Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Domestic Threats to Democracy and Civility

Currently there are a number of genuine domestic threats to our democracy and civic dialogue.

Foremost among them are those neoconservatives and others who believe that public discussion has become an empty formality in our democracy. In their eyes, the idea of openness and discussion has become outmoded.

In actuality, there are a number of reasons for that position. First, small and exclusive committees and coalitions are making key decisions behind closed doors and then "framing" the language they use to describe the issues in ways that conceal the effects of their decisions. Second, corporate interests and special interest groups are unduly influencing committees and key decision makers through lobbyists, campaign donations, and other favors. Third, the press and mass media have become subject to corporate and special interests that are using them to "manufacture consent" to further private interests.

Another threat to democracy and civility comes from those who believe that pluralistic democracy is heresy. Adherents of Christian Reconstructionism would replace democracy with a Christian theocracy. R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, opposed pluralistic democracy because:
"In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."
-- Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 294.
They have embarked on a long term project to restore America to the rule of biblical law as practiced by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.

A broader movement, heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionists, are the Dominionists who believe that conservative Christians are commanded to take control of civil government and, ultimately, to exercise dominion over all the earth.

The largest group threatening pluralistic democracy and civility are the Christian Nationalists. They believe that Christianity was the established religion of America until 1962 when the Supreme Court kicked God out of the public schools and established a religion of secular humanism by separating church and state. They are determined to have Christianity declared the established religion of our nation.

A more insidious threat comes from those who are actively working to takeover churches and the public square with the intention to undermine and/or exclude progressive voices from civil dialogue.

A number of philanthropists and corporations, believing that public discussion is a threat to their private interests, have funded an ever growing number of think tanks, political and media entities, publishing houses, colleges, universities, and law schools. These entitites are already playing a significant role in public life. A good example of this threat is the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

Finally, there are some who are deliberately working to manipulate and dominate the public dialogue. They are destroying civil conversation in the process. The consolidation of corporate media, the venom of talk radio, and the clamor of both the right-wing and the left-wing noise machines have completely overwhelmed all principled dialogue between opposing perspectives.

At this moment, more than anything else, we are in dire need of what Martin Marty has called a convicted civility:
"People who are civil often do not have very strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often aren't very civil. What we need to cultivate is convicted civility."
It is time for those committed to pluralistic democracy and civil discussion as a means of governing to stand up and defend their convictions.

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