It’s Bork to the fu­ture this hol­i­day sea­son

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kathryn Lopez Columnist

You may be fa­mil­iar with the word “bork” — which one on­line dic­tio­nary de­fines as to “ob­struct (some­one, es­pe­cially a can­di­date for pub­lic of­fice) through sys­tem­atic defama­tion or vil­i­fi­ca­tion.” The term comes, as you might re­mem­ber, from District of Columbia Court of Ap­peals judge Robert Bork, who Ron­ald Rea­gan nom­i­nated for Supreme Court in 1987. As his wife Mary Ellen Bork re­calls it, “Af­ter a mon­strous po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, he re­signed from the court in 1988 so that he could write about his le­gal and cul­tural views and speak with more free­dom than he could if he re­mained on the court.” And in­deed, Judge Bork wrote best-sell­ing books, in­clud­ing “Slouch­ing To­ward Go­mor­rah,” which was pub­lished 20 years ago.

I’ve been walk­ing around with the book in my purse on and off for the past few months, reread­ing it. As Mrs. Bork puts it, her hus­band’s “anal­y­sis of Amer­i­can cul­ture has re­mained true and his anal­y­sis of how we got there is as ac­cu­rate to­day as it was in 1996.” In a nut­shell: “We are un­der as­sault and large chunks of our cul­ture have dis­ap­peared.”

When you won­der how Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump hap­pened, that is, a re­al­ity TV star win­ning the high­est of­fice in the land, you should con­sult Bork. A whole lot stopped mak­ing sense in Amer­ica, and it has been a long road — that slip­pery slope you’ve no doubt heard of.

One of the para­graphs I found most sear­ing when it was first pub­lished talked about what re­li­gion was al­ready look­ing like in Amer­ica: some­thing ac­cept­able only if it is com­part­men­tal­ized, done on your Sab­bath, on your own time, but not if it in­vades your work, your civic life, and cer­tainly not the law. Un­less, that is, your re­li­gion is lib­eral sec­u­lar­ism.

Bork wrote: “The fear of re­li­gion in the pub­lic arena is all too typ­i­cal of Amer­i­cans, and par­tic­u­larly the in­tel­lec­tual class, to­day. Re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives can­not ‘im­pose’ their ideas on so­ci­ety ex­cept by the usual demo­cratic meth­ods of try­ing to build ma­jori­ties and pass­ing leg­is­la­tion. In that they are no dif­fer­ent from any other group of peo­ple with ideas of what moral­ity re­quires. All leg­is­la­tion ‘im­poses’ a moral­ity of one sort or another, and, there­fore, on the rea­son­ing of­fered, all law would seem to be an­ti­thet­i­cal to plu­ral­ism.” He went on to say that “ref­er­ences to big­otry” and “dem­a­goguery” seem to mean lit­tle more than that the au­thor would like to im­pose a very dif­fer­ent set of val­ues.”

Dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, there have been un­prece­dented en­croach­ments on re­li­gious lib­erty in the United States. But they don’t res­onate with the pub­lic, for two rea­sons, as best I can tell: Peo­ple don’t be­lieve it’s re­ally hap­pen­ing and they don’t know what free­dom of con­science means, and how deeply it af­fects us all — in­clud­ing the health of our pol­i­tics.

As Bork put it, “Philoso­phers can­not agree on the proper end of man and hence can­not sup­ply the nec­es­sary premises. Re­li­gion is by its na­ture au­thor­i­ta­tive and fi­nal as to first prin­ci­ples. It must be so or it would be val­ue­less. Those prin­ci­ples are given on a stone tablet, ei­ther lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tive, and, so long as you be­lieve the re­li­gion, there is sim­ply no pos­si­bil­ity of ar­gu­ing with what is on the tablet.”

It is dan­ger­ous to be­lieve, and not just be­cause of in­tol­er­ance. It’s dan­ger­ous to be­lieve be­cause it changes your life and chal­lenges you to some­thing bet­ter. And if we’re bet­ter, we’ll see again why it’s so nec­es­sary.

In the spirit of thanks­giv­ing and jus­tice, pick up a lit­tle wis­dom from Judge Bork.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the National Review In­sti­tute, editor-at-large of National Review On­line and found­ing direc­tor of Catholic Voices USA.

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