Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Nov/08

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Smiling Secularism

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James Dobson has responded to Kathleen Parker’s oogedy-boogedy editorial. He says that when people such as Obama ask the religiously motivated to translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values, that this is “secularism with a smile.”

19 comments

  • Scott · November 26, 2008 at 6:41 am

    I see where Dobson is coming from but I think he misses a basic point. Our Constitution prohibits the favoring of one religion over another. That fact requires a law based on a christian principle to also have a secular basis or it will fail the test. It’s also not that difficult – I can come up secular arguments for a host of religious principles I disagree with.

  • Ivan Karamazov · November 26, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Scott :
    That fact requires a law based on a christian principle to also have a secular basis or it will fail the test. It’s also not that difficult – I can come up secular arguments for a host of religious principles I disagree with.

    Indeed. Sometimes even a bold assertion will do the trick, as in We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . “.

    In other words, “We are those who have decided to found a society on “truths”, that we will list, but otherwise have no intention of justifying to you others, who are not us.”

    In point of fact, it is not “self-evident” that all men are created equal. We are simply those who declare that we will behave as if it were. And then one goes on from there.

  • Grant Canyon · November 26, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Scott :It’s also not that difficult – I can come up secular arguments for a host of religious principles I disagree with.

    Which is why I believe that the requirement for such things is rightly a “compelling governmental interst.” That would eliminate facially secular arguments that are simply just-so stories to justify imposing religion.

  • A-Bax · November 26, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Dobson is essentially trying to cast Parker out for here heretical speech. How interesting…she critizes the GOP for their religious excesses, and a religious excessive delcares her to not be a conservative. It’s as if Dobson is making our point for us: That under W the GOP has equated conservatism with religiosity. If you doubt the latter, you are accused of having forsaken the former.

    Notice too the martyr-complex that has grown up around Palin. No mention is made by Dobson of her syntactical difficulties, her plain ignorance of legal history or foreign affiars, and her general “not ready for prime time” vibe. Parker’s criticism of Palin is taken to be a generalized criticism of the religious-right and all they stand for.

    This if foolishness. Parker sees it, George Will sees it, and Heather McDonald sees it. (Heather called out the Palin nomination as “identity politics” of the Right immediately). That the Religious Right is so blinkered by their anger at the state of the culture wars is unfortunate, because Palin clearly does not represent the way out of the wilderness for the GOP. If anything, she represents a path towards further isolation and irrelevance.

    Dobson and his ilk need to understand the the Religious Right has seriously over-reached these past 4-8 years. It had cost them their seats of power, and it threatens to cost them their ertwhile allies in the very culture war they take so seriously.

  • Scott · November 26, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Grant,

    In my opinion, compelling government interest should be the standard for any law, not the religious test. But I believe the standard shouldn’t go beyond having some secular basis for the religious test. I would be able to block nearly any law I disagreed with on that basis. It would be reflected somewhere in some religion. Once there’s a secular argument for it, it passes constitutional muster (as far as religion goes) and then must be argued on the merits of the individual law.

  • Author comment by Fountainhead · November 26, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Dobson: “Whatever she once was, Ms. Parker is certainly not a conservative anymore, having apparently realized it’s a lot easier to be popular among your journalistic peers when your keyboard tilts to the left.”

    Dobson shows his colors here. He wants the republican party to himself and screw the big tent idea that has kept the republicans in power. We’ve had eight years of the the religious leading government and it’s been an utter disaster. Part of the reason Obama is seen in such a positive light is that he brings competence. As Dobson adds later in the article in reference to Obama demanding reason for policy and action:

    “as my theologian friend Al Mohler called it, “secularism with a smile””

    Dobson views thought and reason as “secularism”! As a younger conservative person I cannot, will not, vote for a party that is taking advice from the likes of Dobson. I’m conservative to my core, but I am not a republican if the Dobson’s of the world have strong sway in the republican party. Kathleen Parker was exactly right.

  • Richard Saunders · November 26, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Fountainhead
    :

    Dobson: “Whatever she once was, Ms. Parker is certainly not a conservative anymore, having apparently realized it’s a lot easier to be popular among your journalistic peers when your keyboard tilts to the left.”
    Dobson shows his colors here. He wants the republican party to himself and screw the big tent idea that has kept the republicans in power. We’ve had eight years of the the religious leading government and it’s been an utter disaster.

    This brings up one of my biggest beefs about the religious right: who anointed them the arbiters of “True Conservatism”? Dobson and his ilk are, at heart, populist Democrats of the William Jennings Bryan stripe. They were brought into the Republican Party as part of Nixon’s southern strategy. The result is that the Republican Party has lost the Northeast, is losing the Midwest and the West, and is in danger of becoming a regional southern party. “Big Government Conservatism” should be considered an oxymoron, not an aspiration.

  • David C. · November 26, 2008 at 9:49 am

    “Dobson is essentially trying to cast Parker out for here heretical speech. How interesting…she critizes the GOP for their religious excesses, and a religious excessive delcares her to not be a conservative.”

    Is this suprising? Both wings of the GOP are busily labeling those on the other side as heretics, and demanding that they be cast out.

    “Kathleen Parker was exactly right.”

    My views of the religious right are much closer to Parker, but she is every bit as wrong as Dobson. We need a big tent party that focuses on principles that Republicans can agree on, not an even smaller party.

  • cakesecret · November 26, 2008 at 10:18 am

    First of all…Dobson’s primary goal is power over a bloc and the harder the bloc (even if it is smaller), the happier he is…if the republican party is further isolated in the process, so be it, as long as it is his kind leading the way. Leading a “martyr’d” flock is probably more profitable for him anyway.

    He doesn’t care about “overreach” – overreach is exactly what he wants.

  • Grant Canyon · November 26, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Scott, I think we agree (mostly), but are expressing it differently. I’m saying that there should be a compelling secular government interest, so it’s not something where they pass a religious law and put out a laughable secular “reason” which amounts to nothing more than cover for the implementation of religious doctrine.

  • BKennedy · November 26, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Insofar as the criticisms of Palin:

    There have been plenty of well thought out criticisms of the Palin choice at NRO and elsewhere. Krauthammer and Ponnuru have specifically made their arguments known and backed them up. Parker’s criticisms were an endless tirade of schoolgirl insults that one would expect from Maureen Dowd. In fact, I assure you if I placed some of their Palin hate columns next to each other without a byline you would be incapable of discerning the author.

    Criticisms of Dobson are also noted and concurred. I’m a practicing Catholic conservative and Dobson’s particular brand of zealotry and swagger has never appealed to me. Nonetheless the defense of traditional marriage and the fight against abortion are two important elements of the conservative argument. If you cannot reason your way to a strong defense of human life and the nuclear family, the foundation of American society, you have no right to call the “religious right” unreasonable.

    Finally, citing “syntactical difficulties” is nothing more than regionalism. I imagine those whining about “you betcha” have no problem is someone starts drolling about “Harvahd Law” or “Nyork.” Nor do they seem to be at all displeased with Barack’s inability to speak more than 1 word per 2 seconds. The hack MSM edit jobs and the constant, endless stream of gossip rag trash pulled from the pages of Daily KOS happened while Obama got the tingling leg treatment. It was enough to make a human being of any stripe gag were it not entirely predictable given the ship of fools in the media.

    If one wonders why I am hear given my decisively religious nature, it is simply because there is no reason not to expand one’s arsenal of weapons against liberalism from as many sources as possible. Thinking outside one’s own box is crucial.

  • Dave M · November 26, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    “Nonetheless the defense of traditional marriage and the fight against abortion are two important elements of the conservative argument.”

    Are they though? I suspect these are two topics that will be discussed heavily here – especially given NRO’s recent KLO-inspired Jumping the Shark on both topics.

    The inclusion of both these wedge issues in the typical Conservative milieu has always personally astonished me (but then I’m a secular libertarian-leaning conservative Brit) – both are examples of the Government selectively enforcing a particular morality. I cannot think of anything that is more *anti*-Conservative than government-enforced-morals.

    “If you cannot reason your way to a strong defense of human life and the nuclear family, the foundation of American society, you have no right to call the “religious right” unreasonable.”

    Again, I think you’re making several wrong assumptions here, and you end up including the theological Bathwater along with the conservative Baby. There are pretty of arguments for both a pro-choice postion and a pro-gay marriage position amongst Conservatives. The question which has to be asked is this: why do you and many others use a particular position on abortion and gay marriage as a definitive litmus test on whither one is a Conservative or not?

  • BKennedy · November 26, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Dave M :

    Are they though? I suspect these are two topics that will be discussed heavily here – especially given NRO’s recent KLO-inspired Jumping the Shark on both topics.

    I believe they are. Abortion is just one issue among several that supports a culture of life, others being euthanasia, mercy killings, etc.

    Perhaps it is just my faith informing my style, but I believe the best way to tailor a secular argument against abortion is to ask questions. From questions you can deduce purely by reason a support or oppose position.

    What is the nature and purpose of abortion?
    In light of its nature and purpose, should there be reasonable restrictions on it? Should it be allowed at all?
    Given acceptance of the premises behind it, do these premises in and of themselves undermine society?
    Is abortion a net positive, neutral, or negative on society?
    If it is a net neutral or negative, why should it be subsidized, as it would be under the Freedom Of Choice Act [Lo, Orwell…]?

    For me, the answers are:

    The nature and purpose of abortion is to destroy a demonstrably human life form. The primary reason for doing so is generally convenience related, as born out in studies by Alan-Gutmacher.
    As such, its premise is that inconvenient human life is disposable as long as you diffuse it quickly enough. The premises in support of it often mention “quality of life” as opposed to the absolute value of life itself.
    These premises can and have seen usage in instances of euthanasia and murder killings.
    From an economic perspective, abortion is only valuable in the theoretical opportunity cost not getting one presents. Setting aside judgments about the inherent value of human life, the procedure itself is a net neutral of its own accord.
    Given its net neutral nature, it is not something that should be subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

    Gay marriage is hairier only because unlike abortion the images are not so horrific you do not instantly recoil. In the interest of a readable post I will not elaborate. However, it is the examination of premises and social costs where one can harbor disagreement, especially as it regards the slippery slope towards impugning religious liberty, as it did in Britain, Canada, and Massachusetts with Catholic adoption agencies and politically correct elementary school curriculum.

    The inclusion of both these wedge issues in the typical Conservative milieu has always personally astonished me (but then I’m a secular libertarian-leaning conservative Brit) – both are examples of the Government selectively enforcing a particular morality. I cannot think of anything that is more *anti*-Conservative than government-enforced-morals.

    I don’t see anything particularly “wedge” about them any more than say immigration policy. In fact, I can personally guarantee anything the media says is a wedge issue is called so precisely because conservatives, especially religious conservatives, support it. Thus why “comprehensive immigration reform” is not a wedge issue whereas “border enforcement is” and why, despite the dubious science and outright data fabrication, Anthropogenic Global Warming is not a “wedge” issue. Furthermore, all law legislates morality. Subsidizing abortions legislates morality just as much as banning abortion does. The only difference is whether its in the name of the God of Abraham or the God of Marx.

    Again, I think you’re making several wrong assumptions here, and you end up including the theological Bathwater along with the conservative Baby. There are pretty of arguments for both a pro-choice postion and a pro-gay marriage position amongst Conservatives. The question which has to be asked is this: why do you and many others use a particular position on abortion and gay marriage as a definitive litmus test on whither one is a Conservative or not?

    Abortion and Gay Marriage are both about social values issues and thus fall under the category of social conservatism. Social conservatism gets the most votes because it is about defining values, and when economic times are good people vote their values. There is a tendency politically that if one rejects a strong social conservatism, fiscal conservatism is not far behind. At least among the right. The religious left (that is not an oxymoron) on the other hand sees government as an extension of Christian charity, not the preclusion of it. McCain for example is ostensibly socially conservative, but he never really highlighted why it was important. Social conservatism deals entirely in the realm of principles, whereas economic conservatism relegates itself solely to the impersonal matter of sound financial policy.

    Economic conservatism combined with social centrism is generally Libertarianism. Social Conservatives with liberal economic policies are generally Populists. Then you have all flavors of centrism depending on individual policies and government control. Mostly it’s an aggregate of positions. Foreign Policy is mostly discounted in the definition, thus why Rudy Giuliani is a Moderate despite his hawkish stance on the WoT.

    For other examples, Fred Thompson would be Conservative, Mike Huckabee a Populist, and Ron Paul a Libertarian. Politics is neccesarily individualized, but there are patterns.

  • A-Bax · November 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    BKennedy: I was perhaps being charitable when I described Palin’s inability to speak coherently as “syntactical difficulties”. One wants to give people the benefit of the doubt, after all.

    Her difficulty with speaking in full sentences is not attributable to regionalist condescension. I’m not talking about her “you betcha”‘s here, or her accent. Think about her locutions during the debate: They were utterly inane, without structure, and grasping. She spoke at a 6th to 8th grade level. Marge Gunderson would’ve done better…by a country mile.

    Again, Heather MacDonald is instructive here:

    http://www.city-journal.org/2008/eon1013hm.html

    Hers was a “paint by numbers” conservatism, at least as she presented it. She threw together a patchwork of right-wing buzz-terms/phrases, wrapped it up with a wink, and waited for the judges score. She was an embarassment. (Anyone who can make Biden look edudite is terribly ill-suited as a public speaker.)

    I dont’ mean to harp on it too much BKennedy, and I get where you’re coming from. But, Palin was a joke, and the joke was on all those who oppose unchecked liberalism.

  • kk · November 26, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    @BKennedy: Regarding abortion, you appear to be a pre-Griswold social conservative, as contraception is also aimed at convenience and snuffing out human life. A free society actually weighs the rights of unborn life against that of the mother. Our society has generally determined that contraception is permissible and abortion in limited circumstances permissible. Few in our society condemn contraception. Virtually all view abortion as a tragedy. But, understanding human nature, most view abortion in the Clintonian sense: in the early stages, it should be legal, safe and rare. Absolutists on contraception and abortion have surrendered the right to make both rare by persuasion: their sole strategy has been to make both rare by fiat (or by intimidation). I hope that in the future pro-life and pro-choice forces can join together and focus on rare as the ideal.

    As far as gay marriage goes, there is no credible argument that this is anything other than a wedge issue driven by fear and hatred. Virtually every fundamentalist Christian minister will officiate at a second marriage in direct violation of the express condemnation that a second marriage (in the absence of adultery) is itself adultery, a violation of the seventh commandment. Clearly, the possibility of second (and third, and fourth) marriages between heterosexuals are a much greater threat to the nuclear family than the marriage of gays and lesbians who have no inclination to intermarry with straights. The absence of any movement toward a prohibition on divorce between heterosexuals clearly reveals this to be simply a bare bigotry toward gays and lesbians rather than a protection of the nuclear family.

  • Michael · November 27, 2008 at 12:57 am

    I just discovered this web site, I like it. Dobson is emblematic of why I will not vote Repub anymore, or else only very selectively. Conservatism should not be based on religious sectarian ideas, but on policies to achieve goals that everyone agrees with (quality schools, roads, police, defense, a healthy economy, etc). Let the morality of the various wedge issues be debated in private.

  • Wanda · November 27, 2008 at 4:58 am

    @BKennedy
    I agree with A-Bax. Complaining about Sarah Palin’s syntax is not “regionalist condescension.” She struggles to put together a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent paragraph, and I suspect it’s because for the most part she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t think she’s stupid; but she is ignorant, and from what I can tell, doesn’t see a problem with it. (Terry McAuliffe, on the other hand, is stupid.)

  • abiodun · November 27, 2008 at 8:59 am

    When does conservatism equal opposition to “choice” in pregnancy or opposition to gay union? It is time the “conservative movement” and the Republican party realize there are those who by oath must save lives, but also realize and respect the “choice” that women face. As much as the likes of Dobson cannot define who is conservative, they should be free to express their opinion.

  • Grant Canyon · November 28, 2008 at 5:38 am

    @BKennedy, “Furthermore, all law legislates morality.” This old saying is usually trotted out as a defense to the claim that one is legislating morality, by, essentially saying, that it is okay, because all law does so. But that is simply not true. All law does is legislate legality. It defines what is permissible, it does not define what is right and wrong.

    The saying ignores the fact that there are plenty of laws which regulate matters which have little or no relationship to morality, in any meaningful sense, and ignores the fact that there are many things which the law permits which people consider immoral and many things which the law bans which many people consider moral.

    The more precise objection, rather than “that law regulates morality” is to say that the motivation for making a thing permissible or not permissible is not on any valid secular reason, but as a way of advancing a particular moral position. That is wrong, a violation of the best traditions of this great nation and, in my opinion, immoral.

    @kk, re: gay marriage. Exactly. If the social conservatives were REALLY motivated by a desire to save “the traditional nuclear family,” they would be putting things like stricter divorce laws and stiffer penalites (including jail time?) for infidelity on the ballot, and not gay marriage. It makes their true motivation uncertain, and their professed motivation suspect.

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