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Appeals to Religious Hostility from the Texas Republican Party:

Here's an item from the Texas Republican Party's Web site:

Candidate for the Sixth Court of Appeals, Ben Franks, is reported to be a professed atheist and apparently believes the Bible is a "collection of myths."

During debate over a plank in the State Democrat Platform, members of the Platform Committee debated dropping "God" from a sentence on the first page of the document. The plank stated: "we want a Texas where all people can fulfill their dreams and achieve their God-given potential."

According to an article published in the El Paso Times, Ben Franks states: "I'm an atheist..." [For Franks' response to this, see here.]

All elected or appointed officials in Texas must take the oath prescribed by Art. XVI, Section 1(a) of the Texas Constitution:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of _____ of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God."

Should Franks be elected in November, one would have to conclude that he will hold true to his out of touch "atheist" belief system and ignore the laws and Constitution of Texas. Mr. Franks is a personal injury trial lawyer practicing in Texarkana, Texas and is the Democrat nominee for the 6th Court of Appeals.

As I've argued before, the theoretical case for ignoring candidates' religious beliefs when deciding whom to vote for is not open-and-shut: Religious beliefs (whether atheist, fundamentalist Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever else) are at least in theory pointers to how a person is likely to act, and the similarity between your beliefs and a candidate's might in theory be a good predictor of the similarity in your moral values and your views on what the government ought to do. But in practice, it seems to me that the correlation is low enough, and appeals to such a correlation are dangerous enough in a religiously pluralistic country that they ought to be eschewed and condemned.

But for now, let me just stress how, if such criticism of atheists is accepted, similar calls to vote against candidates with other beliefs about religion would become legitimized as well. After all, it's not just atheists who believe that the Bible is myth (I take it that the belief is about the Bible's claims of miracles, not about all of the Bible's historical assertions, some of which may be accurate, or about the Bible's moral teachings, to which the label "myth" can't be applied). Most Buddhists, Hindus, and other non-Christians/Jews/Muslims likely believe the same. Jews believe that the New Testament's claims of Jesus's miracles and his resurrection are myths (that's why they're not Christians). Many denominations of Christians believe that many of the claims of miracles in the Bible are myth (for instance, Methuselah didn't actually live to 969, the world wasn't actually covered in water during the Flood, Noah didn't actually fit two of each animal on his ark, and so on) or at least metaphor.

More broadly, if the Texas Republican Party can properly say "don't vote for the atheist, because he believes the Bible is myth and is therefore out of touch with the majority," then a party can equally legitimately say "don't vote for the fundamentalist Christian, because he believes the Bible is literally true and is therefore out of touch with the majority that don't believe such things," or "don't vote for the Catholic, because he recognizes the spiritual authority of a foreign leader, and is therefore out of touch with true blue Americans who bow their heads to no foreign potentate." Do we really want that sort of political argument to resurface?

Just to mention what should be obvious, I think the Texas Republican Party has a perfect First Amendment right to put out such arguments; I'm also not persuaded that the Religious Test Clause actually prohibits (even in an unenforceable way) voters from voting based on a candidate's religiosity. But I think arguments like the Texas Republican Party's are corrosive to American religious tolerance, and to American democracy more broadly, and we should exercise our First Amendment rights to condemn them.

Incidentally, the "so help me God" argument doesn't work: The laws of the state of Texas are subject to the U.S. Constitution, which bars the disqualification of officeholders who don't believe in God (or who refuse to engage in religious oaths, as quite devout Quakers and others do). See, e.g., Torcaso v. Watkins (1961); Lee v. Weisman (1992). In light of these federal precedents, the Texas Constitution has to be read as providing people who don't want to swear, but who instead want to affirm without reference to God, the right to do that. It's the Texas Republican Party's legal analysis that's ignoring the constitution of the United States, which is the fundamental law of Texas as well as of all other states.

Steve:
Franks claims he was misquoted in the "I'm an atheist" remark, but even if the published quote was accurate, it should be noted that the Republican Party has dishonestly truncated it. The published quote was, "I'm an atheist, [and] this does not bother me. I'm a pragmatist." By truncating the part where Franks says the reference to God doesn't bother him, the Republican Party clearly seeks to leave the impression that Franks was one of the objectors to the God reference (or else why would he mention being an atheist?). [Franks claims his actual statement began, "Let's say I'm an atheist."] This isn't the core of the smear, but it doesn't make it any better.

In the 2004 election, we were treated to much discussion of whether John Kerry was a "real" Catholic, because he didn't believe in criminalizing abortion. That hardly advanced the tone of our political dialogue. However, to the best of my recollection, I don't believe either President Bush or any Republican Party official went so far as to question Kerry's religion personally. The fact that the Texas Republican Party went there is indicative of something.
10.10.2006 9:21pm
Gary McGath (www):
We now have documentary proof that the Texas Republican Party is run by religious bigots.
10.10.2006 9:48pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Thank god we can still vote for a candidate for whatever reason we choose, eh? A slippery slope argument that bias against atheists will "legitimatize" bias against other religions is sort of a waste of breath. Voting preferences don't have to be rational, and people who are biased against Catholics (for example) ALREADY exercise those biases whether it's "legitimatized" or not.
10.10.2006 9:50pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):
Can you name a single candidate of either party who made it into office after proclaiming "I'm an atheist..."? Case closed.

Call it hypocracy, but the electorate seems to like politicians to have some religious beliefs, but not too much. I think people are uneasy putting power into the hands of those who proclaim themselves to be "godless."

Is it dirty pool to point this out to voters before the election? I dunno. This is not a partisan thing; both sides do it. I don't see the Democrats exactly holding back on these "emotional" type appeals.

Atheism is a relevant issue for some voters. You're saying that one's political opponent is supposed to ignore that fact, and thereby assist his opponent? Why? Because pointing out that someone is an atheist is off-limits? Because, even though it matters to some voters, those people are clearly too stupid to care about?

Does a candidate's atheism say nothing about the candidate? You know, some candidates get elected just because they are better looking than their opponent? Really, it happens all the time. That's pretty silly too, but no one suggest we should "bag" the candidates. (Although, now that I think about it, it sounds like an excellent idea!)
10.10.2006 10:01pm
The General:
If a candidate's religion, such as Atheism (Yeah, it's a religion), causes them to denigrate other religions, then it definitely should be pointed out by the other party. They aren't just saying that "Hey, don't vote for the Atheist." They are saying "Hey don't vote for the Atheist jerk."

And let's not forget that it is the Democratic Party, which constantly harangues us about how the GOP is in the pocket of "Christian fundamentalists" so don't pretend that it's the Republicans who are injecting religion into politics.
10.10.2006 10:02pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The General: That's a big "if" -- do you have any evidence that Franks' atheism (if he is indeed an atheist) caused him to denigrate other religions? Or are you just saying that his atheism is inherently a denigration of other religions because it's an assertion that one thinks the other religions are wrong? If that's the theory, then presumably one's Christianity / Catholicism / Judaism / etc. is inherently a denigration of other religions or denominations, because it's equally an assertion that one thinks the other religions are wrong? After all, by definition Catholics think Protestantism is wrong, or else they'd be Protestants.
10.10.2006 10:12pm
ReaderY:
Although this is a question that the law can't touch -- the First Amendment, among other matters, precludes judicial interference in the things people say and the considerations people use in electoral discussions -- nonetheless the ReligiosTest for Public Office clause applies to elected as well as appointed office, and any fair reading is cerainly broad enough to include informal as well as formal barriers.

This is one of only a small number of individual rights and guarantees mentioned in the original Constitution. It is literally older than the Bill of Rights. Even if one takes the most conservative view of the Constitution possible -- if one takes Justice Thomas' view that the Establishment Clause doesn't confer an individual right enforcable against states, for example -- the Religious Test for Public Office Clause acts independently, and it is still good. Texas Republicans should be reminded that registration as an Elector includes a promise to support the Constitution, and they should be asked if they mean to keep it.

I've often expressed a belief that judges should restrain their desire to solve social problems their preferred way by reading into the Constitution views aren't evident from its text. But the counterweight is a commitment to full enforcement of the guarantees that are indeed there.
10.10.2006 10:20pm
Ricardo (mail):
Not all atheists "denigrate" other religions and most certainly do not do so more than devotees of other religions. Devout Catholics look down upon most Protestant sects and especially the unaffiliated evangelical churches that are growing so rapidly in the U.S. Jews do not believe that Jesus was the son of God and are unlikely to feel charitable toward any belief system that argues they are destined for eternal damnation for refusing to accept Jesus as their savior. And so on.

This is why we who live in Western countries long ago decided that devotion to the rule of law and the good of society take precedence over devotion to any particular God or religious scripture. It has also been decided within the past 30 years that pointing out a candidate's race or religion for the purpose of steering voters away from him is strictly below the belt. The fact that atheists are treated differently from Jews, Catholics and Muslims shows a degree of hypocracy.

Incidentally, for most people who criticize the GOP (and this includes both liberals and conservatives at this point) for being controlled by "Christian fundamentalists," it is the fundamentalist part they are objecting to, not the Christian part. Likewise, when people object to the fact that Iran is ruled by "Islamic fundamentalists" they are not objecting to Iran being ruled by Muslims--that will probably always be the case. They are objecting to it being ruled by fundamentalists who reject the idea of any change in the social order.
10.10.2006 10:40pm
ReaderY:
Ricardo:

The Reverend Martin Luther King didn't believe that devotion to the rule of law was more important than devotion to his God and his God's idea of justice. He preached that people should protest against and disobey the law in the name of God.

It is by no means clear to me that our society has really repudiated the Rev. Martin Luther King's views. We have come closer to seeing things the way Rev. Martin Luther King preached that the God of his religion saw things, but doing so has in many ways made religiously-based views of morality more a part of our society and laws, rather than less. Rev. King preached against discrimination, after all, saying that it was sinful. We incorporated his concept of religious sin into our law, an implementation of morality no different, as the Supreme Court was to say later, than laws against gambling, prostitution, or anything else society considers sinful or immoral.
10.10.2006 10:55pm
Christopher M (mail):
Prof. Volokh writes: But in practice, it seems to me that the correlation is low enough,

I think you must mean that the correlation is low enough, once you divide out different but correlated factors like political affiliation, stated views and positions, etc., that no one disputes are legitimate reasons to vote for or against someone. If all I knew about two candidates was that one was a nonobservant Catholic and one was a churchgoing Pentecostalist, I would have no trouble making up my mind whom to vote for on that basis. But given all the other information that we have, there's a good case that religious belief per se shouldn't be much of a factor in making one's decision.
10.10.2006 10:59pm
Fub:
Henri LeCompte wrote:
Call it hypocracy, but the electorate seems to like politicians to have some religious beliefs, but not too much.
Ricardo wrote:
The fact that atheists are treated differently from Jews, Catholics and Muslims shows a degree of hypocracy.
This really isn't a splelling falme. I think the use of the neologism "hypocracy" in this context enlightening. It is as if a new form of government, hypocracy, has been described, and appropriately so in this particular context -- government by those who practice hypocrisy.
10.10.2006 11:00pm
ctw (mail):
"hypocracy" vs "hypocrisy"

I encountered a similar word play recently. I was arguing that because of mass media (among other things), uninformed voters were electing unimpressive representatives and refrred to the result as a "mediocracy". later I noticed that it would have still been apropos had I said "mediacracy".

with that in mind, "hypocracy" might actually be rule by type As.

-charles
10.10.2006 11:38pm
Speedwell (mail):
...such as Atheism (Yeah, it's a religion)...

No, atheism is not a religion. Religions have gods (usually), rituals (almost always), and beliefs held in common (always). Atheism has nothing to do with gods, rituals, or common beliefs. Atheism is only one thing, and that is an absence of belief in God or gods. Some religions have atheism as part of their worldview, such as sophisticated Buddhism; certain atheists even practice things that could be seen as religions (for example, some New Agers who believe in crystals). But atheism per se is not a religion, not a belief system, not a belief, and not even a positive stance. It's just the condition of being godless.

Oh, and don't quote the dictionary at me like some Communist quoting the Manifesto. Dictionaries are often in error. Take the facts into account and think for yourself, unless you're afraid doing so'll make you an atheist.
10.11.2006 12:00am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Atheism has nothing to do with gods or common beliefs? What about the common belief to all atheists that there is no god?
10.11.2006 12:20am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
First of all as to the meaning of atheism. Literally it merely means one who isn't a theist but has clearly come to mean one who actually holds the belief that there is no god (as opposed to agnostic). However, it is perfectly reasonable (and I suspect this is what most atheists think) to believe that god does not exist the same way one believes the loch ness monster does not exist, i.e., the abscence of evidence for existance makes it improbable that god exists. There is no component of faith here, one can be an atheist and be ready, even eager, to abandon one's atheism in the face of evidence for god.

Secondly I think their is a huge difference between making extreme christian fundamentalism (as opposed to just being born again) an issue, as this seems to have much stronger correlations with how someone will act, than atheism. Also I think raising atheism is a smear not designed to truly encourage rational thinking on the issue but rather evoke gut level feelings of distaste. It is much like bringing up the fact that the other canidate is black and saying 'you know how black people tend to act.' Yes, there are reasonably strong correlations between race and certain attitudes (minorities tend to be much stronger supporters of affirmitive action) but the prejudicial value of race is infinitely stronger than the information from these correlations.

I believe the Texas republican party knows very well that the constitution isn't an issue and is looking for a justification to raise atheism that makes it look like they aren't just trying to evoke anti-atheist sentiment. It's pretty standard political practice when there is some private but unsavory fact about your opponent.

However, having said that I have to say that were the united states heavily secular I would be happy using religion as an issue in a campaign. Indeed finding out a canidate is an atheist makes me far more likely to vote for him. As far as I'm concerned believing in god shows either an error in judgement or an inability to question what society tells you. Of course I think religious tests for office are bad but if society reacted rationally to religious belief rather than being prejudiced by it I would be all for it being a campaign issue.

So ultimately for me this just comes down to the fact that I think religious belief is wholly unjustified and thus ipso facto reacting negatively to a canidate's atheism shows that the prejudicial effect far outweighs any rational judgement.
10.11.2006 12:33am
Ricardo (mail):
Martin Luther King, Jr., like all great leaders, knew how to tailor his message to his audience. When speaking with churchgoing black Southerners, his political message was one of piety and divine justice. When speaking to secular, white liberals (most of whom supported the Civil Rights Movement) he would talk about political equality, freedom, the Constitution and the numerous laws that were being flouted by Southern officials. Read the "I have a dream" speech: you will find references to the Declaration of Independence, economic inequality, injustice and the Bible all next to each other. Black Muslim leaders have never achieved the same following or iconic status as MLK because of their religious exclusivity, racism and anti-Semitism.

His success is not due to the religious nature of his movement but rather to the movement's universality. MLK never excluded anyone, as far as I know, on the basis of race or religion.
10.11.2006 12:39am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
"Incidentally, for most people who criticize the GOP (and this includes both liberals and conservatives at this point) for being controlled by "Christian fundamentalists," it is the fundamentalist part they are objecting to, not the Christian part"

Ahh. They like Christians as long as those Christians don;t actually take their beliefs seriously. Well, that's nice.
10.11.2006 12:53am
Steve:
Ahh. They like Christians as long as those Christians don;t actually take their beliefs seriously. Well, that's nice.

A lot nicer than what you just said, to be sure. Non-fundamentalist Christians don't take their beliefs seriously? An absurd generalization.
10.11.2006 1:00am
Randy R. (mail):
Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson:

CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in ...

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.
10.11.2006 1:03am
Speedwell:
Daniel, that is not a "common belief of atheists." For "there is no God" to be a "common belief of atheists," it has to be common (many atheists reserve judgment until sufficient evidence of a god or gods is presented for them to make an informed decision). It has to be a belief (and it is not a belief, it is simply the default option if you do not have the real belief that some sort of god exists). And it has to be the defining characteristic of atheism, when in fact it is only one such (some atheists believe it is not knowable whether there is a god or gods and will never be knowable; these people are not "agnostics," because agnostics hold that it may be possible to know at some point whether a knowable god or gods exist).

You show your hand when you claim atheists say, "there is no God." Few religions would write it that way, and atheists would say so only as a sort of shorthand. An atheist who was precise would say something more like, "I do not believe in a God or gods." That is not a statement of belief. It is a statement of non-belief, just as if you were to say, "I do not believe in purple pumpkins."
10.11.2006 1:05am
Randy R. (mail):
Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson:

Carlson: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in ...

Mathews: How do you know that? How do you know that?

Carlson: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

Matthews: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

Carlson: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.
10.11.2006 1:06am
Randy R. (mail):
Oops! Sorry for the double post....

Ricardo: His [MLK] success is not due to the religious nature of his movement but rather to the movement's universality. MLK never excluded anyone, as far as I know, on the basis of race or religion.

Or sexual orientation. Bayard Rustin was an openly gay black man, and is generally credited with giving MLK many of his ideas for organizing blacks, and advancing the civil rights in general.
10.11.2006 1:08am
Speedwell:
All religions are atheists with respect to each others' gods.
10.11.2006 1:10am
The General:
A lot of Atheists sure do act like a bunch of religious zealots trying to unconvert us inbred fundamentalist Christianists (or whatever the buzz phrase is these days) by imposing Atheism on us through the government. An Atheist's god is no God. Say what you like, but that's how I see it, so that's how I call it.
10.11.2006 1:32am
Randy R. (mail):
If the atheist's god is not god, then what are their rituals, and where do they go to church?
10.11.2006 1:42am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Texas is the state that elected both Pa and Ma Ferguson as well as Pappy McDaniel, so the notion that ANYTHING can unqualify a Texas candidate is too funny for words.

Ronald Reagan took every chance he got to say that atheists cannot be moral, one of several reasons I thought he was scum and that I continue to maintain deep contempt for all his admirers, none of whom ever, to my knowledge, challenged his absurd, divisive and antiamerican views.

The Texas Republicans had better be double sure their candidate is clean as a hound's tooth. If he isn't, that's going to be hard to explain.

In a twisted sort of way, though, you have to admire an entire political party that is willing to make itself look ridiculous and contemptible just to make sure that an obscure judge is elected to an obscure judgeship.
10.11.2006 1:42am
Fub:
logicnazi wrote:
Also I think raising atheism is a smear not designed to truly encourage rational thinking on the issue but rather evoke gut level feelings of distaste.
'Twas ever thus. Recall the old joke: "Mah 'ponent's a wuthless playboy. The fust thang he done when he 'as eighteen 'as go to a college an start matriculatin'."
10.11.2006 1:44am
Speedwell (mail):
An Atheist's god is no God. Say what you like, but that's how I see it, so that's how I call it.

"I don't know nuthin' about it, but I know it when I see it." LOL
10.11.2006 1:47am
Cornellian (mail):
If there are 2 candidates, "A" and "B" and the only thing I know about them is 1) Candidate A says "vote for me because Candidate B is an atheist" and 2) Candidate B is, in fact, an atheist, I'd vote for Candidate B. In other words, I'd vote for the atheist, not because he's an atheist, but because Candidate A is trying to make an issue out of it.
10.11.2006 1:54am
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
"Say what you like, but that's how I see it, so that's how I call it."

And that also allows the General to ignore E. Volokh's question about how thinking that others are wrong makes atheists more like believers in various religions, not less.

Lacking the conviction to be an atheist, I'm an agnostic, but manage to judge religious people as individuals. Some people's religion is obnoxious (the guy who handed my grandmother a tract at WalMart about how Hinduism was devil worship, the kids at my public school who would harass me about the need to believe in Jesus as my savior). Some people's religion is inspiring (I have multiple friends and acquaintances who worked on behalf of the least among us -- and the guy who worked in medical clinics in Haiti is a Republican, too). I don't think being informed that someone is (ir)religious tells me anything useful one way or the other about the person. I have to know how he applies his faith, or lack thereof, to life. I like how Alabama Governor Riley applies his Christianity to politics when it comes to taxes, and don't like how the same state's Chief Justice applied it to the First Amendment and religious displays on government property.

I see no need to hide the ball from voters, but I do wonder about the voters for whom the label on the ball suffices to decide their vote. I agree that plenty of agnostics and atheists are obnoxious, and can't imagine supporting someone like Michael Newdow for political office due to his flame-throwing, self-centered attitude even though I'm happy with the pre-1954 version of the Pledge. Labels just don't tell us enough. Hopefully even the General would rather vote for an otherwise-moral atheist over professed Christian and Pat Robertson pal Charles Taylor.
10.11.2006 1:57am
Speedwell (mail):
General, no atheist I know would attempt to "convert" you into or out of anything. We leave that strictly up to religionists with agendas. Whatever someone can talk you into, someone else can talk you out of. If you decide atheism is not for you, so be it, so long as you aren't denying the facts or accepting fallacies. Or, for that matter, trying to dispense your goddiness in the form of laws. Whenever you pass a law or institute a policy that "respects religion," you are saying that the law, or public policy, should not deal evenhandedly with everyone. And that's NOT the sort of line a patriotic American should take!

A religious philosopher once said, "Truth is strong and will prevail." If I had any sort of statement of faith, that would be it. Although I might also translate it loosely as, "Reality. You'd better deal with it or it'll deal with you." :)
10.11.2006 2:00am
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
In Soviet Russia, reality deals with you!

(And this must be the worst blog on which to make that bad joke.)
10.11.2006 2:03am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Is atheism a religion? Only to the US Departmwent of Veterans Affairs.

Both atheism and religion involve articles of faith, thus qualifying both as philosophies. Religion is a type of philosophy that presumes the existence of the supernatural; atheism denies this claim and is therefore not a religion.
10.11.2006 2:34am
Barry P. (mail):
If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.
10.11.2006 3:00am
Michael B (mail):
"If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby." Barry P.

True enough, but please. If the person who doesn't collect stamps additionally embarks upon a program to purge the world of stamp collectors, or perhaps more simply a program designed to variously marginalize and deny the rights of those who do collect stamps, then that might well be considered a hobby; but regardless, it's certainly something more than benignly refraining from collecting stamps. It ain't the refraining that matters, it's the more assertive expressions which fill the void.

Atheism is not a religion, however the ideologically based world views which were adopted by putatively "scientific" materialists, Marxists and Maoists, the Uncle Hos, the Pol Pots, et al. are themselves positive expressions of faith, therein effectively religions, quasi-religions and/or religion substitutes. Or the brown shirted tactics used by the Left recently at Columbia, those were more assertive, more positive expressions as well. But those are merely the more glaring examples.
10.11.2006 3:35am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
Atheism (Yeah, it's a religion)





Then NOT stamp collecting's my hobby.
10.11.2006 4:35am
A. Zarkov (mail):
An atheist (in the sense of rejecting the notion of a supreme being) need not be hostile to religion. Religion played an important part in the formation of civilizations or units larger than a band of hunter-gathers. Forming a larger unit means you have to trust other people to return favors (mutual altruism). So how do you prevent freeloading? One answer is religion. Religion is so ubiquitous throughout history it obviously serves an important purpose. A lot of atheists are snots, like Madalyn Murray whose own son ironically became a born-again Christian. Unfortunately through her obnoxious behavior Murray gave atheism a bad name. Ironically some atheists don't trust other atheists and prefer the company of religious people.
10.11.2006 5:38am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):

Lacking the conviction to be an atheist, I'm an agnostic

Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive, think of two overlapping circles a la Venn diagram.

The term 'agnostic' was coined by the Englishman Thomas Huxley in 1869. Its meaning may be encapsulated thus...
the truth value of theological claims regarding the existence of God, gods, or deities — is unknown or inherently unknowable.


In modern usage, the term 'agnostic' is often used to mean -- one who reserves judgement in the truth value of the existence of any deity, or a sort of existential - "I don't know".

This correlates very closely with weak atheism, sometimes called default atheism, which is in essence the absence of belief in the existence of deities, without making a positive assertion that "There is no God or gods".

Richard Dawkins - the British Zoologists, author and professor of Public Understanding of Science at England's Oxford university covers this space in this YouTube clip.

As an aside Dawkins' recently published book 'The God Delusion'is number one in sales on Amazon UK, No 14 Amazon US, No 1 Amazon Canada and #12 on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller list. Teapot Atheists.

It does rather seem as if the prejudice against atheism and atheists is especially strong in the US. I suspect most Americans, including atheists don't really know how common atheism is there, it's one of the largest 'religious' groupings.
10.11.2006 5:59am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):

One answer is religion. Religion is so ubiquitous throughout history it obviously serves an important purpose.

Not necessarily, it could be an artefact, a collateral effect if you will, of one or more other human predispositions or behaviour traits that has served some useful purpose in our survival and propagation as a species.

Dawkins again- he drills into this very point in this essay - 'What use is religion'.
10.11.2006 6:11am
plunge (mail):
"The General:
If a candidate's religion, such as Atheism (Yeah, it's a religion)"

How can a lack of religious belief itself be a religion? Can you explain that claim in terms of logic?

Remember: atheists are defined merely by what they are not. This doesn't mean that they are all the same in any other positive way. Some people are anti-religious, and so some athiests are as well. But that doesn't say much about atheist anymore than the fact that some non-racecar drivers play baseball means that non-racecar driving is all about playing baseball.

"causes them to denigrate other religions, then it definitely should be pointed out by the other party. They aren't just saying that "Hey, don't vote for the Atheist." They are saying "Hey don't vote for the Atheist jerk."

What leads you to believe that he is an atheist jerk. Putting aside the question of whether they are lying about his atheism, he pretty clearly was saying "I don't mind this religious thing at all." How is THAT being a jerk?

"And let's not forget that it is the Democratic Party, which constantly harangues us about how the GOP is in the pocket of "Christian fundamentalists" so don't pretend that it's the Republicans who are injecting religion into politics."

Again, this makes no sense. If a given party is pushing the agenda of a particular religious sect and political action bloc, then pointing this out is "injecting religion" into politics? How can complaining about something being injected into politics be itself injecting it into politics?

"A lot of Atheists sure do act like a bunch of religious zealots trying to unconvert us inbred fundamentalist Christianists (or whatever the buzz phrase is these days) by imposing Atheism on us through the government."

I think by and large this charge is either false or based on a basic confusion. Insisting that the government itself be religious neutral and secular is not the same thing as imposing atheism on anyone anymore than insisting that a judge be impartial is the same thing as imposing one side of a legal dispute on anyone. The government being uninvolved in religion is something that RELIGIOUS PEOPLE once pushed for, realizing that this meant that religion was thus not in any way appropriated from the people (as ALL governmental authority necessarily is) and was instead reserved solely to the people's own judgement. We constitute a government to rule over people with laws and do their earthly business. There is no point and no need for a spiritual government outside that which people freely choose for themselves.

"An Atheist's god is no God. Say what you like, but that's how I see it, so that's how I call it."

Ok. So then how you see things makes no logical sense whatsoever. It's a pity that youve been duped into seeing things in that way.
10.11.2006 7:05am
plunge (mail):
"True enough, but please. If the person who doesn't collect stamps additionally embarks upon a program to purge the world of stamp collectors, or perhaps more simply a program designed to variously marginalize and deny the rights of those who do collect stamps, then that might well be considered a hobby; but regardless, it's certainly something more than benignly refraining from collecting stamps. It ain't the refraining that matters, it's the more assertive expressions which fill the void."

Like the general, you are trying to grossly misrepresent the actual motives for things like SoCaS are as well as paint them as being purely atheist endeavors. A better analogy would be a group of people who fight to see that stamp collecting, and indeed very particular sorts of stamp collecting, are not given special powers and treatment by the government over all other hobbies and sorts of stamp collecting: that the government remain neutral about something it has no special place in regulating or taking a position on in the first place, given that all its powers and authority come from appropriating the hobby-time of citizens. This, in fact, is a struggle that even stamp collectors can and do agree with the goals of.

As an atheist, I can't think of a single position or struggle I care about that is purely of interest to atheists alone. This is part and parcel of the fact that all positive struggles are about something, and atheism isn't a definition that limits those that fall under it to any particular positive motive in common. Atheists have nothing necessarily in common with each other at all.

Things like SoCas were not developed by purely or even primarily atheists. There just aren't enough atheists for that to even be a possibility. MMO'Hair may have been a real bitch, but every judge I know of that agreed with her that government run schools should not be leading children in prayers was themselves religious. They weren't backstabbing their religions by ruling in her favor either: they were exercising what they saw as the just principles mandated by the constitution, an enterprise that they believed in: perhaps even for religious reasons.

"Atheism is not a religion, however the ideologically based world views which were adopted by putatively "scientific" materialists, Marxists and Maoists, the Uncle Hos, the Pol Pots, et al. are themselves positive expressions of faith, therein effectively religions, quasi-religions and/or religion substitutes."

I wouldn't exactly call any of these people rationists or scientific: they sought power for themselves and their group and fought those that got in the way, including religions. Religions have done the same to other religions in history as well as to groups that aren't defined by religion, the only difference is that these were powerful political parties with political agendas.

"Or the brown shirted tactics used by the Left recently at Columbia, those were more assertive, more positive expressions as well. But those are merely the more glaring examples."

Now you're getting bizarrely off track. What the heck do activists at Columbia have to do with religion? Of course ALL positive positions on anything can be called religions: but that is, of course, an exceedingly stupid use of already poeticly stretched language.
10.11.2006 7:15am
Gary McGath (www):
It's not much of a surprise that the thread has turned to arguing over whether atheism is a religion -- as if that had anything to do with what the Texas Republicans are doing.

If a political party had published a statement that, say, Japanese cannot hold office without ignoring the law, and they were held up to charges of racism on that account, I suppose people on this forum would be spending all their time arguing about whether "Japanese" is a racial category, rather than focusing on the party's repugnant action.

Let's leave that debate for another time. Whether you say atheism is a religion or absence of a religion, the Republicans of Texas are organizationally claiming that atheists are per se unfit for office, and that should be repugnant to anyone of any party who isn't a theocrat.
10.11.2006 7:23am
Barry P. (mail):
Michael B:

There is a difference between atheism (i.e., "not a theist") versus antitheism (i.e., actively opposed to theism).

Lamentably, this distinction is to rarely drawn, especially by dogmatic religionists such as the folks in Texas who inspired this thread.

I am an atheist. I am not an antitheist. Many of my best friends exhibit significant degrees of religious belief, which is often the basis for enlightening and thought-provoking mutually-beneficial conversations. I do not begrudge my friends' their beliefs - I find it arrogant in the extreme to have that sort of self-assurance. And for the most part, they don't begrudge me mine. We agree that there is room in this world for a variety of beliefs.
10.11.2006 8:22am
Medis:
As always, I find the casual acceptance by many Americans of bigotry against the nonreligious a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, I also see it as in part a product of a vicious cycle which may be difficult to break.

In my experience, because they are well aware of the widespread acceptance of bigotry against the nonreligious in America, which can pose a serious risk to certain sorts of careers, community standing, and so on, nonreligious Americans tend to hide their nonreligion. This, of course, usually isn't too hard to do--it is not like the nonreligious will be spotted going to their nonreligious church, performing their nonreligious rituals, or eating their nonreligious diet. Nonetheless, there are some subtle things the nonreligious often must do to hide their nonreligion--things like withdrawing from certain conversations, deflecting attention to other matters, and sometimes, when pressed, standing on the right to keep such matters private. But because for many nonreligious Americans, their nonreligion is not a particularly important aspect of their character, personality, values, beliefs, or so on, doing such small things to hide their nonreligion is not too great a sacrifice in light of the bigotry they would face if they were more open.

But that leads to the second part of the cycle: unfortunately, because most of the moderate, normal, nonconfrontational, etc., nonreligious people are mostly just hiding their nonreligion, the public face of nonreligion becomes dominated by the few among the nonreligious for whom being nonreligious is a particularly important aspect of their character, personality, values, beliefs, or so on. And too many of these people make it too easy for the bigots to claim that being nonreligious is strongly associated with hostility to religion, being dangerously out of line with ordinary American political and social values, and so on. And in turn, this stereotyping of the nonreligious is used to rationalize the continued acceptance of bigotry against the nonreligious, which just makes the moderate, normal, nonconfrontational, etc., nonreligious people all the more reluctant to reveal themselves.

But maybe things will get better over time. It certainly seems to me that the internet has allowed a lot of nonreligious people to partially reveal themselves without necessarily risking things like their careers, and maybe that will gradually chip away at this vicious cycle. Still, it sure would be nice if a few more Americans were inclined to take a principled stand against bigotry against the nonreligious.

One postscript: I get the sense that some religious people feel much the same way about the public dynamics involving their religion. For example, I know several evangelical Christians who feel that the public face of evangelical Christianity in America tends to be dominated by people they find do a poor job of representing their religion, in part because too many evangelical Christians are reluctant to face the possible bigotry that would arise if they were more open about their beliefs.

But that interesting comparison made, it seems to me that the research we have discussed here has tended to show that the nonreligious in particular face, as a group, more bigotry than most broad religious groups. And again, because of the somewhat peculiar nature of the state of being nonreligious (which from the perspective of a nonreligious person can be a rather unimportant aspect of their state of being), I think it is far easier for the nonreligious to respond to this bigotry by simply hiding their nonreligion. So, while I am sure that versions of this vicious cycle do indeed exist for various religious groups, I suspect it is particularly relevant to the nonreligious.
10.11.2006 9:00am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
Brilliant Post Medis, it's a point Dawkins as a Brit is working to counter. I don't care for much of Dawkins' politics, but I think he's correct on this one.

Judging by sales of his book -\The God Delusion in the US, I suspect he may well be gaining some traction.

He does write such clear, concise and cogent English.
10.11.2006 9:08am
Medis:
By the way, I came across this link recently (courtesy of The Onion's A.V. Club), and for some reason I find it particularly compelling. I suppose I imagine this is part of what we Americans are missing by indulging the bigots--namely, the possibility of a much more interesting conversation about these matters. But the sad fact is that these are largely comments from people who face no real risk to being honest, unlike most ordinary Americans.

http://www.avclub.com/content/node/24569
10.11.2006 9:40am
Josh_Jasper (mail):
I note that no one is defending (or even seems to care much) that despite whatever Atheism is, the Texas Republican Party proposes a religious litmus test for office.
10.11.2006 10:34am
Gary McGath (www):
Medis: Good points. In my own case, I don't particularly "hide" my nonreligion, but since the absence of religion doesn't play an important part in my life, I don't have many occasions to talk about it. This is undoubtedly true of many other atheists and agnostics, thus making them less visible than people who go to church, wear special clothing or symbols, refuse to use elevators on Saturdays, etc.

Since we atheists aren't organized as a Church of Nobody, this can make us an easier target for bigotry.
10.11.2006 10:35am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Michael Moore believes in God, y'all. Theism just isn't what it's cracked up to be.
10.11.2006 10:39am
Houston Lawyer:
No religious test is being imposed. If the man wins the most votes, he will be elected notwithstanding his belief or lack thereof. A religious test would need to be applied to either get on the ballot or to take office after the person had won the election.

A person's religion is fair game in an election. I fully expect the Democrats to go hammer and tongs against Mitt Romney in the 2008 election on the basis of his religion if he wins the Republican nomination. It might be distasteful, but hardly proscribed.
10.11.2006 11:06am
Joshua:
Since we atheists aren't organized as a Church of Nobody, this can make us an easier target for bigotry.

Not necessarily. Any number of organized religious communities have been persecuted throughout history, including U.S. history. It seems to me that the question of organization is a wash: Not being organized makes it harder for others to identify you as a target for bigotry, but it also makes it harder for you to fight back effectively.
10.11.2006 11:17am
Gary McGath (www):
Houston Lawyer: The Texpublicans are interpreting the oath of office as a religious test. Their claim that Franks would "ignore the laws and Constitution of Texas" by taking office makes sense only if they mean that refusal to say "So help me God," or saying it without meaning it, is a violation of the state constitution.

Their position would, incidentally, disqualify Quakers as well, since practicing Quakers will not swear by God.
10.11.2006 11:21am
plunge (mail):
"A person's religion is fair game in an election. I fully expect the Democrats to go hammer and tongs against Mitt Romney in the 2008 election on the basis of his religion if he wins the Republican nomination. It might be distasteful, but hardly proscribed."

I think you are being somewhat disingenuous if you really only mention that you expect to be able to find some Democrats doing this. Romney will have to, you know, run in a Republican primary, for instance. Given that McCain's supposed illegitimate black baby came up in South Carolina, I have a hard time believing that you couldn't forsee competing Republicans whispering nasty things about Mormons first.

"A religious test would need to be applied to either get on the ballot or to take office after the person had won the election."

I think what people are pointing out is that what the Republican Party is suggesting is de facto that voters consider all atheists unable to serve because the oath happens to include a reference to God. That very much IS a suggestion that there is a religious test and atheists need not apply because they can't take the oath. That's the exact argument they are making, in fact.
10.11.2006 11:24am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Their position would, incidentally, disqualify Quakers as well, since practicing Quakers will not swear by God.


No it wouldn't and if you bothered to actually read the text of the oath you'd see why.
10.11.2006 11:29am
JohnEMack (mail):
When you're running for office, you take such shots at your opponent as you can get away with. The Texas Republican Party's shot at the Judge is no different from the sort of ethnic pandering which is a staple of American politics (indeed, in politics, religion is often a proxy for ethnicity, although not in the case of atheism).

There is nothing particularly "evil" about what the Texas Republicans are doing. It would be nice if appeals of this sort did not work, because religion per se is not a very good indicator of performance in office. But it would also be nice if questions about religions were an appopriate subject for political discussions. In specific situations, a candidate's relation to religion could be very enlightening with respect to performance in office.

I am not sure I would like to vote for a member of the People's Temple or the Raelians (sp?) if I knew about a candidate's current membership in such an organization, for example, because the candidate could be a nut. More generally, it is sometimes important to know if a member of a religious organization subscribes to certain tenants that can be associated with a religion. Does a Wahabe Moslem candidate subscribe to the belief that women should not be permitted to drive cars? If so, would this view effect his policy on women's rights? If not, does he treat his religious views lightly? That is an important fact about him too, because he may treat other attachments lightly. Is the atheist candidate an adherent of political attachments sometimes associated with atheism (like, say, Communism)? Surely the public has a legitimate right to know this.

The problem with what the Texas Republican Party is doing, then, is not the issue they raise is illegitimate, but that it is raised too superficially. The question is not "Could a candidate's atheism affect his performance in office." Of course it could. The question ought to be "How would this particular candidate's atheism likely affect his performance in office"? Of this, the mere fact of the candidate's atheism gives barely a clue.
10.11.2006 12:33pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Steve: "A lot nicer than what you just said, to be sure. Non-fundamentalist Christians don't take their beliefs seriously? An absurd generalization."

Yes. If fundamentalism is deemed to mean from the context that I quoted in my previous post that the Bible should be interpreted strictly, if not literally, then I stand by my statement. If an individual proclaims Christianity but then challenges core tenets and teachings (i.e. Christ is the only way to heaven or that some activities are clearly proscribed) then that individual is not taking their professed belief seriously.

Please note that I am not arguing as to the state of that person's soul. One could very well accept Christ as savior but still disregard other teachings of the Scriptures. I am merely commenting that those who pick and choose from Scripture can be characterized as not taking their beliefs seriously. This most obvious example is cafeteria Catholocism.
10.11.2006 12:50pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
Houston Lawyer: "A person's religion is fair game in an election. I fully expect the Democrats to go hammer and tongs against Mitt Romney in the 2008 election on the basis of his religion if he wins the Republican nomination. It might be distasteful, but hardly proscribed."

Is this a Democratic party no longer led partly by Harry Reid? I can believe that Romney practices some potentially weird and attackable strain of Mormonism, but if he and Reid believe the same things, it's going to be mighty difficult for the Dems to explain why those beliefs are acceptable for the Senate (hopefully then-Majority) Leader, but not the President.

Again, if you want to attack how someone puts his religious views into practice, that's one thing. Some Dems edged toward that with the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and there's been rumbling in the media about that regarding Israel. I found it unnecessary -- attack the political view straight on if you can, and don't try to get at it through "this guy's just going to put his religion into law." But at least that is talking about something relevant to politics: does A's religion compel A to create certain outcomes, even if those are not the best law/ policy?

Simply saying "He's an atheist/ Catholic/ Mormon/ Jew" is utterly useless. There are anti-Zionist Jews (and boy, do they get lambasted by their co-religionists). The 2nd most strongly Mormon state is Nevada, home of gambling and legal prostitution in non-urban areas. John Kerry was challenged by *Republicans* as being not a real Catholic because he was pro-choice. If the Texas Republicans had said, "This guy is an atheist and that belief system is a problem because he always rules to have fetuses killed no matter what," at least that would be an argument relevant to the elected position. The people of Texas don't want more dead fetuses than the U.S. Constitution requires. Saying that "This guy is an atheist and no matter what he does that should be reason not to elect him" is a worthless statement. Of course, the Texas Rs have a Constitutional right to continue their long proud history of worthless statements, but as E. Volokh said, that doesn't mean we shouldn't make fun of them.
10.11.2006 1:01pm
godfodder (mail):
Houston Lawyer has it about right. A candidate's religious identification is unequivocally fair game for discussion prior to an election. This includes his/her atheism as well. Why in heaven's name wouldn't it be?

Voters are concerned about the type of person they are electing to office. Politicians have lots of power, and not a whole lot of day-to-day supervision. It's important to have a sense of their moral system because we want a glimpse of what they will do when the door is closed, and "nobody's watching." Is that overly troublesome or unfair?

You may insist that your being an atheist tells me nothing affirmative about your belief system. Perhaps that's true, perhaps not. Some atheists have belief systems that drift toward nihilism. (Not all, not all...) Wouldn't it be fair to question an atheist about their moral universe? Where it derives from? What sustains it? What are it's contents?

Why would any of this be "off limits" in a political race?? It actually is a far more thoughtful line of inquiry than most of what passes for political "debate" lately.

Voters are comfortable with "theists" because they believe that they have a basic sense of their moral ideals (even if they don't live up to them). They don't have the same sense of identification and familiarity with atheists. Judging from some of the replies on this thread, it is entirely possible that the atheist candidate thinks most of them are superstitious idiots. Again, I think that it is perfectly appropriate to ask an atheist candidate about his attitudes toward religion and the religious. Again, how is that unfair or wrong? They are voting for him, not the other way around.
10.11.2006 1:24pm
Dan Hamilton:
There is a difference between Atheism and religions.

If someone has a religion you can have an idea of what he belives in, what his ethics are, what is important to him. It doesn't matter what his religion is. Each religion defines a belief system that can be used to understand the man.

If someone is an atheist then you have no idea what his belief system is. Does he even have one? Is everything relative? This causes nothing but questions. You have no idea what he believes is right and wrong or ethicial.

That is why atheist have so much trouble getting elected. The voters can't get a handle on what his beliefs are.

Atheism is therefore fair in an election. As is their religion.

A canidate for judge was a devout Moslem (believes that Shria Law should be the law for everyone). The fact of his religion would be very important in your vote. Are you saying that it should be ignored!
10.11.2006 1:30pm
Redman:
I know at least one political party who would urge a vote against me if I said "I don't believe in affirmative action/abortion/higher taxes, etc." but its wrong to urge a vote against someone who says "I don't believe in God."
10.11.2006 1:54pm
Sigivald (mail):
Plunge said: I think what people are pointing out is that what the Republican Party is suggesting is de facto that voters consider all atheists unable to serve because the oath happens to include a reference to God. That very much IS a suggestion that there is a religious test and atheists need not apply because they can't take the oath. That's the exact argument they are making, in fact.

That's not how I read it at all. What they said seemed to be me to be snarky (and stupid) attempt to say "if he's such a big atheist he won't take the oath as written". Though that is, of course, completely illogical, since "so help me God" is hardly an affirmation of God's existence.

("So help me tooth fairy" would be equivalent from a snarky atheist position, and equally empty of meaning, and thus harmless. Asking the aid of what one considers a mythological being because the traditions and laws of your State require it as part of a formula is hardly an affront... at least to me, and I'm an atheist, too.

Heck, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest, because I completely sympathise with the intent of such an oath, even if I don't think God exists.)

At any rate, it surely isn't a "religious test" in Constitutional terms, as it is not imposed by the State. Saying "don't vote for so-and-so because his religious beliefs are unwholesome in our judgement" is not what the religious test clause is about, in any plausible reading.

(If voters, as you suggest - and I disagree - consider atheists "unable to serve" because of the oath that is at best an argument that the oath be changed; though I doubt that atheists are not elected because of that consideration, rather than because of an (often deserved, in my experience with loudmouth atheists) association of stated atheism with anti-religious bigotry and a general disdain to elect a representative or official who they have no assurance shares basic assumptions with them.

Not to say that this particular man is a loudmouthed bigot - evidence appears to the contrary, in fact - but "atheists" are a group have to deal with the backlash from said loudmouthed bigots, in practice, because that's how self-labeling works - you end up associated with everyone else using the label.)
10.11.2006 2:27pm
Speedwell:
If someone is an atheist then you have no idea what his belief system is.

If someone is openly religious, you really have no idea what their belief system is. All you really know is that they want you to think they subscribe to a particular set of beliefs. Be realistic now; how many people are letter-perfect in their adherence to religious dogma (slippery as much of it is)? Not many. How many politicians are you going to trust blindly insofar as their "religion" is concerned? Guess we'd better get out that "reality" yardstick again, boys, and see how well the politician's life matches what he professes.

Smile for the cameras, Dr. Child Abuse Dobson.
10.11.2006 3:22pm
Michael B (mail):
"There is a difference between atheism (i.e., "not a theist") versus antitheism (i.e., actively opposed to theism). Barry P.

Well, to be clear, I wasn't assuming, much less accusing, you personally of holding any position in particular. But yes, there is a difference.

"Lamentably, this distinction is to rarely drawn, especially by dogmatic religionists such as the folks in Texas who inspired this thread." Barry P.

Firstly, I'm in general agreement with EV's comments. But there are dogmatic anti-religionists aplenty as well, hence the historical references to Stalin, Mao, Uncle Ho, et al., though those are only the most blatant and obvious historical examples of ideological absolutists and fundamentalists during the last century.
10.11.2006 3:53pm
Michael B (mail):
"Like the general, you are trying to grossly misrepresent the actual motives for things like SoCaS are as well as paint them as being purely atheist endeavors." plunge

Not remotely close. Firstly, I did not comment on SoCaS whatsoever. Secondly, I don't view SoCaS in the manner you're suggesting.

"I wouldn't exactly call any of these people [Stalin, Uncle Ho, Mao, et al.] ration[al]ists or scientific: they sought power for themselves and their group and fought those that got in the way, including religions. Religions have done the same to other religions in history as well as to groups that aren't defined by religion, the only difference is that these were powerful political parties with political agendas."

To the contrary, they were atheists and more often anti-theists whose ideological and social/political interests proscribed religion and those holding religious beliefs from public arenas and forums. Too, it wasn't a matter of "the only difference," their anti-religionist interest was not merely incidental or coincidental to their political and ideological programs, it was part and parcel of those political and ideological interests. Practically understood, these were anti-religionist fundamentalists, dogmatists and absolutists.

In terms of "religions have done the same," yes, though that opens a huge discussion, academically, historically, socially/politically and otherwise, but most typically they were social/political aggrandizements and power grabs, not religious/moral per se. The various and trenchant debates concerning Constantinianism reflect but one prominent aspect of this discussion, a discussion too often approached with highly prejudicial points of view, historically and otherwise.
10.11.2006 4:14pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Is this a Democratic party no longer led partly by Harry Reid? I can believe that Romney practices some potentially weird and attackable strain of Mormonism, but if he and Reid believe the same things, it's going to be mighty difficult for the Dems to explain why those beliefs are acceptable for the Senate (hopefully then-Majority) Leader, but not the President.


Kind of like how it was difficult for Democrats to go after Mark Foley for sending explicit instant messages to eighteen year old former pages while Nancy Pelosi marches with NAMBLA supporters in the San Francisco "Pride" parade?
10.11.2006 4:17pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
I'd be happy if those who believe in some sort of god practiced the kind of piety their religion professes to espouse rather than using the non-belief of others as an excuse for hate mongering.
10.11.2006 4:18pm
Dan Hamilton:

If someone is openly religious, you really have no idea what their belief system is. All you really know is that they want you to think they subscribe to a particular set of beliefs.


Here again speaks someone that cannot believe that anyone believes what they say they believe. Anyone that professes a religion and speaks out is only panderring to the religious herd. Nobody in power really Believes that stuff.

Whe someone says they believe something you should accept it until they show you that they really don't. Nobody is perfect. Nobody lives up to eveything that they believe in.

The only people I know of that most of the time are just doing the religious thing for show are the Democrats. They try to hard. They mostly don't come accross as sincere. But even them I will believe until they show me that it was an act.
10.11.2006 4:50pm
Medis:
In response to some of the comments about why being nonreligious could be a fair matter of inquiry for a political candidate--in an idealized world, I would agree. In an idealized world, people interested in the beliefs and values of a nonreligious candidate would ask the nonreligious candidate about those matters, and the nonreligious candidate would then get an opportunity to explain what they did in fact believe and value.

As an aside, something like that happened here once--the nonreligious were asked to explain why they believed they should be moral, if in fact they believed that. I thought the answers given were quite interesting, and very diverse.

Unfortunately, however, we Americans don't live in such an idealized world. Too many Americans are in fact simply bigots when it comes to the nonreligious, and will not tolerate them, and will not even attempt to listen to or credit the nonreligous who try to explain their beliefs and values. And even many Americans who think of themselves as at least conditionally tolerant of the nonreligious in fact are just slightly more subtle in their intolerance--they "conditionally" associate the nonreligious with various intolerable belief systems (Stalinism, Maoism, nihilism, and so on), and effectively require the nonreligious to prove that they do not hold such intolerable beliefs. And in my experience, the burden of proof can be quite high--for example, the nonreligious can be accused of dishonesty or inconsistency when they profess things like an adherence to conventional political or moral values.

So, in an idealized world where interested people typically listened to the nonreligious describe their beliefs and values with open minds, we probably wouldn't be particularly concerned if a political candidate's nonreligion was raised as a topic of discussion. But unfortunately, that idealized world is pretty far from the real world we Americans live in.
10.11.2006 4:55pm
Medis:
Dan,

I hesistate to speak for another commentator, but I think there is an important distinction to be drawn between the labels people place on themselves and the beliefs they actually hold. And this isn't simply an issue of honesty--I know many nominal coreligionists (meaning people who would use the same religious label for themselves, such as "Catholic", "Protestant", or "Jew") who hold pretty diverse views about various important matters, and they are perfectly upfront about that. The point in such cases is not that they are dishonest, but rather simply that the religious label they use for themselves turns out not to be particularly useful in specifying their beliefs about a wide range of issues.

Again, though, I would have no problem living in an idealized world where all such labels--including "atheist", "nonreligious", and so on--were simply starting points for an open-minded inquiry into the actual beliefs of the person in question. But also again, I think it is an unfortunate form of not-so-subtle bigotry to instead use these labels to justify the assumption that in some way or another, a "Catholic", "Protestant", or "Jew" is likely to share our society's important political and moral values, but an "atheist" or "nonreligious person" must be treated as alien and suspect, at least until they can prove otherwise.
10.11.2006 5:04pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Houston (Republican apologist) Lawyer:

No religious test is being imposed.


Here's the money quote from the Texas Republican web site:

Should Franks be elected in November, one would have to conclude that he will hold true to his out of touch "atheist" belief system and ignore the laws and Constitution of Texas.


That's a religious test if I ever saw one. They're claiming that athiests are not capable of following the constitution because they don't acknowledge God.

What's more, this whole thread is a good example of how Republicans want to put the acceptance of whatever they dedice is a religion as a test for public office, or whatever elese they choose. Especially in Texas, where less popular religions like Wicca are constantly harrased by fundamentalist bigots, and discriminated against by Republicans in office.
10.11.2006 5:06pm
CJColucci:
If someone has a religion you can have an idea of what he belives in, what his ethics are, what is important to him. It doesn't matter what his religion is. Each religion defines a belief system that can be used to understand the man.

If someone is an atheist then you have no idea what his belief system is. Does he even have one? Is everything relative? This causes nothing but questions. You have no idea what he believes is right and wrong or ethicial.

All right, I'll pretend I believe this is meant seriously, though I have my doubts. So tell me, what is it you think you know about a person when he or she professes to believe in Religion X? And what is it that you think you don't know about someone who professes to be an atheist? Just about everyone, regardless of beliefs about whether Someone Up There is watching, thinks that robbing, raping, and killing are no way to get through life, and that the small minority who disagree and act on that belief are dangerous and ought to be locked up. What in your actual experience of the world raises a sincere question in your mind that the likelihood of a public servant's filching taxpayer funds from the public till has any relationship at all to his or her position on the existence of Someone Up There watching? Really, what is it that gives you a sense of security about a person's moral values if the person espouses a tolerably familiar religion while making you insecure if he or she doesn't?
10.11.2006 5:32pm
Michael B (mail):
Another item as regards "religions have done the same," since this has become an established and all too common and equivocating trope, one used for polemical effect rather than more thoughtful elucidations.

One of the "usual suspects" is the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was an initiative of the Spanish monarchy rather than the church per se and this during a time when monarchies viewed religious uniformity as fundamental to the well being of the nation/states they ruled. For example and by contrast, in England it was largely Christians who were killed, both Catholics and Protestants, to help ensure the same type of uniformity throughout the realm, and there was no inquisition in England, much less one which targeted non-Christians. Hence this reflects the tempers of the times, and the opinions and methods of the ruling crowns of the times.

Too, during the entirety of the Spanish Inquisition, a few thousand were killed. That's not to excuse anything, it more simply points out the benighted prejudices which often attend these types of discussions. By contrast, compare to the hecatombs of the 20th century, the tens of millions killed in the name of Leninist/Stalinist, Maoist, etc. ideological uniformity during the 20th century. This ends up being a trifle, something to be dismissed or marginalized, by those such as the Sam Harrises, or more seriously the Dawkinses, who variously seek to proscribe those with religiously based moral views, in whole or in part, from the social/political sphere.

Ref. Henry Kamen's The Spanish Inquisition. Kamen's may not be the final authoritative account on this the topic (though he's published well documented accounts on the topic for the last forty years), but this too is one well researched and well documented example which most certainly counters some of the myths which would roughly, or at least polemically equate, the Spanish Inquisition with the ideologically based genocides and totalitarian police states of the 20th century.
10.11.2006 5:40pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
That's a religious test if I ever saw one.


Then evidently you've never seen a religious test because it doesn't make membership in a particular religion a legal requirement for holding office or employment with the government.
10.11.2006 5:44pm
Medis:
By the way, I think pointing out that Stalinists and Maoists were atheists is about as useful to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American atheist as pointing out that the Taliban were religious would be to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American Episcopalian.
10.11.2006 6:00pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
By the way, I think pointing out that Stalinists and Maoists were atheists is about as useful to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American atheist as pointing out that the Taliban were religious would be to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American Episcopalian.


The analogy fails because Stalinists and Maoist were in fact both atheists while the Taliban were Muslim but Episcopalians are Christian.
10.11.2006 6:04pm
Medis:
Thorley,

How does that make the analogy fail? The Taliban and Episcopalians are still both religious. The fact that they are of different religions doesn't change that fact.

In fact, all you have done is help show how silly the argument was in the first place. The fact that the Taliban and Episcopalians are both religious implies virtually nothing about the important political and moral beliefs they might respectively hold. Similarly, the fact that Stalinists/Maoists and American atheists are both nonreligious implies virtually nothing about the important political and moral beliefs they might respectively hold.

But if you insist, I will change the analogy. Instead, I will simply say "I think pointing out that Stalinists and Maoists were atheists is about as useful to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American atheist as pointing out that the Taliban were theists would be to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American theist."

Now we don't know if the American theist is a Christian, Muslim, or any other particular kind of theist. Does that change make the Taliban particularly relevant to predicting that American's beliefs and values? I'd still say no.
10.11.2006 6:12pm
dweeb:
But for now, let me just stress how, if such criticism of atheists is accepted, similar calls to vote against candidates with other beliefs about religion would become legitimized as well.

Of course, and they are. The only difference is that calls to vote against candidates with MINORITY beliefs are more public than calls to vote against candidates with MAJORITY beliefs. In any campaign, every statement will attract some voters and alienate others - the goal is to attract more than you alienate.

More broadly, if the Texas Republican Party can properly say "don't vote for the atheist, because he believes the Bible is myth and is therefore out of touch with the majority," then a party can equally legitimately say "don't vote for the fundamentalist Christian, because he believes .....,

Have you HEARD of People for the American Way? Such appeals are made fairly often, and the more 'blue' the state, the more publicly they are made.

" or "don't vote for the Catholic, because

Such statements abounded in 1960, but JFK still managed to get elected, and was wildly popular. So much for the corrosive effect on tolerance.

Furthermore, how do such statements fundamentally differ from "don't vote for X because he's a racist/sexist/socialist/bleeding heart liberal/mean-spirited conservative" or even "because he/she is a Republican/Democrat?" Beliefs are beliefs, and the inclusion of a deity in a worldview doesn't appreciably separate it from other belief structures/ideologies. Dividing ideologies between the religious and the secular is a distinction without a difference.

All's fair in war and politics. If a candidate campaigns on a fallacy, and the voters are too stupid to see past it, then they get the government they deserve. Maybe free speech in campaigns, combined with idiot suffrage, may eventually doom our civilization, buyt a true libertarian accepts that it is better for a society to collapse free than be sustained by tyranny.

Also, your statement about people's faith as a predictor of their actions isn't quite accurate. A person's religious affiliations are a poor predictor of his/her actions, but a person's beliefs if accurately known, can be a very good predictor. There is nothing in religious faith that prevents one from being an excellent scientist, since most religious tenets deal with specific exceptional events, and thus have no relevance to understanding the principles which govern what happens absent divine intervention. Indeed, useful application of science often involves man engaging in godlike intervention in natural processes.
10.11.2006 6:33pm
Michael B (mail):
"By the way, I think pointing out that Stalinists and Maoists were atheists is about as useful to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American atheist as pointing out that the Taliban were religious would be to predicting the beliefs and values of a typical American Episcopalian." Medis

A far too generalized dismissiveness and equivocation; "pointing it out" is to suggest some relevance, some perspective, some value as analogy. It is not to suggest any precisely or exactingly drawn parallel or predictor. It is suggestively instructive vis-a-vis the social/political and ideological arena.

And Thorley Winston's note remains germane. Too, Leninist/Stalinists, Maoist, the Uncle Hos and Pol Pots of the world were not merely atheists and anti-theists, they were ideologically driven anti-theists, mindful of their social/political agendas, prescriptions and proscriptions. That is the (general) subset of atheists and anti-theists I'm addressing, those with additional social/political and ideologically interested agendas. But that too is not to suggest any type of precise parallel, it is generally suggestive only.

But much as any precise parallel should be avoided (cf., I'm also not suggesting Dawkins and Dennett should be equated to Uncle Ho and Pol Pot), a too generalized dismissiveness should also be avoided. In suggesting some relevance that's all I'm doing, neither making too much nor making too little of the suggestion.
10.11.2006 6:36pm
Medis:
Michael,

You say: "That is the (general) subset of atheists and anti-theists I'm addressing, those with additional social/political and ideologically interested agendas. But that too is not to suggest any type of precise parallel, it is generally suggestive only."

That is a very poorly defined "subset", and your "suggestion" that we lump American atheists into such a "subset" with Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot is really just a crude form of bigotry. And disclaiming the "precision" of your bigotry doesn't provide you with any substantive intellectual cover.

Incidentally, if I had to guess, at least a plurality of the American atheists in your "subset" might be Randian Objectivists. But again, the very idea of trying to lump together all atheists "with additional social/political and ideologically interested agendas" and making these crude "suggestions" about them is basically repugnant.

And again, it disappoints me that so many Americans are willing to tolerate and even rationalize such bigotry. Oh well.
10.11.2006 6:48pm
Michael B (mail):
Medis,

No, your "repugnance" argument is little or nothing more than an ad hominem put-down. You're imputing to me more than my views would admit. How can you assume so much when at best I provide highly generalized allusions, nothing very specific in the least? When I overtly indicate it's a "general" subset I'm alluding to, I'm allowing it's "poorly defined," I'm transparently admitting it's a general, and not a specific or definitive, allusion. I find your misapprehension to be more than a little regrettable, if not "repugnant". Indeed, you're the one who is attempting to apply a blanket or totalizing dismissiveness, which essentially is the obverse side of a too tightly drawn or too definitive parallel. By contrast I'm merely providing a general allusion, something only tentatively suggestive.

And good grief, I can mimic your concluding, dejected rhetoric as well: Such bigoted and benighted ad hominem put-downs and misconstruals are to be expected. I'm so disappointed. Life isn't fair. Oh well.
10.11.2006 7:26pm
Medis:
Michael,

You aren't fooling me.
10.11.2006 8:04pm
Michael B (mail):
Medis,

No, I suspect you're fooling yourself.
10.11.2006 8:16pm
Colin (mail):
Goodness. Another thread in which Michael B. is the victim of "dismissiveness?" It's a regular theme around here. That theme being, of course, that you interpret every response to your intemperate posts as "dismisiveness" (sometimes "pontifical dismissiveness," often in relationship to "black robed" or "white coated" autocrats) or ad hominem attacks.

Here, as is plain on the record, Medis did not dismiss your arguments. He answered your points with specificity. See, e.g., his criticism of the crudeness of your typecasting and his illustration of the uselessness of using Stalin and Mao as examples of atheists. Nor have his posts been, in any way, shape, or form, ad hominem attacks. If you're unclear on the definition of the phrase, I'm sure you can lay a hand to a dictionary or Wikipedia page.
10.11.2006 8:44pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

If an individual proclaims Christianity but then challenges core tenets and teachings (i.e. Christ is the only way to heaven or that some activities are clearly proscribed) then that individual is not taking their professed belief seriously.


Sounds like Adams, Jefferson and our other key Whig Founders. See this post.
10.11.2006 8:50pm
Josh Jasper:



Then evidently you've never seen a religious test because it doesn't make membership in a particular religion a legal requirement for holding office or employment with the government.


They directly state that acknowledging God is required by the Texas state constitution. That's a religious test. I'm sorry that, with your inability to grasp analogies, you're also deficient in comprehension of clear syntax and semantic rules.
10.11.2006 8:54pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

Goodness indeed. But no, your own treadmill and now entirely predictable response is on evidence. My ref. to dismissiveness was particular, was specific enough, as was the note indicating something was "little more than an ad hominem put-down" (emphasis added) is not to equate it with an ad hominem attack per se. That the difference alludes you, Colin, does not imply there is no difference.

Too and more generally, that dismissiveness per se is a standard and recurring topos within social/political discussions, especially so within many blogs, is hardly news. Neither is it news that such takes on various and sundry forms.
10.11.2006 9:39pm
plunge (mail):
"Not remotely close. Firstly, I did not comment on SoCaS whatsoever. Secondly, I don't view SoCaS in the manner you're suggesting."

I have a hard time following your posts because they rarely seem to follow a logical progression. But yes: you stated that there is some large movement to destroy religious belief and practice, and that it is headed by atheists. This is by and large a big fat lie.

"To the contrary, they were atheists and more often anti-theists whose ideological and social/political interests proscribed religion and those holding religious beliefs from public arenas and forums."

Which is different from ANYONE holding an ideology that says that your ideology must be held superior to all others to the point of eliminating dissenters... how? Why does it make any difference what the ideology in question is, religious or non?

"Too, it wasn't a matter of "the only difference," their anti-religionist interest was not merely incidental or coincidental to their political and ideological programs, it was part and parcel of those political and ideological interests. Practically understood, these were anti-religionist fundamentalists, dogmatists and absolutists."

Sure, but what does that have to do with not being theists per se any more than it had to do with them not being cricket players?

"In terms of "religions have done the same," yes, though that opens a huge discussion, academically, historically, socially/politically and otherwise, but most typically they were social/political aggrandizements and power grabs, not religious/moral per se."

This is just playing a game of No True Scotsman. If you can play then I can play that fallacy, and we get nowhere.

People address your points, and you not only don't refute them, you ramble off to many other topics, most of which have to do with talking about yourself, your martyrdom, and so on. Irrelevant.

Atheism isn't a religion.
Atheism isn't a positive description of anything in particular.
By and large, there is a movement pushing for SoCaS and NOT trying to get rid of religious belief, public or private.
The fact that Mao was non-anti-religious (though, frankly, he was in fact highly superstitious and magical thinking, just as was Hitler) has about as much to do with what any given non-believer thinks as what non-racecar drivers have to no with me, a non-racecar driver.

Agree, or disagree?
10.11.2006 10:11pm
Speedwell (mail):
Whe[n] someone says they believe something you should accept it until they show you that they really don't.

In the case of politicians and other authorities, a little extra scrutiny is warranted, don't you think? Frankly, that's the sort of statement I would expect to hear from a well-meaning college freshman, not from a policy wonk. And if I did hear it from a college freshman, I'd probably be gently explaining to them the value of judging character by existing evidence instead of buying everything that comes out of the mouth of someone with an agenda.
10.11.2006 10:15pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):

And yet as best I can understand history, religious people and societies have had aggregate track records that are not tremendously different from those of the secular.

Since we didn't have comments back in '03...

Not strictly true. Christian societies have better records than the competition (other religions or secular). Christian Europe abolished [domestic] slavery after 700 years. Christian Europe invented human rights. Christian Europe invented market liberalism. Islam hasn't managed those yet. Commie countries haven't either. Places Europe conquered have sometimes picked those notions up. Absent Christianity, it's possible that slavery, economic primitivism, and oppression would be the order of the day.

Almost justifies forced conversion...
10.11.2006 11:16pm
Mark Field (mail):

Christian Europe abolished [domestic] slavery after 700 years.


Seems to me that the exception swallowed that rule.

By the way, even domestic slavery persisted in Eastern Europe until the mid-nineteenth century. Or don't the Orthodox count as "Christian"?
10.11.2006 11:23pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Christian societies have better records than the competition (other religions or secular). Christian Europe abolished [domestic] slavery after 700 years.


Slavery went unquestioned in "Christian Europe" for about 1600 years after Christ. And the Bible seems at best to not give a definite answer on slavery, at worst, to outright endorse the institution. Clearly, the Bible never abolishes slavery as you think it would were it really "the word of God."

"Christian Europe invented human rights."

Not really. The notion of individual human rights was invented by the Enlightenment, whose philosophers were hardly "Christian." Enlightenment also is responsible for modern scientific achievement.

Christianity should get its due; it inspired a lot of great art and literature (much of it produced by homosexuals like DaVinci and Michelangelo). But the secular and Pagan roots of "Christian Europe" are responsible for as much if not more "human achievement" to borrow Charles Murray's term.
10.12.2006 12:16am
Michael B (mail):
Mr Rowe,

The reference had been made to "the competition (other religions or secular)". Compare for example to post-Enlightenment France, where it was initially outlawed c. 1795 but later re-instituted, I believe by Napolean. Or compare to the gulag based and concentration camp based slaveries instituted by post-Enlightenment, ideological regimes of the 20th century.

Or Sudan and a few other areas even today.

Mark Field,

The exception is an exception, it doesn't "swallow" or negate the accomplishment. Slavery was formally outlawed in Britain c. 1800 and throughout the British empire only a bit later, in very large part due to William Wilberforce and likeminded evangelicals; that it didn't become the law of the land until later in other countries, via various evolutions, hardly diminishes that particular accomplishment.
10.12.2006 12:43am
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

Re: Lieing. As for the charge of lieing, you cannot so much as admit you imputed to me a reference to the SoCaS (Separation of Church and State) when in point of fact I didn't even allude to it, much less comment more directly upon it.

That I provide a 20th century historical allusion (Stalin, Mao, Uncle Ho, et al.), one which is relevant as a suggestive allusion (each individual is free to make of it what they will) and that you then impute more to that allusion than I'm suggesting is hardly surprising. After all, again, you can't so much as admit I didn't refer to the SoCaS.

As to the suggestion that the "No True Scotsman" argument is being invoked, this is inapt, for example as demonstrated in this post directly upthread. It's additionally inapt as I specifically noted it opens up a "huge discussion," not a simplistic conclusion.

Or another example:

"The fact that Mao was non-anti-religious (though, frankly, he was in fact highly superstitious and magical thinking, just as was Hitler) has about as much to do with what any given non-believer thinks as what non-racecar drivers have to no with me, a non-racecar driver.

"Agree, or disagree?" plunge

Disagree. Firstly, I thought you didn't wish to discuss Stalin, Mao, Uncle Ho et al. Secondly, whatever Mao's personal/private proclivities, there was a decidedly systematic anti-religionist program in China during his reign. Indeed, to this very day there is a lack of religious freedom in China together with religious persecution. Likewise, Stalin, during the siege of Stalingrad, lifted many anti-religion and anti-church restrictions on occasion as well, in order to help sustain people during very trying times. But so what? How does that deny other aspects of his reign, such as the Ukrainian genocide or pogroms against chruches and believers?

As to the "racecar" driver, firstly that's at least somewhat misleading since there's no obvious social/political or other highly charged interest inherent in racecar drivers vs. non-racecar drivers. More importantly however and yet again, you're imputing more to the allusion I offered than anything I suggested.

You, Colin and others seem to forward yourselves as the tutors, the headmasters, the superior minds, and additionally seem to think it strikingly odd that someone else (those rather curious folk who are not you) might suggest a different tack be taken in, or tangential to, the discussion. That's telling of a certain mindset; and to the extent that mindset additionally reflects a social/political agenda corrosive of others' rights, it reflects something yet more presumptuous and more troubling.
10.12.2006 1:14am
Mark Field (mail):

The exception is an exception, it doesn't "swallow" or negate the accomplishment.


In my book, you don't get much credit for abolishing domestic slavery but then opening up the institution to whole new classes of victims in Africa and the Americas. It's hardly clear that there was a net positive there.

Slavery was formally outlawed in Britain c. 1800 and throughout the British empire only a bit later, in very large part due to William Wilberforce and likeminded evangelicals; that it didn't become the law of the land until later in other countries, via various evolutions, hardly diminishes that particular accomplishment.

"That particular accomplishment" -- Britain's abolition of slavery -- is all well and good, but let's remember the claim here: that Christian Europe abolished [domestic] slavery. As I pointed out, even that limited claim is not true. And "Christian [Western] Europe" held non-Europeans in slavery -- millions of them -- for 400 years, with the British playing an essential role. That's not a proud record. Surely Christians have better claims to make. Don't they?

The whole notion of "competition" between Christianity and "competitors" (whatever that might mean) is pretty silly in my view. Too many variables, too much fudging of the terms (who qualifies as "Christian", who doesn't?), too many immeasureable evils (slavery v. holocaust). And do you really want to compare the historical behavior of Christians with, say, Buddhists to determine which religion to follow?
10.12.2006 1:18am
Michael B (mail):
"In my book, you don't get much credit for abolishing domestic slavery but then opening up the institution to whole new classes of victims in Africa and the Americas. It's hardly clear that there was a net positive there." Mark Field

I'm not necessarily interested in "your book," I'm interested in the historical record. Slavery wasn't abolished and then opened up (as it was for example in post-Enlightenment France), it was abolished in England, via a movement which began in the mid to latter part of the 18th century and largely via evangelicals such as Wilberforce, and then it was, via a variety of evolutions, abolished elsewhere. It wasn't abolished in "Christian Europe" (not a term I used) or anywhere else via some type of fiat, it was a social cause initiated by a few, which then grew into a larger cause and attendant political proscriptions.

In invoking the term "competition" it was invoked (and not by myself) more as metaphor, not a literal competion, but rather to supply a comparison with, for example, post-Enlightenment France which re-instituted it under Napolean. Or with the gulags and concentration camps instituted by post-Enlightenment, ideological regimes of the 20th century. Or with Sudan and a few other Islamic regimes even today. The reason such a comparison is helpful is because it compares regimes facing the same social, political, economic, military, etc. realities. It's the realities which need to be faced and overcome, not mere ideas or ideality.

In my book, I deem that an accomplishment of some notable social and political magnitude. Which is not at all to suggest rose colored glasses be used to produce some type of hagiography.

And, what specific Buddhist regimes did you have in mind? I wonder how well you know your far eastern history. In China? Japan? S.E. Asia? Not terribly pleasant histories all in all. Again, it's the realities which need to be faced and surmounted, not merely the pleasantries and ideas and notions written in your or anyone else's "book".
10.12.2006 2:37am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
"Christian Europe invented human rights."

Not really. The notion of individual human rights was invented by the Enlightenment, whose philosophers were hardly "Christian." Enlightenment also is responsible for modern scientific achievement.
The role of Christianity in the abolition of British slavery was addressed earlier. John Locke, principal influence on the American Founders, was influenced by Calvinist minister Samuel Rutherford (who knew Locke's parents). The gradual democratic reforms occurring in England began before the Enlightenment, and did so in a Christian culture. Interreligious tolerance was built by grassroots Christians getting used to living with each other in the few places on Earth where non-Establishment churches could flourish.

Some of the American Founders were Deists, many were Christians. The differences between the two pertain to the supernatural and not to general ethics, so the two faiths were able to produce a mutually complementary political philosophy. None of the political divides among the Founders were along Deist/Christian lines.
10.12.2006 4:59am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"John Locke, principal influence on the American Founders, was influenced by Calvinist minister Samuel Rutherford (who knew Locke's parents)."

How do you know that Locke's parents knew Rutherford? Where is your evidence that Locke was influenced by Rutherford? Does Locke ever quote Rutherford?

"The gradual democratic reforms occurring in England began before the Enlightenment, and did so in a Christian culture."

The state of nature/social contract theory served the basis for our liberal democratic founding. Such a theory was first put forth by Hobbes and made respectable by Locke. (And such is, in the words of Leo Strauss, "wholly alien to the Bible.") Liberal democracy is thus, entirely a product of the Enlightenment, not Christianity.
10.12.2006 10:11am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Some of the American Founders were Deists, many were Christians. The differences between the two pertain to the supernatural and not to general ethics, so the two faiths were able to produce a mutually complementary political philosophy. None of the political divides among the Founders were along Deist/Christian lines.


Actually, the key Founders were not quite strict Deists, but to borrow Dr. Gregg Frazer's term, "Theistic Rationalists." It's true that they came forth with ideas which orthodox Christians could sign on to (thus the Declaration and Constitution were in some way "consensus documents" between the two camps). But the ideas upon which America's Declaration and Constitution were based derive by in large out-side of the Bible or orthodox Christianity. The Declaration and Constitution are thus a-Biblical and a-Christian -- not anti-Biblical or anti-Christian, documents.

Check out my blogs to see the scholarly case made for this in detail.
10.12.2006 10:18am
Medis:
The roles that Christianity played in the Age of Reason/Enlightenment, both positive and negative, is a fascinating topic. Somewhat obviously, it is a bit silly to call the Enlightenment a purely Christian phenomenon (I can practically hear the likes of Paine, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hume rolling in their graves), and indeed various Christian institutions often took an oppositional stance (just ask the ghost of Galileo). And just a bit more subtly, the rationalist religious theories of the likes of Descartes, Spinoza, Berkeley, and Pascal was also in opposition to many of the revelatory religious belief systems of their time.

So, lumping all these belief systems under the heading "Christian" obscures these fundamental differences. This is particularly true when "Christian" is supposed to be contrasted with "non-Christian", in that many of the rationalist religious thinkers of the time shared much more in common with the rationalist nonreligious thinkers of the time, even while disagreeing on certain key propositions, than they did with nonrationalist Christians.

As an aside, that problem continues today--is, say, a contemporary American Unitarian/Universalist likely to more like a contemporary American evangelical Christian than a contemporary American atheist in his thinking? In my experience, the opposite is actually the case, and I think this shows why the entire project of using such broad labels as "Christian" or "atheist" to tenatively predict the beliefs and values of contemporary Americans is pretty silly.

Nonetheless, Christian institutions clearly contributed in various ways to the Enlightenment. Indeed, the opposition itself often spurred advances (for example, in politics, Enlightenment thinkers were often influenced by the horribly destructive religious wars which had recently swept Europe). More positively, Christian institutions obviously played a role in funding, preserving, and communicating scholarship (one which long predated the Enlightenment of course).

As for whether "Christian ideas" played a role in the Enlightenment--I've long thought that this is a rather poorly-formed question. A belief system cannot claim exclusive "ownership" of the ideas it contains, and anyone who has seriously tried the project of tracing the ultimate "origins" of ideas knows it is largely a fool's quest. And Christian thinkers, of course, have borrowed quite freely from non-Christians, including the pagan Greeks and Romans but also Islamic scholars and others as well.

So, it is true that important ideas were discussed and developed by Christian thinkers and within Christian institutions, but that is not quite the same thing as those ideas being "Christian ideas". And as for the claim that only Christians would have been capable of the bringing about the Age of Reason/Enlightenment--in light of, say, Ancient Greek philosophy, does that sort of claim really need a response?
10.12.2006 11:21am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I'm a bit preoccupied at the moment, but a quick Goiogling finds the Rutherford's influence on Locke via Dave Kopel(PDF file):

Rutherford's Lex Rex was transmitted to the American public mainly through Locke's Two Treatises of Government. The first treatise refuted Robert Filmer's claim in Patriarcha that modern monarchs exercised the dominion which God had granted Adam.29 According to Filmer, resistance to monarchy was immoral and irreligious; the authority of kings over their subjects was as absolute as the authority of a father over his children.

Locke's second Treatise developed a secular version of Rutherford's right of revolution, mixed with other Calvinist theory, and also with non-religious sources. According to Locke, humans were granted inalienable rights by God; governments were instituted to protect those rights; governments which abused rather than protected rights could legitimately be overthrown.
10.12.2006 11:33am
Medis:
By the way, as described by Kopel, Rutherford was in turn drawing not only on the Old Testament (and dealing with somewhat contrary authority in the New Testament), but also Aristotle, Ancient Greek and Roman Politics, and Roman Law.

Fast-forwarding a bit, Kopel describes Jefferson as explaining that "the ideas in the Declaration of Independence derived from 'the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c.'" All of this just again confirms how Enlightenment thinkers cast a wide net for ideas, including many non-Christian sources.

I also thought the following paragraph interestingly echoed a point I suggested above (that the political thinkers in the Enlightenment were heavily influenced by the recent religious wars in Europe):

Two centuries of religious wars had followed the outbreak
of the Reformation. The conventional wisdom of most rulers was that civil order must be protected by the imposition of religious uniformity, so that subjects would not disagree about religion. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke turned the conventional wisdom on its head. People had a right to follow their conscience, and consequently a right to use force and revolution against a government that destroyed their natural right to follow their religion. Thus, religious oppression led to violence, as the victims struggled to remove the "yoke that galls their necks." Accordingly, complete toleration was the only path to civil peace. Every religion should be free, and none should be allowed to use state power to violate the rights of any other.

Again, my point is just that the roles Christianity played in the development of Enlightenment ideas is a very complex subject, and indeed often it was a reaction against certain Christian institutions which led to certain key ideas.
10.12.2006 12:26pm
Mark Field (mail):
Michael, I'm sure Duncan appreciates your efforts to rephrase his original indefensible statement. You didn't salvage it, but you are persistent in trying to change the subject.
10.12.2006 12:51pm
Medis:
Incidentally, if I had to pick one basic idea that tied together the thinkers of the Enlightenment, both rationalist and empiricist, religious and nonreligious, and so on, it would be "skepticism". Interestingly, as this claim suggests, skepticism is not necessarily opposed to religion in all its forms. But broadly speaking, skepticism is inconsistent with dogmatism, including religious dogmatism, but also the sort of political dogmatism associated with things like Stalinism or Maoism.

So, insofar as one views Christianity as defined by certain religious dogmas to which one must adhere (as in fact was suggested above in this discussion), I think it is fair to say that the Enlightenment was in opposition to, not based upon, this dogmatic definition of Christianity. But a broader view of Christianity might at least include nondogmatic versions, and indeed that is what one often sees reflected in the writings of people like Jefferson on Christianity (e.g., see "The Jefferson Bible"). And I think it is easy to see how nondogmatic Christians could consistently participate in and further the Enlightenment project.

And finally, to further a point I was suggesting above--I think Americans who have adopted the sort of skepticism that motivated the Enlightenment, and thus who tend to oppose dogmatism in its various forms, share much in common regardless of where they come down on particular questions, such as the nature and existence of "God". And similarly, those who tend to adopt dogmatism and oppose skepticism share much in common with each other regardless of whether the authority behind their dogma is religious or secular. In that sense, I think whether we are listening to a Priest or a Party Leader is secondary to whether we treat their words as dogma or rather as subject to skepticism and rational inquiry.

And that is what I find misleading about claims to the effect that the Enlightenment was a Christian phenomenon, or that the nonreligious are likely to be out of step with mainstream American political and moral values. I think these sorts of claims are looking at the wrong axis: it is not religious versus nonreligious we should be looking at, but rather skeptical verus dogmatic.

And thus the history of the political and moral values that were embraced in the Enlightenment, but which also stood opposed to the likes of Stalin, Mao, the Taliban, and so on, is not a history which can be described as Christians versus Others. Rather, it is a story about the Skeptics versus the Dogmatics, and both Christians and Others can and do play for either of those teams.
10.12.2006 12:52pm
Elliot Reed:
Whether Christianity had any causal role in the development of modern science (or even hindered it), or should be given causal force in the abolition of chattel slavery (or hindered it) has no bearing whatsoever on whether Christianity or any of its subdivisions is true. Nor does any such effect (either way) justify any particular attitude toward individual Christians or non-Christians, or even Christians or the nonreligious as a group.

Christianity and nonreligion are both very different animals today than they were in the eighteenth century. There was nothing like modern Protestant evangelicalism a few centuries ago; deism is much less popular than it used to be; liberal Christianity as we know it today is a development of the twentieth century; the once-influential Quakers are ceasing to be a form of Christianity at all.
10.12.2006 3:28pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

deism is much less popular than it used to be; liberal Christianity as we know it today is a development of the twentieth century; the once-influential Quakers are ceasing to be a form of Christianity at all.


Deism in the sense of the belief that God voluntarily ties His own hands and doesn't interfere w/ His creation is probably not very viable today; however, that strict form of Deism wasn't really popular among our many American Founders, other than Paine and Allen. I agree that liberal Christianity as we know it today -- with its support of left-wing causes is a development of the 20th Century. But a "deistic" sort of cafeteria Christianity which made room for an interventionist Providential God was extremely influential among the key-Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin), and I think looks something like the cafeteria Christianity of today. This is btw, what Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed "Theistic Rationalism."

There was a great article done about the common American religious creed, which was dubbed Moralistic Therapuetic Deism and they described it as "The New American Religion." As I read the article, what struck me was that there was nothing new about it as it look very similar to the religious beliefs of our key Founding Fathers (and Lincoln). From the article:


Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."


Now, this doesn't exactly parallel the key Founders religious beliefs; they were obsessed for instance in understanding God on rational terms and debunking the doctrine of the Trinity. But otherwise, it looks pretty close to what Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams thought about God. And as the article in the Christian Post makes it clear, this belief system is NOT Christianity.
10.12.2006 3:59pm
Colin (mail):
the once-influential Quakers are ceasing to be a form of Christianity at all.

I'm curious about that statement. Do you meant that they've become marginalized past relevance, or that their doctrine has diverged too much from mainstream Xianity?
10.12.2006 4:02pm
Elliot Reed:
Colin - both. The Quakers used to be a bigger deal in this country than they are today (they founded a major state, and there are special provisions in the Constitution especially for them). As for their being Christian, they seem to be taking the same route as the Uniterians and Universalists, who are no longer a Christian denomination anymore (there are still Christian UU's, but they're a small minority). So the Quakers are both less influential and less Christian.
10.12.2006 4:53pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Elliot:

What defines a "Christian?"
10.12.2006 4:55pm
dweeb:
I'm curious about that statement. Do you meant that they've become marginalized past relevance, or that their doctrine has diverged too much from mainstream Xianity?

I'm intrigued as well. Given the general drift of the congregation in my area, there are those here inclined to take the latter position.
10.12.2006 5:02pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
There's a bibliography appearing in a number of websites such as Free Republic - the blurb for Lex Rex states, "Rutherford was a colleague of John Locke's parents."

So, insofar as one views Christianity as defined by certain religious dogmas to which one must adhere (as in fact was suggested above in this discussion), I think it is fair to say that the Enlightenment was in opposition to, not based upon, this dogmatic definition of Christianity.
Christianity is defined by a proper in-context interpretation of the Bible. Christendom doesn't always live up to the real thing, its medieval advocacy of state religion being a prime example. The church as founded by the Apostles was a peaceful voluntary association. No central authority over the church universal, no theocracy, no ecclesiastical taxes, no pogroms. The Enlightenment certainly opposed state religion - as did the Anabaptists, the first truly democratic Reformation sect, which set the congregation and not the clergy as the supreme authority over the local church.

Christianity was religiously tolerant in the way that the people in this comments section are - we badmouth ideas we disagree with but refrain from physically lynching each other or engaging in some other form of coercion. Much of the French Enlightenment spoke little about religious tolerance; the philosophes' minds were too preoccupied with the goal of disestablishing the Catholic church to ponder peaceful religious pluralism. (Voltaire and Locke concerned themselves with both issues.) I've read up to the drafting of the Napoleonic Code in the last volume of Will Durant's Story of Civilization, and have not yet found documentation of religious tolerance catching on in France. The Anglosphere was then and is now the prime agent of spreading religious tolerance.

Genuine Christianity never badmouthed empirical evidence, so it has no argument with the scientific portion of the Enlightenment.
10.12.2006 6:00pm
dweeb:
They directly state that acknowledging God is required by the Texas state constitution. That's a religious test. I'm sorry that, with your inability to grasp analogies, you're also deficient in comprehension of clear syntax and semantic rules.

As are you. They indirectly (and incorrectly) imply that it is required, by a tortured logic. That is not a religious test. It does not exclude anyone from the ballot on the basis of religion, or prevent their taking office upon receiving a majority of the votes cast. To call this laughable assertion on the part of a private entity a religious test is like claiming every personal utterance of the words "shut up" is a First Amendment violation.
10.12.2006 6:27pm
Elliot Reed:
Jon - I'm not a Christian, and I generally think definition of natural-language terms like 'Christian' is a hopeless project. But I think it's safe to say that something like Unitarian Universalism, where they don't have any particular metaphysical beliefs to which congregants are required (or even encouraged) to adhere, remove references to God from the songbooks, don't regard the Bible as authoratative in any sense, rarely talk about God in services, and don't even identify as Christian, is not a Christian organization. From what I understand, those sorts of things are becoming more and more true of the Quakers.

dweeb wrote:

Christianity is defined by a proper in-context interpretation of the Bible.

Are Catholics not Christian? Or by "Christianity" do you mean only your kind?

Genuine Christianity never badmouthed empirical evidence, so it has no argument with the scientific portion of the Enlightenment.

Sorry, but this smacks of no-true-Scotsmanism.
10.12.2006 7:01pm
Michael B (mail):
Douthat/Linker discussion at TNR (reg. req.)
10.12.2006 7:50pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Alan,

I'm skeptical about the Free Republic links because they seem to grossly overstate the influence of Calvinism on the American Founders. Two points: 1) Calvin was explicitly anti-Revolution, making it pretty clear that revolt was never justified. And 2) This shouldn't surprise given that Romans 13, the controlling Biblical text, likewise seems to say that Revolution is never justified. Calvin also had a pretty horrific record on religious toleration (he had Servetus burned at the stake simply for openly criticizing the Trinity). As such, our key Founders tended to either have a strong distaste for him and his theology (Adams) or outright hated Calvin and everything he stood for (Jefferson).

It is true that some Calvinists later made arguments for revolution, a few hundred years before our Founding. Two notable things about that: One, these Calvinists broke with Calvin on revolution (ironic huh, that Calvinists are not following Calvin's teachings). And two, they wrote from the perspective of dissent (the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, Dutch Declaration of Independence). They were more documents of experience -- experience with tyranical kings...then go back and "reinterpret" the Bible and your Calvinist theory to justify revolt, when previous understandings held, no, revolt is not justified.

A note on Rutherford: The link between Locke and Rutherford is tenuous at best. Locke, as far as I know, never cited Rutherford or ever claimed to be influenced by him. Locke did quote both Hooker and Hobbes. And while he appealed to the natural law, ala Hooker (and "justly decried" Hobbes), Hobbes's state of nature and social contract teachings (which are, in the words of Leo Strauss, "wholly alien to the Bible") showed up in Locke's teachings and played a central role in Lockean philosophy.

And finally, while the Founders did quote Locke extensively, their reliance on the Calvinist documents of a few hundred years earlier is quite sparse. I recall John Adams mentioning the the Vindiciae along with a plethora of other sources. And they never, to my knowledge, cited Rutherford. The direct influence of the "Calvinist" sources on our key Founders is thus rather minimal. Calvin and Calvinism were more likely to be associated with everything that was wrong about Christianity, according to our key Founders.

The "dissident" strain of Calvinism that was "pro-revolt" probably had more influence on the masses of Protestants during the US Founding era and helps explain why they were amenable to revolt (something the Bible, paradoxially, seems to outright forbid in Romans 13). While our Founders justified revolt primarily by looking to a-biblical Enlightenment philosophy.
10.13.2006 12:20am
Medis:
Alan,

You say: "Genuine Christianity never badmouthed empirical evidence, so it has no argument with the scientific portion of the Enlightenment."

As another commentator pointed out, I think this claim depends heavily on how you define "Genuine Christianity", and I think it is quite obvious that if your definition of "Genuine Christianity" rules out something like the Catholic Church, then you are offering your own normative definition of "Genuine Christianity", and not a descriptive one.

Additionally, I think it is a bit artificial to try to separate out the "scientific portion of the Enlightenment" from the Enlightenment project in general. The thinkers of the Age of Reason/Age of Enlightenment typically did not similarly try to compartmentalize their belief systems into different "portions", but rather consciously attempted to unify their thoughts among diverse subjects within broader, rationally-related, systems.

And along those lines, if you are suggesting that "Genuine Christianity" is defined by a strict adherence to dogma derived from "proper in-context interpretation of the Bible", then most of the prominent religious philosophers of the AOR/AOE--the likes of Descartes, Berkeley, Leibniz, Spinoza, Pascal, and so on--were not part of "Genuine Christianity", and indeed were in opposition to "Genuine Christianity" so-defined.

So, when it comes to religious matters, it seems to me that most of the prominent religious writers who are considered part of the AOR/AOE were indeed articulating belief systems which stood in opposition to "Genuine Christianity" as you have defined it. Moreover, as previously noted, it is really not possible separate out their scientific theories from these other aspects of their belief systems. Accordingly, I stand by my claim that "insofar as one views Christianity as defined by certain religious dogmas to which one must adhere . . . the Enlightenment was in opposition to, not based upon, this dogmatic definition of Christianity."
10.13.2006 10:49am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Now that this site is no longer being hacked, I can comment...

Elliot said:

Genuine Christianity never badmouthed empirical evidence, so it has no argument with the scientific portion of the Enlightenment.

Sorry, but this smacks of no-true-Scotsmanism.
That fallacy doesn't apply, because I am not making a generalization about a group. I am stating that a certain idea - that Christianity opposes science - is not documented in Scripture and therefore cannot be said to represent Christian canon. There are many Scotsmen, each of whom behaves differently. There is only one Christianity, whose canon clearly contains no doctrine opposing scientific study.

Medis said:

As another commentator pointed out, I think this claim depends heavily on how you define "Genuine Christianity", and I think it is quite obvious that if your definition of "Genuine Christianity" rules out something like the Catholic Church, then you are offering your own normative definition of "Genuine Christianity", and not a descriptive one.
Please recall how I defined Christianity: that it "is defined by a proper in-context interpretation of the Bible." I do not use Christianity synonymously with the Christian community. Christianity in this context is the philosophy of the New Testament as represented by the original intent of its authors. Every Christian and every Christian denomination is an imperfect representation of Christianity.

I have limited my descriptiveness of Christianity to a few issues relevant to the conversation. What additional description would you like to hear?

I can see how the Enlightenment conflicted with the church institutions of the time, considering that the Enlightenment thinkers roundly opposed state religion, and that many had views about the supernatural that aren't Christian by anyone's standards. When I made my original remarks I was thinking about the Bible itself, not nonbiblical claims that got spun into Church doctrine (examples: divine right of kings, usurpation of explicitly theocratic powers that the Bible clearly stipulates as having been delegated only to ancient Israel). Aside from that, where does the Enlightenment conflict with the Bible and with the major churches of the time?

Additionally, I think it is a bit artificial to try to separate out the "scientific portion of the Enlightenment" from the Enlightenment project in general.
Were all the philosophers scientists, and vice versa?

It would be fair to distinguish between the two if one accepts that Christianity has no quarrel with the scientific method but does have varying degrees of disagreement with Enlightenment philosophies.
10.13.2006 3:37pm
Medis:
Alan,

You write: "I have limited my descriptiveness of Christianity to a few issues relevant to the conversation. What additional description would you like to hear?"

I think I understand your definition of "Christianity" in broad terms. But obviously, once you define Christianity in your way, it does indeed exclude much of what has been called Christian throughout history, and obviously other people could continue to disagree with how you define Christianity. Moreover, it makes it awfully hard for other people to know what counts as "genuine Christianity" in your eyes, because we would have to know things like what you believe is the proper interpretation of the Bible. And that is a matter which is not exactly self-evident, even with such guidance as "the original intent of its authors" (and by the way, do you mean the human authors? because it is not always clear what people mean by the description "the author of the Bible").

Anyway, my point is that insofar as we are now talking about Christianity as defined by a non-self-evident interpretation of the Bible, we'd probably need your constant assistance to help determine whether anything nominally Christian was in fact "genuinely" Christian according to your definition. And frankly, I'm not sure how interesting this project would be for those of us who would not take your particular definition of Christianity as authoritative.

You also ask: "Were all the philosophers scientists, and vice versa?"

Pretty much yes, actually. In fact, the people we think of as "scientists" today would probably have been called something like "natural philosophers" at the time (with the notion of the "natural sciences" as opposed to philosophy not really arising until the 1800s or so). And conversely, "science" at the time would have meant something very broad--basically any systematic body of knowledge--which would be largely coextensive with philosophy (indeed, one might have said at the time that the goal of philosophers was to provide science).

And these aren't just word games--the actual human beings in question typically did work in all sorts of scientific, mathematic, philosophical, and theological fields without seeing a clear distinction. And again, this was quite conscious--they were explicitly trying to unify, systematize, and rationalize human knowledge--so one cannot really partition their theories after the fact into different fields without in some sense rejecting their most basic views.
10.13.2006 5:46pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I've tried to stay on topic by limiting specifics of what constitutes genuine Christianity to examples that are a) relevant to the discussion on the Enlightenment, and b) clearly documented - or clearly not documented, regarding my statement that the Bible does not oppose scientific methodology.

(And since Christianity is a philosophy, the Bible doesn't oppose philosophical methodology, either. The devil is in the basic philosophical assumptions.)

If science and philosphy cannot be compartmentalized as factions within the Enlightemnent - Ben Franklin is one example who engaged in both - they should be distinguished as separate disciplines. Except for the basic assumptions that the universe really exists and operates under uniform principles, faith doesn't enter science as it does in philosophy.

But obviously, once you define Christianity in your way, it does indeed exclude much of what has been called Christian throughout history
It's not hard to imagine that Christian institutions woud make some major mistakes along the way, and that some corrections would take a lot of time while others persevere. There had never been a state without state religion prior to the Enlightenment (IIRC, the US was the first), so Constantine's fateful decision to nationalize the church isn't all that shocking, unbiblical it may be. That error lead to others, including ecclesiastical taxation and the previously mentioned false assumption that Christians are commanded to assume the powers vested to Israel under the Law of Moses (circumcision requirement dutifully excluded). Where state religion still exists in the West, it is a purely ceremonial entity with less power than the Libertarian Party.

Historic Christendom also got a lot of its doctrine right with the Bible:

- God's supremacy over all creation, and thus over all humanity.
- The doctrine of the Trinity (deduced from passages asserting the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the latter's personhood).
- That humans had fallen from grace and are therefore neither perfectly knowledgeable nor perfectly desirous of God's will ("sinful," in shorthand).
- That acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior are necessary for salvation (Catholics and Protestants have a tiff over whether works play an additional role in salvation).
- While the clergy didn't always follow all of the Ten Commandments, they always taught it as a basic framework for moral conduct. (Note that many argue that the Sabbath-keeping ordinance, like the symbolic portions of the Law of Moses pertaining to sacrifices and ceremonial cleanliness, have been superceded by Christ.)
- Charity to meet not only the needs within one's circle but also to minister to strangers. Christendom spread charity throughout the world like no other force in history, and influenced the emergence of large-scale secular charity.

The errors of the church were not unanimously accepted by the Christian community. Even before the Reformation, not all wanted absolute monarchs, and not all wanted the church to be a part of the government. Many who accepted the latter disagreed with the church on ecclesiastical taxes, censorship of literature and plays, and/or pogroms against real and imaginary heretics.
10.14.2006 8:18am
Elliot Reed:
Historic Christendom also got a lot of its doctrine right with the Bible . . . .

- That acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior are necessary for salvation (Catholics and Protestants have a tiff over whether works play an additional role in salvation). [emphasis added]
Contemporary Catholicism does not hold that all non-Christians are unsaved. For example, Pope John Paul II taught that God's pact with the Jewish people is still in full force and effect. I'm not sure what the doctrine is regarding people who are neither Christian or Jewish, but it's definitely not that they are all destined for Hell. I don't know about historical doctrine, but that's not an accurate statement of contemporary Catholic doctrine.
10.14.2006 1:20pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Many evangelicals teach that God's pact with the Jewish people is still in full force and effect. But that pact concerned the conditions of the Jewish community's existence on Earth; the covenant didn't mention eternity.

(That the Bible records Moses and Moses and Elijah as present at the Mount of Transfiguration suggests that God did have eternal plans for faithful Jews who lived prior to the advent of the Messiah, but God didn't tell them about it.)

It would be easier to address John Paul II's statements if I had exact quotes, or at least the title of the source document. Was it in one of these encyclicals?
10.14.2006 9:28pm