One of the principles our country was founded upon is a clear separation between church and state. So why are we still living in a country governed by religious ideals? In 2011, Texas, known for being a conservative state, slashed the budget for Planned Parenthood by 67%. Just last year, the Texas House approved new abortion restrictions, banning the most common form of second trimester procedure. As Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, eloquently states, “the sad truth is this bill’s supporters are peddling lies to shame women who seek an abortion and make it harder for them to get access to the reproductive health care they need.” Texas is making it increasingly difficult for women to get an abortion, resulting in an increase in teenage pregnancies, especially in poor communities. As a society, do we want children brought into unstable families where they are an unwanted burden on the mother? Being a mother is a monumental and wonderful undertaking, but most teenagers are just not ready for that endeavor and should not be deprived of their futures simply because the government does not subsidize abortions. Why is it okay for the Texas government to hamper people from getting an abortion based off of religious values? It is completely justified to think abortion is wrong if that is what your beliefs tell you, but that does not give you the right to intervene in other people’s lives and prevent them from getting one. This is a complicated issue and there are still many debates about at what point in the pregnancy is abortion immoral, but the decision should ultimately be left to the mother and father of the child. Not the government.
There is widespread belief that America is currently engaged in a second Civil War, a culture war that pits liberalism against conservatism. The liberal side is thought to include secularists, Humanists, modernists, and progressive religionists. They tend to espouse Enlightenment values, often supporting religious pluralism, equality, and individual rights. Liberals believe in a strong, centralized federal government that focuses on promoting justice and equality. The conservative side, on the other hand, often includes Evangelicals, libertarians, and republicans. They value tradition and adherence to the past over radical change. Conservatives detest “big government” and sometimes desire a less secular government. These two ideologies certainly oppose each other, but do they amount to a “culture war?” I would argue that, in spite of the two clearly contrasting ideologies, there is not actually an ongoing culture war in America.
Unsurprisingly, when viewing America through a religious lens, several notable differences exist between religious liberalism and conservatism, but I do not think they warrant the title “culture war.” Conservative religious branches views the United States as a divine entity, blessed by God as a chosen nation. Similar to their political and moral counterparts, religious conservatives value tradition and private, individualized morality. Religious conservatism, at its best, outlines the political and moral positions of numerous Americans. Yet, at its worst, religious conservatism can lead to a form of religious nationalism. Religious liberalism, on the other hand, considers the United States to be an entity for spreading the ideas of justice, equality, and civil rights. Religious liberals typically reject the idea that God granted the United States a divine superiority over other nations but, alternatively, suggests that the vast resources and power of the United States have indebted them with a responsibility to aid struggling nations. Certainly, there are significant differences between religious conservatism and liberalism, but, once again, I think that amounting some ideological differences to a “culture war” is unfair and, ultimately, counterproductive for America.
In actuality, while there are certainly some devout liberals and conservatives, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding some conservative and some liberal positions. Many people, for instance, describe themselves as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” I think that the current highly partisan political parties overrepresent the polarization of actual Americans. Most Americans are neither radical liberals or devoted conservatives — they fall somewhere in between the two. Thus, I believe that, although there are certainly stark differences in the ideologies of liberalism and conservatism, comparing some ideological differences to a “culture war” is a melodramatic, sensationalist way of describing modern America.
I actually believe, at its best, America represents a place where people with fundamentally opposing viewpoints can come together and typically resolve their differences through compromise. I think that working through political and cultural differences is the best and most effective way to create lasting legislation that improves the lives of Americans. While I think that partisan politics have certainly created some level of toxicity in Washington, I think that these political differences amount to far less than an all-out “Culture War.”
The overdramatized term “culture war” does nothing more than to stoke the ideological differences of Americans. Instead, a more accurate term for the religious, political, and moral differences in America would be an “ideological contest.” Sure, there are significant philosophical differences among Americans about religion, government, and morality. But they certainly don’t amount to any sort of “culture war” in America, and saying such is a drastic over-exaggeration.
I believe the foundation of morality to be self-ownership; therefore, respecting the rights of the individual is the baseline for moral behavior. These rights are determined by our sentience and humanity. Because we recognize that we are alive, we have the right to live unmolested. Because we recognize that we have opinions, we have the right to voice those opinions. Because we recognize that we can produce goods and services, we have the right to keep the fruits of our production. Rights come in two forms: personal rights and property rights. My rights end where your rights begin, as I do not have the right to abuse you or your property. The function of government should be to protect each citizen’s rights.
In order to define my moral philosophy, I must first define what constitutes a personal right and what constitutes a property right. In my view, personal rights are encapsulated by the right to life. The right to life is the right to live physically unmolested. This means that any law restricting self-ownership is immoral, as laws are inevitably backed up by the threat of physical violence. For example, I believe hate speech laws to be immoral. The act of voicing one’s opinion is well within the purview of self-ownership. Any law that restricts that right ultimately results in the violator being dragged to prison, thus violating their right to life. Similarly, a ban on gay marriage is one of the ultimate violations of personal rights. An agreement between consenting adults is not open to interference by anyone else because that agreement does not infringe on another’s personal or property rights.
The moment you cross the threshold into violating another’s right to live is the moment in which their possession of that right trumps yours. For instance, threatening someone with a firearm places their right to live in immediate danger, and it becomes their right to kill you in order to preserve their own rights against an aggressor. An example of this would be the trial of a man for killing a SWAT police officer after the officers had stormed the wrong house. The man, not knowing that it was a police raid, used his own firearm to kill an apparent home invader who had a gun. The trial was dismissed, as the man had his right to life threatened and acted to preserve it. Similarly, a murderer or rapist gives up their rights the moment they infringe on the rights of another through an act of aggression. They then are stripped of their rights through things such as prison time to whatever extent the society deems appropriate.
Property rights are the rights to retain what you produce through your own means or what you obtain through consensual transaction. My stance on property rights as a matter of morality means that I believe Marxism and its associated politics to be fundamentally immoral. The idea that an individual is entitled to another’s labor is immoral as it violates a right guaranteed by our existence. We possess the ability to produce without violating anyone’s property rights or right to live; therefore, what we produce by our own means is inherently ours and should not be taken at gunpoint. Though I believe that taxes are necessary to maintain government at the functioning level, any bureaucratic waste or large-scale wealth redistribution constitutes theft. There are certain allowances that must be made in order to live within a functioning country, such as the possession of a military and a public education system. These issues should be left up to a democratic vote; however, I believe the guiding principle of government should be the protection of the personal and property rights of its citizens.
My guiding moral principle can be seen in a quote from President Thomas Jefferson. In discussing religious freedom, he stated that the “legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Though Jefferson is referring specifically to government involvement in religion, his last sentence can be applied to all human interactions regarding morality. It is no one’s business to enforce “morality” upon others. The only just moral action is allowing individuals to do what they please so long as it does not encroach on the personal rights or property rights of another individual.
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Product of Errant Publishing Co.
The turbulent 2016 campaign and election seemed to mark the apex of post-Vietnam political polarization in America. Fox News, Breitbart, and Info Wars perpetuated outlandish conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton (the story that claimed she was running a child sex ring particularly stands out), while the left frequently generalized all Trump supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic deplorables. Presidential Debates, once policy-driven ideological battles, became a cringeworthy competition between the candidates to deliver the most viral soundbytes as possible.* Social media, more prominent in the 2016 election than ever before, perpetuated fake news stories that further enraged voters from both parties. Understandably, these unprecedented occurrences did little to unify an already polarized nation. Rather, they contributed to the rise of tribal politics, a culture of party-line politics with little or no attempts to understand the viewpoints of opposing ideologies. For our country to effectively pass legislation again, this party before principle brand of politics must change.
The current climate in Washington provides no hope for addressing the magnitude of complex issues facing our country. As it now stands, whichever party holds a majority in congress tries to ram legislation through congress, frequently without mere deliberation with the minority party. Then, when the other party gains a majority, the new reining power tries to repeal all of the legislation of the preceding party and force its own legislation through congress. This is not how a functioning democracy should work. Issues that will outlive every member of the current congress (global warming, terrorism, nuclear proliferation) must be addressed without the petty partisanship of today. It’s time for both parties in congress to understand that the only way to implement successful long-term policies is to work with opposing parties on creating thoughtful compromises that better the lives of Americans. The same goes for voters.
Many Americans now live in a bubble of partisanship — their friends, families, news sources, and religious institutions (also known as their “tribe”) all share the same politics. Ranging from the Evangelical Fox News viewer to the millennial Huffington Post reader, Americans live in a political echochamber where their opinions are often affirmed, reiterated, and validated, though never challenged. Voters and politicians must instead strive to seek out civil discourse. Thoughtful civil discourse challenges the viability of a political viewpoint, often identifying its flaws. It forces people to examine the logic behind their own opinions and can illuminate new ways of thinking. Unlike the overtly partisan politics of today, civil discourse inspires authentic political engagement that yields durable legislation.