Tag Archives: guilt

Licensed to Vote

voteSometimes I think one should be licensed to vote in national elections, perhaps take a test as one is tested for a driver’s license. Each of us wield a powerful tool, the vote, more deadly than any vehicle. We should be responsible with that tool, just as we should be responsible with our vehicles. We must know the rules of the road – the role of government, the history of our country, essentially, Civics 101.

The history of the West is largely the history of Jews and Christians and their systems of right and wrong, codified in time, ways of living together (not always successful) that honor the dignity of every person. We are taught shoulds and oughts. We feel shame and guilt when we should and ought to feel this way. We honor humility, and we dishonor pride. These are mechanisms of change within and without, ways to right our behavior, to become righteous, better people. We confess our sins and we make amendment. We repent, return to the right path. Can a society survive without these habits of living and thinking? Can a society that values self-esteem over self-sacrifice continue as a community? That is the challenge of today’s secular culture.

In many areas of society – government, church, family – I increasingly meet those who want to run away from serious debate, rational reasoning. We are like birds with our heads in the proverbial sand. It is more comfortable to avoid discomfort, to insulate oneself with rosy visions of reality. Who doesn’t want to love everyone and be loved by everyone? Sounds good.

But life is more complicated than that, indeed, survival as a nation is more complicated. One behavior slides toward another. In studying history, whether it be the history of an individual or a nation, we see these patterns and can better predict outcomes from those patterns. We apply that knowledge to current crises and so make better decisions.

In a democracy we citizens need to be educated on the issues. Without an educated electorate electing, choosing candidates and platforms who will determine our nation’s future, democracy becomes a sham and we the people, blindly teeter on the edge of a cliff.

It takes courage to face reality, whether it be the state of our own hearts or the state of the state. Many of us would rather not face facts, just to keep the peace. The price is high, however, as we veer unchecked toward the precipice.

In our nation, we look to educational institutions to educate us, to ensure each generation learns their country’s founding story, as unbiased as possible, through clear lenses rather than filtered through biases of gender or class, race or religion. We look to our schools and universities to foster honest debate, in fact, to teach us how to debate civilly, how to consider the opposite side of an argument. Most importantly, we want to be able to hear criticism and not deem it hate speech, to differ without fearing jail.

There has been a recent trend on university campuses for students to veto invitations to speakers with whom they disagree. So far, among many, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Will, and Charles Murray have been invited and disinvited because of the possibility of disagreement among students. For disagreement has become synonymous with hate. Here, on university campuses, where the exchange of free ideas should be encouraged, where the First Amendment right of free speech should be explained and exalted, tyranny of thought and language reigns.

McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of attitudes towards free speech on campus, and by wide margins, students desire codes regulating speech for students and faculty, requiring “trigger warnings” in class in case material might be uncomfortable. Might be uncomfortable? I would find the trigger warnings themselves uncomfortable; does that mean there should be triggers for the triggers?

Such absurdity nearly sidesteps the serious harm done to free speech and the dumbing down of an electorate who should be tough on all sides through reason. The gift of reason is unique to our species, one claimed divine and proof of God’s existence, that is, the existence of a reasoning Creator. We think things through, we legislate laws, we judge our fellows innocent and guilty. Courts and their legal systems, rights to defense and trial, separation of powers stemming from Magna Carta and earlier, all are rooted in the remarkable belief that we can reason through our differences, and only in this way can we maintain peace.

That we must train the next generation to do the same, to carry on this great tradition of Western civilization, seems obvious, at least to this writer, using her limited talents to reason.

Children who are surrounded by serious conversation around the dinner table are deemed to have a head start in life in contrast to those not exposed to such speech. They learn by example the steps taken to reach a point, and the charity required to listen to opposing views. Such beginnings are far more powerful than class or gender or race. There was a time it was thought that only the best educated could provide these beginnings for their children.

Not so any more, it appears, with the current trends. For academia favors a sweet diet of no opinion, sameness. We must agree (with the liberal viewpoint) or be arrested. Why does this brave new world remind me of a book by that name? Why does it remind me of Islamic State and its thought police who behead Christians and crucify those of differing beliefs, who sell their children into slavery, who watch and wait as America grows increasingly weak and wavering?

The natural desire to avoid conflict, to silence speech contrary to one’s own, and then silence one’s own speech to keep the peace, is especially harmful to a nation nearing national elections in 2016. But we must take courage, pull our heads out of the sand, and listen to the arguments pro and con. We must study our Western patrimony (Daniel Hannon’s Inventing Freedom is a good and readable start) and make intelligent, educated choices in the voter booth next year. We should listen to the candidates and judge their true character. Do they understand America’s true character? Are they unafraid to uphold the character and the history of the West? Or do they feed us a sweet diet of platitudes and promises to make us feel better?

If we don’t do our homework, then we should not be voting. If we do not license ourselves to vote, others will take our vote from us.

Fair and Free

justice statue

U.C. Berkeley recently unveiled a program to give greater preferment to African-Americans for admittance and for hiring of faculty, citing the Ferguson, Missouri unrest as a reason.

There is, to be sure, an innate human desire for fairness, treating everyone equal. We speak of being “equal under the law,” that regardless of race, religion, and gender we will be treated equally. Whether your hair is pink or blue, your skin is spotted or smooth, you are obese or anorexic, you are young or old, rich or poor, woman or man or something else, dwarf or giant, you will be treated equally (with the exception, of course, of the unborn).

We are wired to demand fairness, even if we are not always successful in our practice of fairness. From age seven, children say, “That’s not fair!” A sense of justice (often without mercy) flowers in childhood. We are born with the idea of fairness.

History is the story, in many ways, of peoples who believed they, or others, were unfairly treated, who demanded fairness through whatever means available – letters to the editor, peaceful protest, less peaceful protest, riots, revolutions. Always, there is the righteous belief that they are right and are seeking “justice.” God is on their side, and if they don’t believe in God, then a residue of Godly fairness inspires them.

After all, we have been made in our Maker’s image. We reflect his great love for us in our desire to love and be loved. We reflect his reason in our belief that we can reason things out, make sense. We reflect his justice with our own deeply held certainty that things should be fair. And lastly we reflect his mercy when we forgive our enemies, when we make amends, when we work to create justice for all, fair play for everyone, when we love one another.

But how do you right wrongs of the past? Christians do so by confessing and forgiving. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are sorry, we say to our God, we will change, repent. Then we move on, guilt-free to soar as a bird, at peace with ourselves and our neighbors, and with our God.

But what happens with a secular society with historical wrongs like slavery, when we do not believe in a God who will forge a peace between us, who will absolve us? How and when is national guilt forgiven? How long must the culture pay, make amends, before it turns in upon itself? How many reparations, how many preferments in education and employment, how many times must Lady Justice excuse crimes she would not excuse for others? She should be blind, weighing only the evidence.

There comes a time when these affirmative actions become divisive and racist, undoing all they were meant to do, turning upon the majority, and increasing alienation. There comes a time when these actions actually hinder integration.

A nation cannot be absolved by a priest or God. It cannot be forgiven its trespasses as a person can. A nation is left at the mercy of the aggrieved, where and when that group sees the opportunity to extort payment for their grievance. And in the process other minorities watch the rioting and the looting and the burning of their town and country. They become the aggrieved, a recipe for revolution.

It is time to honor fairness to all, a time when the reparations of slavery have put paid to the debt owed. We would hope, as citizens, that our government would sense that time is now and stand strong. We would hope that our educational institutions would as well, that they would honor each student, each admissions or faculty applicant equally, not by race, religion or gender, but by merit.

I was not born with a silver spoon, or a silver anything. I was born into the modest home of a pastor relying on the income from his church and their kindnesses. I never felt aggrieved with my economic status. I worked my way through college and couldn’t afford grad school so got an office job to pay the rent. I’m not saying I wasn’t envious of those who had it easier, but came to see that life wasn’t always fair. I counted my blessings, for, as my mother often reminded me, I had ten fingers and ten toes, two arms and two legs, wasn’t deaf or blind, and was pretty good at jumping rope and reading. So I just needed to do my best and that was good enough.

Sometimes I hear people speak of betrayal or greed or mistreatment and they end with the comment, “It’s just so unfair.” I have known all these things, again and again, and it is indeed unfair. By God’s standard, by our own standards, it isn’t fair. But God is the judge, and I’m glad of that, for he will judge me too.

Ever since Eve ate that forbidden fruit, mankind has acted unfairly, often without mercy. And so God destroyed the Tower of Babel, sent a great flood, and finally, in his mercy, called Abraham out of Ur to be the father of a great nation that would number as the stars. He gave Moses specific commandments to obey. He chose a people who wrestled with him and his challenges, with his justice and his mercy. At last, after all this loving preparation, he send the promised messiah, the Christ, his Son, Emmanuel, God-with-us. This Jesus of Nazareth walked among us, showing by his life, death, and resurrection how we are to love one another, how we are to be just and merciful and fair. He gave us a way forward with his words, his life, and his death, to heal the brokenness, the unfairness, the mercilessness. He gave us a way forward to union with his Father – through his body, the Church.

A Western tradition blossomed from this creed. It struggled with how to be fair in an unfair world, among people who loved imperfectly. The tradition of Judeo-Christian fairness enshrined in common law and courts was formed under monarchies. It birthed democracies. It formed the Western Canon, the foundation of higher education, so that the next generation, our future rulers, our best and brightest, would understand fairness and its child, freedom.

And so today we try to protect this great legacy. Fairness and freedom are ideals, imperfect, but vitally important to our nation and the West. It aggrieves me to see government bow to the extortion of the aggrieved, often for political reasons. Thomas Sowell of Stanford’s Hoover Institution recently called it giving in to bullies:

“No small part of the internal degeneration of American society has been a result of supposedly responsible officials caving in to whatever group is currently in vogue, and allowing them to trample on everyone else’s rights… Politicians who exempt from the law certain groups who have been chosen as mascots undermine the basis for a decent society… The goal of ‘the rule of law and not of men’ has increasingly been abandoned in favor of government picking winners and losers… a path that demoralizes a society, and leads to either a war of each against all or to a backlash of repression and revenge.”

Life is not fair. We must support a “rule of law and not of men” (John Adams). In this election year, it is good to keep this in mind.