by ProfDave, ©2021
(Jan. 10, 2021) —[Editor’s Note: Part 1 is here.]
We need to stop and look at the positive values we need for a healthy democracy in these United States. In rough order of importance we so far have considered the human person and the family. Here are some more.
Children. Another family value is the nurture of children. Not only do we feel obliged to value the vulnerable humanity of children, but we feel a special obligation to support their health and development – even if they are not ours. Perfect strangers are not to exploit, corrupt, or impede the education of the young – that comes under the value of a vulnerable human being. But their nurture is the special province of the family.
Back in the 60’s someone did a survey of parents about their parenting experience. I have long forgotten the citations and details, but a shocking majority said raising children had not been worthwhile, and given the choice to go back, they would not do it again! We have all had days like that. Maybe that is why we’re only supposed to do the parenting years once. And why God made the activity that causes children so compelling.
Are children valuable in themselves? From a self-serving point of view, a child from 0 – 20 is a net loss. They take enormous amounts of time and money, lost wages and lost peace. They are more trouble than they are worth. But that is the point: children are an investment in the future. Without them, we would be a dying society. Literally. Too much has been said about the economic burden of too many children. Too few children is a time bomb. The fact is somebody has to have them to keep the economy going and growing. A healthy nation has to have a young and vigorous labor force to keep things going, find solutions to problems and support us in our old age (and pay the national debt?). But ethically, we are not supposed to have children for what they can do for us, but for who they are: intrinsically and unconditionally valuable human beings!
The nurture of children is clearly a value of human flourishing and any democratic society, not only as a matter of practical economics but of human dignity. Children are human persons of profound inherent value. Nor is that value diminished by the circumstances in which they are conceived. There may be appropriate and ethical reasons for not having children, but a human being is the most valuable thing a marriage and a family can produce. The sixth child of an impoverished family might be the one who finds the cure of cancer – or not – but should be welcomed and cherished by his/her family, community, and society. No one should be called, or think of themselves as, a mistake or an accident. Sexual activity might be a mistake, but the results are intended by nature and nature’s God – what reproduction is for! To be human is never an accident.
The child is, of course, the special responsibility of the parents who brought it into the world. Evasion of responsibility is wrong. Both father and mother are needed to optimally feed, clothe, and shelter children. Preparation for life, work, marriage and citizenship are not just formal instruction, but discipline, modeling and example. These cannot be delegated entirely to community day care and schools. In our day and age, we do not presume that our child will follow us in the family business or father’s profession but they do follow us in our attitude towards family, fatherhood and motherhood, business and profession. Life attitudes are formed in the preschool years and either confirmed or undermined thereafter. The distinctive values and heritage of the family, the sub-culture, and the nation need to be transmitted if these things are to continue. Extended family and community have a duty to support and not to undermine the work of the primary roles of the mother and father. Even if the state could do the job, producing factory-stamped automatons, democracy would be quickly extinguished.
Family: parents, ancestors and elders. It doesn’t do much good to instruct children if they aren’t listening. Turn it over and it is a survival skill for the child. Kids that didn’t listen used to get eaten by the neighborhood saber-tooth. The predators have changed, but the principle remains – “honor your father and your mother that you may live long in the land.” Why would you want to make the same mistakes your parents made, anyway? So another family value is the respect due to parents.
Parental guidance and the wisdom of the past should be respected. This is not to say that parents know everything, are always wise or even looking out for their children’s best interests – but as a general rule they do know a thing or two, are better positioned and more concerned than anyone else, and the child would benefit from their experience. The same applies to elders in general and to the wisdom and traditions of ancestors. Much of their knowledge may be obsolete, but wisdom never expires. In other cultures they are worshipped, but we need not go that far to enrich our lives by them. A certain patriotic appreciation – and gratitude – for our forbears gives balance to a democratic society. We did not give birth to ourselves. We need to respect the sacrifices that gave us life and freedom, our roots and our country.
Allow me to make a few more obvious points about motherhood. If it were not for our mother’s, none of us would be here: even if you are ultra-feminist, Lesbian, or a male-chauvinist pig – whether you were a product of a perfect home, rape and incest, or adopted by a she-wolf (like Romulus and Remus)! People do not grow on trees – if you did, go hug that one – you’re not a people! You had a mother who brought you into the world in pain (no matter what she says) and that was only the introduction! You stand on the shoulders of her sacrifice.
Mothers may not be perfect, but they have a special bond with their children. A father’s bond is strategic and covenantal. He makes the difference between a whole and a broken home in most cases. But a mother’s contribution is foundational and organic. The umbilical cord never lets go. That is why, too often these days, the father is the one who fails and the mother is the one left rocking the cradle. Her sacrifice is inversely proportional to his faithfulness and can be truly heroic. If that is the case in your family, celebrate Mother’s Day all year!
Family: brothers and sisters. One final aspect of family values is the loyalty of siblings. Children in the home may fight like cats and dogs, but outside they are committed to each other. Or at least we all acknowledge that they should be. This commitment makes families that are literally extended, both in time and in space, distinctive in character, and effective social – and sometimes economic – units. It’s about belonging. Those of us who are isolated only-children envy this. When we have a particularly close, non-sexual friend, we call it brotherhood or sisterhood. Everybody should have at least one – someone with whom we have affinity of nature if not of blood. Lodges, religious orders, and some churches spread the “brother” and “sister” broadcast. It is a beautiful thing. And exceptions are sad.
Lest we get too saccharin about the family, we must admit that these values are too often observed in the breach. It is written on our hearts that we should be faithful to our spouses and families, but there are so many temptations. The ecstasy of wedding and honeymoon doesn’t last. The product doesn’t measure up to the advertising. He or she doesn’t turn out to be the person we imagined they were and resist our efforts to change them. We feel stuck with the “worse,” the “poor,” and the “sick” instead of “better,” “rich,” and “health[y].” And the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.
It is written on our hearts that the abuse and neglect of children by their parents – those upon whom they should most trust and depend – is despicable. But parenting is a difficult task at best. When I suggested to Marie – when our kids were teens – that we run away from home, I was only half kidding! We often lose patience, ignore things we should stop, stop things we should ignore, and let the flat screen entertain our children with raw sewage. We fail to live up to our ideals – often. But our obligation is clear. Self-sacrifice is obligatory. Those who ridicule motherhood or teach children to disrespect the ideals of their parents ought to be ashamed of themselves. Fathers who abandon their families ought to be spanked – and publicly! Those who laugh at adultery are not much better.
For family values, personhood, and general human flourishing (happiness?) the sexual revolution has been largely negative. We do not respect sex objects. There is no human dignity in a centerfold. The trivialization of unfaithfulness, dishonoring of parents, and treating pregnancy as a preventable disease have had unintended consequences in cultural attitudes. Scientific and cultural “advances” in controlling fertility have had the effect of lowering the value we place on our children and perhaps our spouses, too. Feminism, while making great gains in equality, has weakened respect for marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood. In the President Obama’s “Life of Julia” – his new American dream – there was no marriage, father or church. The homosexual movement, while arousing public sympathy, has attempted to redefine the purpose of marriage in terms of sexual self-fulfillment, rather than faithfulness and children. We have seen dramatic increases in marital failure, school failure (individual and institutional), domestic abuse, illegitimacy and single parent families, child abuse, venereal disease, abortion, addiction and all sorts of social ills – and we should not wonder why.
Freedom. Personal freedom, autonomy, and responsibility arise directly out of the intrinsic and equal worth of every human being. Immediately, we encounter a metaphysical question: is there such a thing? If, as some scientists believe, nature is all there is, has been, or ever will be, then every thought, word, and deed – including this one – is determined by mathematical and chemical formulas. Freedom is an illusion.
The Christian alternative is to say, that although God can control everything, he has slipped a non-natural wild card into the deck (the image of God) that allows us to resist or embrace direction. And that’s what makes us human. Humanity is, in this sense, a godlike quality. A second, psychological issue, is the difference between really being free and being merely unbuttoned. Doing whatever we want, moment by moment, makes us slaves to those biochemical impulses. The measure of human freedom is the extent to which we choose to frustrate those impulses for a higher purpose.
Moral freedom or freedom of conscience. So freedom is more than the random buzzing of a fly on a window pane and the Judge will not accept the plea, “my hormones made me do it.” “No choice” is no excuse. Even the immobilized can affirm or negate where they are being taken. We are morally responsible for our choices – to God, to others, and to ourselves (whatever that means). Even when those choices are eroded to a whisper by our addictions.
We all understand that it is wrong to attempt to force someone to do something that is wrong, to aid and abet something that is wrong, to celebrate it, or even to passively condone it. But we do not always agree on what is right and wrong. Freedom of conscience means we are allowed to determine what is right and wrong for ourselves, and to live it out in our lives. This includes, but is not limited to, freedom of thought (pursuing truth wherever it leads us), freedom of worship (the unfettered worship of God), freedom of religion (the obedience to God as we hear Him in every aspect of our lives), and ethical behavior (to do the right and not the wrong). We don’t have to agree, but we respect the humanity of others when we respect freedom of conscience, our first liberty.
We are not as free as we think we are. Someone addicted to someone or something loses their power of choice. They are enslaved. Voluntarily. Despite the Constitution. Slavery is illegal, but it exists in more than one way, doesn’t it? In the drug trade, the sex and gambling industries, and in the trafficking of immigrant labor, slavery is making a comeback. And it isn’t all “over there.” We know it is wrong to profit from the limitation of other people’s choices, but that is where the money is, isn’t it? What about the merchandising of addiction? Lottery tickets? (Sorry! That just slipped out) It’s not my fault they can’t resist, is it? Wrong!
Personal freedom. We value personal freedom. No one owns us. No one can buy and sell us. The boss tells us what to do, but we chose to work there and we can quit. Our contract, freely entered into, has limited terms and our lives are our own. We are not tied to the land. We may have a lease or a mortgage, but it is freely entered into. We can move anywhere, anytime our means allow, without anyone’s permission. We are free to choose our friends, our mates, and our loyalties. We enjoy freedom of religion, of speech, of assembly, and of publication. Being able to make our own decisions, express our own thoughts, and live our own lives without arbitrary interference is what freedom means. It doesn’t mean we can do just anything. We have no right to do what is fundamentally wrong. We are not free to do what we are unable to do, by nature, by ability, or by resources. But I can write this post. It’s up to you whether you read it.
Economic freedom. Economic freedom is really part of personal freedom. As we respect the humanity of another person, we respect what they do, their work and their possessions. We value the right to our own productivity and the free enjoyment of its fruits without fear of robbery or confiscation. We can shop where we want and spend our resources as we choose. We find freedom best served by granting the right to private property, even at the risk of inequality. Socialism tends to limit, rather than enhance, freedom by confiscating first the means of production, then its excess fruits. Once again, we cannot do just anything. Sadly, our tendency to do what is fundamentally wrong must be restrained, either by our moral compass or by state authority. Only a society that is moral can be free.
Political freedom. Political freedom is a positive reflection of human dignity. Athenian citizens had the right to participate in the Assembly and hold office as selected by turn or by lot on the assumption that all citizens were equally qualified. In United States, we have the right to vote, petition and hold office. The secret ballot and immunity from retaliation for our vote or petition signature is important to this freedom. Intimidation, vote buying, or other corrupt practices, by the state or by partisans, ruin political freedom. We become concerned when one viewpoint monopolizes the media, repressing news and voices of dissent. Also, you are not free if your input is meaningless (as in one party elections) or ignored.
Equality is the child of human dignity and the particular spirit of early America. They left the blood aristocracy of Europe behind when European Americans crossed the Atlantic. Southerners maintained genteel traditions into the 19th century, to be sure, but even they left the titles behind. Yes, we do have social classes, but it takes a class in sociology for us to recognize them. We are all middle class, aren’t we?
We believe we are all equal in essential dignity. We insist on equal treatment in the law, in education, and in the general business of life. We expect to be treated equally. We are enormously different in abilities, resources and qualifications, but we shop at the same stores and wear the same fashions. Equality of opportunity is critical to economic freedom and equality before the law is critical to democracy.
All the runners start at the same line, but only one wins. That is the difference between equal opportunity and equal outcomes.
The Code of Moses had two features that distinguished it from the Code of Hammurabi. One unique feature, perhaps never implemented, was the Year of Jubilee, in which all slaves were set free, all debts were cancelled and inheritances were returned to their original owners. That would have prevented multi-generational impoverishment.
Justice. The other more popular feature of Mosaic jurisprudence was equality before the law. Under Hammurabi there was a different standard for the nobility and the poor. Punishment depended on the relative class of the victim and the offender. Under Moses it was pretty much “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” no matter who you were. American law follows Moses. You do the crime, you do the time. It should not matter who you are or the color of your skin. If it does, it is unjust. Differential law, differential enforcement and differential punishment is unfair. Recent discrimination against religious gatherings in Covid-19 restrictions are a case in point – recognized in court. Viewpoint discrimination is another threat to democracy appearing in university campuses, social media and tonight’s news. A just society presumes innocence until the courts yield their verdict. Riot is not justice. Might does not make right. There must be a just and accountable process to determine guilt and innocence and to establish our rights and responsibilities.
Justice is an American value in so many areas of life. Racial justice? We should treat everyone the same, regardless of color. Economic justice? Equal pay for equal work and security from theft or confiscation. Justice in competition – in business, in academics, in the arts, in sports (no, it isn’t fair to have guys on the girl’s rugby team just because they want to be girls)? Justice in politics? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Election fairness matters. No fair manipulating the voting rules, or the news to make sure your man wins. Americans expect justice. Now that I am meddling, how about justice in health care? Vaccinations? Shut downs? And a riot is wrong no matter which side it serves.
Law and order. A truly democratic society depends on a delicate balance between liberty and law. If there were no traffic laws, for example, we wouldn’t dare venture onto the highway! We cannot be entirely free to follow our impulses and inner drives. The authority of the state is needed to restrain the evil that is endemic to human nature. At the same time, it is unique to democracy that the state should act by law and not by the arbitrary will of the King or President (or any other officer). No matter how wise and charismatic the leader may be, he/she is human, subject to temptation, and he/she needs to be restrained by law, too! We are most free in an orderly society.
Self. We’ve been “clarifying” for 14 pages now and we could think of a lot more, but just one more. How about self? Today the “me” generation is at the helm of our society. “I gotta be me” is the theme of most of the shows my grandchildren watch. “I did it my way” is the boast of most of their idols. Self-esteem trumps the three R’s in education from pre-school to high school, then it is sub-culture identity politics and self-actualization from there on up. Self is the driving force behind feminism, LGBT rights, abortion and euthanasia – probably New Age and pornography, too. Most advertising messages are aimed at “you owe it to yourself.” No question, self is one of the most popular values in contemporary society.
But self is an ambivalent value. Self-improvement is good, but not selfishness. We despise it (in others at least). Cultivating a healthy body, mind and self is a good thing, but pursuing self-interest at the expense of others is unhealthy. This makes perfect sense from the ethics of the Bible (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), but scientific naturalism cannot explain our preference for altruism. The self that we respect, that we look up to as superior, is the self that serves others. The truly healthy self is selfless! The best people improve themselves for the sake of something bigger. It is not about them.
The value in the value of self is getting self right, in the proper place – self-respect without arrogance, humility without inferiority. Healthy humility is the confidence of knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and one’s place in the order of things. And while we work on that, we know that we should be self-giving, not self-aggrandizing. It is not easy. Our tendency is “me first, then me, then maybe you, but not for a long time”(Pennsylvania Dutch saying). I tend to take the last brownie. We take not only what is ours but anything else that’s loose. We go through the loopholes, oblivious of the common good.
That brings us to today’s news, doesn’t it? Our government has just given away massive amounts of money. Is fiscal discipline possible for a democratic society? We tend to vote for whatever and whoever benefits our interests and those of our interest-tribe. That is what AARP is all about. It may or may not be good for society, but it’s good for us. Our public servants have difficulty choosing what is good for the nation over what’s good for re-election.
So you get the idea. There is a pattern. There are commonsense values that we all know are better than their opposites. Not that we live up to them. Reality is short of these ideals – and we often choose to take the easy way out – but we know which way is up. Wholeness is always better than brokenness. Health is always better than deformity, function than dysfunction. When it comes to choose, we should do the right thing, not the wrong; seek the good of our family, not our own bellies; leave the world better than we found it. The fact that we can recognize wrong proves that right is real. And though we may never see it, there is a right way. Want to know more about it? Read the Bible!
PS. Right is real although we may never see it? That’s not quite right – at least in the Christian worldview. The promise of the Bible is that at the end of time all will be made right. All the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God. Everything will be subjected to Christ – every knee will bow and every tongue confess his Lordship. The world goes not well, but the Kingdom comes! Every human effort to bring about utopia has failed badly – because of flawed human nature. Only when human nature is healed can the world be healthy. That requires reconciliation to God. Shalom, real peace and prosperity, comes to earth with the Kingdom. Divine intervention, however, makes everything possible – no, inevitable! We will see it. Maybe from the other side, but we will see it!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.