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What’s Wrong with America

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In 1961, the Supreme Court ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins that Roy Torcaso need not undergo a religious test for a position as a notary public. The effect was to eliminate all religious tests for public office within the United States. Even mere profession of belief in God was struck down as a prerequisite for state employment. Torcaso eclipsed the Religious Test Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that no one shall be required to adhere to any religion or religious doctrine to hold office at the federal level.

While both religious and non-religious peoples might agree that the decision in Torcaso was a correct one, now the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, whereby America is faced with a new and pernicious problem.

The principle problem with America is that we no longer know what we believe as a people.

Because most Americans now reject any absolute standard of truth, our nation is unable to discern right from wrong in the face of critical issues. This has led to severe divisions among us, which will continue until we are destroyed from within.

Debate forums on cable news channels are a microcosm of the American dilemma. Here bright minds argue remarkably important issues confronting the American people, yet, without reference to an independent standard. So, what do we hear? Logical fallacies, justifying bad behavior with other bad behavior, begging the question (using a premise to support itself), and ad hominem. Whether it be a refutation, counterargument, or contradiction, the line of reasoning always commits the same foul. It is incapable of drawing currency from an abiding truth.

A cohost may ask his interlocutor for “just one fact” to sustain his argument. But at a time when the relationship between language and meaning has been torn asunder, a bequeath of the postmodern age, is it not a little ironic for a panelist to ask for a fact? If there is no inherent meaning in the Universe, what is a fact? In an age of victimization, absolute truth may be America’s greatest casualty.

When the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Congress declared war because the moral decision to do so was, to borrow a phrase from philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “properly basic.” Now, with the dissolution of the meaning of meaning, most Americans find themselves rendering political and ethical judgments, not based on some self-evident given, but on political expediency, self-interest, and economics. Indeed, if there is one standard Americans use to determine right from wrong it is the NASDAQ. When it goes up, it’s assumed that someone must have made a right decision based on principle.

This is not to suggest that one is not entitled to his or her opinion. Opinion is the grist of conversation. But overall, American discourse is no longer conspicuous by the exchange of ideas with common reference to a cohesion-creating marker. Opinion sharing has, instead, turned to the ignoring of relations other than what is self-serving to the arguer. The result is that opinion, collective opinion especially, has turned to the tyranny of opinion.
A recent PRRI survey serves as a perfect example. It found that most Americans, a surprising 61%, believe private businesses should not be allowed to refuse services and products to homosexuals based on religious grounds. So, if a homosexual couple asks a Christian baker to bake their wedding cake, that baker, despite his or her religious objections, should be coerced to deliver the cake or face penalties.

Evidently, many believe that support of homosexual marriage is correct and that people’s religious rights are negotiable. But on what basis? The principle of equality? The law of anti-discrimination? Without an absolute plumb line for morality how can one discriminate discrimination? Further, how can abstract laws and principles create moral responsibility?

What is the answer? Americans must turn back to God and to the Bible as our beacon of Truth. Only then will we navigate the difficult questions of life together. The Bible makes some unique truth claims. It claims that God exists and that he has chosen to communicate to us through his creation, moral conscience, and the Bible itself.

One might counter, “But the Bible doesn’t speak to the nuclear arms race, global warming, and racial injustice.” True, the Bible doesn’t speak to every question. But one would be surprised just how many modern issues it does address. Where it is silent on specific applications, it presents enduring principles. In all, the Bible tells us what we need to know.

You say, “I’m a secularist and have no time for God and the Bible.” But consider this. Beginning in the 60s, American civil religion came under attack. Today, most symbols of our Judeo-Christian foundation have been swept clean from public sight. Many argue that that is a good thing. But one might also wish to see that the unprecedented acerbic acrimony that now characterizes American public discourse, and the rending of our national fabric, might well be traceable to day of Madeline Murray O’Hare.

What do Americans believe so that together we can face the challenges before us with one voice, one heart, and shared values? This is the problem.



 

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