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Establishment and liberalism

A lawyer with mainstream liberal views on the Establishment Clause sent me a note taking issue with some of my comments on my page on the Establishment of Religion and I responded. Here's an edited version of the exchange:

Liberal Lawyer: How can you justify the assertion that liberalism is implicitly totalitarian? A society is totalitarian if only one belief on the nature of man, society, politics, economics, philosophy etc. is permitted and all others are ruthlessly suppressed. America and contemporary Europe aren't at all like Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.

Jim Kalb: America isn't like Germany or Russia, but all three reflect in various ways certain bad features of the modern world. You might look at what I say about totalitarianism in The Tyranny of Liberalism. If you're interested you can search for the word "totalitarianism" in the text and read the section.

I don't view extreme brutality as a requirement for totalitarianism. To me it seems illuminating to think of it as a general tendency of modern politics, so that there could be soft as well as hard totalitarianism. The basic issue is whether it makes sense to call Aldous Huxley's Brave New World totalitarian. I think it does. (My view isn't completely idiosyncratic---try googling "soft totalitarianism" or "Brave New World" and "totalitarian.")

So as I use it the term refers to the total reduction of human existence to a single set of principles that governing elites claim to possess in full here and now. The principles are capable of clear operational definition, and so the elites feel called on to enforce them throughout the whole of life everywhere and have a reasonable prospect of doing so. Unfortunately, the reason the principles can be defined in such a clear, comprehensive, universal and usable way is that they leave out concerns that are difficult to define and manipulate. The result is that things essential to our humanity get crushed as the principles are implemented. Governing elites treat the losses as nonexistent because their theory of things keeps them from noticing them and makes them view opposition as simple ignorance and evil.

LL: Liberalism states that there is no sure way to know the answers to ultimate questions, so all points of view must be permitted. People can argue about the answers, but they can't use state power to enforce them.

JK: If liberals are uncertain of truth claims on fundamental points, and so accept various sorts of answers that people work out for the problems of life, I don't see how liberal human rights law---which demands the radical top-down transformation of all social relations everywhere---is possible. It seems to me that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, for example, believes that it has an absolutely sure way to know the answers to ultimate social questions. Those who disagree with it are simply wrong, and their views don't matter because they're bad. Since man is social, that means the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court believes it has special knowledge of the truth of human life. (I'm referring in particular to its actions regarding "gay marriage.") And if liberalism is so sceptical and tolerant, where do all the re-education programs---sensitivity and diversity training etc.---come from?

LL: Look at how freely conservative Christians operate politically in the US. They have every right to put their views out in the public and a great deal of influence in the Republican Party.

JK: Triangulation, the practical need to conciliate the media and other social authorities, and the general principle that you tell the rubes one thing while doing something else with your fellow office holders mean that Christian conservatives have very little effective power in the Republican party. It's all rhetoric.

Right-wingers can organize and propagandize all they want, but it doesn't get them anywhere. They can persuade the people in Colorado that homosexual activities and relationships shouldn't get specific protection but the Supreme Court will step in and say Proposition 2 is unconstitutional because there's no possible good motive for adopting it. They can persuade the great majority of Americans that there should be greater restrictions on abortion and the Court will stop that too. Or they can try to make an issue of whether perpetual tranformation of the American people through mass immigration is desirable---the great majority of Americans think it isn't---but they'll find their rulers and mainstream media people aren't willing to discuss the matter so under present circumstances the effort can go nowhere.

LL: You say that liberalism's authoritative view is that individual man's desire is the measure of all things. What alternative do you propose? God's will? Fine, but which God are we talking about? Protestant? Catholic? Jewish? Muslim? Who decides what is his will? Congress? The President? The Pope? The Grand Rebbbe?

JK: I don't see why that kind of issue gives liberalism an advantage over anything else. Presumably the basic idea behind liberalism is that social arrangements should be set up through the exercise of man's knowledge and skill and brought into line with human choice and a few clear principles of how things should be. As Lenin said though, who whom? Whose knowledge and skill, and whose choices and principles? The view that social arrangements should be set up in such a way led to the murder of scores of millions of innocents in the last century. What's so good about that?

It's true it wasn't the liberals who did the murdering, but it wasn't Jerry Falwell either. So why are the liberals better than Jerry Falwell? He has a system that some agree with and some don't, and ditto for liberals. The basic point: Catholics have a doctrine about what man and life are like and what good and evil are. So do Muslims and communists and anarchists. Liberals do too. All those doctrines conflict, and it isn't possible for any government to respect them all equally. That's why there are fundamental political issues. The liberal solution to basic political issues is that liberal doctrine should prevail in all cases. What's equal about that? Why is it better, less contentious, and more respectful of a diversity of views than having the Pope run everything?

LL: The Founders of our country considered this issue when they devised the 1st Amendment. They were keen students of history and knew that basing a state on an explicitly theological principle with an established church means tyranny, oppression and warfare. They looked at Europe with its 1400 year history of crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, holy wars and massacres and understood that nothing is more destructive than entangling state and church. Also, they understood that no tyranny is worse than denying someone the ability to worship what he believes to be the true God and compelling him to worship what he believes to be a false one.

JK: The Framers of the constitution didn't create a society, they set up a federal government with limited purposes---basically, international relations and promotion of commerce---to govern a society that already existed and included (and continued to include) religious establishments.

As students of history they no doubt realized that all governments with general powers are based on some understanding of things---man, the world, good and evil---and since such understandings conflict it's usually best as a political matter to leave them settled when they're settled. Otherwise you can get offensive jihads when a new view comes along, as well as defensive counterattacks like the Crusades or the Christian Right when existing views try to maintain themselves. When things become unsettled you can get enormous catastrophes like the Wars of Religion or the post-Christian disorders in Europe in the last century. So they made the powers of the federal government as limited as possible and said in the First Amendment that the feds had to leave state religious establishments alone. Today of course we've reversed that view, and the federal courts have become agents of crusading secularism (mojahed secularism would be better but most people don't know Arabic). That's bad.

LL: Liberals believe that since there is no way to know for sure the answers to ultimate questions, the state must keep separate from religion and set up only those rules that provide the minimum order needed to create a society where individuals can follow their own answers. The rules change depending on how minimum order is defined but the principle remains that the individual citizen decides what, if any God to worship---not the state and not a church. Individuals are free to advocate legislation and policies based on values derived from their religious principles, so long as the legislation concerns secular matters, e.g., civil rights, abortion, war or peace, not theological, who is "truly" a Christian.

JK: I don't understand how your comments on minimum order apply to what's actually going on. The modern liberal state is everywhere. It educates the young, supports people in distress, confers honor, disgrace and punishment, and feels called upon to reform public attitudes on things as basic to human life as the rearing of children and relations between the sexes. It spends a large part of our national income on such things. As a state it demands a loyalty that extends to matters of life and death. I don't see how you can claim that it takes no position on ultimate questions. Don't life, death and the manner of our lives together and obligations to each other implicate ultimate questions?

It seems to me that what leads to tyranny is not taking a position on ultimate questions---that's necessary in government or for that matter any rational scheme of action that deals with life in any comprehensive way---but powerholders who claim that they have a simple scheme that answers all fundamental questions of social life and calls for transformation of all social relations whether people like it or not because if they object they're just stupid and evil.

The issue isn't really freedom of conscience, by the way. Old-line Catholic doctrine is that if you're a Jew, Jehovah's Witness or whatever you can't be forced to convert or participate in religious observances that you don't believe in, and you can worship as you please with your co-religionists and bring up your children in your faith. The traditional Muslim view is mostly the same although there's more chance of compulsion. And so far as I can make out the current liberal view is that it's illegitimate to advocate secular legislation (e.g., regarding abortion or marriage) based on religious views that don't give the same answer liberalism gives.

LL: The Founders and most contemorary liberals didn't and don't regard religion as trivial. That's why there must be separation of church and state. Otherwise, the seriously religious would be tempted by the allure of state power to use that power to shut up "heretics, infidels and unbelievers." History shows that allure is irresistible.

JK: I agree that state power creates a standing temptation to remake things in accordance with the powerholder's understanding and shut people up who object. The temptation gets worse if the understanding is completely this-worldly and is based on a radically simplified understanding of knowledge and of human life, so the powerholder can tell himself he knows everything anybody needs to know about the rules that should govern social relations and that his belief isn't even a belief but is a simple statement of obvious reality.

As to the effect of liberalism on religion, it seems to me that if the understanding is that religious views of what man and the world are like can have no public relevance when they're at odds with what liberalism tells us, so good citizens have to treat their own religious views as subjective private tastes rather than as legitimate understandings of how things really are, it's going to weaken religion and make it a more trivial factor in our lives.

LL: Suppose Christianity were established as you propose. What is this Christianity? Does it include Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses? How about Unitarians? 7th Day Adventists? Do you really want the STATE to decide this type of question?

JK: I don't see how liberalism has an easier time with these issues than anything else. At present judges decide cases based on liberal principles and schoolchildren get indoctrinated in those same principles. Whose version of liberalism? Should we all agree that affirmative action is good or bad? And again, I don't see why liberalism is supposed to be some non-controversial system everyone can agree on. Are the Mormons and 7th Day Adventists supposed to say that established Catholicism is bad but established liberalism is of course OK?

LL: The state decides what kind of building in which to house its offices but in America, the state doesn't prescribe official styles of architecture and punish those who want to build differently. So you can't draw comparisons between religion and other things.

JK: The state defines and punishes crimes in accordance with some understanding of man, of good and evil, and of what we owe each other. It defines school curricula and social policy in accordance with all those things and more---what kind of people we should be, what social ideals and relations are desirable and so on. And real property zoning and building codes often tell people quite specifically in some respects what their buildings have to look like. The reason is that man is social, so my building affects the environment everyone must live in.

LL: Finally, if you entangle state and church, you will have, or could have, heresy regarded as treason, and punished accordingly. You could have politicians deciding who should serve as church officials and what should be church doctrine. The Establishment Clause protects church from state interference as well as vice versa.

JK: I don't see why this is more of a problem for religion than for morality, medicine or physics. All those things ought to be free of direct political control, but they all have important implications for our lives together so the state can't pretend it has no views on them.

LL: The bottom line is that with its Establishment Clause, America is the most religious of all industrialized nations.

JK: Why attribute that to the current interpretation of the Establishment Clause? That interpretation is really quite recent and is very much at odds with historical understandings.


I must remark that LL's view that literally nothing is more destructive than the marriage of church and state evinces a serious lack of either knowledge or judgment.

In point of fact, if we're going to try to measure these things, the marriage of communism---i.e., advanced liberalism---and state produced more deaths in a single century than all the specifically religious European wars of the last twenty centuries. So LL simply has his facts wrong.

We know that the most destructive form of government ever devised involved not religion but atheistic socialism. Nothing like North Korea's gas chambers, or Stalin's Gulags, or Saddam's torture complexes would have been remotely concievable in the pre-liberal era. All the worst regimes one can name are twentieth century, aggressively secular, and anti-religious.

As GK Chesterton said, it's the easiest thing in the world to let the age have its head---but one must take care to keep one's own.

"LL: The Founders of our country [...] were keen students of history and knew that [...] an established church meant tyranny, oppression and warfare."

1) So the Founders of modern Israel weren't keen students of history?

2) I lived in Belgium where despite an official religion I met with no tyranny, oppression, or warfare.

"LL: [...] Europe with its 1400 year history of crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, holy wars and massacres [...]."

This is off the main subject but I believe that until some time in the 60s the Crusades were viewed as historically a very positive thing for Europe, thereafter sort of "falling into disrepute" because of emphasis on massacres of civilians which had taken place during them in captured cities of the Holy Land at the hands of European armies---truly sickening to read about, as are all episodes of senseless violence and killing committed by all armies in all wars. After the Battle of Agincourt King Henry ordered captured French soldiers to be put to death rather than held prisoner. It's shocking to read about. It doesn't diminish the greatness of that victory for England. "Bomber Harris" committed civilian atrocities against Dresden and elsewhere; the Americans committed them for three hundred years against the North American Red Man; Sherman committed them against the Confederacy; it is said the Israelis committed them against the local Arabs in the process of driving them out, at the time of that nation's founding. Wars without atrocities don't exist. I favor the original view that the Crusades were indeed a very positive thing for Europe overall, and Europe and European-derived Christian peoples can on balance be extremely proud of that particular chapter of European history (while of course bitterly regretting certain horrible details of it).

"LL: [...] no tyranny is worse than denying someone the ability to worship what he believes to be the true God and compelling him to worship what he believes to be a false one."

What's going on now isn't needed for the prevention of that sort of tyranny, but amounts rather to gratuitous governmental oppression without a valid raison-d'etre. What's going on now that's so bad is all this governmental prohibition against public community-wide expression of the majority's religion, prohibition promulgated by aloof, detached elites who are either hostile, deracinated, self-righteous, or hypocritically possessed of the wherewithal to cushion themselves from the draconian effects of what they for political gain inflict on defenseless "lower-downs." It's outrageous.

"LL: Liberals believe that since there is no way to know for sure the answers to ultimate questions, the state must keep separate from religion and set up only those rules that provide the minimum order needed to create a society where individuals can follow their own answers."

LL's side, going way beyond the above simple prescription, advocates forcing every group into minority status within a society. What his side is doing is prohibiting all public community-wide expression by the majority of its religion, in spite of such expression's being vital to a community's happiness and health and despite the fact that such expression never denied rights to, or coerced, any segment of a population. Malcontents and actively hostile minorities who feel they cannot abide merely *seeing* that which they detest---notwithstanding it harm or threaten no one---are not long in finding and allying themselves with opportunistic elites.

"[...] the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [...] believes that it has an absolutely sure way to know the answers to ultimate social questions. Those who disagree with it are simply wrong, and their views don't matter because they're bad. [...] (I'm referring in particular to its actions regarding 'gay marriage.') Right-wingers can organize and propagandize all they want, but it doesn't get them anywhere. They can persuade the people in Colorado that homosexual activities and relationships shouldn't get specific protection but the Supreme Court will step in and say Proposition 2 is unconstitutional [...]. It seems to me that what leads to tyranny is [...] powerholders who claim that they have a simple scheme that answers all fundamental questions of social life and calls for transformation of all social relations whether people like it or not because if they object they're just stupid and evil."---Jim Kalb

Meet some "stupid and evil" people who voted in an unscientific (but pretty damned reliable, I'd bet) AOL News poll which was posted today on the AOL log-on screen (of course, the views of these third-of-a-million people will have strictly no effect on what keeps getting rammed down all our throats by our liberal governing elites):

Here's the poll:


No legal benefits...........50%
Civil Unions................19%

[I voted for "No legal benefits."]



[I voted for "Lawmakers."]

Total Votes: 354,473.

This just to mention that someone e-mailed me to ask why I'd posted a poll that showed fifty percent in favor of either homosexual "marriage" or "civil unions" when my claim was that most people were opposed. I posted it for two reasons, aware of course that such polls are unscientific (though often pretty reflective of reality): 1) when roughly half of a population opposes something---in this case, homosexual "marriage" or "civil unions"---it's pretty outrageous of the government to just undemocratically ram that thing down the whole population's throat by fiat, and 2) notice the huge majority in the poll who were opposed to the issue being decided by the courts rather than by the "voters" and/or their "lawmakers." The courts of course are exactly who've been deciding this issue, and the people are against that state of affairs. Needless to say it won't change, because---as Mr. Kalb says in the log entry---the elites merely disregard such opposition to their liberal religion as evil or ignorant and therefore nothing to be taken seriously, respected, or treated fairly. Here in Vermont it was the Supreme Court, not the voters in a referendum or the legislature, that first decided denying marriage to homosexuals violated the state constitution (which of course it didn't, but for one thing we had Howard Dean as governor, and he thought it would bolster his presidential chances later if he went along with that nonsense). The Supreme Court simply ORDERED THE LEGISLATURE to "remedy the situation," and the result was "Civil Unions" which Dean signed into law. In order to bring this whole victory about the left began carefully planning many years ago, getting the right people in place (including leftists in key positions and probably more than one homosexual Supreme Court Justice) to pull it off when the moment finally came. It was done by judicial fiat pure and simple---the same as just happened in Massachusetts.

Thanks for the interesting replies. Here's my (hopefully) interesting sur-replies:

1. The true contrast is between liberal and non-or illiberal societies and that, not belief in God or atheism is what I was talking about. Soviet Communism is as illiberal,indeed, anti-liberal as any society in history. No one can justify the statement that communism is "advanced liberalism" any more than one can say that the Ku Klux Klan is "advanced Christianity"

Everything about Soviet communism was anti-liberal. Liberals value the individual, communisms's very nature is collectivist, liberals prize the freedom to inquire, communists suppress dissent and insist on absolute obedience to the Party Line, liberals can become obsessed with individual rights (too much, sometimes) communists give the State all power with no recourse by the individual whatsoever,liberals believe the search for answers to ultimate questions is best done individually, communists think the Party has all the answers and you're "bourgeois" and an "enemy of the people" and must be destroyed if you disagree. I could go on for 10 pages, but the point is clear- only someone who either is ignorant of history or has a grossly distorted view of liberalism can view communism as a liberal species.

I think the Inquisition would have loved to have had the technology available to the KGB or Gestapo. Look at how well they could have watched and listened to everyone, gathered up all the heretics and witches into concentration camps and gassed them all.

As to the visitor to Belgium, you might have had a problem a couple of hundred years ago if you were a Huguenot. You were not subject to oppression now because us dissolute Godless liberals have helped to take much of the political power away from the established churches.

I don't want to get into a debate on this either, but I must point out that the defender of the Crusades forgot to mention that along the way to expel the Saracens from the Holy Land,the Crusaders decided to try out their killing skills on thousands of helpless Jews living mainly in the Rhineland area of Germany, but elsewhere as well. Stories are told of Crusaders ripping open the wombs of pregnant Jews, tearing out the fetuses and replacing them with cats. All for the glory of Jesus, I suppose, though those Crusaders should have given those Jews their "choice" to bear their children. The Crusades were indistinguishable from jihads, indistinguishable from Al Qaeda. It was appropriate I suppose to act that way in those benighted times but I shudder to think that modern-day Catholics think this type of activity is OK now.

I have no problem whatsoever with a community expressing its religious sentiments as long as it respects the right of those who don't share them. I think it's fine to have a Christmas creche on the City Hall lawn (see, I don't go along with every position taken by some extreme liberals), But I don't want my children to receive Christian indoctrination at the local public school. I will arrange for whatever religious instruction my child will receive and if necessary I'll send my child to a religious private school.

Liberals don't believe people who oppose gay marriage are evil or stupid, at least not the ones I know. Intolerant perhaps, but no liberal is going to say that the people of Massachusetts can't organize and amend their Constitution to overrule their court. That is their right, in our pluralist society and every true liberal would defend that right to the death.

Finally, I just don't get it. Maybe I'm a stupid liberal but why do Catholics of all people, have a problem with pluralism? You ARE a minority in America! If the community expression of religion is Protestant,as it is in most communities in America, and if the expression of that community sentiment is to deny your right to worship as a Catholic, or preventing your proselytizing for Catholicism or giving your kids a Catholic education, will you be OK with that? If not, then you're on my side.

Enjoy the long weekend, everyone.

Hall, nobody here is advocating denying anybody's right to worship as they please. So while I wouldn't by any means call you stupid I will say you simply don't grasp the actual argument Jim's making if you think he's pushing for a vaguely Protestant theocracy in which everyone has to belong to the same faith. Further, you either don't understand liberalism or you don't understand communism if you believe the latter is somehow conservative. Part of the confusion might be that we tend to use liberal and leftist interchangeably, when they denote different things.

What I don't understand is Catholic opposition to pluralism. Even if gay marriage is legalized, no one could force a Catholic priest to offic]iate at such a wedding. No one could force such a celebration to be held in a Catholic church.

Comnmunism is most certainly NOT conservatism but neither is it liberalism, particlarly if you consider that classical political liberalism is based on a small state with limited powers. American liberals since FDR have changed that but liberalism still values pluralism and respect for individual rights which means it is fundamentally incompatible with communism.

Communism borrows some language about humanism from liberalism, it is avowedly atheist, as are some, but certainly not ALL, liberals and it claims the title of "prgoressive". This is protective coloration, wolf in sheep's clothing, much like fascism borrowed some language from traditional conservatism, like respect for order and hierarchy, patriotism, national unity, pride in the ethnic group's culture etc. That didn't mske it conservative. So, communism is to liberalism as fascism is to conservatism.

The basic problem with pluralism is that there is no such thing. Take "gay marriage" for example. We now have one perfectly distinct definition of marriage and its rights and obligation. If we had "gay marriage" we'd have another definition, different but equally distinct in all respects. Why is one particular definition more plural than another?

There can be a plurality of views on various issues, and people often work out ways of dealing with each other and living together when their views differ. Nonetheless, whatever they arrive at will be some definite arrangement that corresponds to a particular view of things. Some will like it and some won't. Some will think they can live with it and others will think otherwise. "Pluralism" suggests that somewhere and somehow there's a guaranteed way for people with differing views to live together freely and productively without changing their views. That's obviously not so.

Of course it's so. Religious pluralism is a perfect example. People of widely differing views on religious matters can indeed live together freely and productively without changing their views.

I suppose the point is to define pluralism. My definition fits in perfectly with what you've said is impossible. People can agree that something is so without forcing all who disagree to change how they think or feel; the only thing those who disagree must change is their behavior. They must accept the decision that's been made and, if they really don't like it, act lawfully to change it or leave.

There is pluralism in action where I work, a large state agency. Every single major racial, ethnic and religious group, some minor ones,atheists and gays all work together with no one required to change his views. I am sure that there are some racists and religious bigots working here. Nothing can be done or should be done to control what they think or feel but their behavior must change because, if expressed, it affects others than themselves and the functioning of the agency.

Pluralism would not exist if the agency hired only members of a particular church, race or ethnic group or applied religious tests as a condition of employment or promotion but since discrimination is strictly illegal, there is no requirement to attend or not attend a church or belong to a certain group. There is no official religious indoctrination, though employees are free to proselytize on their own time and outside the office. All hiring and promotions are based on merit and passing civil service exams. One's private life is one's business, unless it impacts negatively on the job.

Christmas is celebrated at my agency. There are special events honoring the cultures whose members are employees e.g., Black History Month, St. Patrick's Day, etc. Everyone regardless of how they really feel gets along well enough to work here. This is hwo I identify pluralism.

No one has a problem with this. Do you?

Of course society as a whole is much more complex than work life at an agency, but the principles can be extended. People can live together without having to change their views with the exception of those views that require the adherent to impose hem on unwilling unbelievers.

Gay marriage comes up a lot in this conversation, it seems. While I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of this subject, I would like to know why you oppose it so much besides the obvious religious objections. After all, legalizing gay marriages will have no direct impact on your marriage. Indeed, I am somewhat mystified by the claim that legal gay marriages will destroy the institution. How so?

Hal is being sort of circular. His entire comment comes down to something like, "Now that the government, in pursuit of its own ends, has imposed multi-culti by means of an iron fist, I happen to like the result, and too bad for those who don't because they're naught but bigots and racists."


Hal writes,

"Religious pluralism is a perfect example. People of widely differing views on religious matters can indeed live together freely and productively without changing their views."

Yeah. You see ... that's why the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Moslem Bosnians were so kind to one another, why the India of the British Raj never broke up into India and Pakistan, why Palestine never broke up into Israel, Jordan, and "the Palestinians," why the Greeks and Turks on Cyprus never agreed to divide that island into Greek-Christian and Turkish-Moslem regions, and why there's not so much as one single Moslem separatist guerilla fighting in the Philippines as we speak---not one! It's why all those potential messes and thousands of others were completely averted, folks! Everyone see that? No? ... OK...I'll wait...

Frankly, if you don't like the benign pluralistic model set by my agency, then you ARE a bigot and racist! What could any rational human being find objectionable in what goes on at my agency? It's not just because I like the agency's policies. I challenge anyone to prove the rationality, not to mention the morality of racism and ethnic hatred. Note I said hatred, not ethnic pride.

As I noted above, no one has to love everyone. You can be just as filled with hate as you want to be; just keep it to yourself. If you hate Blacks, you don't have to attend the Black History celebration. You can keep up your subscription to Klan Weekly so long as it's delivered to your home and dry-clean your white sheets; just don't wear them to the office.

Another thing: Since when is racism and bigotry acceptable to Christians? I've never seen such solicitude for prejudice and hatred anywhere outside of hate sites on the Web. Isn't racism and ethnic hatred sinful? Hasn't the Magisterium somewhere condemned racism and xenophobia as anti-Christian? If you're so solicitous of the rights of bigots and racists, how come you're not so solicitous to gays? Are you saying that it's OK for a Christian to practice race and ethnic hatred but not love someone of the same gender?

"My definition ... People can agree that something is so without forcing all who disagree to change how they think or feel; the only thing those who disagree must change is their behavior. They must accept the decision that's been made and, if they really don't like it, act lawfully to change it or leave."

On that definition it would still be pluralistic if Islam or Catholicism were voted the established religion. People wouldn't have to agree with it, they could hold their beliefs privately, but if they decided they couldn't live with the Shari'ah or the social doctrine of the Catholic Church they would have to emigrate.

"I am somewhat mystified by the claim that legal gay marriages will destroy the institution."

Suppose the law were changed to define "marriage" as "any connection whatever among persons that those involved agree to call a marriage." Do you think that legal change would weaken the institution of marriage?

One more tit for tat reply:

Unadorned as just proven my point. Not only about Cyprus where the Christians and Muslims are working out their differences (score one big point for pluralism) but most of the areas where religious conflict is going on are areas where pluralism is NOT practiced. Is Islamic fanaticism the kind of model of religious behavior that you want to see? If these Muslims believed in pluralism and a liberal society, then they would not be waging jihad. The Twin Towers would still be standing and we'd have peace in the Middle East.

The fact is that there is no ongoing jihad in the USA, there is no Protestant-Catholic warfare, no mass anti-Semitism, Muslims, Hindus,Christians and Jews get along perfectly fine in Brooklyn. And that is 100% due to America being a pluralistic, liberal, officially secular society. And you want to scrap that? Why? So we can share the wonderful battle for religious truth taking place in the Balkans, Ireland, Middle East etc.?

My point is proven: Either we have pluralism or we have jihad. Which do you want?

Hal writes,

"There is pluralism in action where I work, a large state agency. Every single major racial, ethnic and religious group, some minor ones [...] all work together [...]."

My, my! And all that accomplished without so much as a smidgen of iron-fisted affirmative action! MARVELOUS! ... Right, Hal? ... No affirmative action or multi-culti racial quotas involved? ...Right?...... Hal?... uhhh ....Hal?......

"[...] No one has a problem with this. Do you?"

How would we know, Hal, when anyone who does gets classified as follows by you and your friends:

"I am sure that there are some racists and religious bigots working here. Nothing can be done or should be done to control what they think or feel but their behavior must change because, if expressed, it affects others than themselves and the functioning of the agency."

I mean, is that Stalinist, or what? Hal, what if an overwhelming majority of the people in a country prefer working with and interacting with others who are like them? You mean that's STRENG VERBOTEN?

"Pluralism would not exist if the agency hired only members of a particular church, race or ethnic group or applied religious tests as a condition of employment or promotion..."

But everyone knows there ARE racial, ethnic, gender, etc., criteria as a condition of employment and promotion. There's not a working-class or middle-class white person in this country who hasn't been adversely affected by that himself or doesn't personally know someone who has.

"...but since discrimination is strictly illegal..."

No it's not---discrimination in the form known as reverse discrimination is not only legal, it is imposed with amazing fanaticism by government in this country and is impregnable.

"...there is no requirement to attend or not attend a church or belong to a certain group. There is no official religious indoctrination ..."

Oh, but there IS religious indoctrination: sensitivity training, iron-fisted PC, and other means are used in the indoctination of everyone in the government's religion of liberalism to the exclusion of all other religions.

"... All hiring and promotions are based on merit and passing civil service exams."

Yeah, that's right, Hal. There are no such things as affirmative-action hiring quotas; "race norming" on all those "perfectly objective, strictly merit-based" civil service exams; etc.; etc. Never heard of 'em.

The last paragraph of the following letter to VFR shows how "pluralism" is totalitarianism behind a mask: .

The last paragraph reads,

"Of course the problem that this case will eventually present is that the employee will be analogized to an unrepentant racist and some appellate court will hold that AT&T cannot be compelled to retain homophobes any more than it could be compelled to hire racists. To make a long story short, this is an example of one of the many paths by which homosexuality will be made a cultural dogma before which all 'good' citizens must genuflect."

(The letter writer is commenting on this VFR log entry: )

Below is a follow-up letter posted at VFR by the individual referred to in my comment above. Every reader of "Turnabout" will recognize the evolving pattern of creeping-totalitarianism-disguised-as-the-lie-called-pluralism which Mr. Alvarez describes here. (Mr. Kalb is right: "pluralism" doesn't exist. It's all totalitarianism by another name.)

"I am not suggesting that a moral objection to homosexuality is equivalent to racism; I do not believe that it is. However, the homosexual movement, which has become very influential in the judiciary, has tried to equate moral disapproval of homosexual conduct with racism. If the courts adopt the position that homosexuality is a protected class for equal protection purposes (as the Mass. Supreme Court already has), then it is conceivable that employers will be allowed to discriminate against those who are 'intolerant' of homosexuality on the grounds that such persons present a source of discord in the workplace. As you know, in Canada and Europe the expression of anti-gay views is deemed to be 'hate speech' and is a prosecutable offense in certain cases. The point I was trying to make is that it is only a matter of time before similar laws appear in this country (whether they are passed by legislatures or imposed by the courts). Although I doubt that we will see the criminalization of anti-gay speech because of first amendmemnt protections, once the federal appellate courts (i.e. the Ninth Cir) conclude (as I believe they eventually will) that anti-gay views constitute 'hate speech,' then persons who morally disapprove of homosexuality will be in the same legal boat as those who, for example, openly oppose interracial marriages. In other words, they will be formally labled bigots.

"Posted by: Manny Alvarez on February 19, 2004 02:30 AM"

( )

To address your question: My agency is strictly governed by the state civil service laws which expressly prohibit any candidate from being hired or promoted to a position if there are other candidates available who have higher test scores. There are no exceptions for affirmative action programs, no quotas. Management does have some flexibility with the "rule of three", that is, a candidate chosen for a position must have one of the top three test scores for that position. No extra points are added to your score because you're a member of a "protected class". You do get extra points only if you're a veteran. So your standing on the list for a position is primarily on how well you do on the test. I know this to be a fact because the integrity of the civil service merit test system is jealously guarded by an active union representing the civil servants who are quick to take legal action if that integrity is compromised by management. By the way, our work force is well-integrated, has been for the over 20 years I've been here. There is no longer any need for even talking about affirmative action. It has disappearing since the problem it was to address no longer exists. And our office is functioning just fine.

I wouldn't call it Stalinist, I'd call it growing up and acting maturely. Don't you remember your kindergarten teacher telling you to "play nice" with the other boys and girls? Didn't you learn how to do that? At our office, we are expected to "work nice". How can you have a problem with that? Grow up & act your age! Not everyone has to be just like you for you to, if not like them, at least work with them. I think most other Americans act like grown-ups when it comes to dealing with others at a work place. What is your problem?

You are so solicitous of those harmed by reverse discrimination. I wonder where you traditionalists were 50-60 years ago when Blacks were truly discriminated against. I know there were some courageous priests who got involved in the civil rights movement but would you have supported them? If not,why not?

Please answer this: Can one be consistently Christian and a racist? Yes or no?

Unadorned is wasting his time dealing with a person that is behaving dishonestly or is lacking in the intelligence needed to understand what Mr. Kalb is saying or both. The person has failed to acknowledge and to address Mr. Kalb's Feb. 18, 02:19 PM attempt to explain. For goodness sake, Mr. Kalb is the originator of the discussion and the host. This type of person usually accompanies his words with implied or express ad hominem argument, which this individual supplies in abundance. We will all profit from ignoring this type.

So P. Murgos thinks I'm dishonest and too unintelligent to understand Mr. Kalb's reply and that I use ad hominem attacks. Well, I'm not unintelligent enough to see that you have just levied an ad hominem attack on me so what's your point? That you can be just as dishonest as I am?

But Murgos does have a point. I didn't address what Mr. Kalb said(though, in fairness, some of my points went unaddressed) so let's see if I can muster enough intelligence to respond:

Mr. Kalb is correct on his point that my stated definition of pluralism would permit the establishment of Catholicism or Sharia. Since I am opposed to the establishment of any church or particular religious doctrine or code of law, then I must rethink and refine my definition of pluralism.

After such thought, I believe that pluralism, in the American context, means that Americans have agreed on some ultimate questions such as the basic structure of government, our Constitutional form of representative democracy,and the structure of our economy, a basically free market system, but have agreed to disagree on other types of ultimate questions generally seen as religious in nature, such as whether or not God exists, whether Jesus is the Messiah, which church is the true church. By agreeing to disagree, I mean that Americans will agree to not use state power to establish and enforce the doctrines of a particular religion but they will continue to disagree on the answers to the types of questions these doctrines raise. They are free to hold whatever religious beliefs they want; they just can't impose them on those who disagree.

My understanding of pluralism also does not require believers to keep their beliefs to themselves. Certainly Bishop Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and a host of other very public believers haven't done so. The airwaves, print media, the internet are full of the arguments, pleadings, opinions and testimonials of all sorts of believers. This is pluralism in action in America.

Regarding marriage, I think that Mr. Kalb's hypothetical change of what legally constitutes a marriage may not have a deleterious effect on the institution provided the following elements are added:

1. Marriage can only be entered into freely by adults of sound mind. This is the absolute precondition for the entering into of any legally binding contract and must certainly exist for a marriage to be legal.
2. Society must enforce the obligations as well as provide the benefits of marriage. Spouses must be legally liable for the financial support of each other, for the caring and rearing of any children produced in the marriage, a share of the property and income acquired and earned by any spouse while in the marriage can be claimed by the other spouse if the marriage dissolves, etc. I think this would limit the type of crazy possible types of marriage that Mr. Kalb thinks may happen if his hypothetical becomes law. You wouldn't so quickly enter a huge polygamous marriage if you could be held liable for the support of all the spouses and children. I believe the unwillingness of society to enforce these obligations (e.g. enforcing child support orders) is what damages marriage, not whether or not gays can marry. Indeed, if gays can marry and be subject to the obligations and commitments required of marriage, their promiscuous and irresponsible sexual behavior which damages society (spread of AIDS, for example) could be mitigated.
3.I would prohibit marriages within too close a degree of consanguinity even if the would-be spouses are of age. Children produced by such a marriage will almost inevitably be genetically deformed, something which would damage society, not to mention the children. Also, I don't think people living too closely as family could have the true idependence of mind and will necessary to make a free choice to marry. Such a marriage would be analogous to what in contract law is called an "adhesion" contract; such a contract is illegal and unenforceable because the parties didn't enter into it truly freely.

This was a good question posed by Mr. Kalb and I don't believe I've covered everything in my answer, but it's a start.

One more thing: I do not think Mr. Kalb, Unadorned or anyone else who is participating in this thread is dishonest or even racist or bigoted. How could I possibly know or assume such a thing? Some of the consequences of the ideas posted here could, IMHO, lead to racist policies, or maybe not. I had thought that the people who have participated in this thread so far would be intelligent enough to see that criticizing what I think are some implications of ideas is NOT criticizing the character of those who hold them. (Unadorned didn't call me a Stalinist, he opined that some of my ideas could have Stalinist implications and I dealt with his response as an criticism of my ideas, not of me. I guess I was wrong, though if I did inadvertently give the impression that I was attacking someone's character, I apologize.

My apologies to Hal if I didn't address some points he thought were important. These discussions can get diffuse.

I don't think Hal has defined pluralism. He's stated what he thinks the accommodation is that Americans have worked out among themselves on religious issues. "Pluralism" sounds like a doctrine rather than a particular agreed compromise that could legitimately have been otherwise and might legitimately change to something else.

I think he continues to run "establishment" and "enforcement" together much more than he should. The former has to do with what is publicly presumed to be so, the latter with what is done about it. The two issues are very different. As recently as 1952 the Supreme Court (in the person of Mr. Justice Douglas) was saying "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." So at that time it seems that some sort of vague theism was informally established in America.

That's changed, I think, to an establishment of the view that political order (and therefore moral and ultimately spiritual order) is a human creation out of human reason, needs and desires. So we still have an established view on ultimate questions about man and the world---it's hard to see how something as comprehensive and enduring as a political order could get by without one---but it's a different established view. The change, by the way, was due more to a shift in the outlook of governing elites than voluntaryagreement among Americans generally. I agree though that in both 1952 and in 2004 you're in general allowed to have a view at odds with the established view.

As to marriage, Hal thinks it would be OK for the institution to open it up to any combination of people as long as they're adult and of sound mind, obligations are enforced, and the parties aren't too closely related by blood. The first requirement as he observes applies to any contract. As to the others, I don't see what they're based on. If a "marriage" is any group of people who choose to say they're married, how could anyone decide what the mutual obligations should be and how they should be interpreted or enforced?

Why, for example, assume the arrangement has anything to do with sex? His denial of the right of a group of people to call their relationship a marriage when there are medical reasons why some of them shouldn't engage in fertile sexual relations with each other, or when pre-existing relationships suggest the possibility of undue influence, seems unfounded, certainly on any recognizably liberal view. Married people don't have to engage in sexual relations, and today in America there's no requirement (there certainly isn't in Massachusetts) that any sexual relations they might have be of a type that might be fertile. Also, people who don't say "we're married" engage in sexual relations all the time. So why the requirement?