Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brookhiser on Religious America

Peter Robinson interviews Richard Brookhiser about his book What Would the Founders Do?, on National Review Online. The latest segment is about "religious America" versus "Christian America," and it touches issues broached frequently in this space (e.g., Washington's "Providence") Most of it is run-of-the mill, but Robinson asks an intriguing question towards the end, inquiring whether the First Amendment represented a culmination of Enligthenment insight or simply a ratification of practical experience (referring for the latter to David Hackett Fisher's seminal book of some years ago, Albion's Seed.) Brookhiser's answer barely skims the surface of the implications the question raises, but he's on the right path by suggesting that there's a way to reconcile the two possibilities.

Meanwhile, an excerpt from Broohiser's book that might be apropos:
In moments of struggle, farce, or disaster, the founders are still with us. We look to them for slogans, cheap shots, inspiration and instruction. We seize on them for sleazy advantage and for moral guidance. We ransack what they said and did for clues to what they would, and what we should, do.

8 comments:

Pinky said...

I can't know if it's your intention; but, I think you are on to something of great importance here.
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It appears to me that religious ideology restricts the person's ability toward self discovery as it usually lays down a preconceived portrayal of some absolute truth. As such, that restricts to what any person might be exposed. (Any absolute truth trumps whatever might subsequently be turned up by the person.)
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So, the First Amendment not just in the block against a state religion; but, in all its Freedoms gives major support to the person's ability toward self discovery by removing barriers otherwise set up by religious ideology.
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Freedom to or not to worship what pleases one, of speech, for access to whatever has been published by whomever, to associate with whomever, and to seek redress of grievance! These are the steps toward self realization that any and all religions might otherwise restrict, Speech is so important as it is how we express one's self even to their self. We get to learn who it is we are by what we express. (I would never know myself if I were unable to express myself.)

Pinky said...

And, knowing even the little I know about the mindsets of the Founders, I cannot help thinking they were well aware of the impediments religion presents to self discovery.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Great stuff. Just about everything Brookhiser puts out is "must read" in my opinion.

Kevin Schmiesing said...

Pinky,
I'm not certain whether you mean to distinguish "religious ideology" from religion more generally. If so, I can probably go along with most of your comments. Similarly, if you mean to say that "religious freedom" is essential for self-discovery, I will agree. But if you mean that "freedom from religion" is necessary for self-discovery, I disagree. Insofar as religious truth is that (true), it reflects reality, revealing facts about both ourselves and the world around us. But maybe you don't believe there is such a thing as religious truth, in which case we'll need a rather longer conversation another day.

Pinky said...

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Hey~Kevin.
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What I meant to say is that a state religion legislates its religious ideology and, as such, that is sooner or later almost always restrictive.
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So, even though the United States was founded a dozen or so years earlier, the First Amendment is a strike against a Christian Nation. No state run religion would have ever authorized our First Amendment.
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There is any number of things we can experience today that would never be allowed in a truly Christian Nation.
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I suppose almost all religions express truths or they wouldn't have any legs to stand on. But, most of the ones I've ever heard of produce a lot of silly and some pretty bad ideas that do great damage to society. It's easy enough to see why the Founders decided to set religion outside the realms of government.
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But, generally speaking, it seems quite reasonable to state that religion has a limiting affect on an person's ability to discover their own true self based on presuppositions of what is and is not acceptable behavior and or areas into which a person might inquire.
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bpabbott said...

Kevin: "[...] if you mean that "freedom from religion" is necessary for self-discovery, I disagree. Insofar as religious truth is that (true), it reflects reality, revealing facts about both ourselves and the world around us. But maybe you don't believe there is such a thing as religious truth, in which case we'll need a rather longer conversation another day."

Kevin, I'm confused by your words.

If there is material evidence of truth (reality) then it is not religious ... yes?

I've always interpreted "Religious Truth" as ideological/philosophical. In that sense, "religous truth" may still exist (it is certainly believed), but there is no objective manner determine what it is.

Thus, I find Pinky's statement quite insightful. Religious ideology is restrictive to self discovery.

The *Truth* (imo) is that religion can manifest itself quite differently in each of us, and that it does so is its greatest attraction.

Kevin Schmiesing said...

Sorry for the delay--my presence here is occasional...

Pinky, Fair enough.

Bpabbott, Good question. There's a definitional problem in "religious truth" that I left unresolved in the interests of space, and you picked up on it.

I meant it to cover just about anything anyone might think of as truth. For example, God's existence; Muhammed's revelation from Allah; Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Obviously there are different sorts of phenomena here. The fact of God's existence is accessible to reason alone, independent of revelation (I'm aware that this is a controversial statement, opposed by various groups--atheists, agnostics, most Muslims, many Christians, but I'm articulating my view). Transubstantion, on the other hand, even believing Catholics would concede, depends on faith.

Yet both are true, in the estimation of the believing Catholic. If they are true, they are facts that tell us something about ourselves and/or the world. How is that limiting to the process of self-discovery?

I'm not a relativist, and therefore, while I recognize that some "religious truths" can be manifested differently to different people, yet the truths at their core are as much a part of reality as, say, the law of gravity.

Not all truth can or need be demonstrated materially. But if you are, as your comments seem to imply (forgive me if I misinterpret), a materialist, then we're not likely to find much room for agreement on matters of metaphysics or religion.

bpabbott said...

Kevin: "Bpabbott, Good question. There's a definitional problem in "religious truth" that I left unresolved in the interests of space, and you picked up on it."

Thanks for the follow up!

Suffice it to say we have very different view on this subject.

However, your opinion does me no harm, nor mine yours :-)

Thanks again.