r m p




The Non-Political Pulpit

Rey Redington once told me a war story from the days he was running for public office. Forgive me if I've got it wrong, Rey, but here's the gist as I remember it: Rey paid a heavy cost for not lining up, lock-step, with certain political forces on certain hot-button questions. He was not a party-line man. He did not fit neatly into a box. Rey could never have wound up a "machine politician" for the simple reason that he is ill-designed to be a cog in somebody else's wheel. 

The same problem forbids me from being much involved in politics, even in our community. I realize that is what the modern pastor is supposed to do. Job description: community activist. I think Ayn Rand was right when it comes to committees, so I'm not attracted to community committee work. I did start to make an exception some months ago. It was a group that gathered in the wake of some kind of supposed sexual violence or intimidation or something case (it only got murkier as time went on).  But then I dropped it. It became quite clear quite quickly that the group was a forum where one single view was welcome, one with the initials P.C. A soda fountain with only one flavor on the menu, despite all the gabbing about "diversity." 

I find myself a strange mix of opinions and unable to find compatriots on either well-defined side. Let me let you in on a little secret, just to give an example. Personally, I tend to believe that abortions are usually immoral, that women are ethically ill-advised to have them, with rare extenuating circumstances which hardly ever come into play anyway in the vast majority of abortions. And yet I believe that to criminalize this action would be counterproductive. As in Prohibition and the current absurdity of the Drug War, criminalization would only make things worse. So I wind up shuddering whenever either the fascistic minions of Pro-Life guru Randall Terry ­or­ the fetus-be-damned Pro-Choicers march by. There's no faction I can support. Not that they're exactly competing for my endorsement. 

It is common enough to hear the self-righteous "Gee, I'm just too sophisticated" plaints of fence-sitters like me. What needs more consideration, I think, is the interesting spectacle of a head-on clash between sacred cow liberal values themselves. Let me lob a couple of apples of discord. 

First, the other day, it seems to me I heard Jacques Cousteau was planning to propose a Bill of Rights for Future Generations. Of course the point would be to get today's actual living population to leave some resources for the future. Otherwise our children and our children's children will rise up and say, "Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten me into!"

This is a perfect liberal proposal, partly because it is an essentially, perhaps completely, symbolic action, like the ultimately meaningless Nuclear Freeze push. Or like the Brady Bill. (I'm for gun control, by the way.) Also, it is another reason for the Left to preach asceticism, something they do with zeal unmatched by religious folks who seem to have decided they've had about enough of it. 

But here's the big problem with it as a liberal cause. The same logic would seem to argue for the immorality (and some would argue, the criminality) of abortion. How's that? Simply because to predicate "human rights" for potential (not actual) human beings, i.e., the unborn generations, would seem to be to acknowledge the claim that fetuses are unborn future potential people with at least the right to life. Do potential people have rights? When it came to abortion, ethicist Joseph Fletcher did not think so. Mary Anne Warren and other pro-abortion theorists think not. But then why worry about the ecological "rights" of another set of potential people: those who will inherit the earth from us? Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice. 

Dodged that one? I'm letting fly number two. Recently Alice Walker, champion of all things multicultural and politically correct, began to rally feminist opinion against various practices all over the world which oppress and, specifically, mutilate women. Among these repulsive practices are foot-binding in China and (gulp!) clitoridectomy in some African societies. I'm with her. I don't mind condemning these practices as barbarous.  I'm also with Richard Rorty here: we don't have to be able to demonstrate from common assumptions that these things are wrong. We must simply be faithful to our own values and condemn these things. Let those in the culture that practices these things stick to their guns, too. And may the best man, er, person, er perchild, win. 

But I'm not sure Alice Walker has the same leeway. Do you see what has happened to Alice? In the PC Wonderland, Alice has sipped from a bottle containing the magic potion called Feminism, and it has made her outgrow the cramped confines of once-comfortable Multiculturalism. According to the latter, shouldn't she steadfastly refuse to judge the mores and beliefs of other, non-Western cultures? What gives her the right to say they are wrong? She would be much umbraged should someone, let's say a not-quite-dead white male, take a shot at the practices of another culture. One can imagine the screaming, for example, should one dare to note that some American Indian tribes (not "Native Americans," a phoney term most Indians reject as a white liberal imposition) were indeed savages who fiendishly tortured their prisoners just for laughs. I can see Alice's face turning a rare shade of the color purple at such an indiscretion. 

But here she is, up in arms and bearing the White Woman's Burden, carrying enlightened Western cultural ideas to benighted non-Western cultures. Of course, feminism (a crucially good thing) is itself a product of the Western Enlightenment (don't tell any body, but, come to think of it, so is multiculturalism! Do you think they have much use for it in Rwanda these days?). To expect other cultures to get in step with our Enlightenment doctrine of feminism is cultural chauvinism, isn't it? If it isn't, please tell me the difference. Western feminists have not a moment's tolerance for the misogynist cruelties of non-Western cultures, nor am I saying they should.

If you say feminists are just trying to undo power-relationships in the Third World which has kept women down, I will agree with you. And I will suggest that strict multiculturalism has become one more logocentric rationale for keeping that system in place.  Pretty much the same trick as the UN-approved New Information Order, whereby all news coverage must stem from the government-controlled media of each country. That way, tin-god dictators like Idi Amin could avoid the scrutiny of inconvenient Western reporters and nuisances like Amnesty International. 

So what's the problem in saying that you do somewhere along the line have to curb the cultural relativism of multiculturalism? I mean, Capitalists will usually admit there is a point where their preferred system runs wild, and then you have to pull the reins and pass anti-trust laws, for example. Why not just admit the same principle here, that strict consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds? Only that then the same people, who tend nowadays to be inflexible ideologues, would have to admit that there is after all some room for flexibility. It's like in Inherit the Wind, when agnostic Henry Drummond squeezes fundamentalist Matthew Harrison Brady into admitting that the six days of the Genesis creation might not be literal 24-hour days after all. He's let the camel's nose under the tent--and so has Alice Walker. 

Another thing that bugs me about liberal, supposedly multicultural politics is that they commit the same error as the freshman Anthropology major. Cultural relativism is fine for everywhere else but your own culture. All others are right, but your own is wrong. Derrida pointed out this axe-grinding bias in Rousseau and Claude Levi-Strauss. They delighted to use romanticized portraits of supposedly natural, unspoiled cultures to twit and tweak the nose of so-evil Western culture. You see this, for instance, in the efforts of some radicals in mainstream Protestant denominations to force their agendas on their denomination's churches, like it or not. Now, I happen to agree with the theology of these radicals. That's not the point. But suddenly the poor traditionalists seem not entitled to their point of view. I guess there's no such thing as "multi­sub­culturalism."

In the past, when a religious faction has received a new revelation (and I think that's not too strong a term for the dawn of religious feminist consciousness), they formed a new sect. Admittedly, they only had to do this once the mainstream resisted their calls to accept the new ideas. But why battle for control? Why not an amicable parting? Agree to disagree?

I'll tell you why, oracle that I am. It's all seen as a power trip. Someone has to rule. Never mind that this way of viewing things is male phallocentrism at its worst ("Who's going to be king of the hill, boys?"). It's also anything but liberal. These days, PC Leftists do not hesitate to confiscate campus newspapers which present a different viewpoint. They do not hesitate to shout down speakers with whom they think they disagree (how do they know unless they hear them, I wonder?). This is not "liberalism" any more. "Liberal" implies freedom, especially freedom in expressing ideas. But no. Today we have non-liberal Leftists. Their motto is that of Malcolm X: "By any means necessary."

As Liberation theologian Juan Luis Segundo says in The Liberation of Theology, in traditional Christianity "minority aspects (e.g., freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom for Christian political action) see to be systematically overvalued in comparison with factors that are more revolutionary because they affect great human masses... in conditions of dire poverty, ignorance, disease, and death" (p. 89). These "minority rights," then, are of concern only to the oppressive elite and hastily to be set aside on behalf of one's favorite group of oppressed in whose name, as the vanguard of the proletariat, one proposes to rule. Lani Guinere just published a book called ­The Tyranny of the Majority­. Was Winston Churchill wrong? Is majority rule, for all its problems, no longer the best way to go? 

I guess it's clear by now that not much is clear. This is why, among other things, I do not preach on the political issues of the day. In my hands they turn into paradoxes which cannot easily be lobbied or voted, do they not? Guess I'll stick to religion.

 Robert M. Price


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