Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are our institutions reflective of the diverse nature of U.S. culture? Or do you want to know?

Within the next few months, Barack Obama will nominate someone to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and this person's name will be submitted to the Senate for confirmation. As part of this process, Obama and the Senate have the ability to right a possible wrong, and make sure that an important segment of our society is represented on the highest court in the land.

Outside the Beltway links to an NPR article that champions the cause of this disenfranchised group.

With U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talking openly about retirement, attention has focused on the "who" — as in who is on President Obama's short list of potential nominees. But almost nobody has noticed that when Justice Stevens retires, it is entirely possible that there will be no Protestant justices on the court for the first time ever.

Then again, James Joyner of Outside the Beltway isn't too bent out of shape about this:

I don’t happen to care one way or the other. It’s not like the Court has ever been demographically representative. Why, 100 percent of them are lawyers!

And it's also valid to note that the religious views of people are often considered off-topic in any type of organizational discussion. The next time you see a list of the most influential businesspeople, see if the religious affiliations of those people are listed. They probably won't be.

In a sense, this is unfortunate, because it leads to situations in which businesses and business leaders are analyzed by people wearing blindfolds. Take this example:

The field of business ethics has not paid sufficient attention to the questions of why a person would want to be ethical.(1) Much of the business ethics literature assumes people's interest in being ethical and consequently addresses the appropriate thought experiments to determine moral behavior.(2) Unfortunately, without examining why a person would be interested in being ethical, business ethics is truly academic, particularly since there are limits to justifying ethical behavior in terms of economic profitability.

The author, Timothy L. Fort, notes that a discussion of religious views can be "incendiary," and provides an example:

Several years ago, a recently retired, evangelical Christian corporate chief executive officer left my business school ethics class in near revolt by advocating a response to a hypothetical drug testing policy based on the Biblical prescription to "love thy neighbor." This businessperson gave an impressive, impromptu recitation of a series of Biblical passages to show why he, as a sincere Christian, should care deeply for his employees and in doing so should implement a drug testing policy almost identical to the one that the students had separately designed after extensive debate about balancing individual privacy concerns against a business's rights. Despite the CEO's indistinguishable position, the students, who represented all of the major world religions, deemed him a "bigot" who had "shoved religion down our throats."

Note that even though the students agreed with the policy advocated by the retired CEO, that agreement didn't matter because of how the CEO derived the policy.

And I'll admit that I'd probably do the same thing. What if I heard a politician who advocated a view with which I passionately agreed, but then the politician went on to say that these would be the very views that L. Ron Hubbard would advocate if Hubbard were still on this planet? I'd probably get a queasy feeling in my stomach also.

So the next time you hear someone vigorously advocating complete transparency, see exactly how transparent the advocate wants people to be.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, ex-United Methodist, ex-Gospel Outreach. Oh, and throw Young Life in there too.
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