Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The War on the Poor: Religion--The Sixth Battlefield (Part 1 of 3)

We move this week onto the heights overlooking a new battlefield in "The War on the Poor: The Battle For (On?) Religion!".

Consultations during the framing of this conversation have seen many prefer this particular battlefield ranked higher, discussed earlier, and perhaps even longer than our 3 week format would allow. We begin what I hope will be, for each battlefield (and the war itself) a continuing dialogue leading participants with differing viewpoints to the "Golden Moment" opportunity to arrive somewhere apart from the edges (or fringes) of this battlefield with a newly discovered understanding of other points of view, other positions and other possibilities. First, however, we must begin.

As I look out upon this particular battlefield, it is one which I know well, and perhaps best. I would like to put it to you that this battlefield is laid out in quadrants. Without any particular order (or bias), they are:

The Humanist/Secular Viewpoint

The Divine Viewpoint

The Social Viewpoint

The Practical Viewpoint

While it may not at first seem to be the case, there is a lot of overlap among and between these various viewpoints. Rather than try to place politics, issues, candidacies or candidates into a box of my qualification only, I would much rather make some garrishly over-generalized definitions, and allow you to do that. 

Firstly, about this whole religion thing. There are two principal schools of thought currently enjoying popularity amongst moral ethecists such as myself from which our opinions, ruminations, perambulations and prevarications tend to arise. 

From a religion standpoint, these differing schools do offer one grotesquely common border: The definition of religion as it pertains to humanity. Specifically, Human Rights and/or human dignity. This is going to be fast, so don't lay about. This is, after all, a blog: not a book.

The Humanist/Secularist Viewpoint tends to espouse the view (that is, a complete spectrum of belief systems) that mankind derives human rights because mankind as an individual exists in nature. "Natural Law", or more appropriately "Natural Rights". This is to say, generally that mankind determines what are human rights based upon schema of his own design and definition, and upon a variety of other external, ancillary or even barely tangential fields of knowledge or expertise(Biology, Sociology, Anthropology, Humanities, etc.) 

There are several and even ancient writings on this particular subject. (Plato, Bentham, Locke, etc.) As these humanist folk are doing a lot of current work in political science, political theory, education and philosophy, I will leave it to you to discover where the conversations within this particular school are currently situated. 

Under this scientific/social/philosophical/religious construct, human dignity is automatically absent--or at least sub-serviant to other autonomies which validate or give legitimacy to the definition(s) the holders of this school either create for themselves, or accept from others whom they hold in great esteem.

Strangely, (and in an ongoing conundrum for these thought leaders) the economic, social, religious and political solutions they most usually create, or at least accept from others are solutions of utility: "The greatest good for the greatest number". 

This is at best odd, and at worst contradictory because it lies in direct opposition to the tenets which make their choices acceptable to them. 

The resulting dilemma for these folks is that they must somewhere accept both the legitimacy of human dignity and human rights in terms, and applicable to degrees they can neither fully comprehend nor accept. They certainly do not control them; a most perplexing reality, indeed.

Actions, programs and policies they would tend to create and accept sound very rational and fair, but have a great tendency to fail for lack of clarity and purpose with no "exit strategy".

As for the second (and final for today) viewpoint, a lot of folks who mainly identify themselves as being with the "Religion Viewpoint" accept the reality of both human dignity and human rights as arriving with them (humankind) at some point which lies somewhere between conception and birth--and some self-defined "age of majority" that may even include the moment of death. (Talk about an exit strategy!)

These terms are not merely societal or dogmatic: they are proven and confirmed experientially for these actors. As such, these subjects are always fluid, based upon some pre-conceived notions of accuracy or comparison to theological teaching or religious dogma. This teaching, dogmatic theological structuring and experiential living is very seldom in harmony, even between two members.

These folks view their rights and dignity as being passed along to them by a Creator, who gives these traits to His created beings. Even the definitions of "human rights" and "human dignity" are widely varied, even within the same community or group affiliation. 

Where such terms should naturally find agreement, it is rather dilution, specialization, or superiority (forced or enforced) over "other" which tends to create multi-faceted layers on the spectrum which can change from religion to religion, or sect, or cult. 

The creator either pre-ordains, peri-ordains, or post-ordains human value, dignity, and worth depending on who you talk to. As for human rights, these tend to get so glossed over as to make your eyes a bit fuzzy. 

Those who ally themselves with this camp also see both human rights and the concept of human dignity to be absolute definitions, with clear scope and limit. If someone does not meet the terms of the definitions, they are outside the scope which affords either human dignity or human rights to others. They are deemed to be off limits.

Strangely enough, this group tends to advocate the most directly for social and religious justice, for programs that protect and advance the human condition within their communities. I know, go figure!

One of the primary reasons these two identity groups (and again, remember that I am warning you, in advance that these are grossly over-generalized definitions) seem to be talking past one another is that the results of the practice of their beliefs on the really important issues is that they must each go "through" the other camp to arrive at determinations, choices, and actions they would nominally prefer to create themselves. Kantian moral philosophy is instructive for these communities (among many others). 

Make no mistake, there are very strong religious components ready to align themselves on this battlefield for not only scientific, but also altruistic purposes. The argument tends to break down the dialogue right about the point where one group declares itself to be "the right one" on a particular point. 

Because each camp has highly favored viewpoints that each would really never voluntarily lay aside, this battlefield is one which is paved with the gold of those who would buy the power of a strong moral position. This has virtually nothing to do with being either right, or in the right. Both camps are arrayed with diversionary attacks, feints, and defenses which they see as, perhaps if not convincing, at least convincing enough.

This is what you must consider. The greatest assets of each school comes with a vast number of powers and weaknesses which are both, on the battlefield, used for nothing more than distraction. 

For instance: Abortion. 

Does the federal/state/local government have an inherent right to force its way into a young pregnant woman's examination room and dictate what course of action she will/must take? Does the Church?

And, there you have the issue. Pro Choice and Pro Life camps are the distraction. 

As a final consideration for today try this one:

What about homosexuality, the LGBT communities, and marriage equality? Are we all equal in both our human dignity and our human rights, that all of both must necessarily extend to even those groups who are "other" across this globe?

What do you think each of the two groups I've defined today would say about each of these issues? And where, and how do we stand both socially and practically on them? How does our living testify to not only our beliefs, but our actions? Our policies? Our programs and direct actions every day? 

What are YOU going to do about it?

We'll be talking about things like this on our next show on Sunday, June 1, 2014. I hope you will come prepared to share with us in an open, civil dialogue about these and other pressing issues of the day on "Progressive Politics: Tennessee Style" (PPTS). We begin at 2:00 PM Central Standard Time. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bud Fields