Religious Convictions Are Deep and Abiding
By Michael Novak at The New York Times on March 24, 2015
Michael Novak is the author of the forthcoming “For Social Justice.” Since 1961, he has published some 45 books on the many facets of the free society.
My father once told me, “Never argue about religion or politics. Arguments on those subjects never change anybody’s mind. Feelings run too deep.”
Why do feelings run so deep on religion – and politics?
Like it or not, Americans have always been concerned about freedom of religion, and scrutinized campaigning politicians carefully. They should.
When I was in college, psychology books noted that a person’s psychological identity is formed by several different levels of consciousness. Some examples: What counts in your community as evidence? How do you make judgments about what is real and what is not real? Which convictions are you least likely to change?
Political convictions may be a close second to religious when it comes to the least changeable. People with leftish political views are not likely to take conservative political views seriously. Born Democrats seem to stay Democrats. Some conservatives turn leftward at 20. Some on the left turn more conservative as they gather more experience. But stability is remarkably high.
One other thing seems true of Americans. While we may not really hold each other’s beliefs worthy of the same moral esteem as our own, we mostly put up with each other without violence. “Put up with” – that’s what the Latin root of “tolerate” means. To bear our differences, as a necessary burden.
During the War of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland — a man know as “the American Cicero” —several times had dinner with his friend from nearby Virginia, Gen. George Washington. At one such dinner, Washington asked Carroll what Catholics would want from the war. Carroll’s answer was immediate: “No religious test for public office.”
As Catholics, Carroll and his talented sons had long been excluded from voting and serving in government.
The laws and customs of politics can bear painfully upon religious people, as also upon others. Recognizing this, Washington said his chief reason for taking up arms in the revolution was to defend the sacred fire of conscience – of each and all.
Like it or not, the American people have more reason than most to be very concerned about the deepest convictions – secular or religious – of their political leaders. Like it or not, Americans have always been concerned about freedom of religion, and scrutinized campaigning politicians carefully. They should. Moral elites (including today’s secular elites) always tend to impose their own “superior” conscience on everyone else, and to punish dissent.