Contrary opinions are difficult to face. We see the world a particular way, utilize this perspective to provide justification for our actions and rarely tell our stories with anyone but ourselves being front and center. Contrary opinions are like having walked a seemingly comfortable marathon only to find out that there was something in a shoe giving you a blister. Thinking back you swear you hadn’t felt anything, reality has to be the way you remember, yet here it is, the now painful reminder that your world, your perspective, is only part of a wider one.
That wider world is pluralistic, it is filled with contrary, at times viciously expressed, and insipid opinions. These are all based on an interconnection of personal and familial background, cultural influences, ideological frameworks and even biological constraints. Within a representative democracy, there are two ways to deal with the surplus of perspectives, by active engagement through generative dialogue or by removing one’s opinion from the need to interact with others.
Generative dialogue assumes that two or more people are dealing with the same reality, though quite obviously the perspective of it is different. The goal is a broader understanding of the worldview held and the assumptions that each brings for justification. This is not about staking positions and seeing whether one side or the other can be moved. Rather, this concerns identifying what is similar and on that basis determine whether common ground can be expanded upon. This is not about claiming a particular value as belonging only to one group. Rather, this is about understanding we as fellow human beings share values and put them into action differently based on worldview.
The idea of a marketplace of ideas is what generative dialogue supports. It is concerned with the flowing of disparate opinions because no single view can ever encapsulate the whole of a pluralistic society, nor determine the one and only way of conducting one’s life. This is the foundation of democracy, where the ability for people to hold disparate perspectives is woven into the need for people to see that the world belongs to us all, not just one or a select few.
“When a person is within a society based on democratic rationalism, particularly when having accepted a role of leadership, it is morally incumbent upon them to act to uphold the pillars of that society’s worldview.”
For democracy to work, that duality of viewing the world yet knowing one view never captures all of it, must be brought into the active sphere of generative dialogue. If at any time the choice is made to remove an opinion from public discourse, then it is no longer democracy at work, but the ideological groundwork for some form of despotism.
So it is that we are brought to the issue of employers, through insurance plans, covering contraceptives and the religious objection some have. The current plan has organizations who have a religious objection fill out a form declaring such, for the purpose of then identifying where federal programs need to step in to provide service. From an article on NPR about the situation:
Sister Constance Veit says she doesn’t object to signing the required form or a letter. “The religious burden is what that signifies, and the fact that the government would, you know, be inserting services that we object to into our plan, and it would still carry our name,” she says.
Note that it isn’t the form or letter that is at question, but “what that signifies.” The “what” is subtle. She doesn’t object to a letter, simply to the fact that it’s brought up at all. Essentially, how dare the public government remind her and her organization that they dwell in a pluralistic world, one where her particular theological opinion is subject to questioning.
A key feature of faith-based theological opinions is that they reside outside of public scrutiny. It’s not that there is no evidence the person can use to back their claims, it’s that such evidence cannot either be seen by those outside of the religious circle, or understood properly outside of that same circle.
The religious objection to contraception begins with an ideology that is not, therefore, part of the world and ends with adherents being removed from that world’s considerations of belonging within a democratically-structured public. In other words, the religious organizations seeking to deny medical care to women, are declaring that while they exist within a community, they are not subject to any questions from that community or are required to provide any answers that are publicly accessible. Their position is declared to be sacrosanct, set apart.
This isn’t about religious freedom, this is about religious ideology and the actions associated with it no longer being subject to concerns from the public with which they interact. This is about being apart from the world, not a part of it. This is about taking advantage of the freedoms afforded by a democracy ruled by law without having to be subject to the public of which that democracy is made and the laws set up to protect.
© David Teachout
For an excellent overview of the Zubik v Burwell case, read here