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Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 26 Dec 2014, 15:26
by thoreau
Our country has something of a civic religion about (parts of) the Bill of Rights, and on net that's a good thing. Like any religion, it is poorly-understood by most of its adherents, their reasons for respecting it are often incoherent, often its dictates are honored only in the breach, and many people view it as increasingly quaint in the modern world. Still, this civic religion means that there are a lot of people who will, if pushed on it, walk back some of their condemnations of offensive speech. The common folk might get muddled in their application of free speech principles to private situations vs. public ones, but at least there's a tendency to recoil from certain violations.

I was thinking about this because over the holidays I was talking to a friend about some free speech matters involving things more extreme than a Seth Rogen movie. Out of respect for my friend, I won't detail the sorts of things he'd be willing to curtail. I'll just say that during the conversation I supplemented the usual free speech arguments with something about the dangers of weakening the civic religion around free speech. Part of his response was to point out all of the ways in which that religion was fraying and often abandoned, and all of the things that you could get people to agree ought to be censored.

One obvious response was that if the civic religion is already fraying and weak, that's all the more reason to be vigilant. But another response is that the measure of a civic religion is not what you can get people to say in a telephone poll about some shocking statement or video or whatever, or even what sorts of disturbing things you can get a smart, thoughtful friend to say over holiday dinner. Rather, the measure of a civic religion is what happens when you go from idle questions to a decision point and say "OK, an actual, live candidate is running on this platform, or an actual, live legislator has put a bill before the Assembly; are you willing to support the actual, existing Government having this new power?" And in those cases, the civic religion often seems to maintain its hold on an operating majority of the public. Not the same majority in every case, but that's OK. Any robustly liberal system will be one that can maintain certain fundamentals even in the face of shifting opinions and with a public composed of fallible and often hypocritical humans. On a systemic level, I don't care if you get a different 51% in favor of free speech when you switch the context from an Evangelical Christian to an angry Muslim to a loud-mouthed atheist to a Charles Manson fan to a Communist to a Koch-funded think-tanker to whoever, as long as you can get 51% or more each time. (Well, ideally I want a lot more than 51%, but you know what I mean.) I might be pissed off at the individuals who hypocritically change sides, but at a system-wide level I figure that the civic religion is (more or less) working.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 26 Dec 2014, 16:07
by D.A. Ridgely
I don't know what the standards may be for robust democracy, but one of the reasons politicians don't repeal the Bill of Rights is that their constituency is far smaller than the voting, let alone voting eligible public, and I'd argue this is true for presidents as well. If there are any advantages in republican government, this has to be one of them because I am confident that if we made it easy enough for eligible voters to vote on individual statutes or constitutional amendments the result would soon be an evisceration of protected rights and liberties.

Also, one obvious cause of the decline in active, loyal and robust adherence to our civic religion is that the mythology surrounding its establishment has been eroded by the rise of identity politics, which is bad, and the increased awareness of how that establishment has worked primarily to retain political power in an upper class, which is sorta good. Sorta because the principles, themselves, are splendid candidates for universal application; it's just that, as an obvious historical matter of fact, most of them never have been. And if, for example, by virtue of being black or gay or a member of some minority religion, it seems to me likely that one will have at the very least mixed feelings about those principles.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 26 Dec 2014, 19:19
by Eric the .5b
We can't even get 51% on "torture is bad", and there's no meaningful interest in doing anything about torturers.

Free speech has the advantage of the hassle of the courts, at least when the courts disagree. Who knows how long that will last.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 27 Dec 2014, 14:39
by Mo
I will note that the Catholic Church that sponsored the nativity scene in the Florida statehouse was upset about the fallen angel diorama being destroyed rather than the opposite. So there's still hope.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 27 Dec 2014, 14:49
by thoreau
I think DAR makes a goof point about the extent to which the civic religion involves reference for Founders who will (for not entirely bad reasons) be less subject to worship in our modern era.
Eric the .5b wrote:We can't even get 51% on "torture is bad", and there's no meaningful interest in doing anything about torturers.
That's because the founding texts of the civic religion on silent on due process and cruel....wait, never mind.

OK, your point is correct (and depressing).

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 27 Dec 2014, 15:04
by Jennifer
thoreau wrote:I think DAR makes a goof point about the extent to which the civic religion involves reference for Founders who will (for not entirely bad reasons) be less subject to worship in our modern era.
Eric the .5b wrote:We can't even get 51% on "torture is bad", and there's no meaningful interest in doing anything about torturers.
That's because the founding texts of the civic religion on silent on due process and cruel....wait, never mind.

OK, your point is correct (and depressing).
Every religion, civic or otherwise, has worshipers who will promote the exact opposite of what the religion claims to be about, and not even notice any contradiction -- look at what Jesus actually said about poor and rich people, compared to how professional Christians (including politicians who wear their religion on their sleeve) actually live, for example.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 12:33
by Hugh Akston
Like any death cult, your civic religion has a very comfortable priest class whose job it is to offer empty praise to those who die defending the faith, and to encourage others to do the same, knowing full well that the clergy themselves will rarely if ever be in danger.
Today, America’s heart has been broken by the tragic and heroic death of one of our Capitol Police heroes: Officer William Evans. He is a martyr for our democracy.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 12:43
by dead_elvis
I've always held that the *actual* martyrs/heros for democracy, or our civil rights, however you want to put it, are people who are victims of criminals who were let off because we insisted on enforcing those rights. Anyone who has been subsequently murdered by someone let off on a technicality should have a fucking statue on The Mall.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46
by Number 6
I don't think that would be taken as you hope.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 13:02
by thoreau
Number 6 wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46 I don't think that would be taken as you hope.
This. Celebrating martyrs often turns into revenge. Hence the Good Friday tradition of pogroms.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 13:50
by Warren
thoreau wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 13:02
Number 6 wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46 I don't think that would be taken as you hope.
This. Celebrating martyrs often turns into revenge. Hence the Good Friday tradition of pogroms.
Kids today have no respect for tradition.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 14:43
by dhex
Bean pies will not be served at the memorial.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 04 Apr 2021, 15:24
by lunchstealer
Number 6 wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46 I don't think that would be taken as you hope.
He forgot to include sarc tags.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 05 Apr 2021, 15:44
by dead_elvis
lunchstealer wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 15:24
Number 6 wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46 I don't think that would be taken as you hope.
He forgot to include sarc tags.
Certainly the statues are hyperbole, but c'mon guys, I would have thought it uncontroversial to say that if our culture bent towards venerating the people who bear the negative consequences of a society that actually respected peoples' rights, rather than venerating the people who shit all over those rights, we would get more of the former and less of the latter. Sure, our culture is not that right now, and it's hard to see how to get there from here, but a man can dream and culture can change.

Re: Thoughts on our Civic Religion

Posted: 05 Apr 2021, 17:40
by Shem
dead_elvis wrote: 05 Apr 2021, 15:44
lunchstealer wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 15:24
Number 6 wrote: 04 Apr 2021, 12:46 I don't think that would be taken as you hope.
He forgot to include sarc tags.
Certainly the statues are hyperbole, but c'mon guys, I would have thought it uncontroversial to say that if our culture bent towards venerating the people who bear the negative consequences of a society that actually respected peoples' rights, rather than venerating the people who shit all over those rights, we would get more of the former and less of the latter. Sure, our culture is not that right now, and it's hard to see how to get there from here, but a man can dream and culture can change.
I'm going to need an example of a larger culture venerating martyrs that didn't lead to said martyrs being used as fodder for pogroms before I can believe what you're saying is anything other than "communism can work in an economy with scarcity" levels of naïvté.