Monday, April 26, 2010

Competing Traditions

What's clear is that there are competing traditions. Just look here and here. Even here, over at Explicit Athiest, where Mathew Goldstein, has written a blog in response to Jonathan Rowe's blog entry of a week ago. His thoughts follow:

Jon Rowe understands history, but not non-establishment


In his recent blog Competing Traditions & Abstract Ideals that Trump Dominant Historical Practice [Monday, April 19, 2010], Jon Rowe made the following misdirected comments regarding the recently federal court decision that the National Day of Prayer Act "has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

The harder questions are how to get there in a 1) constitutional and 2) policy sense (the two aren't always supposed to be the same).

Do we need a naked public square where the state is always silent on religious beliefs? Or perhaps a more open pluralistic public square where the state, in its public supplications, sometimes says things that you or I agree with, sometimes not.

I'm willing to endorse the latter position as long as its understood that if the pious Christians get the state chaplain microphone, sometimes the Hindus and the atheists get it too.

And I think that pluralism perfectly "fits" with the ideals of the American Founding.


Regarding the question about whether we need a "naked public square where the state is always silent on religious beliefs?": There are two major misconceptions in that one sentence. The first falsehood is the adjective "naked," the second falsehood is the phrase "always silent".

It should be obvious that a public square where government is silent on the truth of, or need for, religious beliefs would not be "naked." Such a public square would be fully clothed with the associated partisan voices of the individuals who are citizens of this country. This court decision does not strip the public square of any individual belief or expression. Government employees, including elected officials, can go to any public square and add their voices on any subject as free individuals on the same terms as everyone else, just like everyone else. What government employees don't get to do is speak on behalf of government on matters of religious beliefs just because they are government employees or elected officials. That makes the public square equitable, it doesn't render the public square naked. There is a critical distinction here that Jon Rowe, and other opponents of non-establishment of monotheism and theism, keep failing to acknowledge. A President’s statements of his own beliefs about prayer are less likely to be viewed as an official endorsement than a permanent statement from the government in the form of a statute encouraging all citizens to pray to "God" every year.

This court decision does not require that the state be "always silent on religious beliefs." Again, there is a critical distinction here that Jon Rowe, and other opponents of non-establishment of monotheism and theism, keep failing to acknowledge. In her decision, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb asserted that government involvement in prayer could be constitutional provided that it does not call for religious action, which the prayer day does. "It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience." Exactly right. Why is this distinction between acknowledgement and promotion so difficult for those who oppose non-establishment of monotheism and theism to acknowledge? Could it be that their reasoning is clouded by anti-atheism animus? Maybe there is a prevailing anti-atheist bias in this country as evidenced by Judge Scalia's attitude? Have you considered that possibility and its implications for this discussion, Jon Rowe?

Regarding Jon Rowe's final prescription for a policy of inviting non-Christians and atheists to the state chaplain microphone: How does that comment apply in the context of the NDOP Act? The NDOP Act allows for no accommodation of atheists and atheists don't want a National Day of Blasphemy Act. Multiple competing establishments of religion are not better than no establishment of religion and the constitution calls for the latter. In any case, there is no justification for a state chaplain microphone. There is no chaplain at my place of work, indeed there is no chaplain microphone at the workplace of anyone I know. I guess that means we all have naked workplaces where the state is always silent on religious beliefs. Can Jon Rowe explain why there is this need for introducing a chaplain microphone into official business at government workplaces?

While it is true that 'pluralism perfectly "fits" with the ideals of the American Founding', it is also an irrelevant, trite, one-sided statement. Anything ranging from every citizen has a different belief to every citizen has the same belief fits with the ideals of the American Founding. It is not true that pluralism of beliefs is a goal of government according to the constitution, and an active government role in sponsoring a diversity of beliefs is what Mr. Rowe appears to favor. The constitution no more permits the government to promote a diversity of different beliefs then it permits the government to oppose a diversity of different beliefs. Furthermore, it is not the role of government to select which beliefs it will favor and which it will not favor regardless of the quantity or diversity of the beliefs it theoretically could choose to favor. People can pray individually and in voluntary groups before and after business and during breaks, privately or publicly. Why is that insufficient? Why must government sponsor prayers and assert in laws that a single God exists?

As Jon Rowe knows, the constitution was written by refugees seeking freedom of conscience and freedom from religious tyranny. They wanted a land where government would not tell them which church to support, what religious rituals to engage in or what to believe or disbelieve. They knew there can be no true religious liberty without the freedom to dissent. Whether to pray, or believe in a god who answers prayer, is an individual decision protected under our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience. Jon Rowe is mistaken in his refusal to acknowledge that the NDOP, which annually compels partisan religious speech on the president of the United States as an act of government, is a direct, and rather blatant, violation of the Bill of rights, just like Judge Scalia is mistaken when he says the constitution permits the disregard of atheists and polytheists.

What we hear from Coulter is how tolerant everyone is of everyone else's beliefs, that they respect atheists, that they favor pluralism and diversity, but the atheists are not tolerant, they are the problem. When I compare the NDOP Act with Coulter's words there is complete mismatch. The NDOP Act declares that a God exists and we should all pray to that God. The NDOP Act compels the president to annually issue a proclamation to that effect. Where is the pluralism and diversity here? There isn't any, its monotheism only. Where is the respect for atheists and polytheists here? There isn't any, we should all believe in a God and pray to that God. Who is being intolerant here? Its the monotheistic majority, not the atheist or polytheist minorities.

17 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

What's this nonsense, Ray---Mr. Soller---using our mainpage to forward some guy's attack on your [our] blogbrother, Jonathan Rowe?


Now then, it seems "Explicit Atheist," who has written in our comments section under that pseudonym, turns out to be a gentleman who in real life is named Mathew Goldstein.

Hello, Mr. Goldstein. In case you're reading this, or in case you've been in private, backdoor email communication with our own Ray Soller and are forwarded this as a result. Whatever.

I just kicked your ass to the curb in our comments section where you called George Washington a "bigot" for his Farewell Address, and you then slandered him about his dentures, that he had "pulled" out his slaves' teeth, when the historical fact is that he paid for them.

What is this, Ray? Mathew Goldstein's own bigotry and bad history have already been kicked to the curb for what they are. His point was that we should ignore the political wisdom of GWash's Farewell Address because of his [false] claim that Washington pulled his slaves' teeth for his own dentures.

How much nonsense do you want to market here, Ray?

Twice in your essay, Mr. Soller, citing Mr. Goldstein's attack on your blogbrother here at American creation, Jonathan Rowe, is added "and other opponents of non-establishment of monotheism and theism."

Twice with the same phrase.

It is to laugh. Who do you people think you're fooling? The "other opponents" is me, Tom Van Dyke, TVD, but you can call me sir. Here I am, front and center.

Ray---and Mathew---man up. If you have something to say, say it. Directly, and not with an incoherent fog of words, or with attacks on Jonathan Rowe, a man who honestly calls 'em as he sees 'em.

Sorry to be so direct, but I'm getting along in years a bit now, and have no patience for people who foul up the blog we've given so much to. Bring your facts and arguments and stop your whining.

As for whatever it is you're saying, please simply state it affirmatively, without attacking persons on this blog you disagree with. If you have a good point, you can make it without attacking those who disagree, especially Jonathan Rowe.

Pinky said...

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But, was there nothing of value in the article?
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Jonathan Rowe said...

To Ray's credit, he did ask first and I did give my permission for him to post this.

bpabbott said...

Re Scalia: "With respect to public acknowledgment of relief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational, but it was monotheistic."

I think Scalia's suggestion that GW showed a disregard for those who didn't share a belief in a monotheistic providential God to be a bit over the top.

"If they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews, Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists ..."
[George Washington, to Tench Tighman, March 24, 1784, when asked what type of workman to get for Mount Vernon, from The Washington papers edited by Saul Padover]

I think a more proper qualification would be; "With respect to public acknowledgment of relief, it is clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits the acknowledgement of a monotheistic Providential God. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was nondenominational, but it was also monotheistic."

bpabbott said...

I realize this is old but ...

Re Scalia's dissent in McCeary "With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nationís historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational, but it was monotheistic. 3 In Marsh v. Chambers, supra, we said that the fact the particular prayers offered in the Nebraska Legislature were in the Judeo-Christian tradition, id., at 793, posed no additional problem, because there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or be- lief,î id., at 794-795.

Historical practices thus demonstrate that there is a distance between the acknowledgment of a single Creator and the establishment of a religion. The former is, as Marsh v. Chambers put it, a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country. Id., at 792. The three most popular religions in the United States, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam which combined account for 97.7% of all believers are monotheistic. See U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005, p. 55 (124th ed. 2004) (Table No. 67). All of them, moreover (Islam included), believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses, and are divine prescriptions for a virtuous life. See 13 Encyclopedia of Religion 9074 (2d ed. 2005); The Qurían 104 (M. Haleem trans. 2004). Publicly honoring the Ten Commandments is thus indistinguishable, insofar as discriminating against other religions is concerned, from publicly honoring God. Both practices are recognized across such a broad and diverse range of the populations from Christians to Muslims that they cannot be reasonably understood as a government endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint.
"

Emphasis is mine.

While Scalia may not be able to distinguish between publicly honoring a Providential God and honoring the theological doctrines of the OT, it appears that GW, whose authority Scalia argue's from, did :-)

Does anyone know where I/we could find an itemized list of the instances where the Founder's National government supported theological doctrines, and/or disparaged theological doctrines?

Tom Van Dyke said...

While Scalia may not be able to distinguish between publicly honoring a Providential God and honoring the theological doctrines of the OT, it appears that GW, whose authority Scalia argue's from, did :-)

I agree with that. I'd have said that it's a Jewish cultural artifact, and one of Westen civilization as well.

The believer can look at it as divine; the atheist as no more than culture.

Historical practices thus demonstrate that there is a distance between the acknowledgment of a single Creator and the establishment of a religion.

I agree with that part. Even the 14th Amendment does not decree that God is not a reality.

bpabbott said...

Re: "The believer can look at it as divine; the atheist as no more than culture."

As I know some rather spiritual atheists, I'd say the above is an extreme position.

Embracing an understanding that supernatural is synonymous with superstition doesn't mean that spirituality is lacking.

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.

It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
"
Albert Einstein - his concluding paragraphs of "The World as I See It".

Those paragraphs are followed by ...

"I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."

Meanwhile in the section of his essay titled Christianity and Judaism, Einstein writes;

"If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity.

It is the duty of every man of good will to strive steadfastly in his own little world to make this teaching of pure humanity a living force, so far as he can. If he makes an honest attempt in this direction without being crushed and trampled under foot by his contemporaries, he may consider himself and the community to which he belongs lucky.
"

Particularly in the last part, Einstein's words reminds me of Jefferson.

Pinky said...

.
And, there is that dichotomy again--the same one Fish points to in his article on Habermas.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Isaac Newton's musings on theology are considered quite banal. Is Einstein saying anything here that's deeper than Barney the Dinosaur?

Somewhat apocryphal, but revealing;


"God does not play dice with the universe." - Albert Einstein

"Who are you to tell God what to do?" - Niels Bohr


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr%E2%80%93Einstein_debates

And one I found somewhere, an interesting take on superstition, or religion, for that matter:

Niels Bohr had a horseshoe nailed outside his house, over his door. One day, when asked incredulously by a friend whether he really believed that the thing would bring him luck, he replied, "I don't. But, I understand that it brings you luck whether you believe it or not."

Ray Soller said...

Tom, a point of clarification, my thoughts are limited to the introductory paragraph. All of the text occurring after "His thoughts follow:" belong to Mathew Goldstein. EA's identity should have been obvious if you had thought to snap directly on Explicit Atheist in any of his earlier appearances in the Comment section.

Despite your initial diatribe, Pinky's question, "was there nothing of value in the article?", is still worth considering.

eli said...

Despite your initial diatribe, Pinky's question, "was there nothing of value in the article?", is still worth considering.

There is very little worth considering in the article, unless you find value in a tidy parsing out of side issues. I find this kind of thing to be a tedious distraction from the real problems that generate these controversies in the first place.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Ray, I recognized what was Mr. Goldstein's by its Olbermann-like tone and use of words like "falsehood" and "trite."

But the post has nothing to do with the Founding except for Mr. Goldstein's opinion of what the First Amendment means. Which is nice, but to use another of Mr. Goldstein's terms, it is "irrelevant," since his opinion is not tethered to the Founders'.

Neither do I think the legalities of current issues are very helpful on this blog, nor meeting its area of focus or expertise. I see nothing in the Founding that makes Jonathan Rowe's position untenable; however, if our democratically-elected legislature wants to dispense with days of prayer [or whatever] here in the 21st century, I see no conflict with the Founding there either.

Ray Soller said...

eli, would you care to expound on what are the "real problems that generate these controversies in the first place."

Ray Soller said...

Tom, you wrote, "if our democratically-elected legislature wants to dispense with days of prayer [or whatever] here in the 21st century, I see no conflict with the Founding there either."

That's real big of you, but I hope you do see that our Founders did have a position about limited government and the separation of powers, so that even they might have had some qualms about the legislative branch prescibing additional extra-constitutional duties upon the president's office. The NDoP is not just a resolution sponsored by Congress, it is a law that imposes an annual obligation upon the president regardless of how the president may feel about promoting ceremonial acts of public prayer, and I personally do feel a great deal of concern when the legislature gives the appearance of expanding the presidential office so it subsumes the duties of the Roman-styled Pontifex Maximus.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Ray, that's the sharpest argument I'm familiar with. However the act reads that the day would be one

"on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

Italics mine, but "may" provides some wiggle room. Indeed Madison said:

"Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory..."

"May" is "recommendatory."

Per your separation of powers argument, I believe Scalia and Thomas simply argue that atheist groups have no "standing" to bring suit. I agree. If the president wanted a constitutional hassle, that would be something else entirely.

But as previously noted, this is legal stuff and not quite germane to religion and the Founding, and certainly not in my own realm of expertise. Your original legal argument was with Jon Rowe, who is a lawyer; however, it was on "Establishment" grounds, which we are no longer talking about here. Neither does Jon seem interested in this discussion, and it was he who was called out.

I recommend the law-centered Volokh blog

http://volokh.com/

which has in-depth discussions of all these religion issues when they come up. Lots of sharp lawyers and scholars, and the very best place I know to try out the quality of your arguments.

Pinky said...

.
So, what's the problem here?
.
We've certainly over stepped the boundaries involved in historical discovery and have entered into the area where the acts of law are found to be either lawful or not.
.
What's the purpose of that in a blog that is dedicated to historical discovery?
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More to the point, are we watching an argument about who is the smartest person on this blog?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

We've certainly over stepped the boundaries involved in historical discovery and have entered into the area where the acts of law are found to be either lawful or not.
.
What's the purpose of that in a blog that is dedicated to historical discovery?


Exactly.