Who is Forcing Views on Whom?

In any discussion there are at least two opposing views. Else there would be no discussion. Life would move on. The foundation for decisions and plans and aspirations would not need to be named or assumed, because everybody would be in agreement.

 

Yet in the US today, a vicious allegation permeates public discussion of controversial issues, and its purpose is to shut down the conversations. People who hold some viewpoints are accused of trying to “force” their view of morality on other people. People who hold other views are held up as heroes for fighting entrenched oppression and denial of civil rights. Instead of discussion of the various viewpoints and explanations of the foundation for those viewpoints, “discussion” consists of assigning labels and agendas to people who hold opposing views.

 

A common allegation against certain viewpoints is that the person who holds those views is trying to “force” his own religion on everyone else. The implication of that accusation is that viewpoints rooted in religious teachings and experience are unjustified and therefore they have no validity among human beings at large. Vice President Biden stated in a debate that he would not “force” his church’s views about abortion on other people. The message of the statement was that his own moral convictions should not be the basis for his action as a public servant. This concept flies in the face of the teachings of all religions. Religion is always about the way people live, and it does not make sense for someone to claim that a religion rules his life but not his morals in public service.

 

The discussions of marriage, family and abortion are discussions permeated with contentious attitudes that pointedly reject the inclusion of certain viewpoints in the discussions. It is common for people who hold historic views on these issues to be accused of attempting to force religion on everyone else. Secular thinkers in the conversations say that views based in science and reason are legitimate while views based in religious teachings are not legitimate for the public to consider.

 

Secular thinkers believe that all ethical decisions must be based on analysis of human experience. Science collects the information, and reason does the analysis. However, when secular thinkers use science to collect information about marriage, family and abortion, the teachings, experience, and cultural wisdom derived in the context of religion are rejected from the mix of information to be analyzed. Secular thinkers reject the context of religious faith as a legitimate element in the construction of personal or public morality.

 

It is fine for secular thinkers to have their opinions, but Christians, Hindus, Muslims and adherents of religions around the world bring to the public discussion concerns that are the legitimate concerns of society at large. The First Amendment to the Constitution grew out of the recognition that human beings are naturally religious. The numbers of US citizens who claim to be exclusively secular in their views may be growing, but it is actually a very small portion of the population. This minority status does not justify the rest of society being rude to secular thinkers, but it does suggest that Christian views and other views growing out of religious traditions legitimately concern the culture as a whole.

 

When the discussions move from conversation to voting, the numbers who hold specific views matter. The view with the largest number of adherents will win the vote. This is not “forcing” a view on someone. It is the concept of majority rule. Majority rule keeps the peace, even though it may not be perceived as “fair.” (The word fair seems to mean what each person who uses it wants it to mean. It has no value in discussion of the legitimacy of an opinion.)

 

There will always be tension in a culture which is, to use politically correct speech, inclusive and diverse. The tension is best resolved by respect, not by pejorative labels and insulting accusations.   The Constitution of the USA is an example for the whole world of a good way to deal with a culture that is truly a melting pot of religions, ideas, values and social practices. The Constitution provides that the majority wins the day, and the First Amendment to the Constitution provides that opposing ideas, whether secular or religious, may continue to be spoken without fear. The First Amendment assures that the rule of law is enforced in a way that flexes with reasonable accommodations for religious practices that conflict with the law.

 

There is a way to end all the conflict. It is called totalitarianism. One person’s ideas and preferences and values rule everyone. It has been tried over and over, but human beings do not thrive in such an environment. God created human beings to love freedom. Secular thinkers may not agree that God is the origin of the love of freedom, but they cannot argue that it is unnatural. Freedom for all requires respect for all. To differ, to discuss, to vote, and to live by the outcome of the vote is not “forcing” anybody’s views on anyone. It is the best way to live free.

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2 thoughts on “Who is Forcing Views on Whom?”

    1. People who reject the idea that there even is a God will try to say that for a Christian to speak publicly about moral views rooted in the Christian worldview is to try to impose Christianity on everyone else. The point of the accusation is to shut down an opposing view. The fact that my moral position is rooted in my faith is just as valid as the fact that your moral position may be rooted in your personal experience while someone else may choose a position based on one or many scientific observations. In the public forum, my faith-based view has a right to be heard, because it is my view.

      Many people have the mistaken idea that the Constitution shuts religion out of the public forum. It does nothing of the kind. The First Amendment does two things: 1) it prohibits Congress from establishing a state church that is financed by taxpayers, and 2) it prohibits Congress from prohibitng the free exercise of religion, any religion. Nowhere in the Constitution or any of the documents surrounding it is there a hint that citizens are required to park their religions inside their church buildings. The authors of our Constitution expected that people would live according to their faith, whatever that faith taught. They knew from experience that when people with strong morals discuss any subject where their worldviews differ, the conversation will become heated. However, they also knew that people with strong principles will hold the good of the country in high esteem throughout those conversations. That is a very different context from the one where each party calls the other vile names and tries to shut down the businesses that are the livelihood of people of opposing views. The founders envisioned discussions where the ideas were debated, not where the adherents to ideas were vilified.

      The fact is that none of us has a moral value that isn’t rooted in something. If moral values were universally self-evident, there wouldn’t be any differences of opinion. Respectful, fervent discussion is a good way to come to a decision for the good of the country. Insulting words and destructive behavior simply leads to oppression by the most vicious participant.

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