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"Exactly the Wrong Way To Talk About Politics and Religion":

David Adesnik (OxBlog) makes an excellent point. (Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.)

Antonio Manetti (mail):
What makes Adesnik's point "excellent"?

I read the professor's statement. She simply says that President of the United States or any other would-be politician should not invoke his personal relationship with whatever god he worships to justify his policies to the rest of us.

Of course, to further muddy the waters Adesnik conflates Martin Luther King's expressions of faith with those of a politician in the exercise of office.
1.31.2007 10:53pm
r78:

But Prof. Dongier talks as if this were a nation full of Christian zombies.

No she doesn't - at least not in the parts that the post to which you linked quoted.

And - really people - what should we be more concerned about: a) the professor's views (even if they can somehow be interpreted as belittling religion or b) a president who consults his God about whether he should invade foreign countries.

Here's excerpt from Woodward

Did Mr. Bush ask his father for any advice? "I asked the president about this. And President Bush said, 'Well, no,' and then he got defensive about it," says Woodward. "Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, 'He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength.' And then he said, 'There's a higher Father that I appeal to.'"
1.31.2007 11:12pm
kc:
As an atheist, I would prefer the Rapture to what is going to happen in Iraq over the next ten years. We, and they, are screwed.


The truth hurts. It's loony for grownups to attend to imaginary friends.
1.31.2007 11:22pm
GregD:
"religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm"


Too true, too true.
1.31.2007 11:48pm
Ragerz (mail):
I think I agree with Volokh. Why should religion, as opposed to any other form of ethics that will inevitably not be shared by 100% of the population be excluded from public life?

We live in a democracy. I can think of a perfect remedy for those not happy with religious politicians. Don't vote for them. But really, all politicians will have some form of ethics that some people will disagree with.

The fact is, public policy will always involve value judgments. And value judgments can never be completely resolved through the use of logic. It would be nice if we could simply appeal to logic and logical argument, since one supposes that logic is universal. But when logic is based on value-laden premises, or is intended to advance value-laden objectives, which it always is when it comes to public policy (or at least I cannot think of an exception), one will inevitably exclude some people who have different values.

Yes, Bush's values (one might call them Christian, but of course, many other Christians hold conflicting beliefs on various issues) make some feel excluded since they do not hold the same values. But it would be impossible to produce a political candidate whose values did not exclude someone.

The remedy for this situation is voting, not targeting values, religious or otherwise.
2.1.2007 12:46am
Beem:
Even as a Christian, I fail to realize exactly which part of Prof. Dongier's article was supposed to leave my mouth hanging agape, while I convulsed in silent horror over whatever grave insult was inflicted on my very soul. Over the years, it has occurred to me that there are certain types of people whose faith is so weak that they must insist that Earth is 6,000 years old, dinosaurs romped with humans, fossils are the tool of the Devil, etc, or apparently their entire faith will collapse. To quote Galileo, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

In fact, I actually found David Adesnik to be rather patronizing in his view of the faithful. Does he honestly think that no religiously-held belief could also withstand the scrutiny of reason? One of the core pillars of modern Christian thought is the baptism of Aristotle, or the belief that good reasoning and good theology must walk hand in hand. A belief that has no merit outside rigid adherence to a specific denomination is almost certainly a bad idea to turn into law.

As for President Bush, I honestly doubt his many problems are a direct result of his personal religious view, and more likely the result of shameless pandering and massive hubris.
2.1.2007 12:46am
Roger Schlafly (www):
I also doubt that Pres. Bush relied on a conversation with God to make any war decisions. But if he did, I'd rather that he told us. Doniger argues that Bush should support the war without reference to the beliefs that led him to his conclusions.
2.1.2007 1:07am
SP:
I am not really clear as to what ultimately Bush based his decision on should matter as much as whether it was correct, especially since it is not established that had Bush asked Buddha he would have come to a different conclusion. The professor doesn't like Bush and doesn't like religious people, so it's not a surprise she came to this "conclusion."
2.1.2007 1:37am
randal (mail):
Adesnik's swipe at the Flying Spaghetti Monster is completely unfair. The FSG doesn't parody religion in general, only Intelligent Design; and for much the same reason he ridicules Dongier. Both try to pretend that the specifics of religious belief aren't relevant.
2.1.2007 1:48am
plunge (mail):
Adesnik needs to stop tying to have it both ways. Either we are going to talk about religion in public debate or we are not. If we are not, I'm not going to quarrel with it. But if we are, then get over yourself in bitching about references to the Great Pumpkin and so forth, which would be perfectly fair game as language in virtually every other form of debate.

People like Adesnik want to have it both ways: THEY want to be able to talk and take credit for all the good things they see in religion, but also want special protection from any criticism and lots of cheap emotional clubs to use against anyone that dares point out flaws in reasoning.
2.1.2007 2:23am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Plunge, if you think mockery is "perfectly fair game" in debate, that says more about you than about Adesnik or religion.
2.1.2007 3:17am
Brian K (mail):
I may have only been reading this site for a few days now, but i'm surprised that the author would link to such a crappily written post. I'm even more surprised it is called an "excellent point".


Prof. Doniger continues:

I pledge allegiance to the first amendment, which I interpret to mean that government shouldn't traffic with religion—neither promote it nor persecute it—and this means that, in the public arena, the candidate should not use religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm, fogging over the clear lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate.

I'm sure Dr. King would beg to differ with the passage in boldface. As I mentioned just yesterday, conservatives love it when liberals fall into this trap. And in this instance, a professor at a divinity school, who really should have a somewhat broader view of the potential that relgion has to inspire us. Or was supporting civil rights one of thsoe "irrational choices" about which Prof. Doniger is so concerned?


Adesnik deliberately misinterprets the above bolded text to get across his ideologically driven viewpoint. Just reading the rest of the sentence explains how religion harms public debate. A great many very religious people, of all religions, close off debate by saying "because god/the bible/allah/the koran/the torah/etc said so" or something similar. That is not conducive to debate or to making good public policy decisions as it essentially prevents any frank discussion of the trade-offs and compromises inherent in whatever policy decision is being debated. References to a high religious being should also be avoided because, unfortunately, many people make their decisions solely based on "god's will". hence the "eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate" part of the prof. quote.

There are legitimate times (as someone above mentioned) where religion can be used to help make a decision but all too often it is used to end debate and coerce people to vote or support positions in a way that is not the best for them. And that is the danger of religion in politics.
2.1.2007 3:57am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Brian: she doesn't say that politicians shouldn't say, "Because God said so." She said that politicians should not "use religious rhetoric."

There are legitimate times (as someone above mentioned) where religion can be used to help make a decision
Then you agree with Adesnik and not the professor, who made an unqualified statement that religious rhetoric "does nothing but harm."
2.1.2007 7:19am
Brian K (mail):
David,

I think our differences is how we are defining religious rhetoric. If you define it very broadly as adesnik has as any mention of god or any reference to religion then my above post seems to contradict myself. you seem to be using adesniks definition, although please correct me if i'm wrong. If you define it more narrowly as i have in my examples, then my criticisms of adesnik's comments are valid. I also think, when you look at the totality of the quoted phrases, that the professor defines it more narrowly than adesnik as rhetoric that "fogging over the clear lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate."

There is a difference between saying "homosexuality should be outlawed because the bible says it is wrong"* and saying "the bible overall preaches tolerance and acceptance of all" to continue using the Dr. King example used by adensik. The former completely ignores all other arguments and closes off all avenues of discussion, while the latter is a statement of Dr. King's belief and is used in addition to and to enhance other arguments. If I'm not be clear here, let me know and i'll try to explain it another way.

*(this is the gist of most of the arguments against homosexuality and it blurs the lines or argument because there are legitimate reason for and against homosexuality. however consistency in using the legitimate arguments demands that they also be applied to many heterosexuals also, which is why the religious argument leads to irrational choices.)
2.1.2007 8:13am
Well Armed Coward:
'"I may have only been reading this site for a few days now, but i'm surprised that the author would link to such a crappily written post. I'm even more surprised it is called an "excellent point".""

"such a crappily written post."?

....and this is your idea of a well written post?

or is this satire, in which case, congratulations!
2.1.2007 8:41am
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"conservatives love it when liberals fall into this trap"

Well, I suppose everyone enjoys it (admit it!) when their political opponents say things that are unpopular--even when those things are true.

Yet we can admit (I hope) that though it would be unpopular, e.g., to say that "evolution is a fact, and evolution denial is born of abysmal scientific ignorance," it would nonetheless be a bit unseemly for any self-respecting intellectual to gloat about how a partisan opponent who said so had "fallen into a trap." (At the very least, one should use a phrase that sounds more respectable.)
2.1.2007 8:55am
asdfjkl; (mail):

I think I agree with Volokh. Why should religion, as opposed to any other form of ethics that will inevitably not be shared by 100% of the population be excluded from public life?

To paraphrase the answer of some others (see the work of Marci Hamilton) it's because our leaders are public servants and not private ones. Will religion motivate people's ethics? Sure. Inevitable. But as leaders of the whole public, and not just the ones that agree, our leaders have a duty to try to make their arguments in forms that reach everyone. I know that's impossible, but it's a goal.

Another way of saying it is that public servants should be concerned with the public good. They should be able to explain why this action is an overall gain for society. "God said so" seems an especially weak answer to that question.
2.1.2007 9:37am
anonVCfan:
I'm curious about what makes the point "excellent." The difference between religion and some other things is that people who slap the religion label on what they do often don't feel the need to explain themselves further. It's not unfair to point out that, while "I think this is what God wants" is a sufficient explanation to some people for invading Iraq, to many others it's no better than "the Great Pumpkin whispered in my ear."

It's a fair question to ask how much "respect" one's faith should be entitled to. Invoking the Great Pumpkin is a provocative way of saying "very little, if any" but so what?
2.1.2007 10:00am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Thanks for reminding me why I quit reading OxBlog.

I guess that Charles Schultz didn't respect religion, either. To say nothing of the mainstream media, which propagates his "Great Pumpkin" mockery of faith.
2.1.2007 10:04am
Mike S (mail):
asdfjkl; :

A great many religious people think any discussion of ethics that is not based in religion is, at best, self delusion. After all, as Euclid realized millenia ago, no matter how sharp your logic, you need some truths accepted without proof to start from (axioms, we call them in mathematics.) While various philosophers have proposed a variety of axioms for non-religious ethical systems, there is no clear basis to prefer one to the other. Many religious believers hold that G-d has given us a set of axioms we shouldn't argue with. Why is it more important (or less for that matter) to offer arguments that appeal to the non-religious than to the religious?

Unless there are some universally accepted premises to start from, no argument can possibly appeal to everyone. To explain why some policy would be an overall gain for society, after all, requires one to make some assumption about what constitutes a gain. And for any serious policy choice there will be individuals who benefit, and others who lose by it; there is no generally accepted way to decide which outweighs which, other than by seing how voters react in the next election.
2.1.2007 10:05am
plunge (mail):
"Plunge, if you think mockery is "perfectly fair game" in debate, that says more about you than about Adesnik or religion."

Yes, it says that I'm reasonable in allowing some degree of hyperbole and florid language, and you and Adesnik are hysterical hissies who'll jump at ANY excuse to avoid responding to substantive criticism.
2.1.2007 10:09am
Anderson (mail) (www):
What's especially funny is that the "Great Pumpkin" remark isn't "liberal academic" at all (Doniger can certainly pour that on whenever she wants).

Rather, it's the kind of common-sense remark we could expect to hear from any Wal-Mart shopper with a basic grasp of civics.

EV would do well to sleep on it before linking to anything linked by Instapundit.
2.1.2007 10:14am
James Dillon (mail):
When theists stop making burden-shifting arguments along the lines of, "Yeah, well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, therefore He must!," atheists will stop invoking things like Flying Spaghetti Monsters, Great Pumpkins, invisible pink unicorns, and Russell's teapot, all of which are equally un-disprovable entities, to demonstrate the inanity of that argument.
2.1.2007 10:20am
Ragerz (mail):

But as leaders of the whole public, and not just the ones that agree, our leaders have a duty to try to make their arguments in forms that reach everyone. I know that's impossible, but it's a goal.


I agree that the utopian ideal of total inclusion, if obtainable, would be a good thing. You concede the goal is impossible. In light of that, may I suggest then that the question then is whether partial advancement towards that goal represents a better state, or whether partial advancement instead only ends up obliterating some forms of discourse, while privileging other forms of discourse that are no less excluding.

As a non-libertarian (and as I read the views of certain self-righteous, excessively indignant libertarians for very long, I start leaning anti-libertarian), I must say that libertarianism, which contains its own non-neutral, exclusionary ethics that I do not personally share (I have much stronger communitarian tendencies), like religion, excludes those that do not have share the libertarian faith.

Libertarianism, like all ideologies, is based on certain non-rational commitments. Like the idea, for example, that the individual is entitled to disregard the interests of the community. Or the idea that if person A induces person B to consent to do something that is bad for person B, such consent is a justification for A's actions. (Perhaps based on the controversial normative view that only B is in a position to determine what is good or bad.) Now, obviously, this is all very general. Like Christianity, libertarianism comes in various flavors and the above may not be accurate for all strands. But you get the idea. Whatever form it takes, libertarianism does take a position on various ethical questions that exclude other points of view. When libertarianism takes the form of public policy, these controversial ethics exclude those who don't hold them.

So, if we are going to exclude religion, which really can be characterized as a sort of ideology (like libertarianism includes non-rational normative commitments), why shouldn't we exclude libertarianism as well? And why we are at it, why not exclude liberalism. And communitarianism. Shall we go so far as to exclude even the anti-ideology, pragmatism??

None of this is to say that, if one could do so with absolute precision with no fear of slippery slopes, there is not a respectable argument for excluding some ideologies. Indeed, comprehensive liberalism, a form of liberalism whose slogan might be simplistically (and unfairly) summed up as "we will not tolerate intolerance" makes a respectable argument for excluding ideologies that are themselves committed to exclusion, while including those that are more inclusive.

But a simplistic formula which excludes only those ideologies we call "religious" I don't think works very well. Some "religious" ideologies are more inclusive than some "secular" ideologies. As an example, compare the secular ideological commitments of someone like Joseph Stalin (famous dictator of the Soviet Union) to the religious ideological commitments of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, perhaps there is something to be said for the idea of advancing more inclusive ideologies at the expense of more exclusive ideologies. However, I do not think that a crude algorithm like this -- if religious then excessively exclusive but if secular then okay -- is really going to advance that cause. Instead, the result would be to actually exclude some more inclusive ideological commitments that happen to be religious (think MLK) while including certain exclusive ideological commitments that happen to be secular (think Stalin).
2.1.2007 10:52am
asdfjkl; (mail):
There's also the argument that religion kills debate, which our form of government is set up to need.

-Why should we do this?
-Because God said so.
-Oh...well, I disagree.
2.1.2007 10:54am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
There seems to be some terribly misbegotten idea among a few of the commenters that "religious rhetoric" consists entirely of the statement "because God said so". That's so wrong as to be nearing insanity. Ever read any Catholic philosophy? Thomas Aquinas? Anything by almost any Jesuit? Many of the political leaders who opposed slavery in the 19th century in this country used religious rhetoric to support their arguments.

Religion kills debate? Ever see a group of theologians arguing over something? (actual theologians, not "professors of divinity")

As others have pointed out, Prof. Dongier asserted that ALL religious rhetoric is harmful. Not some of it, not just rote assertions to do something "because God said so", but ALL religious rhetoric.

The people who are supporting Prof. Dongier have a very distorted view of what religion is.
2.1.2007 11:10am
fffff:
I think Prof. Doniger's post was pretty clearly meant to reference reports that Bush asserted that God told him to invade Iraq. Whether or not Bush actually made the assertion as charged, I think problems arise when any person charged with policy responsibilities cites their relationship with God as a basis for a decision that directly affects others. It essentially makes the decisionmaker unaccountable for the decision. By definition, faith in a thing implies a choice to believe in something without any empirical data. The rest of us, however, are stuck with the actual results of the decision -- without the benefit of the belief that the decision was inspired by God. Surely this justifies more than a frustration.

I think Eugene's point, though, is that the frustration shouldn't bleed over into contempt, even where contempt might be justified. We live in a democracy, religious people vote, and it behooves us all to carry on civil discourse while minimizing the amount we alienate each other.

That said, I think the criticisms in the OxBlog post were disproportionate to the (mild, inadvertant) level of contempt in Dr. Doniger's post. Not every religious policymaker is entitled to the deference owed to Dr. King (which the OxBlog post cites as a counterexample). More generally, religious positions should not be free of criticism by virtue of being religious, and we should not allow valid criticisms of religion-based decisions (for instance, invading Iraq simply because one felt God told him to) to be chilled by deference to religious people's feelings. If we do that, we will have to accommodate radical Muslim philosophies as well.
2.1.2007 11:19am
Ken Arromdee:
There is a difference between saying "homosexuality should be outlawed because the bible says it is wrong"* and saying "the bible overall preaches tolerance and acceptance of all" to continue using the Dr. King example used by adensik. The former completely ignores all other arguments and closes off all avenues of discussion, while the latter is a statement of Dr. King's belief and is used in addition to and to enhance other arguments.

That's technically true, but you can fix it by changing the first statement to "the Bible preaches the rejection of homosexuality" and using it the same way as the MLK statement (we should do this because it discourages homosexuality/we should do this because it encourages tolerance). It's still objectionable when stated that way.
2.1.2007 11:27am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Not every religious policymaker is entitled to the deference owed to Dr. King

Who was not elected to public office, and who would be rightly criticized for conducting himself in such office the way it was proper for him to conduct himself as a pastor.
2.1.2007 11:28am
Ragerz (mail):
fffff writes:


More generally, religious positions should not be free of criticism by virtue of being religious, and we should not allow valid criticisms of religion-based decisions (for instance, invading Iraq simply because one felt God told him to) to be chilled by deference to religious people's feelings.


This portion of ffff's comment strikes me as completely correct. Religion should not be considered a shield for criticism. The idea is ridiculous. As though I shouldn't criticize a libertarian because I might hurt their feelings.

On the other hand, one should not overestimate the power of criticism to actually resolve debates. It is true that certain religious commitments are not susceptible to arguments resting on completely different premises. However, this is true with other ideological commitments as well. Try arguing with a libertarian, if you aren't a libertarian, and you will see what I mean. Alternatively, if you are a logically-literate libertarian, try arguing about economic policy with a logically-literate liberal. You will likely argue past each other, based on conflicting assumptions and objectives. So much wasted breath in false hopes at persuasion.

I think part of the problem here is that people believe in the power of logic, without really understanding how logic works. Logic is built on premises. Logic is a tool, used to advance objectives. Nothing in logic itself tells us what premises to adopt. Nothing in logic itself tells us what objectives we should advance. As such, logic cannot resolve many of our disagreements. That religious perspectives are impervious to logic preceding from different premises and/or designed to advance different objectives makes it no different than libertarianism or many other ideological commitments.
2.1.2007 11:44am
ed o:
the posters act as though the history of education, ethical thought and philosophy in the Western World is somehow divorced from religion. Apparently, it just sprang up fully formed from the ground with no input from churches or the faithful. if that is what passes for sophisticated thought, perhaps some refresher history courses might be appropriate.
2.1.2007 11:51am
Ragerz (mail):
Anderson writes:


Who was not elected to public office, and who would be rightly criticized for conducting himself in such office the way it was proper for him to conduct himself as a pastor.


Have you ever read the Constitution. It says: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Now, when it says "no religious test" means "no religious test." Based on our long-held traditions, religion or lack of religion is no bar from office holding. A pastor might be excluded by his or her own beliefs from running for office, but certainly not by our Constitution and not by our traditions. You are of course free to say that MLK would be "rightly" criticized for his religious behavior if he held office. But then I would say that a libertarian would be "rightly" criticized for his libertarian behavior if he held office. In the end, the idea of "right" criticism might be problematic. Whatever you are basing this idea on, it is not our Constitution, and it is not our traditions.

Guess who get's to decide whether to elect a religious person with certain religious behaviors or a libertarian person with certain libertarian behaviors? That's right. The American people.
2.1.2007 11:54am
asdfjkl; (mail):
Since I genuinely don't know where I stand on this issue, here is the other side that I have read in the literature.

People and public officials will believe certain things because it is their religion. Telling them that their reasons are unacceptable won't change that, it will only lead them to disguise their religious reasons through "code". (Controversial Example: We shouldn't have gay marriage because it will undermine marriage.)

Point: By accepting religious motivations as good enough in themselves, the ensuing debate will be more honest because motivations are exposed. Therefore, the people will make better decisions.

Counter: By forcing officials to translate their arguments into arguments about the 'public good', we force arguments to be based on facts which can be debated. (Ex. The undermining of marriage is empirically arguable.) Addittionally, when the "translated" reasons turn out to be ridiculous (as they often are), it makes it more apparent that the only motivation is religion.

I find both of these arguments interesting.
2.1.2007 11:54am
Stacy (mail):
"That said, I think the criticisms in the OxBlog post were disproportionate to the (mild, inadvertant) level of contempt in Dr. Doniger's post."

Mild, sure. Inadvertant? I doubt it. Ok it's a tempest-in-a-teapot, but I think it's perfectly fair to make certain inferences about Ms. Doniger's worldview based on the snide remark she chose to make.
2.1.2007 12:02pm
ed o:
by the way, I would recommend a search of universities, including University of Chicago, to see by whom and how they were founded. hint-it wasn't secular progressives divorced from religion.
2.1.2007 12:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Have you ever read the Constitution. It says: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Hm. Have you ever read my comment? I said MLK "would be rightly criticized." I didn't say "impeached."

The people rightly criticizing MLK, in the opinion I stated, would be "the American people."
2.1.2007 12:12pm
Ragerz (mail):
Anderson,

The people "rightly criticizing" MLK would be a subset of the American people. But guess what, just about anyone is going to be criticized by a subset of the American people.

It would be interesting if you fleshed out exactly what you think "right" criticism is. Is it something more than, "I am in the subset of people who would be criticizing?"
2.1.2007 12:17pm
James Dillon (mail):

On the other hand, one should not overestimate the power of criticism to actually resolve debates. It is true that certain religious commitments are not susceptible to arguments resting on completely different premises. However, this is true with other ideological commitments as well. Try arguing with a libertarian, if you aren't a libertarian, and you will see what I mean. Alternatively, if you are a logically-literate libertarian, try arguing about economic policy with a logically-literate liberal. You will likely argue past each other, based on conflicting assumptions and objectives. So much wasted breath in false hopes at persuasion.

I think part of the problem here is that people believe in the power of logic, without really understanding how logic works. Logic is built on premises. Logic is a tool, used to advance objectives. Nothing in logic itself tells us what premises to adopt. Nothing in logic itself tells us what objectives we should advance. As such, logic cannot resolve many of our disagreements. That religious perspectives are impervious to logic preceding from different premises and/or designed to advance different objectives makes it no different than libertarianism or many other ideological commitments.

I agree completely, until the last sentence. Although it's certainly true that every political, ethical, or social ideology rests on a number of axiomatic normative assumptions that are simply raw value judgments that can't be justified by anything more principled than a primitive sense of rightness, I think that judgments based on religious views are categorically different in that they are ultimately bottomed not upon the religious individual's primitive sense of justice or rightness, but upon deference to authority that itself relies on certain controversial empirical assumptions. A secular libertarian and a secular liberal can both acknowledge that their divergent policy preferences ultimately stem from, say, their different axiomatic views about the relative importance of individual accountability, and they can even have a meaningful debate about whose axiomatic judgments are better, even if it's quite unlikely that either person's position will be significantly shifted by that conversation. To the extent that those axiomatic judgments are justified by particular understandings of empirical fact, either side is free to call into question the validity of those facts without the other side being offended by that tactic.

A religious individual's axiomatic judgments are not, in principle, amenable to that same kind of discussion, because normative views derived from deference to authority cannot accommodate criticism of that authority on purely normative grounds (in other words, no religious person could accept the argument that God's ethical pronouncements might simply be wrong). The only method by which a secularist might successfully criticize a religous normative view is by challenging the empirical basis upon which the deference to religious authority is granted-- for example, by arguing that God does not exist, that the Bible is not divinely inspired, that the Gospels are unreliable, etc. But it's precisely at that point-- where the empirical validity of religious authority is challenged-- that many religious individuals accuse their opponents of intolerance, for failing to respect their faith by, presumably, declining to simply accept the empirical basis of that faith as unquestioningly as the religiious individual does. Some secularists, myself included, find that argument rather disingenuous, since the only effective way to rebut an argument from authority is to question the legitimacy of that purported authority. (In other words, to quote the pithy phrase attributed to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.")
2.1.2007 12:18pm
A.S.:
I'm shocked, shocked to find that there is an anti-religious bigot teaching in academia. And I'm shocked, shocked that there are many, including many on this thread, who believe that openly religious people should be excluded from public office. Just par for the course for the intolerant left these days.

I'm not a religious person - I'm an agnostic, really - but it would never occur to me in a million years to claim that a religious office holder should not speak about divine inspiration. If an office holder's belief in God inspires them to act, I see that as no different than if any other principle inspires them to act. But I guess some people are less tolerant.
2.1.2007 12:30pm
fffff:
Inadvertant? I doubt it. Ok it's a tempest-in-a-teapot, but I think it's perfectly fair to make certain inferences about Ms. Doniger's worldview based on the snide remark she chose to make.

That's probably fair, but I believe its possible (and likely) that she's sufficiently frustrated with the current state of affairs that she did not particularly mean to be snide but was nonetheless (a little). I imagine a divinity professor might be especially irked by the way God is used to justify policy positions.

Stacy's point dovetails with another issue in the OxBlog post that's worth responding to. They criticize the Flying Spaghetti Monster being "condescending." It is, but I think in its original context it was justified. The Flying Spaghetti Monster started as a critique of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design has been conclusively demonstrated to be a technique to bring Creationism into schools through the back end.

Contempt and ridicule can chill speech -- I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster has made it incrementally harder to teach Creationism in public schools. This is a good thing: if we take the separation of Church and State seriously, we should discourage attempts to circumvent that separation. Few complain when ridicule and contempt are used, for instance, to chill racist speech or Holocaust denials. (I want to expressly disclaim any moral equivalence between Holocaust denials and Intelligent Design, but only point out that they are both unacceptable in the schools -- even if the relative degrees of unacceptability are different.)

The problem is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster can be taken as a pretty broad critique of Christianity, and now right wing commentators can distort the original meaning of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as an indication of general contempt for Christianity. The OxBlog post uses Flying Spaghetti Monster as support for its thesis that Christians are victimized by modern society. I'm not sure how one counteracts or avoids that distortion, but I'm pretty sure that there are entirely valid uses of contempt and ridicule to curb harmful speech, and that the Flying Spaghetti Monster was one example.
2.1.2007 12:32pm
Seamus (mail):

When theists stop making burden-shifting arguments along the lines of, "Yeah, well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, therefore He must!,"



Funny, I don't remember this proof for the existence of God ever coming up in apologetics class.
2.1.2007 12:47pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I have a big problem with this attitude that all sincerely held religious views are deserving of respect. It fundamentally biases the conversation by shifting what the 'reasonable' middle ground might be.

I mean this is the same problem we see in discussions of intelligent design or climate change in the newspapers. By insisting on viewing a sufficiently ridiculous view as reasonable you frame the debate in such a way as to distort the real facts.

I mean just try and apply this same argument to things like belief in a flat earth. If we had to treat the flat earth belief as a respectable position someone could hold it would lead to a broken discussion. I don't see any difference with religion.
2.1.2007 12:48pm
ed o:
to conflate the fact that one is a divinity professor with any superior grounding in morality or thought is fairly ridiculous. it must be frustrating for her to sit in a divinity school at a prestigious university founded by a church and spew her contempt at religious faith, all the while knowing that she wouldn't have a job but for those of faith in the past. as far as her point, it is the typical left wing jab at those of religious faith which conveniently leaves out matters of faith which find approval with the left wing ie. "anti-war" religious faith; pro increase in taxes religious faith; pro gay marriage religious faith, to name just a few.
2.1.2007 12:50pm
Aleks:
Re: in other words, no religious person could accept the argument that God's ethical pronouncements might simply be wrong).

They can however accept the proposition that they may be mistaken about what they believe to be Gods' ethical pronoucements. There is, after all, an irreducible subjectivism about our understanding of the teachings of religion. When people use a phrase like "The Bible says", they are using a common idiom in English, but one which would evoke a twitter of amusement from speakers of some other languages (e.g. German) where books and the like are not able to talk. The Bible of course "says" nothing. It is an innimate object not endowed with the power of speech or reason. It is we humans who read such texts and then bring our own understanding to bear on them. It is we who are doing the saying, not the Bible, and we should alawys be willing to doubt our own infallibility.
2.1.2007 1:11pm
Hattio (mail):
A.S.,
You are setting up and knocking down a straw man. The discussion regarding MLK didn't sayt that he shouldn't hold office because he is religious. It said that he shouldn't make public government decisions based on his religious beliefs. I'm actually not in complete agreement with that myself, but it's a far cry from saying no religious person should hold office. Secondly, you say that an office holder's belief in God should inspire him/her to act, that is no different than a person's other beliefs inspiring him/her to act. But the complaint on the Left about Bush is that he believes GOD inspired him to act in the form of specifically telling him to act. I have never researched this, and don't know if its true, but that's definitely evidence of a bit more than just letting your religious convictions influence your public decisions.
2.1.2007 1:20pm
fffff:
ed o, I hope you're not responding to me: if so, then I've not been very clear. I wasn't suggesting that Doniger has any superior grounding in morality or thought. I merely meant to say that, as a divinity professor, she probably takes discussions about God seriously, and would be more likely to be annoyed by people using God to justify various policy decisions -- that's all.
2.1.2007 1:23pm
plunge (mail):
"Many of the political leaders who opposed slavery in the 19th century in this country used religious rhetoric to support their arguments."

And guess what? They were on the losing side of a theological argument. Luckily, they happened to be on the winning side of a political/military argument.
2.1.2007 1:34pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
What a bizarre, insert-your-own-kneejerk-here discussion this thread has become. Let's look at the Doniger quotes:

I don't care a fig about our next president's personal religious views. The candidate can worship the Great Pumpkin, for all I care, as long as he or she doesn't assume that the rest of us do too, and that the Great Pumpkin told him to do things such as, to take a case at random, invade Iraq.

Does anyone actually disagree with anything Doniger says here?

The other quote:

I pledge allegiance to the first amendment, which I interpret to mean that government shouldn't traffic with religion--neither promote it nor persecute it--and this means that, in the public arena, the candidate should not use religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm, fogging over the clear lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate.

This graf is more open to debate, but pay attention to what she says. Doniger is opposed to "religious rhetoric" inasmuch as it's a substitute for "clear lines of argument" and promotes "irrelevant and irrational choices." The idea being, presumably, that if a policy position is a good idea, then there are good non-religious reasons for it, and that a candidate who's running to be President of all of us -- not just of those of us who share his religion -- shouldn't use religious rhetoric to persuade us to support a given policy.

That's a debatable position, but one that's perfectly defensible without one's being hostile to religion at all. I daresay a good many of the Founders would agree with Doniger.

Note the graf that Adesnik omitted, which falls b/t the two above:

But I certainly want to know what any presidential candidate thinks government should and should not do to protect freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The candidate may be a person of deep faith or a godless atheist, but what matters to me is the candidate's willingness, and ability, to ensure that the law protects the rights of other people to have their own deep faith or godless atheism, and keep them from messing with one another.
2.1.2007 1:47pm
ed o:
does this divinity professor take discussions of God seriously? not enough to allow the subject to trickle into public policy or discoures, unless, I am sure, it is for a politcally appropriate topic favored by the left. as to the opposition to slavery, Lincoln probably wouldn't have considered himself to be on the losing side of any facet of the argument, having committed himself theologically, politically and militarily to the subject. still, looking to the past century, she is certainly correct that those secular governments like Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia were closer to the ideal of good government than what we have here in Amerika.
2.1.2007 1:51pm
A.S.:
That's a debatable position, but one that's perfectly defensible without one's being hostile to religion at all.

No, it is outright anti-religious bigotry.

It is saying that, if a politician has reasons A, B and C to take an action, where reasons A and B are secular and reason C is religious, it is perfectly fine for the politician to discuss reasons A and B for him taking an action (whatever those reasons A and B are) but he shouldn't talk about reason C for him taking the action SOLELY because reason C is religious. I cannot see any possible interpretation of that other than anti-religious bigotry.
2.1.2007 2:11pm
wooga:


When theists stop making burden-shifting arguments along the lines of, "Yeah, well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, therefore He must!,"

Funny, I don't remember this proof for the existence of God ever coming up in apologetics class.

Seamus, just imagine you skipped the entire class and then tried to cram for the exam based on your drunk roommate's notes. The ontological argument ends with the conclusion that "If you accept the possibility of god's existence, you must accept that God does actually exist." This of course leads to the drive for "rational acceptability." However, if you never learned any of the arguments, and merely caught the tail end of the argument while in some artificially induced stupor, you would probably dismiss the ontological argument just like Dillon.
2.1.2007 2:16pm
wooga:

That's a debatable position, but one that's perfectly defensible without one's being hostile to religion at all. I daresay a good many of the Founders would agree with Doniger.

Nope, not with all those founders allowing states to have official churches and requiring religious oaths for state office. The first amendment was (until the 14th, which was certainly not the 'founders') mainly a prohibition on the federal government from screwing with the state level monopoly on religion. See the first word of it. The founders were almost uniformly tolerant of allowing states and churches to make the beast with two backs.
2.1.2007 2:20pm
James Dillon (mail):
wooga,

I was not referring to the ontological argument, though I consider it a pile of semantic gibberish, but rather to the notably less sophisticated argument (which, concededly, probably doesn't come up in many "apologetics classes," but is put forth quite a lot by the less educated end of the religious spectrum) that the inability to disprove the existence of God is evidence in favor of that existence. The response to that argument, which essentially asserts that the logical impossibility of proving a negative is affirmative evidence in favor of the obverse positive, is that the impossibility of disproving a proposition is not evidence in favor of that proposition, as demonstrated by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russell's teapot, etc., all of which, as I mentioned earlier, are just as non-disprovable as God.

(On as side note, the ontological argument would seem to apply just as readily to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as to God, since the FSM possesses all of the characteristics of God in a somewhat noodlier (perfectly noodly?) package.)
2.1.2007 2:26pm
fffff:
does this divinity professor take discussions of God seriously? not enough to allow the subject to trickle into public policy or discoures, unless, I am sure, it is for a politcally appropriate topic favored by the left.

As long as we're putting words into the good professor's mouth, I'm pretty sure from her post she'd be opposed to people using God to justify any policy position that couldn't otherwise stand on its own two feet, left or right.
2.1.2007 2:35pm
markm (mail):
Seamus

When theists stop making burden-shifting arguments along the lines of, "Yeah, well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, therefore He must!,"

Funny, I don't remember this proof for the existence of God ever coming up in apologetics class.

Not in apologetics class, I wouldn't think, but you'll hear it plenty if you talk about atheism with believers that didn't go to divinity school or major in philosophy or science. So one reason for inventing the Flying Spaghetti Monster is for an illustration for the layman of why the burden of proof should be on those asserting the existence of something, not on those asserting it's nonexistence.

Since you've been to divinity school, Seamus, what I'd like to know is if there is any way that any of those "proofs of the existence of God" distinguish the Christian God from any other creator deity, including the FSM?
2.1.2007 2:35pm
wooga:

On as side note, the ontological argument would seem to apply just as readily to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as to God, since the FSM possesses all of the characteristics of God in a somewhat noodlier (perfectly noodly?) package.

Your about a millennium late on this argument
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaunilo_of_Marmoutiers
The APB attribute by definition can only apply to one thing, so islands and FSM aren't counterexamples to the ontological. Plantinga has the best modern version in his modal argument.
2.1.2007 3:03pm
wooga:
You're, not your.
And the entire arguments about theistic proof are perfect examples of what our learned divinity prof likely off-handedly dismisses as "no good religious rhetoric."
2.1.2007 3:05pm
James Dillon (mail):
I don't think this needs to turn into a debate about the ontological argument, which, again, is not the argument that the examples of the FSM and Russell's teapot are intended to rebut, though I would point out that because, as I noted before, the Flying Spaghetti Monster possesses all the attributes of God, it is not vulnerable to the subjectivity-of-perfection objection with which Anselm responded to Gaunilo. I would also point out that the ontological argument, even if sound, does not by any stretch establish the existence of the Christian God; if anything, it's more consistent with some form of abstract deism.

That said, an interesting response might be that the FSM, in its essential characteristics, is God, and as such is identical with the essential characteristics of the Judeo-Christian God, Allah, and every other incarnation of the perfect being, and that the contingent stuff about physical appearance, spaghetti sauce, providing 72 virgins to each martyr, or sending one's own begotten son to die for the sins of the world can be disregarded as the misguided musings of human beings. I suppose that's basically true, and might be persuasive, were the ontological argument not a pile of semantic gibberish.
2.1.2007 3:17pm
Colin (mail):
she is certainly correct that those secular governments like Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia were closer to the ideal of good government than what we have here in Amerika.

Oh, I get it, spelling America with a 'K', are we?

[/Tick]
2.1.2007 3:23pm
plunge (mail):
"Plantinga has the best modern version in his modal argument."

And it's still pretty much gibberish. The basic flaw with the new formulation is that it tries to cram "existing in all possible worlds" as a quality that any one thing can have IN any given possible world. That just doesn't fly, or even make any sense.

And even if the argument is successful, the best it gets is some sort of necessary first cause without any reason to think of it as intelligent, good, or all the rest. The piggybacking greatness stuff just doesn't work, particularly when many of those key things are subjective.
2.1.2007 3:27pm
Broken Quanta (mail) (www):
markm et al.:

If you want believers to consider what you have to say, you have simply got to drop this "Flying Spaghetti Monster" business. This goes to the very heart of Adesnik's point: if you want to persuade religious believers of anything, you can't speak to us with a voice that's dripping contempt. "Great Pumpkin" and "Flying Spaghetti Monster" language, no matter how illustrative it is in a strictly logical sense, screams to the faithful reader that you're an obnoxious jacka**. In other words: whether or not this kind of rhetoric *denotes* what you're trying to say, it *connotes* something that (I hope) you're not trying to say. This is a purely pragmatic point, of course, but one that I'm really surprised has escaped so many obviously smart people on this board.

PS As an embarrassingly serious Peanuts fan, I'll note that Shultz's Great Pumpkin was a Santa Clause-y figure. I'm confident that Shultz himself, who in his other great TV special had Linus reading from the Book of Luke, would have disapproved of the Great Pumpkin's casting as an actual deity.
2.1.2007 3:28pm
fffff:
If you want believers to consider what you have to say, you have simply got to drop this "Flying Spaghetti Monster" business.

If FSM were a broad critique of Christianity, I'd agree with you. Its not, though -- FSM was intended as a critique of people trying to teach Intelligent Design in public schools. It is using ridicule and contempt to prevent people from trying to circumvent Church and State separation. In that limited context, I'm pretty sure that FSM is a productive thing, rather than a counterproductive thing -- provided its limited to that context. (My argument rests on the premise that the right to the separation of Church and State is more important than Christians' right not to have their religious sensibilities offended.)
2.1.2007 3:42pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Well, we've established there are two kinds of people:

Those who think we should respectfully consider the arguments of Muslim presidential candidates to advocate shari'a law in the U.S., or of Christian candidates who advocate laws based solely on their readings of the Book of Revelation;

and those whose response would be "give me a break."

The latter, we're told, are "outright anti-religious bigots."

Nice.
2.1.2007 3:45pm
ed o:
well, we haven't had such a christian candidate and, given this country's disposition, would not have such a candidate who would succeed. so, those saying "give me a break" would constitute the vast majority of voters, not just faculty members at U of C. thus, this post establishes nothing relative to our country. unfortunately, though, there are islamic countries where just such rhetoric would carry the day. further, the expressions of contempt of the left is much more muted as to the former-they actually kill people. further, the good professor's attitudes establish ignorance rather than bigotry.
2.1.2007 4:03pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
...if you want to persuade religious believers of anything, you can't speak to us with a voice that's dripping contempt

From Professor Doniger's post:

I don't care a fig about our next president's personal religious views. The candidate can worship the Great Pumpkin, for all I care, as long as he or she doesn't assume that the rest of us do too...


Please explain how this "drips with contempt".

It seems to me that trying to speak in a way that doesn't offend somebody without resorting to anodyne, mind-numbing locutions seems like a losing proposition nowadays.

Anyhow, I find it interesting that this forum is forever chiding liberals for being thin-skinned while being quick to defend the sensibilities of conservatives with a persecution complex.
2.1.2007 4:38pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Nope, not with all those founders allowing states to have official churches and requiring religious oaths for state office. The first amendment was (until the 14th, which was certainly not the 'founders') mainly a prohibition on the federal government from screwing with the state level monopoly on religion.


Certainly one can look at the Founding from this perspective. But this certainly is a bleak, morally indefensible perspective of the Founding. The states were permitted, under the original Constitutional power scheme, to do all sorts of illiberal things that conflicted with Founding ideals, the most notorious practice being slavery.

The above quoted paragraph does not accord with the natural rights perspective of the Founding which scrutinizes the acts of all governments according to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and other cognate natural rights documents (Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, and Jefferson's VA Statute on Religious Liberty).

If you want a good anecdote on this, see my latest post on Ben Franklin's and Benjamin Rush's view on PA's religious test it was permitted to have in its Constitution of 1776. Even though Franklin helped to pen PA's Constitution, he (and Rush) absolutely despised the religious test contained therein. Rush called it a stain on the American Revolution. And Franklin admits in a letter that because he didn't believe the entire Bible was divinely inspired, he wouldn't have passed the religious test! Ten years late Franklin became governor, and with the help of Rush and some other Founders got rid of the offending religious test.
2.1.2007 5:51pm
plunge (mail):
"If you want believers to consider what you have to say, you have simply got to drop this "Flying Spaghetti Monster" business. This goes to the very heart of Adesnik's point"

THe fact that Adesnik is basically dishonest about what and how the FSM is used and what it illustrates pretty much demolishes his point.

I've noticed this a lot: theists generally seem to think that they can just lie with abandon when it comes to talking about critics of religion. It's almost like a second nature to simply not listen to what is being said, and instead argue against fantasy positions that are easier to caricature and poo poo. Witness the Sam Harris Andrew Sullivan debate.
2.1.2007 6:14pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
so, those saying "give me a break" would constitute the vast majority of voters

Hey, that was *my* thought ...
2.1.2007 6:17pm
A.S.:
Well, we've established there are two kinds of people:

Those who think we should respectfully consider the arguments of Muslim presidential candidates to advocate shari'a law in the U.S., or of Christian candidates who advocate laws based solely on their readings of the Book of Revelation;

and those whose response would be "give me a break."

The latter, we're told, are "outright anti-religious bigots."

Nice.


Well, this is quite a straw man you've put together! Congrats on gathering all that straw - you must have quite a large amount at your disposal.

Of course, the reason that we need not listen respectfully to the "arguments of Muslim presidential candidates to advocate shari'a law" has nothing to do with the fact that shari'a is religiously-based, but rather it is because shari'a law is extremist! I would say "give me a break" equally to the argument of a presidential candidate that advocating requiring women to cover their faces for secular reasons. So your argument is vacuous.

The real question is whether you think a candidate should be shunned if they advocated a non-extreme position based in part on religious principles. For example, if a candidate said "Under my administration, all persons would treated equally regardless of races because (a) it is good social policy, (b) it is legally required, and (c) the Lord creates us all equallly." Apparently, that would be a statement that "does nothing but harm", according to the bigoted Professor Doniger.
2.1.2007 7:04pm
wooga:

Certainly one can look at the Founding from this perspective. But this certainly is a bleak, morally indefensible perspective of the Founding. The states were permitted, under the original Constitutional power scheme, to do all sorts of illiberal things that conflicted with Founding ideals, the most notorious practice being slavery.
Jon, since when did the truth become "morally indefensible?

The states were allowed to have slavery, require religious oaths, criminalize sodomy, deny women the right to vote, and so on. Many people didn't like what one state or another did, but the federalist system allowed each state to legislate its own morality (and yes, we have always, and will forever, legislate morality - people only happen to notice when a particular inconvenient law conflicts with their personal morality). Federalism is the political equivalent of the religious free will doctrine -- I'll take the occasional (and inevitably correctable) evils allowed by free will or federalism instead of surrendering to an inevitably oppressive automaton or statist scheme.

And because morality is intrinsically based on religious assumptions (be it a particular Christian denomination, secular humanism, epicurean thought, or whatever), the notion at the heart of this thread -- that religious rhetoric can do no good -- seeks to ignore and reject our entire legal and cultural history. And it smacks of pseudo intellectual elitism - the surest sign of profound stupidity.
2.1.2007 7:28pm
Broken Quanta (mail) (www):
plunge:

Yep, we're liars in addition to being idiots. Now you let me know the next time you really *get through* to a believer with this kind of rhetoric.

ffff:

I'm not invoking a "right not to be offended". In fact I'm mostly un-offendable, and few people who know me would call me thin-skinned. Remember, I'm not advancing "dump the FSM talk" as some sort of legal or moral principle, but as a practical tactic. Just as political posts that include "moonbat" or "wingnut" tend to be discounted by liberals and conservatives, respectively, so will religion posts that include "Flying Spaghetti Monster" be discounted by believers. That the term "moonbat" has a precise meaning and was not originally intended as a blanket critique of liberalism matters not at all.

Oh, and sorry if I have failed to accurately reproduce the number of fs in your handle. At 5:35 my eyes ain't what they were at 6:15.

Antonio:

The rest of the sentence you quote from Doniger's post attempts to apply the "great pumpkin" reasoning to our current president, who is a Christian. This can fairly be read as at least an oblique equation of Christianty and Pumpkinism. If you don't see that such an equation is likely to make many, many Christians think Ms. Doniger is more interested in insulting us than engaging us. Again, she has every right to do so. But you must acknowledge that this is not the best way for her to bring us onboard with her political program.
2.1.2007 7:43pm
JK:

Well, this is quite a straw man you've put together! Congrats on gathering all that straw - you must have quite a large amount at your disposal.

I hate to be rude, but is that suppose to be funny? "You must have quite a large amount at your disposal," you know you're in the company of some serious law-geeks when this is how someone phrases a joke.
2.1.2007 8:07pm
plunge (mail):
"Yep, we're liars in addition to being idiots. Now you let me know the next time you really *get through* to a believer with this kind of rhetoric."

I'm not trying to get through to anyone. I'm pointing out how dishonest these arguments are. Either you accept that or deny, I don't care. The poor quality of your rebuttals will speak for itself.
2.1.2007 8:17pm
Broken Quanta (mail) (www):
If you're "not trying to get through to anyone", then I was never talking to you, plunge. I'm interested in talking to people who want to comunicate; I'm not interested in talking to people who talk to hear themselves talk. Be as snide as you want about the "quality of my rebuttals"; I offer none because you readily admit that you write for no one but yourself.
2.1.2007 8:52pm
Aleks:
Re: "Many of the political leaders who opposed slavery in the 19th century in this country used religious rhetoric to support their arguments."

And guess what? They were on the losing side of a theological argument.


They didn't lose the argument at all, because there was no such debate. The South refused to engage them at all, but banned their works and made it impossible for any Southerner to agree with them publicly.
2.1.2007 9:28pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
A.S., I quote your words back at you, &that's "straw"?

Admission against interest!

This can fairly be read as at least an oblique equation of Christianty and Pumpkinism.

Actually, no. Her phrasing makes it clear that Great Pumpkinism (mind the "Great," you wouldn't want to be disrespectful) is a particularly out-there belief system chosen for the sake of example.

--"Mom, can I go to Pete's house?"

--"You can go to China, for all I care, just be back by ten."

The mother is not seriously comparing the two distances.
2.1.2007 9:35pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

The states were allowed to have slavery, require religious oaths, criminalize sodomy, deny women the right to vote, and so on.


I would say the notion that any of these things are part of the legitimate ends of government to be bleak indeed. If that's what you think, so be it. I don't.
2.1.2007 9:38pm
plunge (mail):
You misrepresent me Broken Quanta: what I meant was that I'm not trying to pander to or sell ideas to any particular audience. What I am doing is pointing out dishonesty where I see it. You have offered nothing at all in substantive response to this. All you continue to do is blow smoke.
2.2.2007 12:12am
Ken Arromdee:
"Under my administration, all persons would treated equally regardless of races because (a) it is good social policy, (b) it is legally required, and (c) the Lord creates us all equallly." Apparently, that would be a statement that "does nothing but harm", according to the bigoted Professor Doniger

If the candidate has religious reasons for doing that, then the fact that he's not causing harm at the moment is a pure matter of luck. He's basically doing things for purely arbitrary (to any non-believer) reasons. Someone who does things for purely arbitrary reasons is dangerous.

Of course, this doesn't apply if the religion is so vague that the politician is really just couching non-religious beliefs in religious terms.
2.2.2007 9:34am
A.S.:
I hate to be rude, but is that suppose to be funny?

Well, it's supposed to be funny. Whether it is actually funny is another question. I'm a lawyer, not a comedian.
2.2.2007 9:43am
Mr L:
plunge:
The fact that Adesnik is basically dishonest about what and how the FSM is used and what it illustrates pretty much demolishes his point.

The FSM is used for quite a bit more than 'creationism', and the fact that it started as part of a critique of Intelligent Design is irrelevant. Hell, the implicit argument in the original letter to the Kansas School Board was that the FSM religion was equivalent to 'real' religion and therefore equally merited insertion of its garbled creation story into the curriculum. It doesn't work, otherwise.

Now -- in light of that -- would it be fair to characterize statements along the lines of "FSM was intended as a critique of people trying to teach Intelligent Design in public schools" as 'basically dishonest'? Especially since the popularity of the meme has long, long outlasted the Kansas issue and many religion critics like Dawkins actually do use the FSM to attack religion generally.

I've noticed this a lot: theists generally seem to think that they can just lie with abandon when it comes to talking about critics of religion. It's almost like a second nature to simply not listen to what is being said, and instead argue against fantasy positions that are easier to caricature and poo poo.

You know, posters have been repeatedly making the excellent point that the same critique of religon in debate could be applied to many other bases that are oddly not being attacked, like libertarianism, human rights, etc. And, just as odd, few critics have bothered to address it, instead wasting everyone's time with dishonest attacks on Adesnik over the use of the FSM or arguments about decorum and politeness.

How would you characterize that? Would swapping 'atheism' and 'religion' in the bit I just quoted from you work?
2.2.2007 12:20pm
James Dillon (mail):

You know, posters have been repeatedly making the excellent point that the same critique of religon in debate could be applied to many other bases that are oddly not being attacked, like libertarianism, human rights, etc. And, just as odd, few critics have bothered to address it, instead wasting everyone's time with dishonest attacks on Adesnik over the use of the FSM or arguments about decorum and politeness.

Well, I offered a rather lengthy, and, I like to think, at least somewhat valid post addressing that issue yesterday (my 12:18 pm comment), which you seem to have overlooked, in which I argued that normative beliefs derived from religion really are categorically different from secular, comprehensive (in the Rawlsian sense) views.


How would you characterize that? Would swapping 'atheism' and 'religion' in the bit I just quoted from you work?

"Atheism" itself doesn't entail any ethical or normative views; it's simply an empirical view about the validity of the God hypothesis. You'd probably want to use "humanism" instead, which is one comprehensive view that relies extensively on atheist empirical conclusions. And, to answer your question (and relying on the arguments I made yesterday and need not repeat here), I don't think it would be the same, because humanism does not rely on an argument from authority in the way that ethical or social beliefs derived from religion do.
2.2.2007 12:30pm