Honor. To restore honor, we must first know what it is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, honor is “a clear sense of what is morally right.” The American Heritage Dictionary says that honor is “personal integrity maintained without legal or other obligation.”
“Morally right” and “maintaining personal integrity” sound a lot like some of the catch phrases of televangelists and evangelicals. These ideas are similar to ideas like “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” These ideas also resonate with the often heard claim that we need more people to take personal responsibility.
One of the most interesting points of conflict for the “restoring honor” crowd is the so-called “social conservative” interaction with Republican big business politics. For decades, each election cycle the Republicans have promised anti-women’s health activists that they would advance their agenda. But the “Hyde Amendment,” passed way back in 1976, marked the high-water mark for such efforts. Even while the Republican controlled congress after the Contract on America, and for the first six years of the Bush administration, the Party thumbed its nose at “social conservative” goals.
Now “social conservatives” are lining up to support the Republicans again. Their concept of “restoring honor” is to continue supporting businessmen who have consistently lied to them about their legislative plans, on the pretense that the lies are different this time.
Several thinkers smarter than I have been attributed with the observation that repeating the same action over and over while expecting a different result is a definition of insanity. But to call social conservatives insane for adhering to a Party that has no social conservative aspect (except in its fund-raising and vote-gathering operations) misses the point. The real revelation in this conduct is that their so-called social conservatism is just a fig leaf covering other beliefs that these people are too ashamed of to admit in public discourse.
When we talk about “restoring honor” and “social conservatism” we need to actually look at what has changed and needs to be “restored” or “conserved.” Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, churches were hotbeds of social activism. Christian leaders preached outreach and action to achieve the goals that Jesus preached about. Social changes from desegregation to the end of the Vietnam War were driven by leaders like Dr. King and the Berrigan brothers. These movements built on the same religious activism that drove the abolition movement in the 19th century, and the public schools movement that Puritan colonists started in 1630.
The business community saw the successes of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lunch counter sit-ins, and church driven efforts for social progress and equality and fairness. And they were horrified by speeches, like the one that Dr. King gave at the Lincoln Memorial, that called out for economic justice and social responsibility, in the name of Biblical principles.
The business community hired telegenic salesmen to turn peoples’ attention away from such speeches. In the ‘60s, Jerry Falwell made his first millions running “segregation academies.” These were private schools promising parents that white students wouldn’t be mixed with non-white students and they wouldn’t be taught any facts that encouraged independent, individual thinking. By the mid-‘70s, the business community realized that by hiring Falwell, Robertson and other people with large, pro-segregation fan-bases, they could actually create a new religious movement that would preach against social justice and civil rights, and would preach that financial gain was the primary goal of any good “Christian”.
This new movement came to be known as the “prosperity gospel.” The message of the prosperity gospel is that Jesus, and the Bible are simply wrong about some core precepts. Jesus said, repeatedly, that the pursuit of material wealth would guarantee that a person would not earn salvation. The prosperity gospel teaches that only by pursuing material wealth can we show that we’ve earned salvation.
Jesus preached that people who did not perform charity and good works would not be rewarded with entry into Heaven. The prosperity gospel preaches that charity is only good in the abstract, but that one should never compromise his own comfort by being charitable to anyone else.
Jesus said that people who followed his gospels could be identified by their actions. “By their fruits shall you know them.” [Matthew 7:15-21] The prosperity gospel preaches that it unnecessary to worry about conduct – any bad conduct can be washed away by a deathbed pretense that you didn’t mean any of it. Pillage, destroy, violate any law or Commandment now and don’t worry about it because God is too stupid to see into your soul, if you just lie to him on your deathbed.
When people talk about “restoring honor,” they are not talking about getting back to the colonial days when churches preached that public education was a part of Christian duty. They are not talking about getting back to those days in the 1780s, when men staked their lives and their sacred honor on the struggle to throw off rule by the a crown government funded by the East India Company. They are not talking about getting back to the days William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas struggling to end slavery. They are not talking about getting back to bus boycotts, and opening schools to all races, and extending voting rights.
“Restoring honor” for today’s Tea Party Republicans mean trying to return to the days when a man could sit and watch Father Knows Best, while his wife did the laundry, kept the kids under control and fed and satisfied him, without the worry that Chet and David would warn him about uppity coloreds demonstrating in someplace he couldn’t identify.
Restoring honor means electing Rand Paul, with his campaign to restore segregation. It means electing Jan Brewer to thank her for making up lies about border crossing Latinos decapitating ranchers in the desert. Restoring honor means standing at the Lincoln Memorial and proclaiming that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t care about economic justice and didn’t believe that Christians are required to do good.
On Wednesday, September 29, Tea Party Republican Meg Whitman decided to restore honor to her campaign to buy the governorship of California. For all of her campaign, Whitman has been calling for people to take personal responsibility. And she has been calling for harsh punishments for people who employ illegal immigrants.
Then on September 29, Whitman had to acknowledge that from 2000 to 2009, she employed an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper. But, But, But – in classic Republican fashion, she said that it wasn’t her fault. She never read the mail from the Social Security Administration, way back in 2003, about the issue. She never checked the status of her housekeeper.
Whitman made very clear, for all to see exactly what level of “personal responsibility” she stands for. Following her example, Tea Party Republican Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell issued a press release claiming that her Linked-in page, with its lies about her education, wasn’t her personal responsibility. For both Whitman and O’Donnell, disclosure of the truth was a “liberal attack plot.” And their “restoring honor” supporters quickly took up the battle cry.
Thou shalt not bear false witness. Unless, of course, it gets you what you want. Maintaining personal integrity means only until integrity compromises profits. These are the same people who want to legislate their religious values into all of our private lives. They say this is the way to honor the beliefs of the man who said “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36] “Restoring honor?” “A clear sense of what is morally right?” Is this what the founding fathers’ noble experiment has come to?