I Vote That We Stop Forcing People to Do Things

I believe there is a self-evident principle that if someone doesn’t want something, and you try to shove it down their throat, it is highly likely they will spit it back in your face. I hope I’m not the only one who has noticed this, but I’m beginning to wonder.

I’m pretty sure that this is universally true for all shovers and shovees who have ever lived. Apparently it is human nature to both attempt to force our will on others, and, ironically, to resist having another’s will forced on us. I could spend the rest of the day giving historical examples, and so could you. But now that we’ve had the benefit of watching both the right and the left, both the religious and the non-religious, and both the reactionary and the progressive do both the shoving and the spitting, maybe it’s time we step back and embrace a better idea: Pluralism and Freedom. I get that everyone, both shovers and spitters, think they are right. But that’s just the point. When the tide shifts and the former spitters become the new shovers, the world remains just as unenlightened, and oppressive as it was before. That’s why we must maintain pluralism and freedom.

If you are a shover, even if you are right, even if what you are shoving is good for the other person, they’re still not going to accept it. Have you ever fed a baby? Same thing. Except that when it comes to shoving values and concepts down people’s throats, you’re not dealing with a little baby strapped to a high chair. In fact you might be dealing with a big, hairy, angry activist baby who is completely unrestrained. So this is a call for civility and respectful dialogue.

Pluralism blg

Since I have a foot in at least two very different subcultures, I want to clarify some recent statements I’ve made extolling the virtues of pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in various ways. For the purposes of this discussion I’m using a definition right out of the dictionary:

“A state of society in which members of a diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”

Notice the ending phrase, “within the confines of a common civilization.” In a free and pluralistic nation, every subgroup, though free to exist, must embrace the overarching fundamental values of the nation. In the case of America, that would include the concept that God has endowed all people with certain inalienable rights, and that we are a nation governed by a constitution, not by rulers. If a subgroup were to come in and decide that everyone should be governed by, let’s say, Sharia Law under a theocracy, that would essentially promote revolution, not pluralism. Those people should go live somewhere else.

I agree with whoever said “America is more of a stew than a melting pot.” Groups and individuals need not lose their distinctive identities here so long as they can agree to allow others the same freedom, and accept the basic values of the nation. In our fallen, broken world, I contend that this is the best we can hope for in terms of societal structure. But in order for this to work, we all have agree that if and when our people get in power, they should not use that power to force everyone else to conform to their political views. Otherwise pluralism and freedom will come to an end. By now it should be understood that we don’t want government imposing a religion, a non-religion, or some other “ism” on the population. After all, what are the odds that a handful of politicians have gotten things figured out to the point that it’s a good idea for them to force people to comply with their personal views, and to punish those who don’t? Yet here we are again, watching it happen.

The cool thing about pluralism is that it’s like the equivalent of a free market, but with ideas. Even stupid ideas should be allowed to be put out there. If an idea is truly bad, people ultimately won’t buy it. So even racists and holocaust-deniers should be free to express their views. Because their views can then to be shown to be horrendous. But the great thing about pluralism is, it also allows the possibility that there are good ideas that may seem stupid, but which are actually merely unfashionable. Pluralism allows the opportunity for those ideas to be examined, and tested, and to potentially gain traction if they are deserving.

This can be seen clearly in the area of religious belief. Religious belief has been intellectually unfashionable for well over a century now. Since Voltaire (1695-1778,) scholars and really smart academic people have repeatedly predicted the extinction of religion. This has become known as the secularization thesis. It goes something like this: “Belief in God will inevitably die out as the human mind is emancipated by modernization and scientific enlightenment.” It’s inevitable. Except that, whoopsie, the fashionable academic atheist’s predictions have exactly not come to pass. Religion is exploding all over the planet, even in modern and enlightened countries, in both open and closed countries, much to the consternation of the smart people.

We can talk about whose fault this is, but it certainly hasn’t been for lack of atheist governments trying to force atheism on their populations. As in the former USSR. Or in China today. When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 there were an estimated 700,000 Christians in China. Under Mao it was widely assumed that China would become a leading example of a fully secularized, postreligious society. But today the Chinese government logs 16 million members in the official, registered church (the TSPM.) However, it is well known that tens of thousands of illegal, unregistered house churches exist throughout China as well. No one knows the precise number of Chinese in these churches because the government will not allow foreign survey companies to ask questions about religion, but the best estimates are at least 70 million.

While China is very diverse culturally, it is not a pluralistic nation where opposing ideas are free to compete in the public square. (For example, censored Chinese search engines do not acknowledge the government’s massacre of civilians in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.) The astonishing growth of Christianity has occurred against the wishes of the Chinese government, sometimes in the face violent suppression. One political lesson from this could be: If you try to shove something down people’s throats, you probably won’t get the result you hoped for.

Many nations have “anti-conversion” and “apostasy” laws. In these countries if you are born a Christian you are generally free to live as a Christian, but persuading others to become a Christian is a punishable offense. Many Islamic governments equate leaving Islam (apostasy) with treason, punishable by prison or even death, depending on the country. On top of being grossly arrogant and barbaric, this is just really bad marketing. Don’t laws like this make it appear that the majority religion is unable to stand up to criticism?

My point is that this business of shoving things down people’s throats never ends well.

I think it is beyond dispute that America’s pluralistic society and constitutional government were founded on Biblical concepts, but that doesn’t make America a Christian nation anymore than that makes it a Jewish nation. Our Judeo-Christian underpinnings simply form a superior basis for guaranteeing basic rights and freedom for everyone, regardless of belief. Underneath it all is the idea that, while humans are intrinsically valuable because they bear the image of God, we are also corrupt and thus can’t be trusted with power. This humbling idea fits perfectly with the structure of pluralism, freedom, and keeping the power of the church, the corporation, and especially the government in check. I say let’s all embrace the fact that we’re all the same in that none of us has it all figured out. Maybe those of us who disagree with each other can respectfully learn a thing or two from each other.

Until we do have it all figured out, I vote that we stop forcing people to do things.

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4 comments on “I Vote That We Stop Forcing People to Do Things

  1. Scott – I like what you said, a lot. We never do well when we shove. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Recently, David and Sarah’s little boy Sam had some kind of lung problem. They had to give him breathing treatments. He kicked and fought against it and they had to hold him down and force it on him for his health. We’ve all done that with our kids, forcing medicine on them.

    Second, your blog presupposes that American values have already been agreed to. You said, “Every subculture MUST embrace the overarching values of the nation.” MUST is one of those four-lettered words. What if they choose not to, like the Muslims in London? Or like the growing Muslim population who seem to be on the verse of controlling Dearborn, MI? What then? I know you said that would promote revolution, not pluralism, and they those people should go somewhere else to live but isn’t that forcing our pluralistic food on their Sharia diet?

    It seems that at some point, we have to draw boundaries and say, “this is allowed but these things are not. You can practice this but you can’t practice that.” That is the problem. Who determines these boundaries? And how narrowly or widely should they be drawn?

    I wish I had the answers.

  2. Thank for your thoughtful comments Jonathan – Yes, these are indeed interesting questions worth discussing. My post is, of course, directed toward common adult citizens, (not infants,) in an attempt to promote civility and mutual respect.

    I think your hard questions mostly have to do with the role of government. I think we do have some American values that we can agree on, and they can be found in our founding documents. I mentioned a couple above. Of course, within the pale of that agreement we can disagree over how we interpret what is written. But there is simply no way to interpret our founding documents to allow for Sharia Law and a theocratic government. Therefore it is the American government’s role to forcibly step in whenever it is determined that someone is essentially waging such a war on the nation from within. Recent events in Boston would be an example.

    If there is a way for American Muslims to practice their religion while abiding by American law, embracing free speech, freedom of religion, and pluralism, then I say “welcome.”

    It looks as though Britain has allowed things to badly deteriorate. As for Dearborn, MI, I know very little about the situation so I can’t comment much. I would assume most American Muslims are enjoying their freedom and peaceful co-existence with their non-Muslim neighbors. All I can say is that if I were a follower of Jesus in Dearborn, I would be committed to reaching out and befriending my Muslim neighbors and respectfully communicating the the truth of Jesus to them, and in turn learning about their faith.

    Here is a British writer whose comments have inspired me:
    http://melaniephillips.com/liberalism-v-islamism?searched=liberalism&advsearch=oneword&highlight=ajaxSearch_highlight+ajaxSearch_highlight1
    (If that link doesn’t work, in the Google search bar type: Melanie Phillips liberalism vs Islamism)

  3. cpmondello says:

    “America’s pluralistic society and constitutional government were founded on Biblical concepts” WHAT?

    • Absolutely!
      If you read the rest of the paragraph following that quote, I explain what I mean. It’s a worldview question. I think the key is understanding that our system is based on biblical “CONCEPTS,” not “laws.” The two aren’t interchangeable. I’m speaking of concepts like the intrinsic value of every human being, and the “fallenness” of man. If you can come up with to better concepts on which to base a government, I’d honestly love to hear them.

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