Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

America has a creed and this creed is embodied in our Declaration of Independence. Such is the frequency, and the certainty, with which this is said that few people think to question it. And of those who do think to question it, far fewer dare to do so, for to question it is to expose oneself to the charge that one is a heretic, an anti-American.  

The America that was forged into an independent nation at the time of the composition of the Declaration had no creed.  And it could not have had one.  More so than most others in our history, the founding generation was consumed by the fear of tyranny.  Its members knew all too well that there was nothing so poisonous to political liberty than that of a creed—any creed.

Creeds are the stuff of religious and philosophical communities. They contain statements of belief that all members of the community are expected to affirm.  The Nicene Creed that Roman Catholics the world over affirm on a regular basis is a classic illustration of a creed.  Individual Catholics consider themselves distinct parts of one body, a single community with a single vision of the good life.  Irrespective of where one lives, anyone can belong to the Catholic, or “universal,” Church—as long as one accepts its Creed. 

The pioneers who settled America were motivated first and foremost by their desire to advance their liberties. Where liberty of the sort with which the colonists were familiar prevails, so too does individuality, the freedom to think and act in ways that may deviate from those of the majority.  

This is one strike against the notion that America was intended to be a community.  Another is the fact that the generation of ’76 regarded America as a union of sovereign states. 

Together, these two considerations establish that America simply could not be a community in the sense in which “community” has ordinarily been understood.

Rather, America was understood by the Founders as a civil association.  The members of a civil association do not share a vision of the good.  What they share is an interest that the law that holds their association together be observed by every one of its members.

Unlike orders and commands, laws do not tell us what we must do.  That is, they do not impose purposes upon those who are bound by them.  Instead, laws are concerned with how we go about pursuing the purposes of our own choosing.  Friedrich Hayek once likened the law to a map.  A map specifies no destination. It does, however, inform us of the roads that are available to get us to whatever destinations we select for ourselves.

It is America’s Constitution—not the Declaration of Independence—that distinguishes America for the kind of association that it is. The Constitution is law. It is utterly devoid of the kind of lofty, utopian-friendly rhetoric of which the Declaration is ridden.  There is not a trace of talk of “rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” rights that are held to be “unalienable” and “self-evident.” It doesn’t deny such rights. But it does exclude them.

The Constitution guarantees as wide a distribution of power and authority as is compatible with the existence of a federal government.  It delineates a self-divided government, and the complex of constraints of which such a government consists.  From these constraints, our liberties are derived. 

Yet while lip service to the Constitution remains in vogue today, it has been a long, long time since America has functioned as the civil association that its founders intended for it to be. This explains why it is the Declaration that ideologues of all stripes invoke in justifying their programs, visionary plans requiring an ever larger, stronger national government. 

In other words, the Declaration, with its resounding affirmation of self-evident, universal rights, comes ready-made as “the creed” of “the community” into which the apostles of Big Government are laboring away to fundamentally transform America. 

Beside the destruction of the civil association that America was supposed to have been, the replacement of law and liberty with creed and compulsion, there is another big problem with the idea of America as a community or “creedal nation”: if being an American is all about affirming a set of propositions, then anyone anywhere and at any time can be an American. America’s borders are no more—and can be no more—than lines on a map.  One never even needs to step foot on what is treated as American soil in order to be an American.

If you ask me, it is not the rejection of this idea of America as a creedal nation or community that it is anti-American. It is its endorsement that convicts us of anti-Americanism. 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Benghazi to Obamacare and a staggering array of things in between, President Obama appears invulnerable when it comes to the potential disasters that have marked his presidency. That the vast majority of those in the media share his left-wing politics partially explains this—but only partially.  

For the full story behind the Teflon nature of Obama’s administration, it is to David Horowitz and John Perazzo that we must turn.  And once we do, there can no longer remain any doubt that it is the President’s share of melanin that accounts for his seeming impenetrability to the sort of scrutiny and criticism to which a white president, regardless of party affiliation, would have been subjected.   

But it isn’t principally upon Obama that Horowitz and Perazzo set their sights. In 35 short pages, their Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream (BSP) enlists every syllable into the service of proving its thesis: contemporary American (and other Western) blacks are simply held to a vastly lower standard than whites.

The phrase “black skin privilege” is a play upon “white skin privilege,” a standard leftist buzzword that has long since functioned as the explanatory key among academics for accounting for the world’s evils, “for everything that was racially wrong  in America beginning with its constitutional founding.” 

Horowitz and Perazzo expose this for the drivel that it is while proving that if there is any “skin” that is privileged in today’s America, it is black, not white.  The authors are blunt: “In fact, for decades, at the hands of progressives white males have been the prime villains in the nation’s classrooms, and the principal targets of disapprobation and presumptive guilt in the general political culture as well.”

The authors of this powerful little pamphlet remind us of the swiftness with which the media rushed to convict “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, as well as the white Duke University lacrosse players who were bogusly charged by a black stripper with rape. They also revisit the deafening silence with which these same media figures met the rapturous eruptions of blacks nationwide when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double homicide.

Yet these are far from the only exhibits that Horowitz and Perazzo submit to substantiate the ubiquity of black skin privilege.  Demolishing one sacred Politically Correct idol after the other, the authors take down names and unveil facts that are as ugly as they are suppressed.

The degree to which American life is soaked in black skin privilege can be seen not just in the fact that Americans have now twice elected a black man to the presidency who is not only singularly unaccomplished professionally, but, “with an unrepentant terrorist [Bill Ayers] and a racial bigot [Jeremiah Wright] as his close collaborators,” gravely challenged ethically.  That ostensibly Christian clerics and some of the most reckless race baiters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—high priests of what I have called the “Racism Industrial Complex”—can continue to command exorbitant fortunes and lofty praise by politicians and the media alike confirms this as well.

Horowitz and Perazzo even show that black skin privilege transcends continents.  Alluding to South Africa’s Bishop Demond Tutu, they write: “What white spiritual leader could support the torture-murders of South African blacks, compare Israel to Nazi Germany, and still be regarded as a moral icon? A black cleric like Bishop Desmond Tutu can.” (Indeed, as occasional Front Page Magazine contributor and former South African resident Ilana Mercer amply demonstrates in her, Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa, the new South Africa is black skin privilege on steroids.)

However, Horowitz and Perazzo don’t offer just a rogues’ list of well known names in their treatise on black skin privilege. By way of meticulously resourced statistics, they expose readers to the most inconvenient truths regarding the obscene levels of black-on-white crime—truths, that is, that will never spring from the lips of the professional “anti-racists” in the usual precincts of our culture.  And they disclose what promises to be a revelation to many Americans: within just “the last few years” (after Obama’s inauguration), “there have been hundreds of black race riots in more than fifty American cities” in which roving mobs of blacks “have targeted whites for beatings, shootings, stabbings and rapes [.]”

There is much more to be reaped from BSP.  Needless to say, those who benefit from black skin privilege will blast its authors as “racist” for just mentioning any of this. In contrast, people of good will, regardless of their color, will understand and appreciate that far from being animated by any racial animus, Horowitz and Perazzo are rather inspired by a vision of a common humanity and an American ideal rooted in the rule of law—not racial favoritism.

They deserve to be commended for their courage in daring to speak these truths. 

And the rest of us, of all races, owe it to ourselves and our posterity to give them a hearing by reading Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream.         

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recently, I was asked by someone to compile a list of ten—ten!—things that are right with the world.  I have to believe—I would like to believe—that most of my colleagues will find this as daunting a task as do I.  After all, those of us who practice philosophy and write cultural commentary are accustomed to sniffing out problems: the glass is always half empty for us.

That it is a challenge to think of a few positive aspects of the world, to say nothing of ten such things, is sobering enough. That this invitation would strike me as peculiar to boot is more self-revealing than I would care for it to be.  Still, peculiar or not, hard or easy, that I have the opportunity to reorient my thinking toward life proves that there is at least one thing that is right with the world:

The world supplies us with opportunities, numerous opportunities, to grow.

In fact, given current technology and the ease with which it provides ever growing numbers of people with access to both a bottomless sea of information as well as other human beings from around the globe, the case can be made that there are even more opportunities for intellectual, moral, professional, and spiritual growth today than ever before. 

This is the first thing that is right with our world.  It is, thankfully, by no means the last.

The second, I suppose, would be the technology itself that makes possible the dramatic expansion of opportunities for personal development alluded to in the first.

Third, outside of Heaven, the world will always be ridden with human suffering.  While tragic, this fact is also doubtless.  Equally doubtless, however, is that there is more awareness of this suffering, more sensitivity to it, than at any time in the past.  Our imagistic age renders this unavoidable. 

And it isn’t just human suffering to which untold legions of people now attend.  Animal suffering is also on our radar for perhaps the first time, historically speaking.

Fifth, while there is no evidence that plants suffer, there are more people in our generation concerned with preserving wildlife than can be found in any from the past. This is part of a larger trend of mindfulness for the environment that, while not infrequently misguided, is still generally a good thing.

Sixth, illiteracy was the norm in times gone by.  Not so today.  Never in the history of the Earth have there been as many literate people as there are in our own day.

Seventh, Christianity is right with the world.  Whether one is a Christian or not, that Christianity has made incalculable contributions to the betterment of humanity over its 2,000 year history is a fact that every remotely open minded person should be able to concede.  No tradition, religious or otherwise, is without its flaws. Every can and has been exploited for wicked purposes.  But Christianity is alone among the world’s religious and ethical traditions insofar as its emphasis on charity is concerned.  There is not now, nor has there ever been, any other system of belief that attaches as much weight to loving the stranger—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.—as does Christianity.

The world has been enriched by its presence.

Eighth, for all of its problems, Western civilization is right with the world.  There is no other place on the planet that has provided more opportunities for more people from every conceivable walk of life than the West.  Immigration is an issue only in Western countries, for it is only to the lands of the Occident that millions upon millions of people from all around the Earth are risking their very lives to flee.

Ninth, America is right with the world. Again, it should go without saying that in acknowledging the goodness or rightness of a thing, we by no means intend to assign perfection to it.  But America has indeed served—and continues to serve—as a beacon of hope for countless millions of human beings of every racial, ethnic, and religious background. 

Finally, that the vast majority of us never cease to be stunned by the world’s imperfections, that we never cease to be horrified by the innumerable injustices to which we are exposed on a daily basis, proves that on this “third rock from the sun,” to quote the name of the popular television series, there is no short measure of decency or justice.  There is justice in the world.  There are people who are willing to right the world’s wrongs.

This is the last, but certainly not the least, thing that I will include on my list of the ten things that are right with the world.

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Alex Evans is a seven year-old second grader at Mary Blair Elementary School in Colorado.  Recently, he was suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade while pretending to “rescue the world” from “pretend evil forces.”

Little Alex, it turns out, violated his school’s “absolutes” against fighting and weapons, “real or imaginary.” 

So-called “zero tolerance” policies of the sort on display at Mary Blair have long been in place in public schools throughout the country.  Alex’s mother said that she thought that they were “unrealistic” for kids her son’s age. She is right as far as she goes.  The problem is that she doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Such policies are indeed unrealistic, yet they are unrealistic for people of all ages.  Moreover, they aren’t just unrealistic. They are at once idiotic and outrageous: rather than enable children to become responsible adults, zero tolerance policies threaten to retard this developmental process.

Boys are particularly harmed by it.  Alex Evans is a case in point.  Here is a seven year-old child whose only infraction is that he possesses an imagination that is both lively and heroic.  Think about it: he delights in envisioning himself as a self-sworn enemy of all that is evil, a world savior.

The kid dreams, not about harming the world, but rescuing it.  He longs to be more like Superman, not Stalin.

Yet for this, the childish adults at his school punish him.

Speaking as one who was once a boy, I can assure you that the sort of play in which Alex Evans and a gazillion other boys engage in is not at all atypical.  When I was a kid, my cousin Wade and I would regularly pretend to be superheroes: Superman, Batman, and Spiderman were our crime fighters of choice.  We would also not infrequently imagine ourselves as characters from Star Wars.  But Wade and I were especially creative: we would essentially play out our self-assigned roles as if we were enacting or—in the case of Star Wars—reenacting films.

Of course, since there was only two of us, and since no hero is complete without a nemesis, we also had to pretend to be villains. Unlike Alex Evans, however, we didn’t just hurl imaginary weapons at one another; we also really wrestled.  If the rules of Mary Blair Elementary School been our family’s rules, had our family a “zero-tolerance” policy, we would have been in some serious trouble.

The value of these imaginative exercises to a boy’s intellectual and moral development is sorely underappreciated.  They expand his mind’s horizons, awakening him to possibilities to which his counterparts of duller sensibilities will remain oblivious.  And inasmuch as it is the hero that he plays and replays, they serve as the means by which he cultivates those excellences of character that will make him into a virtuous man.

This is no new insight.  Prior to our generation, it went without saying—though it was often repeated—that the key to maintaining and strengthening civilization lies in heroic men showing young boys how to become heroic men. And it was as well obvious that the virtuous would not infrequently have to deploy force against the vicious.

Those commentators who see in the case of Alex Evans but the latest battle in the so-called “War on Boys” are only partially correct.  If “zero-tolerance” policies like those at Mary Blair are the proverbial shots fired in any kind of “war,” it is a war against men, for in stifling the intellectual and moral growth of boys, they produce men with neither heads nor hearts.

But if it is a war on men that is being waged here, then, ultimately, it is a war on civilization.   

 

 

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