The majority of Americans feel that the public square has increasingly become a place where you must believe what you’re told to believe — or else!
If you are brave enough to say that you choose to see things differently, you’ll encounter a smug and condescending attitude or be treated like an idiot. You’ll also risk being labeled a bigot and hater for refusing to conform to the culturally mandated ways of seeing things.
There is a strange feeling of pitiable weakness in watching people parrot the mandated lines and then act as if they are being broadminded, progressive and novel. In reality, they are the new conformists.
The strange version of forced tolerance promoted over the last few decades has generated lifestyles of duplicity. People have learned to subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately — to avoid the “or else.”
Is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, he’s of the same persuasion still — and he’s likely to get mad.
I realize that maintaining order and civility in a free society necessitates law making and law enforcement. I also realize that we cannot expect everyone to agree on all of the laws and policies.
But in a society that cherishes freedom, people want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what “we the people” must accept as lawful and good? As we navigate the give and take of life together, we must find ways to improve respectful and open dialogue with one another concerning the shared values we the people embrace.
We also need to teach people that tolerance does not mean agreement. It means treating others with respect when you disagree. Where disagreements are deeper, practicing tolerance becomes more virtuous. When told that we’re not permitted to disagree, we face coercion, not tolerance and we threaten liberty.
In “The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by religion and politics,” Jonathan Haidt quotes Rodney King’s lesser known response to the riots incited by the court verdict that acquitted the LA police officers.
“Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try and work it out.”
Although his words were aimed at racial reconciliation, I believe a lot of people feel this way about the current political atmosphere in the USA.
The American experiment (imperfect as it has been) has offered one of the best opportunities for individual liberty and human flourishing. Before we completely dismantle the foundations of this experience, we ought to look closely at the potential outcomes of moving toward other failed systems.
When everyone does what is right in his own eyes and looks out for himself at the expense of others, society suffers and law enforcement increasingly steps in to regulate individual lives.
While the American experiment has taught us that a free society is the best context for human flourishing, freedom cannot flourish without deeper commitments to personal and civic responsibilities that promote healthy social order. We cannot afford, therefore, to be indifferent to the need for virtue-forming influences through families and Churches. Without the virtues that helped to build this nation, narrowly defined self-interests will threaten the common good. Liberalism without virtue and character ultimately destroys itself.
I believe that Churches must renew their roles in the lives of families and communities. As Churches become the humble, redemptive and truth-telling communities of love that Jesus intended them to be, they will serve as surrogate families for redeemed people.
In a pervasively dysfunctional society, regaining such a vision for the Church is not only a matter of obedience to the Lord, it may also be the best hope for our nation.