One of the most disturbing campaign arguments from the recent mid-term election was the idea that we need to set aside the debates on same-sex marriage, abortion, or other values based issues for the more pressing concerns of the war in Iraq, or the economy. We heard it over and over during the campaign, as if a discussion based on values was of little importance during these difficult times.
There’s no question that the war in Iraq is of preeminent importance in this country, and the economy is a critical discussion pretty much anytime. The people obviously expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the war has been handled, and I’m proud to live in a country where those changes are dealt with in the ballot box rather than over the barrel of a gun.
But the idea that issues based on “values” are of secondary importance is not only detrimental to the national discussion, but suicidal to the future of the country.
The truth is, everything we do is based on our values. Our desire or distain for war. Our views about economics. The decision to own or rent, or the priority of education. The need to care for the poor and disenfranchised. Our views toward medical care and it’s cost. These and other important issues are all driven by what we value.
The dictionary defines values as “the importance or worth of something.” It’s the basis of priorities and helps us define things of significance and meaning. People of faith in this country have been termed “values driven voters” because they recognize and act on their personal values – values built on the idea of transcendent Truth. But in a “post-modern” culture, where there is no concept of absolute Truth, values become individual, and as such, can’t be trusted for major decisions of national importance.
At least that’s the philosophical explanation. However, common sense tells a different story. Everyone has values, whether they be driven by religious faith or secular principles. We are what we believe, whether that belief is based on the Bible, the Koran, or a personal, private decision inside or outside the context of any moral or ethical moorings.
Either way, never let anyone tell you that “values” don’t matter, or that issues driven by values are of less importance than others. How we view the marriage relationship is a cornerstone of our attitude toward family life – the very core of our community. Our attitude toward life indicates our perspective on those born and unborn. And our attitude toward justice will dictate choices that range from criminal behavior to defending the rights of the elderly.
On a recent trip to New York, I talked to a cab driver who had just immigrated from Russia. I asked him what he liked about America, and in broken English he said, “Your values. I like what you believe in.” I asked him why, and he replied, “There are many countries in the world with excellent constitutions, but they don’t value what it says. But in America, you value what’s important. You not only have a great constitution, but you obey it, and value the laws this country stands for.”
I was reminded by that cab driver that values aren’t secondary. They are the prime drivers of a democracy. Without values, war becomes anarchy, and the economy is controlled by force.
Values matter because values are what make this country work.
Phil Cooke is a television producer and media consultant based in Santa Monica, California. His website at philcooke.com is an ongoing conversation about the intersection of faith and the media.
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