GOP presidential nominee seeker John Kasich wants to add a new federal agency to promote “Judeo-Christian Western values.”
Alright, so let’s go through what’s wrong with this.
New federal agency: Nope
Promote (since government “promotes” at gunpoint): No
Seriously, what are they?
I mean I grew up going to church 3x/week. If anyone should know, it’s me. And yet I know that even within the Southern Baptist Church, which is different from the Baptist Church, there are massive disagreements about how to live a Godly life.
For instance, in college I freaked the fuck out when I visited my BFF’s Sunday School class and the teacher said women should not teach Bible study to mixed-gender classes.
Which, I mean, Paul is pretty clear:
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
But that still didn’t sit right with me. So I jumped on the internet and three hours later I’d read about five pages of amateur theology (it was circa 2006 and I used to play Freecell while pages loaded) and came to a conclusion. When Paul said women should stay silent in church, he was talking to the church at Corinth at the time of his writing. It’s literally a letter to church elders with instructions on how to go about their business. It wasn’t meant to be instructions for all time going forward up to and including Whatever Baptist of Birmingham, Alabama in 2005.
But, not everyone shares my conclusion. I don’t even know what the fights are in 2015, it’s been a long time since I fought with anyone over theology. The point is that from shit as broad-ranging (and you’d think irrelevant to religion) as climate change Christians have opinions on the Godly way to react and those opinions differ. Whether it’s the role of women in church, in the home, and in the world, how to raise your kids, or what foreign policy to support, Christianity, even in the US, is not a monolith.
So what are Judeo-Christian values?
We could (and should) look to moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt’s research to illuminate trends between moralities and political persuasions.
His research found six “foundations” of morality.
This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.
The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/cheating and Liberty/oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyatly/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. The culture war in the 1990s and early 2000s centered on the legitimacy of these latter three foundations. In 2009, with the rise of the Tea Party, the culture war shifted away from social issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and became more about differing conceptions of fairness (equality vs. proportionality) and liberty (is government the oppressor or defender?). The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are both populist movements that talk a great deal about fairness and liberty, but in very different ways, as you can see here, for the Tea Party, and here, for OWS.
This research does a great job explaining the differences between the moralities American liberals share and the ones conservatives share. But that tells us almost nothing about Judeo-Christian values, as the American Jewish/Christian communities are made up of both liberals and conservatives. While the picture in your head of someone promoting “Judeo-Christian values” might be an evangelical white southerner, and indeed, that’s the cultural mieliu from which I sprang, that leaves out the tremendous numbers of urban Jews (within which there is PLENTY of disagreement on values), black Evangelicals (who tend to vote much more like urban Jews than white southerners) and Catholics, who tend to be more liberal as well.
In sum: saying you’re a Christian doesn’t tell someone anything concrete or useful about your values. Which also means that saying you’re a Muslim doesn’t tell someone anything concrete or useful about your values. Islam is way, way more diverse than American Christianity.
Kasich explains further
“U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering our opponents’ propaganda and disinformation,” Kasich said. “I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core, Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share: the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association.”
Close Guantanamo, drop charges against Edward Snowden, stop spying on citizens and lying about it, stop torturing imprisoned Americans, stop droning Americans to death, and then we’ll talk about how America values human rights.
But here’s the thing about the rest: speech, religion, association, democracy:
Liberal democracies don’t promote values.
Totalitarian states promote values.
“Follow the true path, comrades!”
Pictures are of Jewish socialists and communists, sex researchers, etc. People who don’t represent German values, contrasted with leading Nazis. Reads: “Look at these faces and you’ll know where you belong!”
Chairman Mao gives us a happy life, 1954
Liberal democracies tolerate ideas.
Look, dawg. I support human rights, the most basic of which are the right to life and liberty, summed up as freedom of speech, religion, association, and trade.
The moral foundation I hold most dear is liberty/oppression, for sure. And, yes so-called “Western” governments are violating human rights less than non-Western governments.
But that’s not because Judeo-Christian values.
Americans didn’t lose their right to communicate without surveillance because our President didn’t pray enough. George W. Bush is one of the most religious presidents we’ve had. He continually invoked God as he created secret prisons and passed the law that opened the door to wiretapping. As he began prosecuting whistleblowers and spying on Muslims he talked about God granting the right to freedom of religion while he stripped away our most fundamental liberties.
In fact his very justification for starting two wars we never should have fought was to bring democracy to the Middle East. To impose by force Kasich’s “Western values and ideals.”
Are you seeing the irony yet?
The right to life and liberty, summed up as freedom of speech, religion, association, and trade aren’t Christian and Jewish things. They’re liberal democracy things. Really, they’re trade things. When goods cross borders armies don’t dude. And when armies aren’t crossing borders it’s more difficult to justify oppressing your citizens. War be the health of the state, and all that.
You can’t fuck your way to virginity or bomb your way to democracy or use a fundamentally coercive power to promote tolerance and liberalism. It doesn’t work like that.
Kasich, like Bush, sees Islam and Islamic organizations as threats to liberal democracy and wants to counter them with Western values and ideals. But Islam is diverse enough to coexist with liberal democracy.
Sure, there are theocratic Muslims. There are Muslims who want Islam’s worst values codified by law by an organization willing to enforce them with violence.
There are Muslims who would vote for a man who would use God to justify starting a war with a country that poses no existential threat to them. *cough* Bush *cough*
But there are billions of Muslims. There are billions of Christians. The vast majority of both support the right to life and liberty, summed up as freedom of speech, religion, association, and trade. The vast majority of both is tired of being associated with theocratic, war-hungry, violent despots.
The difference between a liberal democracy and a totalitarian state isn’t a particular religion’s set of values. The difference between a liberal democracy and a totalitarian state is just one value: the right to life and liberty. That value then enables all varieties of values to flourish, as long as they do not violate that fundamental right.
Setting up some fucking theocratic federal agency does not further the right to life and liberty. It is neither necessary for that task nor helpful to it.