Dave's Mormon Inquiry Weblog
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  Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A short editorial in the October 2003 issue of First Things reviews the arguments in favor of the constitutional amendment on marriage.  Here is the proposed text:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred on unmarried couples or groups.

The article notes that the proposed marriage amendment has been carefully crafted by leading constitutional scholars.  But is this the political battle conservatives want to fight for the next decade?  We have an open-ended commitment in Iraq with no visible exit plan, a lingering threat of terrorism on the domestic front, a sputtering economy that threatens to become a recovery but is fragile rather than robust -- and the parties are squaring off to fight over marriage?  Like conservatives who opposed civil rights in the 1960s, I fear conservatives of the 21st century are digging in on principle against the tide of social change rather than searching for a workable compromise.  That's what politics is about, finding workable compromises.  Maybe we need less principle and more politics on this issue. 10:30:26 PM      

   A New World Man

Just read Joyce Appleby's Thomas Jefferson (Henry Holt, 2003), a short biography of our finest president.  So accomplished was he that being President for eight years did not even make his short gravestone resume, which notes the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and the University of Virginia as the three achievements he was most proud of.  He was one of only a handful of men to witness both revolutions that define the modern world, the American Revolution in the 1770s and the French Revolution in the 1790s.  This frontier aristocrat, whose boyhood backyard stretched 500 miles to the Mississippi, defined the Enlightenment for succeeding centuries.  Not Rousseau, not Voltaire, not Locke, not Adam Smith, but this young American wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

He paved the way for modern America.  First, he almost singlehandedly defeated the Federalist agenda of establishing an American social and political aristocracy by forming an opposition party, getting elected President in the election of 1800, and sweeping away the pomp and circumstance grafted onto representative government by Washington and Adams.  And he did it peacefully -- it was a bloodless democratic revolution.  Second, he purchased Louisiana (for a mere $15 million), doubling the size of America and paving the way to the Pacific.  He gave us a continent.

Great men have their tragic flaws.  Hagiographies gloss over, ignore, or simply rewrite these flaws, especially for religious figures and leaders, but one must open one's eyes to the flaws to really know the man, warts and all.  His ambivalent position on slavery tarnishes Jefferson to the modern mind, although had he pushed an anti-slavery theme he would have been marginalized politically.  He did include an anti-slavery paragraph in his first draft of the Declaration (it was removed in view of southern sensibilities).  Even so, Washington manumitted his slaves at death; Jefferson did not.  And his relationship with Sally Hemmings, while still controversial, is increasingly regarded as probable.  Perhaps it shows us something of the limits of even the most exemplary human character.

In a burst of synchronicity, Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the same day as his nemesis turned friend John Adams passed away, fifty years to the day after they both signed the Declaration of Independence. He is buried on the estate at Monticello. Look west across the misty Blue Ridge Mountains and you'll glimpse the American promised land he never entered. 8:58:43 PM      

Aren't web tools fun?  Here I am in French, rendered by the Google translator.  It even translates the links on the sidebar, so Times and Seasons becomes "Periodes et saisons," for example.  Of course there are plenty of errors -- it's reading translations like this that make the French think Americans are illiterate.  C'n'est pas vrai! 12:35:23 AM      

Great first-person account at Christianity Today by a woman who was in a deep coma for two months but whose husband steadfastly refused to "pull the plug."  Ethical arguments cut both ways in these tragic cases -- I am making no judgment one way or the other.  But this is an article that will make you think a bit. 12:10:42 AM      

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