment wholly inapplicable because it merely prevents the government from establishing a State church? If the latter is the case, are there then no restrictions on religious or faith-based indoctrination in the public schools? Are we ready for that?
I see your concern about faith in public life, JP–precedent is the concern. Perhaps the framers of both constitution and Bill of Rights presumed a much more local and less intrusive gov’t than we have at present. The more that government directs, the more we must take care not to set the precedent you imply. But meanwhile, is there such a thing as a neutral value or worldview? Even today’s pluralism in public school is not really plural and inclusive–it is more about neutering than neutrality. Is it really even truthful/historically accurate to call something a “holiday tree?”
By ‘local and less intrusive government,’ I take you to mean that each public school should determine what faith underlies its teaching based upon the faith of the majority of its community? The practical difficulties of that aside, would it bother you if your tax dollars were used to fund a public school where the faith of the majority of that particular community was not Christian and that public school’s curriculum was so reflective?
Even if tax dollars were removed from the equation (which would be unrealistic with a public school system), what if a Christian lived in a non-Christian community? Would there be any protection for his/her child in that school from unwanted sectarian indoctrination? I hesitate to quote Obama: “Given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
I do not believe in a purely neutral worldview. I think your article above hits the bull’s-eye on that point. And I would agree with you that secularists, in particular, are gaining undue influence in the public school system. For the secularist, tolerance does not mean tolerating religion; rather it means eradicating religious belief or morality from the public square, which, as you note, is very intolerant. By the First Amendment, the Founders certainly did not intend the complete exclusion of religion from the public square. I am wondering, however, if the drafters of the First Amendment contemplated inclusion of non-traditional faiths within the scope of “religion”? To me, this is the sweet spot and practical application of your article above.
My statement is not really about government. Robust public life must again become something much larger than what gov’t controls. There will probably always be a need for public schools, but I think it could be more the exception than the rule.
Good discussion here. Two quotes might be enlightening as to what our Founding Fathers might have been thinking, taken from Justice Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution, the first treatise commentary on our constitution, written not that long after it’s adoption:
The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, must less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”
Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.
It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife, and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, … the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Armenian, the Jew and the. Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.
@Filston—So, are there any restrictions on sectarian indoctrination in the public schools, to the extent public schools are necessary?
@David—That quote is written by a lawyer, who doesn’t want anyone to know what he is saying. :o) But in all seriousness, I am not sure that literally setting up a national church is all that different in effect from passing sectarian laws or favoring one faith over another by government action.
BTW, that was an 🙂 instead of an 😮
” …neutering than neutrality. ” Exactly.
My husband and I have learned the public school system is responsible for teaching our children what we cannot teach.
We make it our responsibility to teach our children at home what the public school system cannot teach.
Call me a simpleton, but here’s what I think…