We like to think that one of America’s great strengths has been its capacity to engage in civil discourse. Yet, in my own lifetime, I have witnessed the bashing of Harry Truman for his unwillingness to let General MacArthur have his way; the whole McCarthy accusations that labeled people as communists and the communist scare tactics of the John Birch Society; the tirades of “white citizen councils” across the South as the civil rights movement used its moral stance of non-violent resistance to change the century of Jim Crow laws; the anarchism of many Vietnam protestors along with the abuse of drafted soldiers who fought and suffered and died in that unfortunate war–just to name a few of the ongoing uncivil ways in which we have handled our differences with one another’s opinions and perspectives. So I’m not so sure that we do possess national strengths of civility. Our civility is probably more accurately offset by our bursts of rabid incivility toward one another. The tea-parties and shouting at health care reform forums this summer are not all that different from the past when we, as a people, have used fear and intimidation, rather than civil dialogue to express our dissent from one another or from our government.
What is most alarming, however, has been the increase of dissembling, the telling of half-truths, and outright fabrication passed off as journalism. Our fellow citizens barely take time to read anymore, and clearly we are failing to teach our people how to think–much less the importance of caring–about public policies in our common life together in this country.
I want to invite readers to join me in some basic commitments to principles that can help build that “more perfect union” of which our beloved U.S. Constitution so eloquently speaks. Those principles are:
- democracy is a project larger than the self. Liberty requires justice to keep it from becoming narrowly individualistic, anarchistic, and selfish. Democracy means that we understand that we are in this world together and that we have to respect and consider one another in order to thrive. I have come to believe that libertarianism equals social Darwinism in its most rapacious form and I am committed to doing what I can to diminish the rampant libertarianism that spews forth on our air waves and from the mouths of the unthinking public who seem to have forgotten both the Golden Rule and the foundational tenets of American democracy.
- practical common sense should always take precedence over the merely expedient;
- political and legislative actions should benefit the greatest possible number of citizens and, if there is harm, let it be the least harm to the fewest number of citizens or to the earth;
- government is neither good nor bad, but our agency, in the words of the U.S. Constitution, “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”;
- citizens themselves, not politicians, can restore confidence in government, by our active participation to hold all politicans and elected officials accountable–not so much to their constituents and financial backers, but to the oath of office which they take to uphold the Constitution, both of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Kentucky;
- short term benefits do not justify long term damage;
- and finally, the legislative and political ends cannot be used to justify any economic, environmental, or social means to achieve those ends, however noble or good those ends might be. Means and ends must correspond morally and consequentially.
Dissent represents civility when it respects the intelligence of the other and when it engages in thoughtful dialogue. Dissent keeps creativity bubbling in a social matrix. Dissent invites dialogue. Dissent motivates us to take action. It is not enough to merely talk about issues, we must be willing to act on our convictions.
This web-site is my effort to dissent from the political culture of our time. I want to reach people who share a diversity of opinions, and are willing to involve themselves in dialogue to find better political and governmental means to continue the great American experiment to “build a more perfect Union.” It will address issues that divide us as a people, and it will seek to find new ways of looking at intransigent and persistent difficulties that we have–morally, intellectually, and politically. The web-site will bring religious perspectives to bear on the issues of our time, not in a moralistic prudish manner, but to see what insights progressive religious people might find to sort through ethical, economic, environmental, and political matters that become obstacles to the common good for all Kentuckians and all Americans.
Some of the topics I will explore in the near future include:
- health care reform
- the Stupak amendment
- economic justice and fair taxation in Kentucky
- responsible lending and putting caps on usurious interest rates
- care of creation
- the place of the arts in forming that “more perfect union”
- religious liberty
A disclosure of perspective (or some might say, bias): At the end of a long professional career as an ordained minister, in which I spent the last 18 years as the director of an ecumenical council of churches, I would describe myself now as something of a reluctant Christian. By that I mean that although I am an ardent follower of Jesus, I am also one who feels that much of his message and the meaning of his life and death have been distorted by Christian religion in ways that belittle human responsibility and in ways which have caused millions of people great harm. I appreciate and respect the insights of other great faiths and religions, and believe that together, with our moral commitments to community well-being, compassion, kindness, justice, and peace, religion still has much to offer our world, our nation, and our Commonwealth–without having to make any one religion the civil religion, merely tolerating those of other religions or no religion.