Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Other Side of the Extremist Coin

Richard Dawkins, the Founders,
and Historical Extremism at its Best
by Brad Hart

Over the past couple of months I have been accused of unfairly levying attacks on Christian nation apologists like David Barton, Peter Lillback and others. While I maintain my previous stances with regards to their "scholarship" on America's founding fathers, I do recognize that I have been a little one-sided.

In an effort to remedy such a label, I offer up the renowned author and atheist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins -- who most certainly is the antithesis of Barton and others -- argues that America's founding fathers -- particularly the "mainstream" founders -- were agnostics at best, and quite possibly atheists. To defend his argument, Dawkins sites a number of popular quotations from our founders, which he believes serve as ample evidence to prove that our founders were anything but religious.

The following is a video in which Dawkins attempts to offer up these historical quotations, in an effort to affirm his notion that the founders were agnostic secularists at best:

Dawkins -- like Barton and other extremists -- takes an uncompromising stance of simply accepting small tidbits of history that he can easily fit to his personal argument. As is the case with most "manufactured" history, Dawkins ignores historical content when adopting the sources of the founding fathers to fit his own agenda. For example, Dawkins quotes from James Madison the following:

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
This quotation is a perfect illustration of why understanding historical context is so very important. Madison was never against the PRACTICE of religion. Instead, he was opposed the TYRANNY of religion, which led Madison to this open attack on the practices of Christianity of his day. Dawkins, however, would lead you to believe that this wasn't simply an attack but a renunciation of all religion.

Dawkins is wrong.

As we all know, this popular quotation comes from Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, which Madison wrote in response to the religious persecution taking place in his native Virginia. What Dawkins fails to mention is that Madison was not attempting to eradicate religion but to advocate for the fair treatment of all faiths. As Madison states in the same document that Dawkins sites:

We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.
America's founding fathers were never in favor of eradicating religion from society. In fact, most passionately believed that religion could help safeguard the virtue and morality of the citizenry, which was, in their minds, an essential component to republicanism.

Now, in Dawkins' defense, I will point out that he is right when he states that our founders would likely be upset at the fact that atheists are the unfortunate recipients of bigotry and hatred today. Clearly the founders hoped that the American republic would be one of mutual acceptance -- from a religious perspective -- in which people could believe -- or disbelieve as the choose. As Thomas Jefferson stated in his Notes on the State of Virginia:

From the dissensions among Sects themselves arise necessarily a right of choosing and necessity of deliberating to which we will conform. But if we choose for ourselves, we must allow others to choose also, and so reciprocally, this establishes religious liberty...

...The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
This virtual "custody battle" for the legacy of the founding fathers, which pits secularists like Dawkins against Christian zealots like Barton is a perfect example of how both sides misrepresent the historical record. This extremist view is best illustrated by Steven Waldman and Jon Meacham, who point out in their respective works just how destructive these extreme views are to actual history. As Steven Waldman states in his book, Founding Faith:

In battles over prayer in school, courtroom displays of the Ten Commandments, and other emotional issues, both sides follow a well-worn script: The "religious" side wants less separation of church and state, and the "secularists" want more...For starters, many conservatives believe that if they can show that the Founding Fathers were very religious, they thereby also prove that the Founders abhorred separation of church and state...Some liberals, meanwhile, feel the need to prove the Founders were irreligious or secular and therefore, of course, in favor of separation...But in the heat of this custody battle over the spiritual lives of the Founding Fathers, BOTH SIDES DISTORT HISTORY...In fact, the culture wars have so warped our sense of history that we typically have a very limited understanding of how we came to have religious liberty.
Waldman's bold statements are virtually echoed by those of author Jon Meacham, who writes in his book, American Gospel the following:

Both sides feel they are fighting for the survival of what's best for America: liberals for openness and expanding rights, conservatives for a God-fearing, morally coherent culture...The conservative right's contention that we are a "Christian nation" that has fallen from pure origins and can achieve redemption by some kind of return to Christian values is based on wishful thinking, not convincing historical argument...the secularist arrogance that religion played no role in America's founding is equally ridiculous.
In today's supercharged political and religious world I am certain of at least one thing: we haven't seen the end of historical extremism.


Charles T. Wolverton said...

"The conservative right's contention that we are a "Christian nation" ... the secularist arrogance that religion played no role in America's founding ..."

I appreciate the spirit of Mr. Hart's post and have no complaints about his words. However, I find the quoted words from Mr. Meacham (whom I consider to be a likeable, well-meaning fellow) to be a biased equivalent of "he said, she said" journalism.

Although I don't actually know from personal experience, I accept the reports of people like Mr. Rowe, Mr. Brayton, et al, that there are those who claim that the US is "a Christian nation". However, to pair that with the claim that there is a "secularist arrogance that religion played no part in America's founding" seems disingenuous.

I am a secularist; my wife, my mother, and my close friends are all secularists; and I have read numerous SCOTUS establishment clause case opinions. As best I can recall, never once have I heard or read anyone claim that "religion played no role in America's founding". In the case of my friends and me, it is admittedly partially because we neither know nor care whether or not that is true (although after the education consequent to reading this blog, I would be under no such illusion - my sincere thanks to all you "teachers"). In the case of the SCOTUS opinions, it is because the question of the founders' religious views - as best I recall - infrequently enters into the analyses, which instead typically - for better or worse - focus on considerations like the Lemon or endorsement tests.

The position of secularists may be convincing or not. But in fairness, it should be presented accurately, and IMO that position typically is based either on an intuitive sense of fairness (in the case of those unfamiliar with constitutional law issues) or on SCOTUS jurisprudence (in the case of us legal dilettantes), not on an "arrogant" assumption about the religious posture of the founders.

- Charles

Jonathan Rowe said...


You make a similar point to Chris Rodda's that the distortion is not even handed.

My biggest problems with the secularists is their notion that the Founders were all atheists, agnostics and deists. Not all of them assert this. But Hitchens and Dawkins have asserted something similar.

And two the idea that they favored a complete "separation of church and state," is also not quite accurate. The US Constitution does "separate Church & State" like it separates powers. And the US Constitution is a secular document. However, even with these two premises one could argue there was much room for religious accommodations of an intermixture between religion and government and that indeed, the Founders did a lot of accommodating with things like Chaplains and using the government buildings for church services and whatnot.

Ray Soller said...

Authors Steven Waldman and Jon Meacham both like to think of themselves as moderates. They both point to early examples where there has been an intermixture of church and state, but they have both exaggerated the extent to which George Washington personally set a precedent for the federal endorsement of "public religion."

Here's Waldman, "Other points of consensus about God and government were quickly [my emphasis] established during Washington's two terms. Washington took office by putting his hand on the Bible and declaring "So help me God," and many presidents since have done the same." ("Founding Faith," pg. 160)

Here's Meacham, "The God ['that Almighty Being who rules over the universe'] who is spoken of and called on and prayed to in the public sphere is an essential character in the American drama. Washington improvised 'so help me, God' at the conclusion of the first presidential oath and kissed the Bible on which he had sworn it." (American Gospel, pg. 14)

Despite the fact that there is no known contemporary or eye witness account stating that Washington added "so help me God" to his oath at his first inauguration, both authors simply assume this to be a hallmark event. And heaven forbid that they, in contrast, take a close-up look at Washington's second inaugural ceremony to determine whether Washington personally incorporated a single action that could be seen as an endorsement of public religion.

Charles T. Wolverton said...

Jon -

But you are perpetuating the problem I addressed:

"My biggest problems with the secularists is their notion that the Founders were all atheists, agnostics and deists"

Some secularists may do this, but "secularists" in general almost certainly don't - if only because they (we) are totally ignorant of such matters.

"the idea that they favored a complete 'separation of church and state,' is also not quite accurate"

I don't even find the quoted phrase meaningful (and consequently, never use it) - never mind having an opinion on whether the Founders subscribed to it.

My point is quite simple (simplistic?). In fairness, one shouldn't ascribe a position to everyone in a group just because some members in that group have it. I have found that in cases where I and people I know might conceivably be considered to be members of group X, statements of the form "members of X believe/think/promote Y" (where Y is often a manifestly foolish position) are almost always incorrect for us. And since the exact same point could be made by saying something like "I think those who believe Y are mistaken because ...", I consider their motives in not doing so to be suspect.

- Charles

Explicit Atheist said...

I dislike Dawkins using that alleged quote from the first Mr. Bush because it could be bogus. I don't like his comment "the Jewish lobby is notoriously one of the most formidably most influential in Washington" preceding his call for atheists to organize themselves properly, since American Jews are disproportionately liberal and against establishment and they are far from the "most influential", it is peculiar, to say the least, to characterize some mythical, singular, monolothic "Jewish lobby" that way. He mischaracterizes the situation of atheists in the United States by citing atypical and extreme examples and implying they are typical. I don't think there is good evidence that any of the founders were atheists, although I do suspect that at least Jefferson may have been at least somewhat skeptical about whether or not gods in general were fictional I wouldn't say he or any of the other founders were atheist. So there are lots of things about Mr. Dawkins presentation and expression that I disagree with or even dislike, so much so that I am not an enthusiastic defender of him.

However, Mr Dawkins does not believe and does not assert that "America's founding fathers were in favor of eradicating religion from society." Lots of people, when they criticize someone they call "Mr. Dawkins" are actually attacking a straw man that they construct and assign that name. Mr. Dawkins is, as far as I can determine, like the vast majority of atheists in Europe and the United States, a liberal democrat who believes in freedom of conscience and freedom expression without exception including religious belief and expression for all.

Explicit Atheist said...

The one instance where Mr. Dawkins expresses a view that maybe could be interpreted as compromising on supporting freedom of belief and expression is his strongly worded opposition to religious indoctrination of children. But my understanding is that he has said that he opposses government laws or restrictions on the religious indoctrination of children and that he made an accidental oversight when he once signed a petitioned that implied otherwise. I have heard and read and seen enough of Mr. Dawkins to be confident that he genuinely does value and respect individual freedoms notwithstanding his strong words against religious indoctrination of children. He is a university biology teacher who is upset by students and political activists who are antagonistic towards and oppossed to scientific understandings of biology.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm upset, too. I'm no creationist in any form. But the secular/scientific world---anti-theist, as opposed to simply "atheist"---opposes "religious indoctrination" of the young as well.

The default becomes a world, a universe, a reality that is either a mathematical accident or a mathematical certainty [along the "monkeys with typewriters" lines]. Man is nothing but the sum of his flesh and electrical impulses.

They say, yeah, all the other stuff should be taught in philosophy classes [which don't exist] or as religion at home [which is on the rocks, let's face it].

By rejecting any "indoctrination" about the divine in the name of "neutrality," although we all seem to admit that the Founders acknowledged the social utility of religion---perhaps even the necessity of it for a free society to function--- we leave the nation without the means to pursue that end.

And that, folks, is what I think I've been trying to say around here for awhile but hadn't found the words.

So thx. I knew there was a reason Providence sent me here.

Hehe. ;-[D>

Explicit Atheist said...

First of all, the concept of establishment clause neutrality doesn't apply at all to families or to privately funded non-government organizations. Religious indoctrination is a family and church matter and as such it is outside the scope of government authority in the United States.

Mr. Dawkins certainly does not believe nor does he assert that government neutrality entails rejecting any indoctrination. Dawkins considers religious indoctrination of children to be unethical sort of like some religionists consider dancing with the opposite gender or drinking alcohol to be immoral. For Dawkins, and for others who hold that view, the problem with such indoctrination is that chlidren are not sufficiently capable of independent thought. Its like having children engage in sex when they are not ready.

Every atheist is to some extent anti-theist and every theist is to some extent anti-atheist just like every Protestant is in some sense anti-Catholic, etc. etc. Some people seem to read too much into that, as if simply by virtue of having a conflicting beliefs they also must oppose expression or exercise of the opposing beliefs.

What Dawkins is pointing out with his selection of quotes is that some prominent 18th century American politicans made some anti-religion comments, mostly in private letters to each other that they would not have said in public because they couldn't so speak in public and pursue political careers. Some of those comments sound harsh to some Americans, and when they hear those quotes in a video from Dawkins they appear to react by attacking the messenger as a sort psychological self-defense mechanism. Some of those comments make references to the history of religious conflict in Europe. I think its obvious that that history influenced the late 18th century thinking about government and religion that is reflected in the U.S. constitution. They also had direct personal experience with religious test oaths when they were under British rule and the contents of those mandatory religious oaths almost certainly at least partially conflicted with their own beliefs.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your response to my response is unresponsive, EA. But thanks for the filibuster.

Phil Johnson said...

"In today's supercharged political and religious world I am certain of at least one thing: we haven't seen the end of historical extremism. "
Maybe we could say that America was founded to be a long standing argument about religiosity?

Ray Soller said...

TVD stated that according to the scientific/secularist world, "Man is nothing but the sum of his flesh and electrical impulses." This sterile characterization of man is woefully incomplete, and I'd appreciate it if Tom could provide a definitive source for his claim.

A more open-minded characterization of humankind could be formulated as follows: Man, as a social being and as a result of the unlimited number of possible interactions between his flesh and electro/chemical stimuli, is capable of improving the human condition for himself, his contemporaries, and future generations. This optimistic viewpoint is based on a quote by Elmer Davis, "This nation was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle – among others – that honest men may honestly disagree; that if they all say what they think, a majority of the people will be able to distinguish truth from error; that in the competition of the marketplace of ideas, the sounder ideas will in the long run win out."

Charles T. Wolverton said...

"Your response to my response is unresponsive, EA."

I disagree.

Your oft-stated position appears to be roughly that there must be a "spiritual dimension" to humans if our society is to survive. That may or may not be correct, but even assuming we have some agreement on what constitutes a "spiritual dimension" and that your concerns are warranted, there remains the question of how that "spiritual dimension" is to be instilled. There are two possible avenues: via government actions and via non-government actions.

Re government actions, there are those (and not just secularists) who think the EC of the 1A precludes many, most, or all of these. The first paragraph of EA's 10/5 11:59PM comment addresses that. One can agree or disagree with a court's decision re a specific activity, but that should be the focus. Extrapolating - as many do - to meaningless shotgun blasts like "religion is being driven from the public square" may rally the troops, but it contributes nothing to a serious discussion. (Not to mention being manifestly untrue: see 2008 presidential campaign for detailed rebuttal.)

Re non-government actions, some may not approve even of these actions. But in that same paragraph, EA says (actually, implies) that due to the FE clause of the 1A, there is no government role with respect to them. Hence, those who disapprove are powerless to affect them by means other than persuasion - which, wisely or foolishly, is what Dawkins et al are about.

Dismiss this as a "filibuster" if you like, but that's my best take on your position and my (actually, my interpretation of EA's) best response. If you desire more, it's incumbent on you to help us by clarifying what you're after.

- Charles

Tom Van Dyke said...

Where shall we start? Dawkins? Taking "In God We Trust" off the currency? Mr. Soller's conception of man that fits the profile of an Obama voter, if not The New Soviet Man? "Open-minded?" Hardly. A materialist view of man is what it is.

There are no other views of man available to the products of our public education system, in the name of "neutrality" and "science."

And not one person in hundred knows that "So help me God" is part of the Supreme Court oath, or that its halls were used for prayer services back in the Founding era. Would you be OK if we reinstituted that custom? No, I didn't think so. In fact, you'd scream bloody murder.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Indoctrination, indeed.

Explicit Atheist said...

Charles has it correct.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I also tend to agree with people who agree with me, EA.

By "filibuster," I meant that you took 2 [longish] comments in a row, and 3 out of 4, the fourth not directly addressing mine, the third.

Charles does indeed state each of our positions fairly, to his credit. Now, I turn the question around: Where does the public school student hear any exploration of man that might include a notion of God? Not the Jesus died for your sins or Trinity stuff, but the monotheistic God of America's Founding "civil religion?"

Where does he/she hear otherwise than that we are perhaps more than accidents of biology, or that the "bio-" part, life itself, is inexplicable by science?

"Indoctrination" of sectarian dogma isn't necessary---or desirable---but asking these fundamental questions is. That you or Dawkins conclude that those questions are meaningless doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked anyway. They are valid simply because man has always asked them.

And even if you acknowledge the social utility of religion per George Washington, well, do you? I see no evidence of that.

Ray Soller said...

Genesis 2:7 "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." I may be dense, but I hardly see the difference between the biblical man of clay and man as a social being clothed in flesh and animated by the spark of life. As far as I can tell both entities are capable of moral action and prayer if they so choose. Where's the beef?

Ray Soller said...

Tom, here's a Nov. 3, 2007, Deseret News article, "Grand Canyon chapel welcomes all faiths." I can't put my hands on a specific policy statement going back to the founding era when federal buildings were used for public worship, but if, today, the use of federal buildings would "welcome all faiths" I'm all for it. That's a great suggestion.

Explicit Atheist said...

My response wasn't 100% responding to you, it was partly addressing the original post from Mr. Hart.

Public schools can, and I think should, teach comparative religion that surveys current and historical religions across the world and gives equal time and attention to concepts such as polytheism, animism, henotheism and atheism. Focusing on your belief of the monotheist God as the favored religion of this country is not education, its promotion of monotheism over other beliefs and as such it shouldn't be allowed. Do you support instruction in comparative religion that covers the range of competing religious concepts and ideas including Buddhism and Hinduism without favoritism for your monotheistic preference?

The government's educational obligation begins and ends with our current understanding of what is true from the available evidence regardless of whether that knowledge agrees with or disagrees with or supports or conflicts with anyone's a-priori belief commitments regarding what is or is not true about the world. One of the proper functions of education is to challenge traditions and beliefs that people have and hold regading what is true that are unsupported by or are contradicted by the available evidence.

I think George Washington's statement that "let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion" is reasonable in the sense that it doesn't commit one way or the other. As far as I see there are people who do well and who do poorly among those who are religious and irreligious, I see no strong and exclusively positive correlation between religion and morality. I haven't read of anything beyond a small positive correlation between strong religiousity and one measure of ethics, but just a small correlation, only with one measure, and only with a strong religiousity, not with religious identity in general or theism or atheism in general.

The relationship between religion and morality is ambivalent, it works all ways, kind of like the social utility technology works all ways, for good and evil, it all depends on what use it is put to. For religion this depends in part on its content, which varies by religion, is not infrequently ambiguous and open to multiple different conflicting selective interpretations, and is sometimes negative. At least some religious texts have substantial amounts of bigoted and cruel content as well as false factual claims and negative attitudes about knowledge and intellectual progress, unethical or just plain silly and foolish and nonsensical laws and rituals and practices and mischaracterizations of what is and what is not ethical. In the end its always up to us as individuals what we do and how we act and that is where the responsibility lies.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Focusing on your belief of the monotheist God as the favored religion of this country is not education, its promotion of monotheism over other beliefs and as such it shouldn't be allowed.

Sure it should. It was the Founding ethos. Even Adams and Jefferson were down with it. We should know about it.

Do you support instruction in comparative religion that covers the range of competing religious concepts and ideas including Buddhism and Hinduism without favoritism for your monotheistic preference?

Absolutely. Do I prefer monotheism? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Mebbe I'm a Thomistic atheist like Murray Rothbard, you don't know. But my arguments have been based on the social utility of religion.

You may have missed a previous link in a comments section that argued Western monotheism [and Western rationalism] began to turn the {East} Indian social order away from karma's acceptance of human inequality toward the notion of equality of all man {and woman} during the 1800s.

See, I submit simply that all belief systems are not interchangeable, which I'd characterize as a "mindless" pluralism and soggy thinking. To propose that all belief systems---values---are interchangeable ignores history and theology.

I like your emphasis on individuality, EA. It's a Judeo-Christian concept, you know, although it has resonance in the Iliad. But Plato only thought that "philosophers" were capable of true individuality. And Mr. Soller's stated view of humankind's interconnectedness as its end results in making us all slaves to each other, per Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

Hey, I dig this American thing. What it is, well, I can only say what it's not---it's not a smoking gun to be laid down in a few paragraphs in a comments section.

Charles T. Wolverton said...

"I submit simply that all belief systems are not interchangeable, which I'd characterize as a 'mindless' pluralism and soggy thinking."

But no non-"soggy thinking" person would believe such a thing - that is the dumb version of "relativism". And consistent with the fact that the participants in this blog (and others I've read in which this kind of discussion occurs) aren't dumb, as best I can recall no one has ever voiced such silliness in those venues.

I think the problem may be a conflict between your view of what should happen in schools - an objective presentation of the role of religious influences in US history - and what historically has happened when religion is introduced into schools - Christian proselytizing. I can't imagine that any thoughtful person would object to the former or condone the latter. And I believe establishment clause case law is consistent with that position.

I don't see the gulf here as being all that wide.

- Charles

Explicit Atheist said...

Chapters on particular religions can be written by representatives of those religions in order to provide an overall balance and avoid the negative attacks that tend to appear when people of one belief write about competing beliefs. The teachers need to understand that they have an obligation to avoid inserting personal opinions such as "all religions lead to the same god" or "Christianity is the One True Religion" or teach the truth or falsity of the different religious claims. Uneven teacher quality in public schools will be a problem, so much so that training teachers how to objectively teach comparative religion is pre-requisite to implement this in public schools. Parents will need to have an opt-out for their children, and it will need to be a high school level course. I think some states may already have comparative religion as an option in their curriculum, but it appears to be rare.

The overall guidelines are here

Phil Johnson said...

Whatever colonial America was about, the quest for religious freedom was right up there in the front row.
It was Puritanism--plain and simple. They came to these shores over an argument about how a person is made right with God.
That was the central question and it remains so today as far as religion is concerned.
But, there are other concerns than the religious; we have government, education, economics, and our personal family life as well.
The religious elite in America have put their most stringent efforts into making all morals and standards for government, education, economy, and the family subservient to religion as though it were responsible for society by itself. This IS at the root of our national dysfunction as it distorts what otherwise is reality.
To make the role religion has in our day to day experiences all important is to ignore the equal importance of family, for example, as an institution of society separate and apart from the other institutions.
Religion has its own world. It has a role is society; but, no more so than any other. When we finally are able to understand that it is a personal choice, then we can get over the bumbumbosidy it lays on us all day long.

Phil Johnson said...

Obviously, I am against religious instruction of any kind in public schools with the exception of showing that it plays out a role--whatever brand is involved. So, we could get an objective view of what it does over time.

Brad Hart said...

Well, I guess it would only be appropriate for me to comment on my own post. First off, thanks for all the great comments. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

I want to get back to a point made earlier on in this discussion. I will quote Jon Rowe to do so:

"My biggest problems with the secularists is their notion that the Founders were all atheists, agnostics and deists. Not all of them assert this. But Hitchens and Dawkins have asserted something similar."

To counter this statement, Charles pointed out that the overwhelming majority of secularists are not engaged in an effort to label the founders as being atheists. Instead, he states that only a handful of secularists engage in such futile pursuits.

In short, I think both J. Rowe and Charles are right. Rowe makes mention of the fact that a handful of secular scholars -- he mentions Hitchens and Dawkins -- have attempted to label the founders as atheists, or agnostics at best. This is absolutely true. However, Charles is right in pointing out that the majority of secular scholars are not caught up in this "custody battle" for the legacy of the founders. Instead many secularists try to combat the overwhelming support that is driving the "Christian Nation" crowd.

In my opinion, this is the fundamental difference between secularists and Christian nation apologists. Naturally both sides have extremists in their respective camps. However, Christian Nation advocates have been able to effectively "inspire" -- or brainwash -- a large percentage of their following. As a result, secularists -- and historians in general -- have been forced to bring the fight to them. In response, most Christian nation zealots label historians and secularists as being too "liberal" or "unpatriotic."

In conclusion, the extremists -- on both sides -- are selling essentially the same thing: hyped-up and watered-down history that breeds an emotional reaction from its target audience.

Explicit Atheist said...

Mr. Dawkins favors comparative religion education in schools. They have that in Britain. The British version is flawed, it spends more time on Christianity than other religions, and they also have religious worship as part of their curriculum, but even with its flaws its arguably better than no comparative religion courses at all which is the situation for the large majority the U.S..

Phil Johnson said...

For the sake of discussion, suppose America was founded as a Christian Nation.
How would that play out as far as having comparative religion education in public schools?

Charles T. Wolverton said...

"the fundamental difference between secularists and Christian nation apologists ..."

Mr. Hart's paragraph describes well the crucial distinction almost always missing in this kind of exchange.

For several decades in the latter half of the 20th C the secularists I know (presumably representative since we are quite mainstream people) seldom if ever thought about religion. We would have been most accurately labeled "apatheists". It was only when (once again, as was the case in our mid-20th C southern youths) religion began to adversely impact our lives that we started paying attention. It is one thing to sit through an occasional prayer, quite another to watch passively as school systems debase the curricula and ignore politicians who justify horrendous actions built on foundations of incredible ignorance as "God's will".

As for extremism, I can't think of anything more complementary to secularists than to have our extremists be the thoughtful, accomplished, and mild-mannered Four Horsemen who typically compare quite favorably to extremists on the other end of the spectrum.

- Charles

Charles T. Wolverton said...

Drat - even after multiple edits and previews:

"and to ignore"


- c

Tom Van Dyke said...

It is one thing to sit through an occasional prayer, quite another to watch passively as school systems debase the curricula and ignore politicians who justify horrendous actions built on foundations of incredible ignorance as "God's will".

¿Cómo? There might be a point in there about creationism, but the latter half is mystifying.

The push for creationism or "Intelligent Design" [neither of which I favor, BTW] in schools is a reaction to the phenomenon I describe above. Creationism wouldn't get near science class if it were examined in comparative religion or philosophy courses. Which don't exist in America.

And yes, Charles, the people who agree with you are much nicer than the people on the other side. Everybody knows that.


Anonymous said...

Off Topic - There's an interesting case coming up on the SCOTUS docket this year (as reported over at Positive Liberty):

This term will also see a return of church-state tension in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. Three years ago, in Van Orden v. Perry, the Court upheld a public Ten Commandments display, while finding other public Ten Commandments displays unconstitutional in McCreary County v. ACLU. Unlike in the earlier cases, the issue in Pleasant Grove City is not whether a Ten Commandments display in a public park is legal. Rather, the Court will decide whether a local government may refuse to display an “Aphorisms” statute donated by the religious sect Summum when the city already displays a donated Ten Commandments statute. Summum sued, claiming that the government’s refusal to display its
statute in the park was a violation of its right to free speech. The Court has held in earlier cases that public officials may not discriminate against groups in public parks because of their messages or religion. The Tenth Circuit applied the free speech test and required the city to either display all religious monuments donated by third parties or display none of the donated monuments. With concerns that the Tenth Circuit decision will require the removal of historic religious displays, both local governments and religious groups will be closely watching
this case.

There's a post (or three) in there somewhere for you guys.

Phil Johnson said...

Which re-presents my thoughts that it might be so that America was founded as an argument between the Puritans and Secularism.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I can't wait for that case; it will definitely give me/us something to blog about; we'll be watching carefully.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Christians are fortunate that Islam generally disdains physical representations of the divine. The shoe would be on the other foot in one big hurry, all the arguments turned back on their source.