In its every shade, the American culture war as discussed by Kevin Hasson in his book “The Right To Be Wrong”, is not as superfluous as the narratives that go with it. The two warring factions roughly fit into two generic categories, which Hasson metaphorically called Pilgrims and Park Rangers. The former is the socio-legal camp of religious followers and apologists, who vow to use state power and bureaucratic legal means to coerce the religious conscience of anyone they disagree with. Their argument? Well, truth is, in every way true! Thus, why not push it down the throat of every human, as a favor to the not-yet-enlightened. It is only benevolent when you hasten “the day when their eyes are opened”. This fundamental philosophical mistake is as ruinous to this group’s claim of truth, as it is destructive to the freedom of humans to go with their own conscience. According to Hasson, “religious truth cannot be embraced authentically unless it is embraced freely”.

The other group of Americans are the anti-religious extremists. Hasson described them as those Americans who tend to believe that “the price of freedom for everyone is that no one can be allowed to publicly claim that anything transcendent is absolutely true.” They often go against any public manifestation of faith or religion, which they strive to indiscriminately prohibit. The prominent example Hasson cited is the case of Sacred Parking Barrier in California. This was the incident in 1989, which happened in a Japanese Tea Garden at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. In this popular park, the New Agers have started to worship a resemblance of Shiva Lingam, a manifestation of Hindu god Shiva. Their regular prayer involved offering incense and flowers to a concrete structure left in the garden.

The story went that not long after this worship started in the public park, the city bureaucrats rose to prevent the Hindus, which prompted the New Agers to hire a lawyer. Two months later, the case was settled, when the authorities agreed to give the worshipers their right to pray to the structure, but privately, in some place other than the park. Their arguments here was that religion didn’t belong in public property, since “it is a private matter”. People with this type of thinking are against any manifestation of religion in public life, and against anyone involved in such practices. This has led to unnecessary controversies in the American public, over holidays including Christmas and Hanukkah. One example is the public-school system in Lansing Michigan, which changed the term “Easter Bunny” to “Special Bunny”. In part of Virginia, Easter Egg Hunt has been changed to Spring Egg Roll. Other places have banned in-school celebration of Halloween, and Valentine’s’ Day, because it’s named after Saint Valentine (favoring “Special Persons’ Day”).

This antagonism toward all religions by the latter group is simply born out of some Americans’ belief in the total nonexistence of any objective truth. Most extremists among them go further to claim that freedom is incompatible with any public claim of religious truth, even their own, when they happen to have one. Their goal is thus to replace religions in public life with a one-size-fits-all culture, bereft of diversity. The greatest weakness of this type of thinking is that it robs humans of their freedom to live up to their humanity. This includes devotion to religious beliefs, because religion helps humans in expressing who they are. Any prohibition of this natural right will result into negation of their human right to be who they want to be. How then, do you reconcile the two factions? (To be concluded)