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Kingdom of Priests

Which is the country’s local culture most beset by moral confusion, New England or the Pacific Northwest? Seattle icon Knute Berger at Crosscut notes a fascinating contrast between these two regions that are America’s top strongholds of secularism:

In New England…same-sex marriage is being legalized. It was signed into law in Vermont and is recognized in Massachusetts and Connecticut. It has not been implemented yet in any Northwest state. On the other hand, the only two states in the country that have legalized assisted suicide are Washington and Oregon. We lag behind on gay marriage, but are way out front on the right to die. Why?

Why indeed? Berger floats a possible explanation, having to do with the regions’ respective histories.

The term “None” refers to people who cast their spiritual vote for “none of the above.” Measured that way, Vermont is the leading None state, with 34 percent of residents declaring no religious faith, while the Northwest is the leading None region, with 25 percent of residents in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon rejecting religion:

New England Nones come from a tradition of egalitarianism and…there is sympathy across the political spectrum for laws that are equalizers. Marriage equality would have that kind of appeal. In Vermont, both Republicans and Democrats supported making it legal.

In the Northwest, however, we have a strong strain of frontier libertarianism still, an attitude that also bridges traditional party affiliations. There’s a suspicion of authority and institutions, not simply religious ones. Community, nurtured in New England, is somewhat suspect here, but arguments in favor of giving an individual control over his or her fate with legalized suicide would have strong appeal.

So while Nones, from New England’s town hall communitarians to the Pacific Northwest’s Microsoft libertarians, might agree that answers to civic issues won’t be found in church or the Bible, that doesn’t mean they have identical public policy priorities.

Sounds plausible to me. A question we could discuss is which symptom of moral confusion — approving same-sex marriage, approving assisted suicide — is more indicative of underlying currents of decay.
Much as I love the Seattle area, I’m extraordinarily creeped out by my fellow Washington residents’ having voted heavily this past November to allow doctors to help kill people. It was by way of describing the culture here that in my book about the Ten Commandments, Shattered Tablets, I coined the term “moralesque.”
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