Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Were we a better country....

Were we a better country back in the 40s when black people were still second class citizens, and subject to random attacks and lynchings? Were we a better country in the 60s when women were denied opportunities, and sexual harassment in the workplace was largely tolerated? Were we a better country when people winked at anti-Semitism? Were we a better country when poor people had few protections, when old people died for lack of basic medical care, and when children went to work instead of school?

Steven Pruzansky thinks so. Here's what he wrote in a January post that's recently come to my attention:
"It was a better country when FDR and JFK felt comfortable invoking G-d’s name, as it was, indeed, a better society when they, despite their infidelities, nonetheless felt it distasteful to divorce their wives."
In his very short post (for him; its only about 3 million words) Pruz argues that society is going down the tubes, in part because no one talks about God in public anymore. He longs for the day when presidents like FDR would pray with us. He misses having a Lothario Catholic in the Oval Office who wore his religion on his sleeve.

But what he doesn't seem to understand is all that extra Godliness didn't do much good. While presidents prayed publicly and rambled on about God, while children and teachers prayed together in public school, great injustices and acts of substantial immorality were committed across the land. America in 2014 is a profoundly better place than it was in the 40s and 60s. People are healthier and safer. They are wealthier. They live longer, happier, fuller lives. Society is fairer. The courts are more just. I won't argue that these improvements came about because God was removed from the public square, but you can't credibly argue that we had a "better country" or a "better society" back when His name was regularly invoked by teachers and presidents. What was better about poverty, injustice and lower life expectancies? What was better about widespread racism, sexism and anti-Semitism? What was better about a country that abandoned its most vulnerable citizens?

Pruzansky compounds his error when he writes about schools:
"There was a time when schools endeavored to produce good citizens, teaching civics and values, and reinforced proper cultural norms. That era ended a half-century ago, and fifty years of values-free education has produced fifty years of values-free students."
Given that the schools of that day produced citizens who tolerated, defended and committed, the injustices and immoralities discussed above, shouldn't we be glad their era has passed?

The "values" and "proper cultural norms" he credits here include the ideas that blacks are inferior, that women must be denied all opportunities and that the state has no special obligations to the weakest and most in need. Until the 60s our schools produced citizens who accepted and supported and even committed barbarities. Today schools produce citizens who largely consider those particular barbarities intolerable. The change Pruzansky decries was a change for the better. The values that were lost were inferior. They have been replaced with better values. Don't you wonder about a Rabbi who mourns for the day when immoral "values" and unjust "norms" were acceptable?

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