Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the Need for Civility

The prophet Jeremiah had some advice for those who are not at home in this world. He said,
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7)
At bare minimum, seeking the welfare of the city where we have been sent means to act with civility and work for the common good.

Americans live in a liberal democracy. Openness and discussion are essential to liberal democracies where governing by naked power and force is considered tyranny. Democracies control power by open discussion. Discussion forces those in authority to declare their positions and debate alternatives openly.

Democracies found the legitimacy of government on the "general will" -- the will of the majority, not the will of one or the will of a few. The "general will" or "common good" emerges from the dialectic of opinions and ideas that are expressed in open discussion.

In theory, the better informed and more enlightened the public, the better the discussion and the better the decisions that will be made. Freedom of speech and a free press are supposed to provide the public with information that is independent of what the authorities say, thereby serving as a safeguard against the manipulation of public opinion by those in power.

Americans live in a democracy that is pluralistic. Pluralism presumes that no one group or viewpoint has a monopoly on the truth. Minorities are protected from the "tyranny of the majority" by constitutional protections like the First Amendment which guarantees religious liberty, liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.

There is a lot of talk on the street corner, on the airwaves, and on the internet that gives the appearance of a vehement objection to the principles stated above. The word "liberal" has become an epithet of contempt. Civil dialogue between persons of opposing perspectives is rare on the street corner, on talk radio, on cable news outlets, and on the internet. A politically active and aggressive segment of the majoritarian religion has declared war on pluralism and minority rights.

Why have we become so mean? There will be an open public forum on that topic tomorrow evening at 7:00PM at the United Ministry Center, 1017 Elm Ave. in Norman, OK. Dr. Tom Boyd, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (OU), Dr. Darian DeBoldt, former police captain and Norman city council member and Philosophy Program Coordinator at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), T. Thomas, Coordinator of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma and Dr. Dara Fogel, Adjunct Professor at OU and UCO will be leading the discussion.

How can we create civil communications in these uncivil times? There will be a roundtable discussion on that topic Sunday evening at 5:00 PM as St. Stephen's United Methodist Church, 1801 W. Brooks in Norman, OK. Dr. Mike Crowson Professor of Educational Psychology at OU, Dr. Patrick Meirick, Professor of Communication at OU, and myself will be leading this discussion.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I agree something needs to be done. Some of my acquaintances are really getting twisted off. Sounds like a good event happening down in Norman. Have to start somewhere.
I guess I'll start with me.

Jeff Shaw said...

If there was any way you all could get something like this in Tulsa, I think it would be well attended. I would sure attend, and I would promote it as I could.

Craig said...

Civility is a wonderful thing, I am so impressed by the wonderfully civil commentaries I hear on Air America, it makes a tingle run down my leg.

Prooftexting on the other hand, not so much. I know it's hard to make some verses fit your point if you don't edit stuff out but still...