December 21, 2007

I Value Truth

When I say that I value the truth, I don't use the capital "T" that many Christians would prefer. Instead, what I'm talking about is the value I place upon natural reality as opposed to fantasy or to the supernatural entities of myth. I've already stated that I believe in an awe-inspiring natural world, but this post is about something different. Simply put, I value the use of reason, evidence, and science to evaluate the veracity of claims.

An extremely popular myth which pervades right-wing political and Christian extremist groups involves a once great American nation which has fallen into moral decline. Reasons for this decline vary. Sometimes homosexuality or government regulations are emphasized. Other times, increased incivility and media crassness are the culprits. But the underlying cause is nearly always the same: the creeping threat of secularism. This is a useful myth for energizing the conservative base, but it is nevertheless a myth.

As Steven Conn, a professor of history at Ohio State University, writes for the History News Service,

The details of this declension are always vague -- notice the unnamed "they" of Romney's speech -- but the cause is always some hazy conspiracy of people who have stripped religion out of public life. And the antidote is the same: more religion, preferably more of that "old time" religion. In our private lives and in our politics.
In tracing the history of church-state separation in America, Conn draws upon actual (as opposed to manufactured) history. He describes how Penn founded Philadelphia without an official religion, even though he was a deeply religious Quaker, because he recognized the dangers of merging religion and government.

Conn notes that America's founders would later be inspired by Penn's model and by Enlightenment philosophy which emphasized reason and liberty. Contrary to Romney's assertions that religion is required for freedom, our founders established an America without a state religion. When Connecticut Baptists called for an infusion of their religion into our nation, Jefferson responded with his "wall of separation."

But my point here is not to summarize Conn's excellent article as much as it is to hold Conn up as an example of what I mean when I refer to using reason and evidence to evaluate the truth of various claims. The right-wing myth of a morally degraded America can be evaluated and is found lacking. It is a myth to be discarded and replaced by the truth - what actually happened rather than political spin.

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