Saturday, November 06, 2004

On Not Sweating the Small Stuff


My late father-in-law, a life-long "freethinker," taught Scripture (among other things) in British state schools. When students asked how the sun could have stood still at the Battle of Jerico or how Noah managed to shovel all the poop out of the Ark he said, "Well, it's in the Bible, i'n'it?"

Neither my father-in-law's efforts nor the activities of the Established Church, weekly doses of "Songs of Praise" on the telly or market crosses in public squares seem to have made the British any more religious. In the US religious symbols are banned from the public square. Prayer in the public schools is illegal and people fight major legal battles to keep it that way. I agree with bls: I don't want prayer in the public schools but I don't see why it matters very much--it's not going to make kids religious.

Liberalism, in the public mind, is wrapped up with a variety of doctrines and policies on trivial non-issues that some people consider objectionable and lots more find plain silly--not only campaigns to remove religious symbols and practices from public space, like the crusade to get "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, but a variety of other activities aimed at producing greater cultural sensitivity. A few years ago there was there was an attempt to change the name of the local college football team, the Aztecs, even though local Indians had no objections. (I've always wondered why people worried about having teams called "Indians," "Redskins" or "Aztecs" but didn't see any problem with "Boston Celtics" or "Minnesota Vikings.") All this stuff is pointless and dumb.

It isn't always clear which issues are substantive and which are pure baloney. Legal recognition for non-marital domestic partnership arrangements is important; characterizing these arrangements as "marriage" isn't. Gay couples may, understandably, want the imprimatur for their relationships and official recognition of parity with heterosexual couples but, in the grand scheme of things, that is just not very important, especially if it alienates voters and generates backlash against the legal recognition of domestic partnerships. Sometimes what appear to be symbolic non-issues are important: if passing legislation affirming English as the area's "official language" means that instructions in Spanish for getting emergency medical services or dealing with earthquake emergencies are deleted from the local telephone book, then it is a substantive issue. No one should die of food poisoning or get buried under rubble because their English isn't up to snuff.

I am not a moderate or "centrist." I'm a Socialist and I'm outraged by Democrats' rush to the right on economic issues. But I have no sympathy with support for trivial, "cultural" non-issues that sets back the agenda.

5 comments:

Brian Larry said...

This is an excellent post with a needed message, regardless of one's point of view. I lean more to the conservative side but wish conservatives could drop a number of "who cares either way" issues and move on to the fights that really need fighting.

"Prayer in school" is one such issue and rallying cry. I know of no one who is denied the right to quietly pray to themselves in school. So let's move on until there is a problem. We'll go wild then...

"Under God" is another war-cry I wish the right would abandon. This is one issue where conservatives end up sounding a lot like liberals. Removing "Under God" from the pledge would be "rolling back the clock" to the way the pledge read during WWI and WWII. Aren't the liberals supposed to be the ones who hate the backwards clock thing?

And I've added the death penalty to my list. Costs too much money and effort to fight about it and enforce it, including all of the appeals. Morally--sure it's ok (I think) to kill a particularly horrible and violent person who has killed in an unusually cold-hearted manner and seems likely to do so again. But OK and worth fighting about are two different things. I don't think the liberal protesters are suggesting we turn them lose on the streets. Fine, lock'em up for life and let's worry about something else.

I've written a similar article about some of the same minor distractions at http://brianlarry.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=24.

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