Austin Dacey: A values voter’s trap

Posted by Kendall Harmon

I'm all for more serious moral debate in politics, and I support the right of all to display their conscience in public, whether it be red, blue, or purple. Yet, as an American who is both liberal-minded and entirely secular, I can't help but wonder what we might be losing along the way.

For what it now means to say that poverty or health care are values issues is that evangelicals have started talking about them, and what it now means for liberals to take values seriously is to start talking about them as evangelicals do. As at the recent Compassion Forum among the Democratic candidates, faith and values are now running mates. Such thinking precludes the possibility of a public moral language that transcends sect and invokes the civic values we share as Americans and world citizens.

This would be a betrayal of a great tradition. The Judeo-Christian virtues of love, mercy and humility have a unique place in the moral heritage of the West. But no less important is the Stoic and neo-Stoic philosophers' notion of universal human reason — a secular conscience — that reveals our earthly good and grounds our natural rights.

We Americans have our own civic scriptures. The American testament has its Creation narrative: Thomas Paine's Common Sense, The Declaration of Independence. It has an Exodus: the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation and the New Deal. Its Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians is Thomas Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists; its Psalms, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The original moral values are enunciated in the Preamble to that American Talmud, the Constitution: justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and liberty.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralUS Presidential Election 2008

5 Comments
Posted April 28, 2008 at 2:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Eric Swensson wrote:

How many widows and orphans did the stoics take care of? how many hospitals did they begin? What was their record of martydom?

April 28, 3:57 pm | [comment link]
2. Charming Billy wrote:

But no less important is the Stoic and neo-Stoic philosophers’ notion of universal human reason — a secular conscience — that reveals our earthly good and grounds our natural rights.

Universal human reason isn’t a Stoic concept. The Stoics held to a notion of a universal divine reason that humans could understand and cooperate with. Admittedly the Stoic deity has little in common with the God of Christianity. The former is a pantheistic, immanent, impersonal animating rational principle that providentially brings about and orders all natural processes and events. This logos is apprehended through reason, rather than revelation and is also conceived as being material. However, it is quite definitely viewed as divine.  Calling it secular, although the Stoic logos is admittedly rational, material, and unrevealed, is a departure from the original Stoic concept.

We Americans have our own civic scriptures.

The morality embodied in our civic scriptures grew out a specifically Christian view of humanity. That’s why Evangelicals sound more convincing than secularists on values issues. Evangelicals are native speakers, but for secularists the civic scriptures are a second language.

As at the recent Compassion Forum among the Democratic candidates, faith and values are now running mates. Such thinking precludes the possibility of a public moral language that transcends sect and invokes the civic values we share as Americans and world citizens.

Again, our public moral language grows out of Christian soil, like it or not. Arbitrarily ruling out faith, in particular Christian faith, in discussions of our shared public morality therefore impoverishes and distorts the discussion.

April 28, 5:45 pm | [comment link]
3. Charming Billy wrote:

Re: #2,

Forgot to cut and paste this:

For the Stoics the possibility of universal human reason that reveals our natural or “secular” goods and rights depends completely upon the existence of the universal divine reason which constitutes and makes intelligible these same goods and rights.

April 28, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
4. rob k wrote:

Charming Billy - Good analysis of Stoicism.  Secularists who claim to also hold moral values (and they do indeed hold them) usually don’t stop to think that they are living off capital borrowed from our Judeo-Christian heritage without having made even a down payment.

April 29, 5:05 am | [comment link]
5. rob k wrote:

To add to no. 4 - They usually think that they arrived at their secular faith in morality through their own searching and experience.

April 29, 5:07 am | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Wintering in the South Pole Can Be Trying, Exciting

Previous entry (below): Atheists push own holidays

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)