Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 13, 2006
By: Steve Waldman

Did the Founding Fathers want a strict separation of church and state? Yes. Did they want the government to actively support religion? Er, yes. That too. The problem is, it depends on which Father youre talking about. For instance, as president, John Adams instituted highly religious, national fasting days. But when Jefferson became president he stopped them because he thought them a violation of the First Amendment.

So Im imagining that if we had Washington, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson locked in a room debating this, they would disagree on the interpretation of the First Amendment. Heres a cheeky fantasy bound to cause strokes among religious conservatives: after a couple of hours of deadlock, the Founding Fathers would conclude that the First Amendment is so ambiguous that the courts (boooooo) must be enlisted to figure it out!

But what do you think? Heres today's poll (and shameless Beliefnet self-promotion vehicle): Were the Founding Fathers alive today, would they think we had too much separation of church and state or too little?

Steve Waldman 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (127)

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Comments

They don't appear to be counting no votes. It's all just right. Sure.

Posted by: Dixie Myers on March 13, 2006 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

It's true that in the 19th century politicians regularly called for "National Days of Fasting and Prayer". Almost always they were called for nakedly political points, and nobody paid them any attention.

Posted by: Elrod on March 13, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

If we fundamentalist Christians can't force Pat Robertson's beliefs on everyone, how can we beat the Islamofascists?

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 13, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

It is sad to know that Jefferson, Franklin, and that poser Lincoln are burning in Hell.

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 13, 2006 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I'm all for making money, but wouldn't a site hawking faith and diet plans make Jesus puke just a little?

Posted by: Mr. Bigglesworth on March 13, 2006 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

I think that if we placed the founding fathers in a room with you, they would rise from the fucking dead and beat you to a bloody pulp. Shortly before you cackled your last "huzzah to christ" they would force you to reveal Amy Sullivan's secret hiding spot.

Posted by: jerry on March 13, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I expect George would be in an advanced state of shock that his advice on polictical parties had been ignored:

''They are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government." - George Washington

That and amazed how much more profitable real estate speculation has become since his time - would be caught sneaking out to call his broker.

Posted by: CFShep on March 13, 2006 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin better get his butt back here or he's going to lose his readership.

Posted by: Libby Sosume on March 13, 2006 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Franklin Roosevelt made a radio broadcast that included the following:

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph...

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom...

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Posted by: JR on March 13, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Any time any figure, like Roosevelt, mentioned "God," he clearly meant a vengeful Jesus who is only concerned about outlawing RU-486 and stopping gay marriage!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 13, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin better get his butt back here or he's going to lose his readership.
Posted by: Libby Sosume

I second that emotion.

The All-Basketball and Religion Channel is quel drag.

Posted by: CFShep on March 13, 2006 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Madison and Jefferson would be unlikely to argue that the issue should go to the courts. Madison, in particular would be likely to suggest that the Constitution should be amended. Madison, along with a number of other Founding Fathers. believed that Constitutional Amendments were the way to fix problems, as he demonstrated when he vetoed an improvements bill as President. Jefferson came up on the short side of Marbury v. Madison and thought that Chief Justice Marshall had overreached his authority.

With that in mind, it is certainly likely that all of the Founding Fathers would have viewed today's conservative arguments for intermingling religion and government as completely outside the bounds of reasonable governement.

Posted by: A Friend of the Constitution on March 13, 2006 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

I think these posts on religion are informative and thought-provoking. What's with the hostility? Steve makes a great point about how much today's evangelicals betray their earlier heritage. One can only conclude the obvious: they want political power. They feel closer to the reigns of political power today so they want to use the hammer of religion to enforce their political dominance. They are, in a word, Pharisees.

Posted by: Elrod on March 13, 2006 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'm all for making money, but wouldn't a site hawking faith and diet plans make Jesus puke just a little?
Posted by: Mr. Bigglesworth

To say nothing of deeply mystified by the logo a local karate school which depicts a kata clad guy executing a flying sidekick with 'On Fire For Jesus' in a tasteful flaming letters font.

Posted by: CFShep on March 13, 2006 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's just the right balance.

Thanks for asking.

Posted by: Washington on March 13, 2006 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin better get his butt back here or he's going to lose his readership

seconded.

Posted by: cleek on March 13, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

A dose of history might be nice here. There used to be a tradition of lefty Christianity, people like Emerson. The abolition movement was heavily Christian. So what happened to this tendency?

A large part of what happened was the fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century, which basically said that non-literalist Christians weren't Christians.

I find the Biblical epic to be, not just an inspiring story, but the Greatest Story Ever Told. But I don't believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that we don't have to die. That means I'm not a Christian: not because I say so, but because they say so.

Posted by: kth on March 13, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Yesterday, on the Tim Russert Repukeliscum Pushfest, George Allen said that he was a "JEFFERSONIAN CONSERVATIVE"

WHATTTTTHEFUCK!!!

I knew Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a co-religionist of mine. And Senator, not only are you no Thomas Jefferson, if he were alive today he would shoot you down like the dog you are.

Posted by: POed Liberal on March 13, 2006 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

John Adams' proclamations were nothing more than that: public exhortations that Americans fast and pray for the safety of the country. They involved no expenditure of government funds and they involved no legislation. They were, in short, the most minimal of breaches of the "wall" that one could imagine, and certainly nothing like the wholesale Joshua-at-Jericho wall-toppling that GWB would like to engage in. I doubt that our founding fathers, including John Adams, would be in any great disagreement about those efforts.

Posted by: Glenn on March 13, 2006 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Even my Republican colleagues are not as religious as Waldman and Sullivan seem to be implying by the preponderence of religion in their posts. And I work in an industry where 85% of the people are Republicans.

What world do Amy and Steven live in?

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

No, no, there's definitely, clearly, certainly no hostility to religion in the comments for this piece or the last one.

Is there really a subgroup of liberals who are so alienated by religion that they don't even want to consider its impact on politics?

I guess there must be. That's kind of frustrating for the religious liberals an earlier commenter was wondering about.

Posted by: Simon on March 13, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I think these posts on religion are informative and thought-provoking. What's with the hostility? Steve makes a great point about how much today's evangelicals betray their earlier heritage. One can only conclude the obvious: they want political power. They feel closer to the reigns of political power today so they want to use the hammer of religion to enforce their political dominance. They are, in a word, Pharisees.

I agree.

I have no problem with Politics motivated by religion. My church, a Unitarian one, has done much of that.

What I have a huge problem with is EXCLUSIONIST, HATE POLITICS where your beliefs not only are considered wrong, but will damn you forever. That's not politics.

Posted by: POed Liberal on March 13, 2006 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the posters above.

One more article on religion and how secular liberals are to blame for everything that is wrong with the Dems and I am outta here.

Ridiculous. Freaking ridiculous I say.

Posted by: lib on March 13, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Um, who friggin' cares? Last time I checked the Founding Fathers are all dead, and to even frame a question about what all those slave-owning advocates of making the right to vote contingent on property ownership think about things is to buy in to a rightwing meme that it's actually relevant.

Posted by: KevStar on March 13, 2006 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

If the Founding Fathers were alive today they'd be rolling in their graves....

Posted by: Stefan on March 13, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

On a 2003 trip to Ukraine (on a Church of Nazarine mission, incidentally) I came across two strange examples of the church/state boundary being violated by this former member of the Soviet Union.

The first was a brand-spanking new Orthodox cathedral in Kiev. The huge and elaborately ostentatious building sits on a hill and is so unused that weeds are popping up everywhere in the parking lot and the expansion joints of all the sidewalks and plazas.

The cathedral was built by the Ukrainian government as a sop to the Russian Orthodox church. The problem is that most of the Russian culture people who might actually use the place with all its beautiful onion domes live in East Ukraine. The population in the West is mostly Catholic or new Protestant of the type that I was there representing.

The other example of quasi-religious architecture was the huge World War Two Memorial in Kiev. The center of this attraction (don't fail to go see it if you are there) is a soaring cathedral-style building that quite unashamedly immortalizes communist heroes in dramatically enormous stained-glass ceilings.

There are two reasons why the current government of Ukraine tolerates us Protestants there. The first is that some of their politicians actually believe that the Protestant ethic involving work and family life is actually what their nation needs in order to catch up to Western Europe (regardless of the fact that the West is fleeing from that ethic like a demented demon with his tail on fire.)

The second reason for official tolerance is that we contribute generously to government "lobbyists" who quite frankly and openly make sure that things happen.

Our church was able to locate a former communist administration building constructed in a very sturdy, monumental style which took only a lot of do-it-ourselves makeover and a new steeple tower to convert into a church. The end result is quite impressive. The Ukrainian people tend not to take a religion seriously unless it can put up some edifices that display the creed has sufficient wherewithal to be around for awhile. We would be happy doing "house churches" as in China, but you kinda have to do what the local culture calls for.

Our proselytizing effort in Russia is much more difficult, mainly because the Orthodox church argues to the government that their tradition plays more strongly to Russian nationalism. That may even be true, but it ignores the millions of individual Russians that crave a more personal, spiritually reassuring vision of Christ Jesus as an important element of their individual life.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on March 13, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Simon:

I am not alienated by religion. I believe that religion is a personal matter and any efforts to promote it something otherwise is preposturous, divisive, and incompatible with what this country should be.

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

"Indeed, part of what made Jefferson cheese-worthy in the eyes of a Baptist leader like Leland was his advocacy of a Bill of Rights."

Ha! Waldman's article is enlightening, well worth a read.

Posted by: Lucy on March 13, 2006 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, if the Founding Fathers were alive today they'd probably be a little less concerned about religion (since most of them were not particularly religious men; many were not even Christians) and a little more concerned about the new King George's attempt to create an absolutist monarchy and destroy the American system of limited government, check and balances and civil rights.

Posted by: Stefan on March 13, 2006 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Nut: it's nice to hear that you're not alienated by religion.

However, in your case, I think it's safe to say that you're utterly alienat_ing_. Think about that for a while - I think that's all these recent posts are really asking you to do.

Posted by: Simon on March 13, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I care very little what the founding fathers would be thinking about the state of the separation of church and state...they were in the same disarray on this issue as everyone likes to keep pointing out the Democrats are on EVERYTHING! I am also sick and tired of hearing the arguments from RRWers about what the founding fathers meant in the Constitution about anything (a document that is hundreds of years old and, apparently does NOT evolve) but like to say that the FISA court is not viable because it is an "old law"...DUH!!! HYPOCRITES...

Posted by: Dancer on March 13, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Drum's blog: All religion. All the time.

Except when they're hand-wringing about knee-jerk leftists. And the unnamed "many" liberals who are hostile to christianity.

Does Drum think we're as stupid as republicans, that we'd fall for this "quiet conversion"?

Posted by: cdj on March 13, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

If the "founding fathers" were alive today, they would be coasting on past achievements, and so old they wouldn't care about the issue any more.

Posted by: Repack Rider on March 13, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

This webpage posits that the Founding Fathers, by and large, were not Christians, but Deists...who believed in a God, but One who didn't get involved and left it to Man to work things out, who wanted nothing of the centuries of religious war in the Old World:
http://freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html
Does anyone have the background/qualifications to check this?

Posted by: Stewart Dean on March 13, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

No, no, there's definitely, clearly, certainly no hostility to religion in the comments for this piece or the last one.

It's not hostility to religion--it's hostility to people who can't shut up about it.

I believe that government has no place in religion and that religious faith should be a private issue. If a voter wants information about a candidate's religion in order to make a decision, then that's perfectly fine. But faith is irrelevant to public policy, and that's what ultimately what's meant by the separation of church and state.

In any event, asking what the founding fathers "wanted" is irrelevant. It's what they *agreed upon* that's important.

Posted by: Halfdan on March 13, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

I love these founding Fathers battle royals. We pit one against the other, in an all out grudge match for the true meaning of the first amendment. Inevitably someone will drag out poor old Jefferson, as the (supposed) ringer for an atheistic State.

What I find humorous about the premise (as a conservative) is the way it implicitly endorses a Scalian, originalist, philosophy of constitutional interpretation. If our constitution is not a text with a fixed meaning that requires a understanding of its authors, then why bother bringing the founders up at all. If it is a living, breathing document, meant to elastically change with times; of what consequence are the founders intent? (even if it can be discerned)
Once again, chalk one up for the Federalists as the supposition of this query suggests.

Posted by: Fitz on March 13, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK
But faith is irrelevant to public policy, and that's what ultimately what's meant by the separation of church and state.

Faith is manifestly not irrelevant to public policy; whether it is based on a god or not, moral priorities which cannot themselves be justified by reason by only accepted or rejected or first principles affect every policy decision.

Reason and observation can tell you how things materially are, and, once you know how you want them to be, how to get there. But values, which inherently can be justified by nothing other than faith (which need not be "religious", especially in the sense of appeal to god, per se) are at the core of every choice between competing goals.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

You can get used to the idea that religion is important to enough people that it will have an impact on political issues or you can beat your head against the wall...it's really your choice. Part of dealing with reality.

Posted by: r2e2 on March 13, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

It's possible the Founding Fathers would have been completely flabbergasted and horrified at pretty much everything about modern life. But who cares? The principles they established must be applied to modern life with empathy and analogy. Society develops.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Simple question: is is acceptable to use the awesome coercive power of the State to back (a) any religion (b) a specific religion?

If yes, how is that different from a theocracy? Is a thoecracy acceptable to the polity of the United States?

Cranky

PS My answers: No. No. It isn't. Sadly, probably yes.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 13, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

1) When it comes to displays such as nativity scenes on the front lawn of a court house I believe they would think there is too much separation.

2) When it comes to Gays and Lesbians having to fight for their rights to equal protection and consideration under the law I believe they would think there is too little separation.

Well maybe not but you get my meaning. The separation of church and state isn't about the nativity scene. It's more about not legislating from the bible or any other religious texts.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 13, 2006 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Reason and observation can tell you how things materially are, and, once you know how you want them to be, how to get there. But values, which inherently can be justified by nothing other than faith (which need not be "religious", especially in the sense of appeal to god, per se) are at the core of every choice between competing goals.

Actually, this is a somewhat artificial distinction. A lot of the things you think of as fact or observation are actually taken on authority, because you trust the source or because they feel believable since they cohere well with the rest of your ideas about the world. And a lot of the things you think of as values are actually based on experience and observation. People's values can change based on experience, and people's beliefs about facts (and even the way they perceive events in real time) can change based on changes in their values.

But I agree with you about the general point that religion is not "irrelevant" to policy decisions.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

It's not hostility to religion--it's hostility to people who can't shut up about it.... faith is irrelevant to public policy

Hmmm... I'd better write the Friends Committee on National Legislation and tell them to disband, as they're irrelevant.

Posted by: Simon on March 13, 2006 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

What I find humorous about the premise (as a conservative) is the way it implicitly endorses a Scalian, originalist, philosophy of constitutional interpretation. If our constitution is not a text with a fixed meaning that requires a understanding of its authors, then why bother bringing the founders up at all.

Because, you freak, we're having a little fun playing with a conservative conceit which we all know is completely idiotic. Part of the point of imagining this scene is to point out how utterly stupid the whole Scalian enterprise is, of imagining, say, how the founders would react to the question of whether or not the federal government has the power to insist that a company which projects electro-magnetic images through the ether in exchange for payment by other companies which use such projections as a medium to promote their products ensure that negro musical entertainers appearing in such projections have their nipples covered at all times, though not necessarily their thighs or navels.

--What would John Adams say???--

It's a gas to think about it, right? And just thinking about it, you realize it's totally idiotic to base the law of the land on an attempt to imagine what John Adams would say. "Well, the woman was a negro? Common standards would indicate that the owner's baring of a negro woman's breasts in the public square to advertise her fertility and good health does not offend public standards of decency. Oh - she was a freewoman? Did she object to the baring of her nipple? Then..." On this, we're going to base our decisions?

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"The separation of church and state isn't about the nativity scene. It's more about not legislating from the bible or any other religious texts."

How do you go about which values derive from the bible & which don't? If I want universal healthcare, how is one to tell whether my beliefs in this matter derive from my faith or from non-religious values?

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway on March 13, 2006 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

The magnitude of the sincerity of the religious crowd can easily be gaged by doing a simple thought experiment.

Suppose by some miracle a self proclaimed Hindu is nominated as a candidate for a ntional office by one of the major political parties.

How many of these people who advocate merging of politics and religion would support such a candidate?

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Suppose by some miracle a self proclaimed Hindu is nominated as a candidate for a ntional office by one of the major political parties.

What would be so miraculous about this? It's probably about 10 years away from happening. I'm sure there are any number of ambitious and promising South Asians making their way up. What do you mean by "national office" and why do you arbitrarily limit the question this way? What if it were a senatorial or congressional candidate? Or a federal court judge?

And incidentally, I doubt you'd have too much opposition to such a candidate. The real problem would be teaching the Ramayana in school, if, say, they do get that bible-as-literature proposal approved in Alabama.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Nut:

What's wrong with voting for a Hindu?

I don't think you'll find a lot of religious left folks - even those of us who find religion extremely relevant to politics - freaking out about that prospect.

(For all the griping I've heard about Joe Lieberman's nomination as VP, mine included, I can't say any of it was because he wasn't Christian.)

Posted by: Simon on March 13, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The Founders were typically Freemasons.

So if we are going to adopt their religious ideals, then we are into very interesting territory.

Posted by: Thinker on March 13, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

So if we are going to adopt their religious ideals, then we are into very interesting territory.

If only all religions were secret.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK
Actually, this is a somewhat artificial distinction. A lot of the things you think of as fact or observation are actually taken on authority, because you trust the source or because they feel believable since they cohere well with the rest of your ideas about the world. And a lot of the things you think of as values are actually based on experience and observation.

I would prefer if you would restrict the degree to which you will presume to know what I think; at any rate, you seem to be misunderstanding what I said, since you seem to be discussing the practical manner by which people come to beliefs rather than the basis on which such beliefs can, in principle, be justified.

Yes, its quite clear that experience shapes values, and that people have beliefs about questions of fact that are determinable by observation and reason based instead on faith.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a point that a lot of people don't really consider. What bothers many religious people about the Democratic Party is not that the party is "hostile to religion," as Rabbi Lerner says. Rather, it's the belief that the Democratic Party's positions - most of which are much closer to Christian teachings than those of the Republicans - are not couched in any deep value system. The whole concept of faith is that you take an emotional stand on something without having all of the "evidence" to back you up. (Of course faith imbues reason as well, as Brooksfoe says above). If anything, Americans at least want a secular religion that unapolagetically defends American values. The policy positions come next. But before you can get people for whom religious faith is a very important of their lives to listen, you have to convince them that your own views are grounded in a transcendent view of mankind. This won't win over the religious right, nor should it. Their view of religion and society is far too narrow and hatefilled. But it will win over some traditional Christians and moderate evangelicals who support much of the policy positions of the Democratic Party on health care, Iraq, taxes, etc. and who want to know that the Democratic Party grounds its policy positions on a larger framework about human nature and human destiny. Throwing in a few Bible quotes won't impress anybody. But standing up for your beliefs, even if they are unpopular, WILL win the support and respect of religious people. Ironically, it's the DLC "safe politics" strategy that alienates the Democratic Party from religious voters more than anything else. People who believe very seriously in the religious realm want to support politicians who believe very seriously in the political realm.

Posted by: Elrod on March 13, 2006 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

There are 244 comments on the last thread and 51 on this thread. I think this religion talk is attracting comment. Isn't that what a blog should be about?

A lot of you who are bashing Steve and Amy would do well to read your own posts. Dripping with about as much hostility as any comment by Jerry Falwell and about as caring as any comment from Pat Robertson. On balance not our finest hour.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 13, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals like myself who are hostile to religion still vote for catholics like Kerry, and protestants like Clinton. Would all the religious liberals who are hostile to atheism vote for atheist candidates, Mr. Waldman? I seem to recall something about a mote and a beam...

Posted by: steve on March 13, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Brooksfoe

Your hypothetical (nipples, slaves and such) is unfair. The question in a first amendment case would be the meaning of the first amendment as originally understood. Through this you would derive at concepts like core political speech as apposed to say, pornography (speech consistently barred in precedent).
Such concepts are well established and accepted categories of speech, understood by the founders and rooted in precedent. Originalism rightly embraces such distinctions as good and standing law. It does not however embrace the silly and fruitless hypotheticals you present.
The application of precedent and originalism to new technologies does not negate the approach. (otherwise neither precedent not originalism would have any applicable meaning in such cases)
You may know many thing, but you dont seem to have a handle on the law. What you present is not an originalist approach. What it actually is; is an attempt by you to denigrate such an approach by applying a sophomoric, and silly analogy.

Posted by: Fitz on March 13, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I had no idea Kevin's site had been over run like this. Interesting development indeed.

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK
Well maybe not but you get my meaning. The separation of church and state isn't about the nativity scene. It's more about not legislating from the bible or any other religious texts.

The first amendment is not about texts as much as about sects, its less about not implementing religious values than about not favoring (or punishing) particular religious institutions.

Diversity of texts, and even substantive doctrine with a policy impact wasn't much of an issue at the time of the Constitution; while they certainly had their own unique doctrines, the various sects that had attempted (and succeeded!) in using the power of the state to persecute each other didn't have the kind of broad social policy differences we associate with religion in politics today.

The first amendment is more about what legislation addresses than where the motivation for it comes from.

Now, there is a connection, in that a policy drawn purely from desire to implement a religious doctrine for which a secular justification cannot be articulated can readily be seen as being designed to favor the religious group from whom the doctrine came and punish those religious groups who hold to different doctrines (for instance, a law that forbad serving meat in restaurants on Fridays in Lent would almost certainly be such a law.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

At least it is heartening to see the poll results 81% for "We have too little separation of church and state." What has happened to Kevin's blog in these last 6 months?

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I see that cmdicely, however, is just as obtuse as ever.

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Elrod (writes)
"it's the DLC "safe politics" strategy that alienates the Democratic Party from religious voters more than anything else."

Oh First off, I believe Bill Clinton managed to win elected office
Secondly What alienates the Democratic Party from religious voters (or pretty much any grounded, moral person) Is the New Left, and the toll it has taken on Americas moral heritage.

Posted by: Fitz on March 13, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

As a liberal, I am not hostile to religion, but hostile to the sort of religion whose adherents want to shove their mores down the throats of everyone else. I think that's the main issues when pundits like Waldman and Sullivan talk about religious hositility of the liberals.

They want liberals to essentially surrender to the religious extremists for the zealots will not be satisfied with anything less.

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK
What bothers many religious people about the Democratic Party is not that the party is "hostile to religion," as Rabbi Lerner says. Rather, it's the belief that the Democratic Party's positions - most of which are much closer to Christian teachings than those of the Republicans - are not couched in any deep value system. The whole concept of faith is that you take an emotional stand on something without having all of the "evidence" to back you up.

I think you almost got to the problem, and then veered off in the wrong direction there. The problem with not having positions rooted in a well-articulated value system is that people generally intuitively realize that all policy proposals are rooted in a value system, and when a strong and clear value system isn't articulate, there is a tendency to presume that the actual values involved are some combination of opportunism and serving to the special interests of one or more narrow groups; of course, the opposing party is quick to push people in this direction as well.

Providing a firm set of values well-linked to policy stances is a means of establishing trust that your policies are motivated by an interests in the well-being of all (as expressed through those values) rather than self- and special-interest opportunism.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK
As a liberal, I am not hostile to religion, but hostile to the sort of religion whose adherents want to shove their mores down the throats of everyone else. I think that's the main issues when pundits like Waldman and Sullivan talk about religious hositility of the liberals.

I think, instead, the main issue is the appearance of general hostility to religion, which is based on the fact that (1) some liberals are generally hostile to religion, (2) some liberals are, like you, hostile only to some subset of religion but (perhaps unlike you) tend only to talk publicly about those they are hostile toward, and (3) the fact that liberals have done a very bad PR job fighting the constructed "Christians v. Left" (and more recently "People of faith v. Left) media frames that the right wing has pressured the mainstream media to adopt.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Fitz,

I couldn't agree more. Why if it wasn't for the New Left, poor Noelle Bush, daughter of Jeb, would never have become a junkie.

Posted by: tristero on March 13, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The First Amendments establishment clause was derived by James Madison directly from the Virginia bill for establishing religious freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson and Madison, at the time, worked with Baptist and Presbyterians to disestablish the Anglican Church as Virginias state church, membership in was required for a citizen to vote or hold office, and financial support of which was mandatory and often coerced.

I suggest in ones attempt to determine the founders intent, one should consult Jefferson, who enunciated the "wall of separation" metaphor and who noted in his autobiography:

"The bill for establishing religious freedom", Jefferson wrote, "I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that 'coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion', an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ', so that it should read 'Jesus Christ the holy author of our religion.' The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew, the gentile, the Christian, and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination."

Posted by: Chris Brown on March 13, 2006 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, the poll is ridiculously simple minded.

Posted by: Chris Brown on March 13, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

I've met more libertarians hostile to religon than liberals. But you're correct the "christians v. left" is a construction of the right.

"The problem with not having positions rooted in a well-articulated value system"

Liberal values are so well articulated they are all but invisible. This country breathes liberalism. Even genuine anti-liberals, such as those behind the "intelligent design" creationism movement, are forced to couch their arguments in liberal terms or no one would listen to them.

The problem lies elsewhere, not in the articulation of liberal values, but in the relentless assault on the Enlightenment by those who desire a theocracy and/or a king. If that strikes you as hyperbole, I strongly suggest that you look very carefully at the funding behind the "intelligent design" creationism movement.

Posted by: tristero on March 13, 2006 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

It's Garry Wills' point that in 20+ volumes of George Washington's papers, there's not a single mention of the name "Jesus Christ"--and "God" and "providence" are synonymous when he evokes a friendly hand guiding destiny.
And if he rode up to the White House today, he'd listen politely to Bush's words of greeting, hand him the reins of his horse and walk inside to find the real president.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on March 13, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think, instead, the main issue is the appearance of general hostility to religion, which is based on the fact that (1) some liberals are generally hostile to religion, (2) some liberals are, like you, hostile only to some subset of religion but (perhaps unlike you) tend only to talk publicly about those they are hostile toward, and (3) the fact that liberals have done a very bad PR job fighting the constructed "Christians v. Left" (and more recently "People of faith v. Left) media frames that the right wing has pressured the mainstream media to adopt.

(1) and (2) are quite vacuous, as they might as well be said about the right. I am sure some on the right are quite hostile to religion, and some on the right are hostile to a subset of religion (the latter can be said of the 'stalwarts' like Falwell and Robertson).

I don't see Waldmon and Sullivan's constant drumbeats on the subject as calls to Dems for a better PR job.

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think the founding fathers would think that the Republicans are using religion to manipulate the masses.

Going further back, I think Christ would think that the Republicans are using his religion to manipulate the masses.

Remember what Christ said? Render to Ceasar what is Ceasar's, render to God what is Gods.

Well, at least the founding fathers remembered that much, athiest or not.

Posted by: Bubbles on March 13, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Faith is manifestly not irrelevant to public policy; whether it is based on a god or not, moral priorities which cannot themselves be justified by reason by only accepted or rejected or first principles affect every policy decision."

What rubbish. "Moral priorities" are a matter of preference, and do not need "faith" any more than any other kind of preference does. You do not need faith to believe that you ought not murder any more than you need faith to believe that red is your favorite color.

Posted by: e12 on March 13, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Susan Jacoby writing about John Adams in Mother Jones' recent special issue on "God and Country":

"Oh! Lord!" Adams complained in 1817 to his old friend and rival Jefferson. "Do you think that a Protestant Popedom is annihilated in America? Do you recollect, or have you ever attended to the ecclesiastical Strifes in Maryland, Pensilvania, New York, and every part of New England? What a mercy it is that these People cannot whip and crop, and pillory and roast, as yet in the U.S.! If they could they would."

http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2005/12/original_intent.html

Posted by: Steve Katz on March 13, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

As a proponent of the infamous Alien Act and Sedition Act, John Adams' opinion on the 1st Amendment need not be taken seriously, as his opinion was that it should be simply disregarded.

(Someone will now quote me McCullough's biography of John Adams, which tries to absolve Adams of responsibility for what took place under his leadership).

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 13, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK
1) and (2) are quite vacuous, as they might as well be said about the right.

Certainly either would be less true of visible voices on the right; at any rate, the point is the combination of all three, not each point in isolation.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Since you are talking about visible voices[sic], which Dem leaders have expressed any sort of hostility to religion in recent past?

Posted by: nut on March 13, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Rick Warren is a fairly "visible voice" (whatever that means) on the right. I think he strikes the perfect balance personally - exactly what our Founding Fathers would have fostered: http://www.pastors.com/article.asp?ArtID=9198

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

The real question is whether a profession of religon should disqualify someone for political office.

Also, John Adams came from Massachusetts, more proof that we should not look there for presidential candidates.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 13, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

nut:

I presume that "visible voices" goes with "talking heads" on TV, but who knows if cmdicely if hearing voices again . . .

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Don P.
What precisely you associating Rick Warren with the Right?
He is manifestly a product of what can be called the dwindling religious Left..

Posted by: Fitz on March 13, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Fitz:

Are you kidding me?! I just picked the most "visible voice" I could think of off the top of my head. Rick Warren is against abortion, gay marriage, and all of the "Right's" hot-button social issues - while I disagree with him on every one of those, he at least strikes the proper balance about not forcing those religious views through politics alone - perhaps you should ask Amy Sullivan if she considers Jim Wallis or Rick Warren more "manifestly a product of what can be called the dwindling religious Left."

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Context is everything. The history of Europe from ~1400-1800 is the story of the waning power of the established Christian church and the rising power of the Monarchy. By 1776, when the American experiment began, the dominant Christian Church (whether Roman Catholic or a state church such as the Church of England) was wedded to the Monarchy. It was hostile to the concept of government based on republican ideals--that is, of, by and for the people. The Christian leadership thought democracy would lead to mob rule and chaos.

The system was very orderly and inbred. The state churches were "the first estate" who annointed the King because the King derived his authority from God. The nobility derived their authority from the King, and the common people were expected to be obedient to the sovereign ruler, the nobility and the church, just as they were expected to be obedient to God. The religious wars of the 17th century were an attempt by the state & church to suppress independence among the common people.

Nowadays, when we talk about separation of church and state, we have lost the context of a state church used to justify inherited privilege and suppress dissent. For the Founding Fathers, however, this context was foremost in their minds: State churches were not just hostile to the idea of democracy, they were part of the system that justified oligarchy and were used by the privileged to suppress the will of the common people.

The founding fathers believed in the wisdom of the common people. They believed that Christian churches had a role to play in socializing citizens to be responsible, hard-working and liberal. They believed that their experiment in a republican form of government could work if the electorate was well-informed, responsible and concerned for the common good. They tried to anticipate the chief threats to government of, by and for the people--the different ways in which people who did not support a representative government could concentrate their power and seize control of the government. So the founding fathers established checks and balances among the judiciary, executive and legislative, protected the rights of common people and rejected the establishment of anti-democratic power centers such as a state church.

Forget this context, and everyone loses direction. We get into debates over what the Founding Fathers "really" meant, and our answers are informed by prejudice and ignorance. We let oligarchs like George Bush undermine everything the founding fathers were striving to protect.

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 13, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN:

What exactly is the difference you are referring to between Bush's "oligarchy" (is that something you believe is being put into place like the "New World Order" conspiracy) and the 555 persons who currently run our federal government?

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK
I presume that "visible voices" goes with "talking heads" on TV

Well, the latter is certainly a subset of the former; voices in the national dialogue that are perceived (rightly or not) as being representative of their respective political "side"; Bill Maher would be an example on the left.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK
What exactly is the difference you are referring to between Bush's "oligarchy" (is that something you believe is being put into place like the "New World Order" conspiracy) and the 555 persons who currently run our federal government?

Accountability through democratic election, perhaps?

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Steve

Did the Founding Fathers want a strict separation of church and state? Yes. Did they want the government to actively support religion? Er, yes. That too. The problem is, it depends on which Father youre talking about.

But what does God want for us, Steve?

That is all that really matters for the fundy twats who control our nation's discourse.

God before country -- that's how these folks think. That's why Lying for Jesus is allowed and so very prevalent in the 21st century.

Think about the Ultimate Objective, Steve. Try to use your tiny tiny brain.


Posted by: Walter Concrete on March 13, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

PTate wrote: "For the Founding Fathers, however, this context was foremost in their minds: State churches were not just hostile to the idea of democracy, they were part of the system that justified oligarchy and were used by the privileged to suppress the will of the common people."

I think that this is overstating the case. There were undoubtedly some members of the founding generation who believed this -- Thomas Paine, for example -- but it was hardly a mainstream view.

In fact, most of the states still had established churches in 1789, and Connecticut and Massachusetts had established churches until 1818 and 1833, respectively. Establishment was a familiar and comfortable institution in much of the country, and disestablishment was a gradual process highly dependent on local conditions.

Posted by: johnchx on March 13, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"The founding fathers believed in the wisdom of the common people."

PTate in MN the above averment betrays your profound ignorance of USA history.

Voting in early USA history was denied to non-land owners, those of African descent, women, those who could not pass the literacy tests, those who could not pay the poll tax, and who could not surmount the various other impediments erected by the aristocrats who formed our government and who have controlled it more or less since.

Hamilton and Adams, in particular, as well as many of the other founders, certainly had no belief what-so-ever in the common people.

The only use the land aristocracy of the early USA found for the "common people" they paid to serve in their stead as soldiers to fight the British and as a buffer between themselves and hostile Native Americans near whom the "common people" were forced to live in the Western lands since most land along the coastal areas was owned by feudal lords.

Posted by: Chris Brown on March 13, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Noxious, unsupported offal from cmdicely:
"But values, which inherently can be justified by nothing other than faith (which need not be "religious", especially in the sense of appeal to god, per se) are at the core of every choice between competing goals."

The reason I really loathe discussions about religion is because I have to read drivel like the above. Hey kids!! Grow up! There is no evidence for your Sky King! I'm ok with you believing in a Sky King, but please don't insist that my lack of belief in the Sky King---an evidence-based stance---is in any way commensurable with the kind of "faith" you possess in regards to your Sky King.

Posted by: marky on March 13, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK
The reason I really loathe discussions about religion is because I have to read drivel like the above.

You don't have to; and, clearly, though you cut and pasted it, you didn't read it.

Hey kids!! Grow up! There is no evidence for your Sky King!

Hey kids!! Grow up! I didn't say there was evidence for a "Sky King", or anything like it.

I'm ok with you believing in a Sky King, but please don't insist that my lack of belief in the Sky King---an evidence-based stance---is in any way commensurable with the kind of "faith" you possess in regards to your Sky King.

And, if you go back and read what I wrote, you'll notice I never suggested anything of the time you complain about.

What I suggested was that values ultimately rest on first principles that can not be justified through reason alone, whether or not God is invoked.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely,
I don't agree. You are saying that values cannot exist without "faith". I do not have "faith" which is like the religious persons, so am I bereft of values? I don't think so. And if this means that you use "faith" to denote on the one hand the possession of a non-materialist ontology and teleology, and on the other to describe my philosophy... you are just plain sloppy, or dishonest. In your case, I don't know which it is, but I don't care for religious, intolerant people using word games to get away with murder.

Posted by: marky on March 13, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, there is no reason that ethics and morality cannot be studied on a scientific basis.
This is not to say that there is some underlying reason that one system is superior to another: we do choose our morality. For some, this is too much responsibility; I see it as a fact which must be accepted.

Posted by: marky on March 13, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Chris Brown: "Voting in early USA history was denied to non-land owners, those of African descent, women, those who could not pass the literacy tests, those who could not pay the poll tax, and who could not surmount the various other impediments erected by the aristocrats who formed our government and who have controlled it more or less since."

D'Oh! Thanks for the opening my poor ignorant eyes! Here I was, foolish me, thinking that the following words could be interpreted to mean that the founding fathers believed in the common man, however imperfectly they may have defined that status: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

Damn those arrogant aristocratic, slave-owning, hypocritical white men that wrote the Constitution! All that "we, the people" stuff was a sham. Those founding overlords threw off the yoke of King George only to impose an oppressive "republican" model of government in which only a few "citizens"--themselves, in fact--were ensured the right to vote, to due process, to freedom of speech, religion and other such rights.

We really should adopt the government of one of those many other countries in which those without property, minorities, illiterates, and women are ensured equal power and rights! Which would you recommend, o wise teacher?

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 13, 2006 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN:

What is your definition of "oligarchy" then? 555 men (and very few minorities or women - fewer yet who do not own property and are illiterate) compared to 300,000,000 is 0.00000185% of the population you know.

cmdicely:

Well, the latter is certainly a subset of the former; voices in the national dialogue that are perceived (rightly or not) as being representative of their respective political "side" . . .

Still obtuse, I see - why don't you just come out and say whatever you mean?

Accountability through democratic election, perhaps?

Oligarchies in the past have been accountable through democratic election too. Neither good nor bad, in and of themselves - no wonder you are so lost in your reasoning.

marky:

There's no use arguing with that one - he takes directions from the Holy Father in Vatican City.

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

You libs love re-inventing history. You have no clue. The Founding Fathers were religious men who didn't want to separate church and state - only ensure one denomination didn't become official.

Christianity was considered the backbone of our nascent republic. Since you people came around and tried to stop it, our great nation and society has only become weaker.

Posted by: DR on March 13, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Excuse my decimal point - the percentage of "rulers" to "general population" in our current federal government is 0.000185%

My definition of "oligarchy": a political system governed by a few people.

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

DR:

I believe it is you who have no clue. Take one of the "Right's" current hot-button social issues: Gay Marriage - it is a matter of settled law that religions do not have to recognize or perform legal marriages, and that the government does not have to recognize religious marriages. In other words, just because a person is legally married doesn't mean they are married in the eyes of a particular religion. And, just because a person is married in the eyes of a particular religion doesn't mean the government must recognize that relationship as a legal marriage. This is understood. This is the way it's always been. This distinction is simply one aspect of the separation of church and state.

Posted by: Don P. on March 13, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Why do the opinions of the Founding Fathers, opinions of the late 18th century, have a quasi-religious status? By all accounts these were practical men making very mortal decisions about government, not prophets. They often did not know what to do or could not find a satisfying solution. They were, after all, trying to create the first democratic nation since ancient times. Moreover, the Constitution was intended to govern a sparsely populated developing nation of 4 million people. Today the US has a population of 300 million people, it is the most ethnically and religiously diverse nation in the world (if Diana Eck is to be believed). It is precisely because of this fact that Americas exclusive Christian identity must be asserted. If the Founding Fathers wanted a Christian identity nation, they would have written it plainly into the Constitution. But that was not the ethos of the Enlightenment. They themselves would never have been able to agree on what kind of Christianity. It certainly would not have been Catholicism. Does that mean Catholicism is un-American?

The debate is not about the soft issue of the virtues of religion in society. In any event, the Founders did not spend a great deal of time writing or working out this issue. They spent most of their time working out what liberties men should have and how power in government should be divided. They were interested in the civic order of carnal men and earthly government. They were not Calvinists. This entire debate presents the Founders as readers of the Institutes of the Christian Religion and not John Locke.

In contemporary America, public money to religious organizations is a Machiavellian issue. It is intended to empower the Republican party by creating a patronage system and privatising public services. We can be sure that the bulk of the money will not go to Hindus. Using public money to build a political party by promoting one constituency and, in fact, exclude another is antithetical to the principles of liberal democracy.

This comes as no surprise. The Republican party's agenda has nothing to do with Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin it is a reactionary movement of social conservatives against liberal democracy and the wealthy against any vestige of socialism.

Posted by: bellumregio on March 13, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK
Still obtuse, I see - why don't you just come out and say whatever you mean?

Idiot. You just quoted the part in which clarified, exactly, what I meant by "visible voices". Talk about obtuse.

Oligarchies in the past have been accountable through democratic election too.

If a body is accountable through democratic election, then it is not an oligarchy, because it is not the font of authority within the system, rather, those who select it are.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

The Pharisees were for the most part decent and sincere people, blessed with a degree of humility and love that people who use "Pharisee" and "Pharasaism" as terms of rebuke should hope for. Pharasaism is rabbinic Judaism. The gospels, which were composed in times when Rome was persecuting, even trying to wipe out Judaism, caricatured the Pharisees both out of bitterness that they had rejected Christian claims that Jesus was the messiah or divine, and to shield the early church from the Roman war on Judaism. You cannot get any idea of what Pharisees or Pharisaism were about from their portrayal in the New Testament; when Jesus echoes the Pharisee Hillel, for example, Hillel is not mentioned. THIS is an older book by a Presbyterian scholar that presents the Pharisees from the sources instead of the New Testament caricature. I would be surprised if anyone who read it would insult the memory of the Pharisees by identifying them with today's Christian Right.

Posted by: Dabodius on March 13, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK
I don't agree.

Well, you don't seem to understand, either.

You are saying that values cannot exist without "faith".

Quite.

I do not have "faith" which is like the religious persons, so am I bereft of values?

No, you miss the key point here; "faith" is simply the source of beliefs which cannot be justified by appeal to reason and observation alone. Clearly, its possible for such faith to be entirely separate from "religion", especially when defined narrowly as belief in a personal God or gods.

If you have values you necessarily have "faith", whether or not it seems to you anything like that of religious persons.

I don't think so. And if this means that you use "faith" to denote on the one hand the possession of a non-materialist ontology and teleology, and on the other to describe my philosophy... you are just plain sloppy, or dishonest.

Well, yes, to use it in both senses you suggest and pretend they were equivalent would be equivocation; however, in this thread, I've been using "faith" in only one sense, as described previously, not the two you've suggested here.

In your case, I don't know which it is, but I don't care for religious, intolerant people using word games to get away with murder.

And I don't like uncalled for and unjustified ad hominem and guilt by association used in place of fair reading and civil discussion, but then, I evidently can't always get what I like, either.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

DonP: "What is your definition of "oligarchy" then? 555 men (and very few minorities or women - fewer yet who do not own property and are illiterate) compared to 300,000,000 is 0.00000185% of the population you know.

I define "oligarchy" as rule by a few who maintain their power through inherited privilege. Some would argue that all governments are inevitably oligarchies."

I do not think the fact that 535 members of Congress represent 300 million American people is de facto evidence of an "oligarchy." In theory, anyone born in America can still grow up to be President or Senator or Congressman or Governor. I would support an increase in the number of seats, and I would prefer to see more incumbents given meaningful challenges. And I consider it ominous that only Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys (or Kennedy clones) seem to be vetted for President anymore.

Are you proposing that a truly democratic government would be run by all 300 million of us? That would be some committee!

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 13, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, you can argue if you'd like about the definition of faith. But I would submit that saying "we need to feed the poor people because Jesus said so" just doesn't cut it. We may need to feed the poor people, but it's for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with religion. If your faith drives you to good works, that's wonderful. But it's not a sufficient basis by itself for setting public policy.

Posted by: Haldan on March 13, 2006 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK
But I would submit that saying "we need to feed the poor people because Jesus said so" just doesn't cut it.

Good for you. So would I. So?

We may need to feed the poor people, but it's for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

Nor did I say the reasons necessarily had anything to do with "religion", per se. You seem to be desperately in need of an argument, since you are just inventing positions to argue against.

If your faith drives you to good works, that's wonderful. But it's not a sufficient basis by itself for setting public policy.

Nor did I ever say it was sufficient. I did say that faith is necessary to values, and values are necessary to setting priorities, and priorities are necessary to deciding among public policy options. But "necessary" is not the same thing as "sufficient".


Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

" did say that faith is necessary to values, and values are necessary to setting priorities, and priorities are necessary to deciding among public policy options."

Rubbish. "Values" are preferences. You don't need "faith" to prefer one "value" over another any more than you need faith to prefer one kind of music over another.

Posted by: e12 on March 13, 2006 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK
Rubbish. "Values" are preferences. You don't need "faith" to prefer one "value" over another any more than you need faith to prefer one kind of music over another.

I would say that there is a difference of kind between "values" and "preferences"; a "preference" expresses an aesthetic judgement, and value expresses an "imperative". Necessarily, holding to a value involves holding to a corresponding preference, but not vice versa.

"I like tuna salad better than chicken salad" expresses a preference, as does "I prefer it when people don't kill eachother with no good excuse".

A corresponding value to the latter would be "People should not kill eachother without an good excuse" (of course, "good excuse", in both the preference and the value, needs better definition.)

A preference is not a belief taken on faith, that is true: while not independently verifiable, it is a readily observable difference in experienced utility for the person holding it. It thus is, really, in much the same category of knowledge as something seen or heard.

The belief that people should act according to certain of your preferences, OTOH, goes beyond a simple preference, and combines it with an a priori belief not justifiable by reason and/or observation alone, i.e., a belief held, ultimately, by faith.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely,
Repeating the same bullshit ten times doesn't make it true. Give it up.
You made your assertion; you repeated it; we heard you---now for the sake of rational debate, go away.

Posted by: marky on March 13, 2006 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN,

D'Oh! Thanks for the opening my poor ignorant eyes! Here I was, foolish me, thinking that the following words could be interpreted to mean that the founding fathers believed in the common man, however imperfectly they may have defined that status: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

Exactly. Those lofty words were written, and about 11 years later the Constitution was drafted to count slaves as 2/3 of a human and voting continued to be denied to those I noted in my earlier posts. Those lofty words were written by a politicians and just as the words of politicians today relative to promoting peace, freedom, and democracy, they were over blown rhetoric. Otherwise referred to as bullshit. Those "men" that were created equally did not include women, African Americansm Native Americans, or non land owners. Some equality.

No be a good little patriot and go drink your Koolaid.

Posted by: Chris Brown on March 13, 2006 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely,
Just read a couple more posts.
You are flat out dishonest. You are using the word "faith" in a tendentious manner, just as I described---and then you deny it. It is very tiresome to see false equivalence between religious faith (based on nothing empirical) and other kinds of beliefs promulgated.
Go back to your Jesuit teachers and get your gold star for casuistry, but please---go away or stop repeating yourself verbatim 100 times.

Posted by: marky on March 13, 2006 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK
You are using the word "faith" in a tendentious manner, just as I described---and then you deny it.

No, I'm not using it in the equivocal manner you described, to mean one thing and then another, at all.

It is very tiresome to see false equivalence between religious faith (based on nothing empirical) and other kinds of beliefs promulgated.

I'm not positing an equivalence between "religious faith" and "other kinds of beliefs"; I'm responding to a specific claim that "faith" is irrelevant to policy choices by discussing how I think "faith" is essential to policy choices. I've stated from the outset that that kind of "faith" was not necessarily religious, though it could exist in a religious or non-religious context.

If you want to make an argument that there is a meaningful difference in the "other kinds of beliefs" you are talking about and faith justifying religious values (rather than religious claims of material fact), you are of course welcome to make an argument rather than post false broad-brush abuse instead of directly addressing any point I've made.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 13, 2006 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

I've thought about this a lot, really.

Ya know what the founding fathers would say if they were alive today....?

"HELP, HELP!!! Let me outta this thing!! I'm not dead!!!"

Posted by: Rubik on March 13, 2006 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, you really know how to confuse yourself with longwindedness, don't you. Your proposed "value" that "people should not kill each other without a good excuse" is itself a statement of a preference. All "should"s are preferences. Preferences about what people "should" do or "should not" do don't require "faith" any more than any other kind of preference does, like a preference for tuna over chicken.

Posted by: e12 on March 13, 2006 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Chris Brown: "Those lofty words were written by a politicians and just as the words of politicians today relative to promoting peace, freedom, and democracy, they were over blown rhetoric. Otherwise referred to as bullshit."

Bush's approval ratings have sunk to 36%. I wonder if you are a trollbot programmed by Karl Rove to whip up the zeal of the conservative base: "Blame-America-first liberals say that the Declaration of Independence is bullshit."

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 13, 2006 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

CMdicely,
Try a reading comprehension course. My complaint is not that you use "faith" in different ways. It is precisely the opposite: that you use the term, with identical meaning, to describe both the religious and non-religious viewpoint. This is fraudulent; hence, your assertion that "faith" is necessary for a discussion of moral values is also fraudulent.

Posted by: Marky on March 13, 2006 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

I would prefer if you would restrict the degree to which you will presume to know what I think;

cmdicely: should have used "one" rather than "you". But I don't think that the process by which one comes to hold beliefs is easily distinguishable from the manner in which such beliefs are justified. One often justifies values on the basis of facts, and one often argues for facts - or constructions of fact, anyway - on the basis of values. Quick example: it is impossible to answer the question "Is there a correlation between race and intelligence?" without recourse to values, even for a scientist. Because each of the terms in the question, though they appear to be concrete factual terms, is in fact a tangled mix of different factual and value-based components, and the way you choose to disentangle them in order to answer the question depends very heavily on your values.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the founding fathers wanted Americans to fight over it at the ballot box for all time. Believing that the campaigning is as valuable as the truth.

Posted by: mca on March 13, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe, you can't get values from facts. You can't get an "ought" from an "is." That's the naturalistic fallacy. I agree that beliefs about facts are sometimes influenced by values, but that's a different issue. Even if we agree on every fact relating to abortion, we might still disagree about whether it's right or wrong.

Posted by: e12 on March 13, 2006 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, the principle "hard cases make bad law" is also very useful to remember, and propositions in which fact and value are very hard to disentangle are rarer than propositions in which they are more or less easy to disentangle. The budget is either balanced, or it's not. In most current cases where apparently factual questions are under dispute, the reason has more to do with politics and propaganda than with clashing value systems...though both may be involved.

E.g.: Slobodan Milosevic either was deliberately poisoned or he wasn't; there's no room for values-based ambiguity. But which thesis you believe depends largely on the political agenda of the news sources you trust (i.e. Serbian-nationalist or anti-Serbian-nationalist), and in a subordinate sense on whether you hold the "value" of Serbian nationalism.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe, you can't get values from facts. You can't get an "ought" from an "is." That's the naturalistic fallacy.

Actually, the philosopher Hilary Putnam has a fascinating book on this subject called "The Collapse of the Fact-Value Dichotomy" in which he explains that the quote from Hume you just employed - "you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'" - meant something for Hume which no thinking person in the world today would subscribe to. It has to do with the fact that for Hume, "facts" meant only those things which can actually be experienced by the senses. And then it gets complicated in ways I can't really remember, but the upshot is that Hume wasn't saying what many people think he was saying. And Putnam's point is that facts and values aren't nearly as distinct as we often think they are, and many of our values actually are influenced by facts, and are just as open to disputation as facts are.

Personally, after strongly disagreeing with Putnam the first time I read his book, I've come around to largely agreeing with him. (This is actually a good example of what Putnam is talking about. My newfound conviction that facts and values are often hard to disentangle is based on my sense of the facts, but the conviction itself affects my attitude towards values.) And what this means for me is that I see no reason why religiously grounded statements of value should not be countered with arguments based on fact (and which themselves almost always have elements of value inextricably worked into them).

For example, someone who states that abortion is always murder is not actually immune to evidence that outlawing abortion greatly increases the rate of back-alley abortions and maternal death, or to hearing the personal stories of women who became infertile following such abortions, or to evidence that countries which illegalize abortion often have higher abortion rates than countries where it is legal but which have good comprehensive birth control and prenatal health programs. It is a mistake to think that people's values make them immune to factual argument, and to give up the evidence-based fight.

Right now we are seeing large numbers of Americans who have a value belief that one should not criticize the Commander in Chief in wartime nevertheless coming to criticize him, based on the overwhelming factual evidence that his strategy in Iraq has been a failure. Their values regarding the morality of dissent are changing under pressure of the facts. Are they all deriving an ought from an is? Do you think they shouldn't?

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe,

Putnam's argument, as you have described it, rests on a supposed entanglement of values and facts. I'm not sure why you would agree with him if you believe, as you previously said (and as I also believe), that facts and values are usually easy to disentangle.

I don't think your abortion example is very relevant. Convincing an anti-abortionist that outlawing abortion would increase the abortion rate may persuade him to support keeping abortion legal , but I don't see how it touches his belief that abortion is wrong. Indeed, the strength of the argument depends on the degree to which he believes abortion is wrong, and thus the strength of his desire of minimize the abortion rate.

Posted by: e12 on March 13, 2006 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

Convincing an anti-abortionist that outlawing abortion would increase the abortion rate may persuade him to support keeping abortion legal , but I don't see how it touches his belief that abortion is wrong.

Because most people who "believe that abortion is wrong" don't actually believe that it's as wrong as murdering an adult. Even those who do say "abortion is murder" often don't actually think it's as bad as murdering an adult; they say they think so in the context of a national dialogue in which they feel they must make the maximalist argument to oppose antagonists who they think are arguing that there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. In fact, almost everyone thinks having an abortion is a bad thing; pro-choicers just think that it's generally less bad than other options, and only the mother should make the choice. So people on both sides have a complex of only partially consistent beliefs (of fact and value) that lead into their readiness to state "abortion is murder" or "abortion is not murder". It is a verifiable fact that presenting strong factual evidence about abortion to people on one side of the debate or the other can influence their beliefs about whether it is "wrong", or when it is wrong and when it is the best of a set of bad options.

Look, I have a close friend who was raised as a fundamentalist and who began her shift to agnostic secular liberalism when her college paper sent her to cover the Operation Rescue rallies. She realized that those demonstrators didn't really care about the women who were coming in, and the Planned Parenthood counsellors did. How should this factual observation have influenced her prior belief that abortion was murder? And yet it did. Is that wrong? Should she have tried not to derive an ought from an is? It doesn't work that way.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 13, 2006 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

And on the other side, I don't know about you, but I am affected by descriptions of partial-birth abortions, and by images of second-trimester fetuses. My initial readiness to believe that fetuses during partial birth abortion do not experience pain (a factual issue) is due in large measure to my commitment to the position that abortion should not be illegal (basically a values issue). I think honesty requires that we admit that we are more eager to believe facts which cohere with our values, than facts which do not. But I have gradually come to believe, due to counter-evidence, that it is not so clear whether or not these fetuses can experience pain; and even if they can't, I'm not sure I am ready to discount my feelings of involuntary sympathy towards them. I think there is a certain amount of "badness" involved in partial birth abortions, a lot more than there is with abortions of 1-week-old blasto-whatevers. These are facts, and they influence my attitude towards the value question of whether abortion is wrong; and I refuse to agree that my attitudes on this value question should remain obdurate in the face of such evidence. Similarly I do not think it's stupid to ask people who do not think it wrong to eat meat whether they have ever seen a slaughterhouse.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 14, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

My initial readiness to believe that fetuses during partial birth abortion do not experience pain (a factual issue)

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 14, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Its also a convenient belief that ignores current medical evidence from ultrasound movies to justify the abortion lobby's position.

Reality-based, my foot.

Since you think you need to see a slaughterhouse to eat meat. Why don't you watch 'Silent Scream' before you form your position?

Posted by: McA on March 14, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

I think honesty requires that we admit that we are more eager to believe facts which cohere with our values, than facts which do not.

I could probably put that sentence after every one of your posts, and it would seem just as apt every time.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 14, 2006 at 5:18 AM | PERMALINK

Old Hickory would have just kicked the other's asses and had things his way.

Posted by: merlallen on March 14, 2006 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

I am pretty sure they would find the proposed wingnut law in Missouri establishing Christianity as the official religion problematic.

And that is what the wack-o wing of the GOP is really after. They try to be subtle but sometimes it just comes out.

By the way, it is not always easy to be a non-Christian in a land filled with evangelicals. I really get tired of being preached at. People have no fucking manners.

Posted by: Ba'al on March 14, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the commenter above that the zombified fathers of our country would beat you to a pulp.

Posted by: Ba'al on March 14, 2006 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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