The increasingly funny "Saturday Night Live" has a new character, "The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party." She speaks in platitudes, thinks hand gestures and voice inflections are actual ideas, confuses opinion with knowledge and moves quickly from one incomplete thought to the next non sequitur like she's perusing a sales rack of blouses at Walmart. It's a funny bit.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, these parodies reflect real life, and after reading Tribune columnist George Pyle's "Civil society replaces religion" (Opinion, Oct. 14), I began to think I was stuck at a party listening to the girl I wish I hadn't started a conversation with.
There is something spectacularly incomplete about the secular mind. It is anti-heroic. It is deeply conflicted. It chastises everything good and decent even as it claims to embrace everything good and decent.
Like the girl at the party, it never completes an intelligent or moral thought, even though it deems itself the most important voice in the room. It lacks context, moral imagination and, most regrettably, truth. In fact, it disdains truth as a fiction perpetrated by evil, vapid religious zealots. It says, so many people have so many differing opinions even about the most serious of things, what is truth?
The secular mind prefers "facts" without context and naturally cherishes other, less challenging virtues of diversity such as tolerance (again, without context).
In this case, Pyle objects to Mitt Romney's statement that "freedom requires religion" and goes on to insist that, indeed, secular societies can be free. But what is "free"? Again, there's no real context provided except to say that he thinks secular Europe is free and implies that free means democratic hardly a compelling argument.
Pyle magnanimously grants organized religion the liberty to "spread its word." His graciousness belies his contempt. Condemning organized religion because of the Inquisition or the Taliban is like condemning Albert Einstein because some people have low IQs.
And if his point is simply to say that one people should not lord over another people, my only response would be that freedom requires a discipline of human character and conduct wherein virtuous and reasonable people are, by default, called upon to establish the rule of law. Jimmy Carter was an acceptable presidential candidate not his brother, Billy.
But, alas, Pyle's point is deeper: The secular mind is righteous, too (perhaps superior), and, when combined with a secular definition of "reasonableness," we have the makings of ideal governance for a free society. My quick response is that that's impossible because righteousness requires truth (the "ought" in life) and the secular mind is skeptical of all truth.
While there is little space left here to address his definition of "civil society," there is no civil society without religion. Religion is a basic human value; it is a human good. All but the secular mind pause to reflect persistently on the purpose of life. Not only is this reflection natural to every reasonable human being, it is a requirement for human excellence.
The secular mind has no moral imagination. To be precise, since it is skeptical about the existence of truth, the secular mind is incomplete as a guide to humanity.
Pyle's "common language" of life cannot be incomplete and still be held in common. The questions of human excellence, inspired by religion, are what all reasonable people have in common.
Paul T. Mero is president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy organization based in Salt Lake City.