There is an assumption in America that we are individuals, capable of self-determination, and protected by the Constitution from being forced into betraying our deeply held beliefs. I’m beginning to wonder if this is true.
Part of the American experiment is the melting pot, that we can come together and get along, and work side by side. I think it used to be understood that this meant that the Dutch, the Irish, and the Italians could work together in an office or factory without regard to where they came from, and then go home at night to their own neighborhoods. The Italians didn’t force the Dutch to accept Catholicism, the Dutch didn’t force the Italians to become Protestant, and both sides let the Irish fight it out amongst themselves. In other words, professional integration, but personal segregation. I can work with you, and you with me, but we respect each other’s lifestyles, religion, personal philosophy, etc. Not agree with, mind you; there is nothing that says that the Italians, Dutch, and Irish had to always like or get along with each other. It’s just that in America, we didn’t start with ancestry, religion, skin color, or language. What mattered was can I be your friend and you mine, despite our differences?
Because in addition to our personal culture, we had a civic culture as well. We told stories about what it meant to be American without mentioning background or belief, and that was okay. None of the Founding Fathers had the exact same theological understandings, and were of many different backgrounds, educations, and experiences. They came together to work out how they could make such diversity workable, not to meld it into a cultural hegemony.
This is why even though I understand with what the infamous Vox Day says about multicultural diversity being untenable for long, I think that he is wrong. What makes America unique, and successful, is allowing everyone the freedom to have personal individuality as long as they support a civic culture that is more homogeneous. Where he is right is that some cultures refuse to be subservient in the public square (or professional arena) so that all can have personal freedom.
And that is where we are today. The leaders in our media and entertainment industries have certain beliefs, and if you disagree with them, well, you must be wrong. And very possibly evil. Certainly not worthy of having your own rationality for why you believe what you believe. They have looked at the alternatives, chosen the correct path, and you are expected to fall in line. It’s the only conceivable option. And they have plenty of ways to make you feel pressure to conform.
But conformity was never the American ideal. We were not founded with the idea that we should all hold the same beliefs. We were founded with the understanding that our laws would protect the ability of the individual to choose their own beliefs, as long as this did not cause harm to others. And this means real harm, not just have your feelings hurt.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–a Mormon. We believe that only men are allowed, by God, to hold the priesthood. There is a group that believes that women should hold the priesthood as well, because that is fair. Their idea of social equality cannot, and should not, trump my religious belief. In fact, the proper response, if they believe that there is a theological reason to let women hold the priesthood, is to form their own church. And if they claim divine revelation for doing so, all the better. But their insistence that I change my belief because it goes against their belief doesn’t help either of us. Believe what you want. Don’t force it on me, and above all, don’t think I have to change because you have polls, and popular culture, and celebrities, and political leaders on your side. It doesn’t matter. And if it does, then I claim God to be on my side, and I win.
Oh, that isn’t fair? As the Grandfather in The Princess Bride says:
It is not fair that women are sexually mutilated in some cultures. It’s not fair some of the richest men in the world come from countries that have high populations of abjectly poor people. It’s not fair that most great Western art comes from Europe. It’s not fair that the Amish have to do without most modern technology. Oh, wait, that last one is a choice of the Amish themselves? And I could choose to live that way if I wanted to?
You don’t say.
You’ll notice that even though my church claims divine authority, so does every other major church. It’s one of those church things, I guess. And you don’t see the Pope demanding that we stop allowing bishops to marry, or the Baptists demanding that we stop baptizing people. They may want those things, they may try and convince me of those things, but in the end they let me choose for myself.
I’m sure Ordain Women thinks that they are just trying to convince people that they are right, too. And they are. In that sense, I have no problem with them. I have also known good Mormons who have shopped on Sunday, and don’t think that they are doing anything wrong (if you don’t understand that, it’s because we believe in keeping the Sabbath day holy, in the Old Testament tradition). What bothers me is that they are not trying to convince me that I’m wrong, they are trying to convince society that I am wrong. We all know that society thinks my church is wrong about a lot of things. But remember what I said about the American culture is about professional integration and personal segregation? Yeah, that means that even if you convince the entire non-Mormon population of America that my church should changes it’s practice, it doesn’t have to. Go convince the Amish to use cell phones while you’re at it.