Rev. A.R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., was a recent guest on Glenn Beck and gave a short but inspiring explanation of the difference between preference and conviction. He pointed out that in 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that the only religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment are convictions. Preferences, the Court said, are not.
I was so intrigued by Rev. Bernard’s words that I did some research on the Internet to find out more about the landmark case he referenced. Sure enough, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that regardless of your belief structure, every religious belief you have is either a conviction or a preference. Specifically, the Court said that if you are willing to even discuss the negotiation of your faith, then your faith is a matter of preference. By contrast, the Court said that a conviction is non-negotiable.
Even more specifically, the Court said that for a belief to be considered a conviction, a person must be prepared to die for that belief. If the threat of death can cause you to change your belief, that belief is nothing more than a preference. It may be a very strong preference, but it doesn’t pass the test of a conviction.
In thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that the whole idea of preference versus conviction is not just applicable to religion, but to pretty much everything in life. For example, when Socrates was jailed on trumped-up charges of “corrupting youth by questioning tradition,” he could have saved himself by recanting. In fact, his followers begged him to do so, but he chose to be defiant to the bitter end.
Even after he was jailed, Socrates still might have escaped death because his followers were able to bribe his prison guards. But, again, Socrates refused. His view was that taking flight would indicate a fear of death, which he believed no true philosopher should harbor. Socrates’ beliefs were convictions, because he preferred death over renouncing them.
As the only living creatures that possess free will, we have the power to make choices. Often, we have to choose among a number of unpleasant alternatives, but we almost always have a choice – and most of those choices are based on preferences. But your mettle isn’t tested until you’re faced with making a choice where conviction comes into play. If you harbor a belief that is truly a conviction, you will not hedge on that belief no matter what the consequences may be.
If the midterm elections told us anything, it’s that a majority of Americans are desperately in search of leaders whose beliefs are non-negotiable convictions. The U.S. was founded on the novel concept of individual freedom. Not collective freedom – individual freedom, the belief that each individual has sovereignty over his own life. It was founded on the belief that every person is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights, which include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Paine could just as well have been referring to the year 2010 when he said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Valley Forge was an epoch event in our history, an event that played a major role in giving birth to the greatest nation the world has ever known. But today men’s souls are being tested at a time when that same nation is collapsing before our very eyes.
Which brings us back to preference versus conviction. When the American Revolutionaries made a choice to declare themselves free of King George III, they pledged to each other “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” Their desire to be free of the king’s tyranny was not a preference; it was a conviction. They made the choice to risk death by standing by their belief that they had a natural right to be free.
Today, politicians are not faced with death if they do not go along with popular opinion. Instead, they are faced with the possibility of being voted out of office. I say, bless those progressive politicians who are still willing, even after the recent bloodbath elections, to vote for what they sincerely believe in – more government control over people’s lives and more redistribution of wealth. But a pox on those conservatives who claim to believe that these things are immoral, yet vote for legislation such as extending unemployment benefits on the grounds that it’s “the compassionate thing to do.”
An even worse excuse that we often hear politicians use is that “anyone who is familiar with the way Washington works knows that you never get everything you want – that compromise is the only way you can ever get anything done.” Translation: They are devoid of convictions.
Don’t get me wrong. Most conservatives in Congress are sincere about having a strong belief in freedom and free enterprise, but their belief is nothing more than a preference. They are not willing to risk the wrath of their peers by voting their conscience, and certainly not willing to risk being voted out of office.
What we need in Washington today are elected officials who possess an unwavering conviction that taking someone’s property by force and giving it to others is immoral. Let’s you and I pay close attention not just to how progressives vote between now and the 2012 elections, but, more important, how conservatives vote.
I believe that at least half the voting population would like to see a presidential candidate emerge who, when asked a question like, “Are you in favor of repealing the minimum wage?” will answer, with unequivocal boldness, “Yes, of course I am. It not only creates unemployment, it’s also unconstitutional and immoral.”
Put simply, they want a candidate whose belief in liberty is not a preference, but a conviction. And we should all start looking for such a candidate as early as possible, because BHO has been in full campaign mode for 2012 since the day after he won the last election.