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The 'culture wars' intensify.

The November 1994 American elections have revealed a surprising political shift to the right, with conservative Republicans gaining control of both houses of Congress and thirty governorships. Liberals and moderates are in a state of shock.

The Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson, has claimed credit for this victory. "It lays to rest once and for all the myth that we are a liability rather than an asset in the Republican Party," Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, was quoted as saying. It had mounted a massive voter outreach effort, distributing 33 million voter guides in an estimated 60,000 churches the Sunday before the elections. According to exit polls, up to 33 percent of voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians. In some states, especially in the South, religious conservatives have become the most powerful lobby in politics, outstripping organized labor and the senior citizen lobby. A study by People for the American Way indicated that 60 percent of the 600 candidates for national, state, and local offices who were supported by the religious right won their races. Reed has boasted that forty-four percent of the fifty-two Republican gains in the House of Representatives, seven new Republican governors, and eight senators were elected because they were supported by the "pro-life and pro family group."

The victorious GOP demands that government get off the backs of the people, and that there be fewer taxes and less bureaucratic regulation. Many voters want a more efficient government, one that is less bloated. Paradoxically, many conservatives demand more government interference in other areas; for example, a reinstatement of capital punishment, more police, and stiffer penalties in drug-related crimes. The conservatives have supported subsidies for agriculture. Will they continue to do so? And will they increase the defense budget at a time when the Cold War has abated? What will this do to the deficit?

Have we finally exhausted the possibilities of the New Deal coalition formed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, and is this the end of the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson and even of the welfare state? One can imagine a doomsday scenario: America remade in the image of God, with pro-ecclesia and pro-patria ruling the land, placing our secular republic in jeopardy.

Perhaps this is too apocalyptic. At the very least, what seems to be assured is that the tempo of the culture wars will intensify. In this regard, FREE INQUIRY and the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism will move to the front and center of the barricades. For we are the leading secularist critics of organized religion.

Newt Gingrich, the fire-snorting next Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced that he hopes to enact a school prayer amendment to the Constitution by July 4, 1995, the purpose of which is "reestablishing the Creator at the center of the American polity." Incredibly, President Bill Clinton (no doubt intimidated by the Democratic defeat) has indicated that he would support some sort of school prayer initiative - though what form is still unclear. In a speech delivered to the Heritage Foundation just prior to the election, Newt Gingrich affirmed that he has "a vision of an America in which belief in the Creator is once again at the center of defining being an American."

"We need the debate over secularism versus the right of a spiritual life," he exclaimed. "Left wing elitists" do not appreciate the word Creator, so "it is virtually impossible for them to engage in the discussion."

The conservatives are also calling for new anti-abortion measures. Many would like to crack down on gay lifestyles and censor pornography. And conservatives are sure to introduce an educational voucher system again. Moreover, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities will no doubt suffer. All of this in the name of "traditional family [i.e., Christian] values."

Given the recent prominence of the book The Bell Curve, and its controversial theory that the low achievements of many black people is due to their inferior IQs and that no compensating programs will improve intellectual capability, the hatred of minorities is likely to increase. The passage of Proposition 187 in California (now stayed by the courts), which prohibits non-emergency social services for illegal immigrants, including public school for children, is also indicative of the animosity toward minorities.

The one bright spot in the election from the standpoint of humanists is that "the right to assisted suicide" for terminally ill patients was enacted for the first time by Oregon voters. But the religious lobby will no doubt launch an

assault nationwide to prohibit this right.

Secular humanists should be prepared for an all-out attack on secular ethical values, our belief in tolerance, and the right to privacy. We should be prepared for a massive assault on the principle of separation of church and state and the rights protected by the First Amendment.

Two Senses of Freedom

What is at issue here is two competing theories of freedom. Conservatives say that they are for individual liberty, and they say they are against governmental interference in the economic sphere. They have consistently defended the free market and entrepreneurial enterprise as the basis of a prosperous society. Many liberals and moderates now agree with this. But the conservatives have little compunction about regulating moral freedom, or enacting laws against pornography, abortion, consenting adult sexual behavior, and euthanasia, and they are willing at times to undermine civil liberties in the process.

Liberals, on the hand, are often willing to heavily tax and regulate the private economic sector in the name of the public interest and the common good, and the principles of equity and justice. On the other hand, they usually oppose measures designed to regulate private moral conduct. They are also against the Second Amendment, which allows citizens to bear arms and which conservatives fiercely defend.

FREE INQUIRY magazine does not support political candidates or parties, and we recognize that secular humanists may have honest differences of opinion about economic policy. Speaking for myself, I have often felt that economic libertarians are extremists when they call for an end to all government taxation and regulation and wish to depend on the "hidden hand" of the market to set things right. They overlook the fact that powerful corporations transcend the level of the individual decision-makers of Adam Smith's day and the free market ideal. Granted that excessive governmental interference has a negative impact on creative initiative, but the corporate sector in a democratic society at times needs to be regulated by the elected representatives. In my view a mixed economy, with a preponderant private sector but some public sector is probably the best, with the government acting as a countervailing force. I am here drawing on the experience of Western European capitalist social democracies, which though permitting a free market also endeavor to have a "human face."

Revising History Texts

The Democrats must take a good deal of the blame for their defeat. Extremists in their midst have often helped to exasperate independent voters. For example, the disciples of political correctness, feminist epistemology, and multi-culturalism have endeavored to water down the integrity of education. The actions of a recently federally funded panel of educators illustrates the problem. The National History Standards Project recommended a radical shift in the way history is taught in the public schools. Their 314-page document, issued on the eve of the election, urged that students between the fifth and twelfth grades be exposed more to an understanding of African, Asian, and Latin American history - an admirable goal, to be sure, but the panel also sought a massive de-emphasis of European and Western civilization. Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities under the Bush administration, has complained that the document does not mention Julius Caesar, Martin Luther, Sigmund Freud, or Charles Darwin in talking about world history, and expunges from American history any mention of Daniel Webster, Robert E. Lee, and other "dead white males."

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, deplores the underlying premise that "everything that is European or American, or that has to do with white people, is evil and oppressive, while Genghis Khan is a nice sweet guy just bringing culture to other places." Of special interest is the view of the authors of the document that there is no such thing as "objective history" and that the writing of history is indelibly subjective and reflective of social and cultural biases. Surely, their own post-modernist bias is evident.

Is the Pope a Humanist?

An amusing exchange on whether Pope John Paul II is a humanist occurred in the Wall Street Journal recently. The fracas concerned a review of the pope's new book, Crossing the Threshold, by the conservative Roman Catholic author Michael Novak. In the heavily promoted book, John Paul offers sharp criticisms of the "declining values" of the secular Western world. Novak, in defending the pope, characterized him as a "humanist," saying that "creation and human beings are made in the image of God" and that "all creation is always silent at prayer, honoring its creator with its beauty and its marvelous daily workings." Novak observes that "no one can miss the sheer humanism" of the pope.

How Novak manages to put these two statements together, I find most puzzling. In a letter to the Journal, Julian W. Buser, a Roman Catholic himself, takes serious exception to Novak's characterization. He claims that although the pope is "humane" he is not a "humanist." He cites among other references Webster's Dictionary, Second Edition, which defines "humanism" as follows: "any system of thought or action based on the nature, dignity, interests and ideals of man; a modern 'nontheistic' rationalist movement that holds that man is capable of self-fulfilling ethical conduct, etc., without recourse to supernaturalism." Mr. Buser says that "to ascribe to Pope John Paul II a devotion to humanism certainly is a gross misconception."

To which I wish to add a hearty "Amen."
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Author:Kurtz, Paul
Publication:Free Inquiry
Date:Dec 22, 1994
Words:1664
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