Jack Miles reflects on religion and secularism, after having edited the new Norton Anthology of World Religions. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "God: A Biography."
Herb Paine: Fidelity To Truth In Politics
Having just celebrated the birth of our country, it strikes me that something essential to the Declaration of Independence has been lost.
It is the truth.
The 56 signatories of that document, each with fundamental differences of opinion, achieved consensus about something so bold as the founding of a new nation based on truths that they thought were so obvious that they didn’t require a lot of explanation or justification.
How estranged our politics have become from their premises.
Think about this— We once held certain truths to be self evident.
One set of truths proclaimed that we all are created equal and that we have unalienable rights, including but not limited to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet, it’s clear that these truths may not be evident to or even embraced by everybody. It seems that some folks want to pick the truths that most conveniently serve their personal biases and deep-six the others.
For example, look at the efforts of so-called social conservatives and lobbies like the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy to use the rhetoric of religious freedom to promote intolerance and discrimination. How about the Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 1062 earlier this year that would have allowed businesses the right to refuse service because of a customer’s sexual preference? Or Hobby Lobby’s contention, disturbingly upheld by the Supreme Court, that a business has religious beliefs that can trump the needs and life choices of its employees?
Then there’s the truth that the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed. But, you’ve got to wonder how we the governed can ever give meaningful and informed consent when big money peddlers and well-endowed lobbyists rule the legislative roosts, or when elected officials abuse their powers and lie to the people, or when they work to make it harder to vote. Consider the cloud hanging over the State’s Attorney General and Superintendent of Instruction. Consider the recent action of the Phoenix City Council to adopt ballot language on pension reform that is more likely to confuse voters rather than clarify.
How can we thrive and pursue life, liberty and happiness when we’re denied control over our own government and when we cannot trust those in power?
We have heavy work to do to fulfill the Declaration’s self-evident truths. If we do not uphold these truths, if we cannot trust, then we cannot have our democracy.
Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant and social critic.