I feel like a man without a political party. This is personally very disconcerting considering that I have thought of myself as a Republican since the 1984 reelection of Ronald Reagan. Granted, at age 7, I had no idea what the substantive issues during the campaign were all about but what I did know was that Grandma liked Reagan – a lot – and something about Mondale just kind of bugged me.
Of course, over the years I became more politically aware and, at least in my own mind, politically savvy. I’ve never been terribly wonkish but have found myself attracted to the sentiments encapsulated in the sound-bites of the Republican party: government should stay out of people’s lives, be limited in its powers, support a strong national defense, and be fiscally responsible.
Of course, I have come to realize that these are things the Republican Party simply enunciates; very rarely have they actually put these very basic principles into actual practice. True, Reagan – much like Thatcher — went a long way in eliminating counter-productive government bureaucracy and his significant tax cuts did contribute to a period of incredible economic prosperity. He was also no slouch on defense – although I’m troubled at how much of that defense spending was fiscally questionable.
In any case, here are some brief thoughts on transforming the Republican Party into what it is supposed to be:
The neo-conservatives have to go. Making war and then cleaning up the mess we’ve made is absurd foreign policy. Invading Iraq was a mistake – a mistake I freely admit I was absolutely, 100% wrong on at the time. This whole idea of pre-emption is absurd and if maintained under the guise of maintaining a strong national defense, is an affront to Republican principles.
It’s time to say goodbye to the radical Christian right. Pat Robertson and James Dobson, abortion is here to stay whether its legal or not. Women will continue to seek them out. I for one, would rather that they have access to abortion procedures in clean, regulated environments. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have continued discussions about how, when, where, and under what conditions should be performed. I don’t think any reasonable person advocates abortion as an acceptable alternative to contraception. And of course, that’s another thing. Radical Christians don’t want safe sex taught in school. They push for abstinence-only programs. I have no problem teaching abstinence to teenagers. Frankly, it’s the best route for a plethora of reasons. However, we live in a world where kids are having sex, getting pregnant, and catching STDs. I wish the kids weren’t, but they are. As Republicans, we can’t oppose abortion on the one hand, and then also oppose supporting education programs that would negate the very need for those abortions. This isn’t rocket science.
If the Christians right wants to live in a fantasy world then let them form their own party. As for our Republican party, let’s deal with real issues in the real world.
Get out of the gay-marriage debate. Dick Cheney is right. This is a state issue. Let’s not turn it into national political ploy to garner support from the above-mentioned Christians, whom we don’t really want in the party anyway. Republicanism is about limiting the intrusion of government into personal lives – it is no concern of ours who can or cannot get married.
We really need to get back to our roots by supporting healthy markets, economic growth, and promoting equality of opportunity. For the past 9 years, we’ve done a pretty poor job at upholding the principles we claim to hold dear.
While visiting my parents over Christmas I attended worship services as the local ward – the ward I “grew up” in. It was a great experience for many reasons. I had a chance to see some close friends from High School and catch up with other Church members who I had not seen for many years. The service was spiritual and uplifting. It was an opportunity for like-minded people to come together and, through shared experience, lift each other’s spirits and offer both spiritual and temporal support.
As I sat in the congregation enjoying the music, the stories of Jesus, and all of the family and friends singing and smiling together I was reminded of why I find Pragmatism, as an epistemological approach, so incredibly appealing. What I witnessed during these worship services was the real-world consequences of religious belief.
I am, for the most part, a non-believer in many of Mormonism’s truth claims – both metaphysical and historical. Yet, this Christmas worship service reminded me of the powerful pragmatic implications of Mormonism in the lives of its adherents. Pragmatism, of course, has no concern for truth claims in any abstract sense. Rather, Pragmatism is concerned with the practical outcomes of such abstract beliefs. Take basic theism, for example. Pragmatism cares nothing for whether God exists except in how a belief in God produces real-world outcomes. Simply put, if a belief in God produces positive outcomes in the life of an individual or a community by aiding in the construction of a coherent “truth narrative”, such a belief is good and is what we can call, instrumentally true.
Again, Pragmatism has no concern for metaphysical conceptions of truth as it recognizes that such truths, if they do in fact exist (whatever that means), are essentially unknowable. Thus, a pragmatist may analyze his/her conception and God and recognize negative consequences that result from this conception. In such a case, a pragmatist may choose to abandon his/her belief entirely or, as is more commonly seen, adjust their conception so as to produce positive real-world outcomes. Such adjustments, of course, are not limited to beliefs as looming as the question of theism generally. Adjustments may – and perhaps more commonly – occur to smaller beliefs and notions which, when put together, comprise an individual’s conception of “The Truth.” In my particular case, I found that a belief that the Book of Mormon as a historical record produced negative outcomes as I struggled to reconcile my understanding of authentic ancient texts as well as 19th Century protestant theology with what the Book of Mormon claimed to be. Ultimately, I found that by adjusting my beliefs and viewing the Book of Mormon as a work of great literature and theological significance, rather than as an authentic history, that these negative outcomes disappeared and were replaced by outcomes more positive. Thus, my pragmatic approach to this particular belief resulted in a rejection of Book of Mormon historicity but a greater appreciation of the book’s literary beauty and the genius of the book’s author, Joseph Smith.
Yet, my personal belief is unique to me. Pragmatism does not require that I conclude, for all people, that the Book of Mormon is non-historical. For example, there is a gentleman in my parent’s congregation who has, for as long as I have known him, had some very serious struggles – some of which have caused incredible hardship for himself and his family. In Priesthood meeting, I listened to this brother express how the Book of Mormon, its teachings of Jesus, and the prophetic call of Joseph Smith had helped him overcome many challenges and gave him the strength and inspiration to continue. It was clear that this Brother’s personal beliefs about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the divinity of Jesus varied greatly from my own yet for this man, these beliefs were the foundation upon which incredibly positive practical outcomes have been established.
I can imagine that some of my more enthusiastic atheist or zealous ex-Mormon friends will argue that establishing “the truth” about God’s existence or the “reality” of Joseph Smith’s visions etc… are matters of incredible importance. For some, this may be the case. If, for example, my specific conception of God leads me to strap bombs to my chest, or shoot doctors who perform abortions, it is high time to reevaluate those beliefs in terms of the consequences they produce. Likewise, if my commitment to Jesus’ command to “be perfect” (Matt 5:31) leads me to become discouraged and depressed, it is time to reevaluate my beliefs/understanding regarding Jesus’ words. Yet, if my belief in a benevolent God leads me to be more charitable and kind, then this belief has real value.
As William James pointed out over 100 years ago, when we evaluate beliefs and conceptions of truth based solely on their practical outcomes, we begin to realize just how many questions of metaphysics become entirely irrelevant.
In the end, I say live and let live! Practical outcomes are shared experience and the wise pragmatist will consistently evaluate his/her beliefs in these terms.