This is a guest post by Jon Nelson. He is a sophomore at Kansas University and member of the Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics (SOMA).
Yesterday China downgraded US debt and Mitch McConnell promised he would be holding the debt limit hostage in the future. On this news, the Dow Jones shed 500 points. This sort of idiocy has no place in our politics. We in the secular movement pride ourselves on reason, but in a democracy we must all be reasonable…
“Citizens engaged in certain political activities have a duty of civility to be able to justify their decisions on fundamental political issues by reference only to public values and public standards.” -John Rawls
The idea of democracy is not a new one, but the mass execution of the theory taking place in western countries is unprecedented. One person, one vote. The currents of society, decisions of government, and indeed all civil interaction is governed, ultimately, by the citizen. The onus placed upon her is a heavy one, but the load may be lightened through the collective enterprise of reasoning together in the public forum. But if we are to distribute power, we must first agree on a standard for what is acceptable to bring to the forum and what must be left in the personal sphere. Ideologies and moral frameworks, varied as they are, must all be taken into account, but they must also be held to a public objective standard. A burden of proof must be met and it is here that America faces its greatest dilemma.
Ideologies and moral frameworks often find their roots in religion. As such, a person’s spiritual upbringing will impress itself upon the reason he brings to debate. Perhaps it is a humanistic Buddhism or peaceful variant of Christianity, but it is also likely that the citizen’s upbringing will be of the fundamentalist variety. Raised with a dichotomous world view, and cursed with the backfire effect, the citizen will view those that disagree with him as morally and thus politically illegitimate. The fair-minded public reason needed to engage in self-governance is thoroughly absent in such individuals. It is a bleak view predicated on the sinful nature of humans and ultimately supernatural salvation. That we should govern as though we are all fallen beings is a disgusting ideology that opens the way for terrifying acts of violence. Hope, however, can be found in the burgeoning secular movement.
The secular movement is, at its core, a resurrection of the ideals first postulated during the Enlightenment. We hold beliefs, actions, and, most importantly, ourselves to a humanistic worldview with a firm footing in scientific evidence. As our democracy is faced with economic stagnation, global warming, war, and the looming energy crunch, we will need science more than ever. But science is not enough. What is needed is proud humanism and the insistence of holding our elected officials to the public golden standard of objective evidence and the compassion it evinces.
The youth of the secular movement (now 22% of 18-29 year olds), as with all revolutionary movements, are the key to our success. The movement is already underway. With more conferences being held every year and public visibility growing, we are gaining the capacity to begin to dismantle the fundamentalist basis of right-wing ideology. Our message is one of salvation on Earth if only we dare to reach for it. Of radical equality for all peoples and the worth of every individual. It is the light for which we must strive, lest we fall into the bitter self-loathing of our religious brothers and sisters. This is the decision with which we are now faced.
Ultimately, democracy means that we choose our future. There is the fundamentalist, misogynist, racist, bigoted future of those that would exploit ignorance. And there is the enlightened humanist future where all people are deemed intrinsically valuable and worthy of compassion. Reason is what makes us human. Now is the time to use it to preserve our democratic ideals and ensure that our shared humanity is put above hatred and strife.
The future is waiting.
The choice is yours.
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