May 6, 2005
OK, shall we switch to pagan morality?By Dennis Sevakis
America's left has persuaded itself that we stand at the brink of a theocratic abyss. Caricatures of voters who happen to be both politically active and unashamed of their Christian faith are bandied about not just the fever swamps of the left, but also in mass media outlets. While many on the conservative end of the spectrum are inclined to laugh heartily at the frenzy on the left, the broader political impact of this reaction to the influence of religion on the right remains to be seen.
It's one thing to offer one's opinion, but clearly there's a greater risk of foot—in—mouth when proffering advice. With this self—caution well in mind, I will boldly sally forth into the world of 'Well, here's what you should do. . .'
Before I get to the what, let me explain to whom I am speaking, namely, the entire spectrum of politically active Christians — evangelical, fundamentalist or otherwise. As was once the motto of the civil rights movement, 'Keep your eyes on the prize.' Don't promote your positions as 'Christian' but rather as 'moral.'
This is one way to frame a large chunk of the current political debate as something other than a battle to maintain, widen or save separation of church and state. Rather, take the approach that what is really at stake here is what will happen to American civilization — an oxymoron to some — if it becomes further separated from morality, let alone reality.
To start with, consider this short excerpt from 'The Teaching of Buddha' as published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Buddhim, Promoting Foundation), Tokyo, Japan:
To those who choose the path that leads to Enlightenment, there are two extremes that should be carefully avoided: — First, there is the extreme of indulgence to the desires of the body, the whims of the mind and the pride of life, that come naturally to those who cherish the notion that this world is a real world and this life an end in itself. Second, there is the opposite extreme that comes naturally to those who cherish the notion that a world of truth is the only reality; to them it comes easy to renounce this life and to go to an extreme of ascetic discipline and to torture one's body and mind unreasonably. The Noble Path that lies between these two extremes and leads to enlightenment and wisdom and peace of mind may be called the Life of Golden Mean.
Now that's quite a mindful.
I don't believe there's anything there that would be considered contrary to Christian teachings. Not that I'm a theological expert, but I did have sixteen years of parochial education including eight with the Jesuits. Draw your own conclusions from that. But here lies a seed of thought that can form the basis for arguing the morality of a political position. Although Buddhism is often thought of as a means to an inner peace that is achieved through being detached from the world about oneself, 'to renounce this life' is not offered as the answer.
Where secularly—minded, post—modern, lefty—liberal individuals — be they religious, non—religious, a—religious or anti—religious — seem to have gone wrong is that they have managed to find what I will call the 'combo—way' rather than the middle way. That is, they have somehow managed to combine the 'extreme(s) of indulgence of the desires of the body, the whims of the mind and the pride of life' with the 'notion that a world of truth is the only reality' and 'to them it comes easy to renounce this life and to go to an extreme of ascetic discipline and to torture one's body and mind unreasonably.'
Now that's quite an artful combination of inconsistent imperatives. Perhaps some explanation would be helpful here.
First, the bit about 'extreme(s) of indulgence' is probably self—explanatory. That abortion and parental notification of same; the presentation of self—indulgent, public and promiscuous sexuality in whatever combinations and permutations one desires as a sine qua non of post—modern life; and also that the nearly unrestricted availability of pornography are all the subject of political dispute without any serious moral argument from the secularist camp, seem in themselves to make the case on that point. The ACLU's support of NAMBLA and its merciless attack on the Boy Scouts of America certainly underlines the 'seem' of this contention. The whole legal system is being employed to grant license to individuals to act in any manner their little hearts desire. Damn the consequences to society, full pleasure ahead! The only thing that seems to be missing is the 'prudence' in 'jurisprudence.'
The second part of my 'combo' contention is not quite as obvious but not nearly the stretch one might think. For the left, the 'truth' is a given. Socialism is altruistic and Good. Capitalism is selfish and Bad. This life — the present — is bad. Another life — the future — is good. 'Reality' is false. The 'world of (socialist) truth' is the only reality. And the 'torture (of) one's body and mind unreasonably,' with one small but very consequential change, is a primary act of faith and socialist/communist soul cleansing. That difference being, of course, that for 'one's' we simply substitute 'other's.' One can get to the part mistakenly thought of as 'aesthetic' without oneself actually having to suffer. Proxies will do. After all, during the Civil War weren't you able to pay someone to be drafted in your stead? How convenient. Let others go through the purification ritual. The high priests and priestesses will do the presiding.
So despite the fall of Soviet Communism and the purification of untold millions that defined its existence; the extraordinary decline of morality and civility in England as chronicled by Theodore Dalrymple; the inadequate and unresponsive socialized system that is health care in Canada and England; birth rates that may in the not too distant future lead to the extinction of a number of native European populations; and churches that are not only empty but in some cases have been converted into museums — we are told that moral positions based upon or derived from religious faith violate the separation of church and state.
'humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.'
Now we are told to debase ourselves or at least permit others to debase themselves in our presence. We may not even object. To do so would be judged unconstitutional since our concept of morality springs from Judeo—Christian roots. Fundamentalism is not just fundamental. It's anathema. Morality must be secularly based. No problem. I have a proposal to make. (I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting this moment.)
Let's bring back the Censor! That's right, the Censor. Not censors. The Censor was an elected position in the days of the Roman Republic that entailed two responsibilities. First, taking a 'census' of Roman citizens and compiling a list of their property for tax purposes. (Don't ever expect to get away without paying property taxes.) Second, he — actually they, as normally there were two Censors — were responsible for watchdogging public morality. These guys had real power. In Plutarch's Lives is a description of how Cato the Elder — Cato the Younger, his great—grandson, is he for whom the Cato Institute is named — took to confiscating property for the public treasury from those he deemed to be living in a profligate manner. You didn't mess with this guy. If you had it, prudence dictated that you didn't flaunt it.
As one would assume, this office required the election of a person of high moral standing and great personal discipline so as to avoid the temptations presented by tax avoiders offering bribes and public self—indulgers wishing to continue indulging. And Cato the Elder was just such a man. Despite his wealth, he often cooked his own meals, ate what the help — freedman or slave — ate and worked his own fields. He eschewed the tinsel of life and wondered why so many so highly regarded what was least necessary for life.
So let's, by all means, change the Constitution and establish, in deference to our pagan roots, the office of Censor. Public morals will be in his or her or their hands. Elect the Censors every two years along with the Representatives to Congress and we can eliminate all this wasted adjudicatory time and fire several thousand attorneys in the process. At least we'll get persons of our choice to directly impose morality on us rather than the ACLU, judges and overly—talkative Senators.
After all, even the Romans didn't entrust their morals to their Senators.