Saturday, January 10, 2009

American Democracy vs. Richard John Neuhaus's Kind

I heard this story on NPR on my way home from work last night; it's about recently deceased theologian and author Richard John Neuhaus. Somewhere in the middle author George Weigel lauds Neuhaus as "a genuine democrat with a small 'd'" -- apparently Neuhaus was a proponent of Christianity driving public policy in the U.S. I don't know if he plainly argued against our separation of church and state (or Christianity and State, the way these things tend to be; no one gets much of a hearing who is against the separation of non-Christian religions and U.S. government), but these people continue to miss the most basic point of this tenet of our democracy: codifying separation of religion and government was explicitly done (and continues) to protect the most faithful.

Yes, almost exclusively Christians at first. The founding fathers were not particularly concerned with protecting Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists in the late 1700's. For one thing there just weren't very many around in post-colonial America.

When Weigel said Neuhaus was a "democrat", I thought "No way;" but had to correct myself. Yes, technically a democracy is ruled by the will of the majority. So he can be genuinely democratic -- but that doesn't make him a tremendous supporter of American democracy. True little 'd' democracies, though, are characterized by the tyranny of the majority against the minority. American democracy has a great pillar in our "Bill of Rights", a set of tenets that protect individuals and minorities and that can't be overturned by a simple majority -- they require a strong super-majority to change them, being, as they are, a part of our Constitution.

Protection of the minority (and individual) is in all of our best interest -- sooner or later we all find ourselves as a minority of one kind or another, or standing alone in some predicament either on principle or through unfortunate happenstance.

So unless, Father Neuhaus, you plan to always be in the majority, you and those you would have in your flock, please help us to preserve our protections; to solidify our rights and embrace our separations where they are emplaced to deny tyranny and injustice. If you are comfortably ensconced in your majority, here's just one example of how majority can be fleeting, if you are a U.S. citizen and caucasian you are currently in the majority. Reuters tells us that you likely will not be by the year 2050 -- you'll be a plurality, i.e. less than 50% of the population, not enough to vote your will onto society even in a little 'd' democracy. So if you are under the age of 35, there's a good chance you'll live to be in a racial non-majority. Let's keep the Golden Rule in mind. Let's bring morality into our government as often and deeply as possible, but we can do that without the accoutrements of organized religions.

Rest in peace.

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