March 04, 2005
The Camel's Nose
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As I expected, I got a comment on the Ten Commandments post regarding why I think it's so important, and I think the issue is significant enough to post on here. Much of this text is the same as in my response to the comment in the last post, but I've edited it to take the form of an entry by itself.
The question might be, why should we abandon religion? But that is the farthest thing from what I am suggesting. Religion is just about everywhere in America. Religion is in the society, the culture, the media, the community, the church, the family, the individual... and a thousand other places. The single place--not all places, but just the one and only place--where it cannot be is in the government. For the express reason, taught to us endlessly in history, that when a state endorses a religion, that religion dominates to the pain and suffering of all other religions and beliefs. Why did the first European colonists come to the U.S.? Because states in Europe had endorsed a single church, and other denominations and religions were persecuted as a direct result. The founders didn't put the separation of church and state in the constitution for no reason, after all. We have become complacent to that history, and are in grave danger in failing Santayana's warning.
The response might be, aren't you over-reacting a bit much? It's just a granite monument, not an instant theocracy. But the public display of the Ten Commandments is the camel's nose under the tent. This is a matter of slow change, like the proverbial frog that boils to death when the water is heated slowly. And each incursion of religion into state is used as a further justification for the next.
Remember the granite monument to the ten commandments in Alabama? Know what it had chiseled onto three of its four sides? "Under God," "So Help Me God," and "In God We Trust." These were placed intentionally as justifications for the displaying of the monument in a public building: America is based upon Christianity and these religious words integrated into government-sanctioned acts confirm it. America is a Christian nation, and has always been.
Except it's not true--just the reverse, in fact. Not anti-religious, rather simply secular. People complain that the pledge should not be changed--but the present version of the pledge is the changed one. "Under God" was added long, long after the pledge was written. Why not go back to the original? What was wrong with it then? "In God We Trust" was never on coinage, originally--all coins bore the single word, "Liberty," until religious groups got their way at one point and the new motto was brought in.
And "So Help Me God" was not only another example of religion added long after the Constitution was written, but the Constitution itself forbids the requirement of a religious oath in the taking of public office. Go ahead, read the Constitution. It's right there, in black and white: government officials "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Article VI, Clause 3. Now, people would point out that it is a voluntary addition to the oath of office--but what would happen if a president decided not to utter the words? He wouldn't be impeached, but he'd probably be crippled politically.
And that's where the whole camel starts following the nose through the tent flap. Now it is essentially a requirement for a president to take the oath, in violation of the Constitution. And yet these religious incursions, each one violating the principle of church and state, are used to justify the next step, the new religious incursion.
If the Supreme Court approves the display of the Ten Commandments this year, then in ten years they will be hearing a case in which we'll see the ornate display of the Christian bible in a place of honor and respect in government buildings--and the Ten Commandments ruling will be used as justification and precedent. After all, the commandments are scripture--so is the bible. The principle is the same, public edification of scripture is approved, so the quantity of scripture should not matter at all. And that, in turn, would be used as justification for the further steps, and pretty soon, it goes too far--by which time it is well-cemented in law, and any attempt to take it out is met with hostility and scorn, the already-famed "persecution" of the privileged majority. Remember the Pastor Niemoller? He said, "In Germany they first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. And then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up." You wait for the axe to fall, and it'll be too late. Protest when the axe first comes into view.
And don't think it couldn't happen quickly, either--did you know that in the 19th century, there were two attempts to amend the Constitution to read that "humbly acknowledging almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government [...]"? That would have done it, right there, in one fell swoop. The Constitution and its first amendment have been under attack for a long time now, by well-meaning people who think that marrying church and state is a swell idea. In other words, people who don't read history--or do, and are OK with the results so long as their religion is the dominant one.
If you think that protest against unreasonable religious incursions would not be quelled, that Americans would still be free to object in the late stages of the marriage, think again. Evidence of this is in the comment which protested my suggestion that the Ten Commandments should not be displayed. I was accused of being part of a "vocal minority" attempting to abandon every facet of our culture, and of so "slavishly obeying" the first amendment that I would be silly enough to ask that mention of God be removed from the pledge of allegiance. This from someone I have seen, in past comments, as perfectly reasonable and average. And that rebuff was just for the relatively small stuff now. You think that by the time it's so ingrained and cemented that church and state are married, that my protests will be greeted with less scorn? Quite the opposite--people will justify the marriage with Supreme Court decisions, religious law, and historical precedent in addition to all that they personally believe, and I'll be screwed. The people who are seriously religious will react far more inhospitably.
Show me a state which married itself to a religion, and I'll show you a state where religious freedom was violated. For every mild success of such a marriage, history holds dozens of examples of cruel tyrannies where those not of the "official" faith were crushed. One of the pillars of American greatness has been our ability to avoid that fate. I don't want that pillar to be eroded, even a little--I want it polished and kept strong.
In the end, principle is at the heart of this issue--and you don't compromise on principles. Once you do, you're on your way to losing them entirely.
Posted by Luis at March 4, 2005 12:12 AM
Hi Luis. I quickly skimmed your new entry this morning and had an unsettling feeling for the next few hours. I guess I'm betraying my naivity and inexperience with this internet/blog thing, but from reading your journal the last few weeks I've formed the opinion that you're a good bloke (*excellent* writer) and I didn't like the idea that you'd suddenly decided that this person (me) that you "have seen, in past comments, as perfectly reasonable and average" is now on your list of rabid unreasoning foaming-at-the-mouth rednecks. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin.
I do think the Western World is going overboard on placating every 'vocal minority' that raises its voice these days. We're overcompensating. Good guys who are being taken advantage of by everyone else. Not standing up for our own culture/standards, but just folding for every loudly braying special-interest group that comes along. That's my general feeling about things, and it was a partial foundation on which I based - or at least fuelled - my refutation of yesterday.
So if I went overboard on the 'slavish' key words please don't take personal affront; to some extent I was venting steam at society at large, not just the author of 'The Blog From Another Dimension'. Actually I thought I'd kept my entry flame-free anyway.
Now, on this particular issue, I very much would like to continue my stance that it "doesn't matter" if some small part of America wants to do such a "trivial thing" as putting up the Ten Commandments, but I find that I don't really have much of a rebuttal to your comments - or at least one in particular.
I really don't think it's a big deal to put up the Ten Commandments. Our society was founded by Christian people, using Christian values, and the bulk of our (democratic) society is Christian, and it's just a small thing, so I honestly don't see the problem with it. I think it's a long long way from something like that to enforced religious classes or Nazi Germany. I think reasoning mature adults could easily draw a line saying "up to here is common sense consistent with the (majority held) values of our society, any steps beyond which we will put a stop to right smartly, you wait and see".
However, it was your use of the word 'precedent' that made everything else you said solidify for me, like a crystal suddenly forming from a supersaturated liquid. Damn it, you're right. Especially given how the lawyers act these days. Every little step would be codified as *law* and comprise proper legal precedent for each successive motion ... to a point that the law would stop the 'mature adults' from acting X years into the future. Even though my precious 'common sense' would be screaming otherwise.
I suppose, even outside the legal framework that currently runs our world, there'd still be a danger of escalating theocracy, with the various examples you've cited from history. Perhaps I don't know enough - *feel* enough - about the nature of man for those examples to disrupt my own comfortable thoughts that "but we'd be objective observers and would know once the line has been crossed!". I guess it's naive of me to think that we're that much more sophisticated or politically aware than the Germans of the 1930s. But I don't have to think about such messy, unmeasureable details, because your 'legal precedent' scenario - for me - makes it all very simple and clear.
(I feel like a bantam/featherweight who's gone a round with an intellectual heavyweight)
I don't like caving in like this, you know, but when you're right you're right. Next time I'll think harder before replying! Or maybe you can pick a better issue next time.
By the way, neither of us had to go through all this, you know :-). In my initial response I agreed with you that the consistitution should be enforced to the letter. If the first amendment says "separation" then so be it. And your other comments about the original pledge and the oath were very interesting too. I'd heard that about the pledge when all the fuss was raised but had forgotten the fact.
Could I suggest the topic for a blog entry one day? Given your COMMENT POLICY on feedback you might have enough material/experiences to give some rough ideas as to what comprises 'blog etiquette' (or examples on contravening attempts). Was I crossing the line with 'slavish'? Made it personal? If we'd been speaking in a pub would you have asked me to 'step outside'? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Just a suggestion.
Thanks for *this* entry! It took about half a day to admit it, but my neural network has been re-arranged ... always a good day when I learn something new.
Posted by: Brad at March 4, 2005 01:12 PM
I do think the Western World is going overboard on placating every 'vocal minority' that raises its voice these days.I understand. I just don't think that people who wish to vociferously defend the vital principles laid out in the constitution against erosion really quite equate to the 'vocal minority groups' which are commonly referenced in society. I'm not trying to protect an obscure species of bird, nor attempting to establish yet another hyphenated ethnic group name because I don't like the old one, nor am I trying to get everyone upset over some pop star's nipple popped out. This is not about record labels or how low girls' jeans are going. Maybe I'm just nuts, but I take very seriously any incursion of religion into the operation of the state. Part of it is my personal philosophy, and part is family history--my grandfather barely escaped execution after the Spanish Civil War in a country that had just made the Catholic Church an official state organ, and many of my great-uncles and other relatives were shot for disagreeing with it. I hold nothing against Catholics, believe me. I hold everything against the dangerously volatile mix of religion and political power. So if I went overboard on the 'slavish' key words please don't take personal affront; to some extent I was venting steam at society at large, not just the author of 'The Blog From Another Dimension'. Actually I thought I'd kept my entry flame-free anyway.Well, honestly, it was a bit more than just that. It was the accusation of "abandon[ing] every facet of ... culture," being tossed in with every "vocal minority group," the general suggestion that the objection is trivial; with the final "slavishly obey" comment with the insinuation that objecting to the religious oath in the pledge is equivalent to "chucking a wobbly"... (does that mean what I think it does?) I'm sorry, but it's kind of hard to see the comment as consciously 'flame-free.'
Not that I object to flames. I get them regularly, and they often come from reasonable people. If I deserve them, I should get them. It can be a healthy thing, and I don't hold back (I accused two Supremes of 'idiocy,' if you recall). But I do reply to them as well. In the Writing class I teach, I tell my students that they are free to give any opinion in their essays, no matter how volatile, so long as they can back it up with evidence and/or make a secure argument; if they don't, then I take them to task for it, even if I happen to agree with them. If someone comes in with an opposing viewpoint, I don't tread on eggshells--and as you disapproved of abandoning one's culture simply because someone complains about it, I would figure that you'd appreciate an impassioned defense of my point of view.
Look, you do have to admit that you came down on me--even if in lieu of society at large--for my protest, and the reason I brought it up in the new post was because it made a point I was waiting to make. Even if you hadn't posted, I was still planning a follow-up post like the one I'd written; you simply provided me with the example I was looking for. You just happened to walk along as I was loading my gun. I think it's a long long way from something like that to enforced religious classes or Nazi Germany.I knew I was going to take heat for the analogy when I wrote it, and I am not in total disagreement with the saying that the first side to bring up Hitler in a debate is on the losing side. But frankly I was not suggesting that the fundamentalists are Nazis or that the granite monument will lead to a holocaust--the analogy was meant exactly as that: an analogy, which is used to demonstrate a similarity in principle, process or style, not a one-to-one correspondence between monuments and the Third Reich. And the analogy is valid: when it comes to violating principles, you don't wait until they're supremely violated before you object.I think reasoning mature adults could easily draw a line saying "up to here is common sense consistent with the (majority held) values of our society, any steps beyond which we will put a stop to right smartly, you wait and see".My problem with this concept is that the First Amendment is not intended to protect nor depend upon the wishes of the majority; quite the opposite, it was specifically constructed to protect the minority from the majority. The "majority held values" are exactly the threat that the founding fathers worked to protect us from: the tyranny of the majority, ironically the bane of a democratic society. That's why so many amendments to the constitution forbid the Congress--the most powerful expression of the majority--from doing this and doing that. Because it is so easy for the majority to oppress the minority. So the statement that majority value will hold the day is precisely what I am worried about. In a society where it has become popular to be a certain way, the "vocal minority" gets shouted down, and is often lucky to escape blows--as Bill Maher found out so painfully.However, it was your use of the word 'precedent' that made everything else you said solidify for me, like a crystal suddenly forming from a supersaturated liquid. Damn it, you're right.No I'm not! Oh. Wait a minute. That was a good thing. Oh, okay.I don't like caving in like this, you know, but when you're right you're right. Next time I'll think harder before replying! Or maybe you can pick a better issue next time.Hey! No fair! I want to argue some more!By the way, neither of us had to go through all this, you know :-)I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings--trust me, mine weren't hurt by anything you said, and I had no intention of hurting yours. I just treat the political discussions on this blog as an open forum to the extent of getting intellectually rough-and-tumble. Hmm... maybe I should put that in the disclaimer.Could I suggest the topic for a blog entry one day? Given your COMMENT POLICY on feedback you might have enough material/experiences to give some rough ideas as to what comprises 'blog etiquette' (or examples on contravening attempts). Was I crossing the line with 'slavish'?No, not at all. As I mention in the red policy notes, if I think someone has crossed the line, I'll remove the offending part or the whole post. But you didn't come close. You voiced an opinion. Okay, so I did put you through the wringer for it, but I stand to have myself put through the same wringer every time I post here, or in other public discussion areas. If someone beats the crap out of me in an argument, the comment stays. But "offense" in terms of blog etiquette does not extend to ideas and arguments. Someone starts cussing at someone else, makes threats veiled or otherwise, that kind of thing, that's over the line. More than that, it would be hard to specify. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity, "I know it when I see it."Thanks for *this* entry! It took about half a day to admit it, but my neural network has been re-arranged ... always a good day when I learn something new.Hey dude, you're being so noble you're making me look bad! :-)
Posted by: Luis at March 4, 2005 10:53 PM
Luis: I want to thank you for your well reasoned post.
I was raised a catholic, but not in a very religious family. My father is a non catholic, and when it comes to religion I still don't know what he believes in (unfortunately he listens to republican radio everyday now that he's retired so he's migrating farther to the right every day with nudges from that media). In my family your religion was personal to you. We never talk about religion in the personal sense, just in the abstract sense. As some one in Law School said, asking someone about their religion is a little bit like telling them to turn their head and cough.
Few items in the constitution are wiser than the seperation of church and state.
What bothers me about this right wing christian conservative movement is how steeped it is in hypocracy. Christ commands that we not mix church and state. He also tells us that religion is personal (go to your room, close the door [and turn off the t.v.] when you pray). After One thousand Seven Hundred and eighty some odd years of bloody wars fought over religion, this nation became the first western nation to seperate religion from state (and much from politics for much of its history). Christ showed his "divine" wisdome in those two statements. How is it that so called christians could forceably ignore this?
But then again they ignore so much of what Christ says. Did he not replace the ten commandments with the two. Did he not give us the beattitudes? Why ignore everything that comes out of Christ's mouth and instead, inviolation of Christ's message plant the ten commandments on Government property?
About a month or two ago David Brooks in the NYTimes wrote a column on John Stott. He called him the "pope" of evangelicals. A fountain head of writing on evangelical topics, Brooks quoted Stott as saying the body of Christ is much more important than his teachings. The Protestant fundementalist descend from the Calvanistic/Zwinglian line of protestantism. Though those many said different things, Calvinism and the general development of evangelicalism said that God selecst/saves who he may, no one can know the mind of God, the surest sign of his salvation is wealth. It was a short stepping stone from this to the notion of that property rights are sacred because they help one determine if they are on their way towards salvation and that the poor are poor because they are morally corrupt. Thus in the name of Christ, protestants end up in a place that is very different from Christ's message in the beattitudes.
So where do they go for reinforcement? The old testement which was highly restrictive. Or letters written in the new testement, many by St. Paul who was educated as a Jew, and never heard Christ preach (that we know of). The way I see it Christ attempted to reform a very harsh and very restrictive system. For instance, the 10 commandments were given to Moses, but soon, people wrote that if you don't want to violate those ten, then don't do these 100 things. Ac couple of generations later people wrote if you don't want to violate those 100 things (norms) than don't do these 1000 things. etc... By the time of Christ a starving man couldn't pick fruit from the tree without violating the law of the sabath. Christ says, whoa.
Now some scientist say the most complicated thing in the known universe is the human mind. Thus it is one of God's greatest creations. On top of that he has given us much latitude towards free will. So you can imagine how a creator migh frown upon all this going for naught because of religion whose purpose is to honor him, if for no other reason than to get a good afterlife. So Christ says whoa. And he takes things the other direction. Instead of taking the ten to ten thousand rules, he takes the ten and pares it down to two: love god, love neighbor, if you can do that then you won't break any rules and if you do they are forgiveable, especially if they are done under good will and honest intentions.
What I am getting at is that Christ was empowering, and organized religion is largely not and is largely taking things in the opposite direction. And so called Christian fundementalist conservatives are not really in the spirit of their Christian religion. You know if you really worship Christ, then you shouldn't drag him and his name through the muck and mud of politics. Remember that's what killed him last time. Especially since he asked us not to do that.
What is going on now with the 10 commandments then has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with religion. And you are right - you have to beat this on the beaches, its too late if you wait till they have penetrated inland 150 miles. Western civilization began to flourish only when the role of religion was scaled back. To say that the United States is Christian nation is a distortion of its history. It was a secular nation with a lot of christians occupying it. Finally the imposition of state religions in Europe is one of the reasons the people there are not religious now. Not in an organized sense. Perhaps they go to their rooms and close the door and then pray, but thats none of anyones business.
The far eastern societies not only seperate church from state they have different philosophies for the different aspects of life. For civil life their is confucious and for spiritual life you have Buddha and or Toaism. I can't help but think that Asians thing Westerners and Muslims are ignorant for letting religion get in the way of peaceful and prosperous civil life.
Religion in the U.S. is nothing more than a tribal marker. White Anglos Saxon Calvinist and their sympathisers. The Republican party is secular, political Calvinism. The emergence of modernism all around them, in Europe, in Canada, in Japan and even South Korea, in Australia means that organized religion and protestant fundementalism is fighting a rear gaurd action in trying to stem the tide of thier demise. It also threatens the rule by the founding ethnic group. The Republican party allowed the founding ethnic groups to let in all maner of people into this country and still control it, making money off the much needed labor (allways a shortage in the U.S.). The republican party was a clever idea. But now the (mega) tide is going the other way. This is why suddenly the call to eradicate the seperation of church and state. Calvinism developed, for the most part, outside of state. Theocrats not trusting rulers to get it right, (see the Scotish Church as an example) and is one reason why seperation of church and state ended up in the constitution.
Reactionaries are always dangerous. This is not about preserving the culture, its about power. That supreme court justices tell us that athiest could avert their eyes, does that mean Jews should just avert their eyes from Swastikas, that Blacks avert their eyes from confederate battle flags, that burning crosses doesn't mean a thing to blacks, catholics, and jews? Can Buddha's eight noble paths be displayed and if Christians don't like it they can just avert their eyes? (how could anyone avert their eyes anyway). Finally the idea that the 10 commandments being the source of our law is wrong. The source of our law begins with the Roman Twelve tables, circa 350 bc (plus or minus 50 years). Roman law invented private law and it invented formal state recognition of property rights. Soon after the invention of Rome's twelve tables Roman expansion began in irreversable ernesty. (The twelve tables were a cheap and dirty means by which axial age transcendent values were introduced into Roman society)
The parallels between 1930s Gemany and 2000s America are far too close for a person who believes in true, liberal democracy to be of comfort. The idea of the persecuted majority is especially grating. Recently in my local newspaper in St. Louis an angry right winger wrote in and said that the humiliation of losing the Vietnam war was because of Hippies, liberals and the media's lack of toughness. This 'stab in the back-ness' was the same thing we saw in the 1920s in Germany. The problem with the stab in the back rhetoric by a so called persecuted majority is that at some point they may feel leave to stab back - in germany this was done to horrific extent. This of course is just one parallel.
What is going on right now in America is positively frightening to me. I would feel much safer if I were outside the territorial limits of the United States but still in an industrial modern first world nation. I have spoken out in many forums - and while I am far from the top of the list of any marked anti-Republican person, I am also of little power and resources to protect myself. When the time comes to round people up, I fear I am on the one hand too visible and on the other to week. Fortunately for me at this time I have no dependents that could be exploited. Am I drawing things too far? Perhaps, but one looks at the current events and sees where things are drifting and has to consider what my unfold.
I grew up in a Jewish suburb. There were 12 synagoges in our little township. I use to cut grass for people who had survived German concentration camps. The lady in the bakery down the street where I went every weekend to get bread and donuts had the numbers from her incarceration tatooed on her wrist. They all said it could never happen here. But look what's happening. Germany succumbed to Nazi's after losing a war, incuring harsh terms, and two devistating recessions in less than ten years (one inflationary, the other deflationary) - and even then Hitler never got a majority only a plurality. Now look at the U.S. We have succumbed to Neoconism while at the hieght of our history - winning the cold war, 8 years of record breaking economic growth unprecedent in peace time in history. The Germans had excuses, we have none - history will judge us harshly.
This is a very dark time in America, and until the world becomes less dependent on the U.S. for economics and security, its a dark time for them too. Perhaps this reactionary movement will die out on its own. On the other hand it might not go down that easy.
Posted by: Tim Kane at March 5, 2005 12:56 AM
> Well, honestly, it was a bit more than just that. It was
> the accusation of "abandon[ing] every facet of ...
> culture," being tossed in with every "vocal minority
> group," the general suggestion that the objection is
> trivial; with the final "slavishly obey" comment with the
> insinuation that objecting to the religious oath in the
> pledge is equivalent to "chucking a wobbly"... (does that
> mean what I think it does?) I'm sorry, but it's kind of
> hard to see the comment as consciously 'flame-free.'
"chucking a wobbly" ==> "having a fit", "putting a mad on", I guess.
In reading what you've said here I think I've realised that we have different definitions of 'flame'. Yes, I 'came down hard' on you (as I explained, partly in general exasperation at the (protesting) world in general), so I went on the attack. Which might have gotten me thrown out of that pub.
I've always thought actual 'flaming' was when it got personal - how's it go in Monty Python? - "your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries"? Personal epithets.
But I guess I was maligning you personally, albeit not with vulgarities, just with some general lump-him-in-with-the-others stuff.
> If someone comes in with an opposing viewpoint, I don't
> tread on eggshells--and as you disapproved of abandoning
> one's culture simply because someone complains about it,
> I would figure that you'd appreciate an impassioned
> defense of my point of view.
> you simply provided me with the example I was looking for.
> You just happened to walk along as I was loading my gun.
Pleased to assist. I think. Wait until the bullet holes heal. :-)
> I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings--trust me, mine weren't
> hurt by anything you said, and I had no intention of
> hurting yours.
Nah, no problem. I felt ... uneasy ... because I gradually realised that I'd been more forceful than I should have been. Should have targetted the topic precisely without using the emotive words. I guess I'd been fuming about all the various minority groups for ages and then when the first opportunity to vent comes along ...
Posted by: Brad at March 7, 2005 11:28 AM