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Religion and the Norms of Political Discourse:

Northwestern University Law Professor Andrew Koppelman has an insightful post on the role of religion in political discourse. To avoid confusion, it is important to emphasize that neither Andy nor I are proposing government censorship of speech that violates the norm we advocate. The principles we embrace should be promoted through social norms, not government coercion:

A noteworthy development in liberal political theory over the past 30 years or so has been the claim, by such distinguished thinkers as John Rawls, Bruce Ackerman, Ronald Dworkin, Thomas Nagel, Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson, Stephen Macedo, David Richards, Charles Larmore, Samuel Freeman, Richard Rorty, and Robert Audi, that in a liberal democracy, political discourse must rely on arguments that are not sectarian and can be assessed in terms of commitments that all citizens can share....

This claim has elicited a bitter response from religious thinkers, who have argued that this deprives politics of important moral resources and denies them the right to state what they believe. This response, which has not slowed the production of these liberal theories of public discourse, gives rise to a puzzle: why did the liberals converge on and keep producing new articulations of a proposal, in the name of social unity and comity, that was so widely received as an insult? ....

I suspect that the answer has something to do with norms of civility that developed in the United States throughout the twentieth century. It is now well settled that it is impolite to challenge someone else's religious beliefs. Religion is private. Even if you think your neighbor believes really stupid stuff, it's not nice to say so.....

This formula works only so long as neither of you offers a religious argument that is supposed to govern something that will affect both of you. Suppose, for example, that you propose that homosexual sex be criminalized because it's an abomination before God. How am I to respond? If I disagree, my obvious answer is to say that your religious beliefs are wrong. By hypothesis, that is what I really think. But it's impolite to say that. So I have to twist around to find some way to say that your views ought not to govern political decisions, without having to say that they're false. These political theorists have been doing the twist.

Their strategy has been a disaster, because it has produced the opposite of what they have hoped. A doctrine grounded in universal respect has left a lot of actual citizens feeling profoundly insulted. This suggests that the norm of politeness needs to be revisited. As soon as A invokes religious reasons for his political position, then it has to be OK for B to challenge those reasons.

I agree with Andy's argument. It is reasonable to have a social norm against criticizing others' religious beliefs in political discourse (though not necessarily in nonpolitical debates about the validity of religion itself). However, that norm must be suspended in cases where one side to a political debate is using religious claims to defend its public policy positions. Thus, for example, Mitt Romney's Mormonism should not be an issue in the presidential campaign unless he or his supporters try to use Mormon doctrine to justify his policy ideas or aspirations to office.

It is true that criticisms of religion-based public policy arguments can sometimes descend into bigotry. But the only alternatives are either to give religious policy arguments an exemption from the scrutiny received by secular ones, or to exclude religion-based arguments from public debate entirely, as the liberal theorists Andy rightly criticizes seek to do.

How does this relate to my own earlier-stated views on prejudice against atheist candidates for public office? Very simply, atheist candidates should be evaluated on the same criteria as theistic ones. If an atheist candidate and his supporters offer purely nonreligious arguments for their positions, then his or her atheism should not be an issue, any more than Romney's Mormonism, or JFK's Catholicism. If, on the other hand, the atheist candidate claims that atheism provides justification for his policy ideas, then that atheism becomes a proper subject for public scrutiny. In my view, of course, atheism does not in and of itself lead to any determinate conclusions on public policy issues. One can be a liberal atheist, a conservative atheist, a libertarian atheist, and so on, without in any way contradicting atheism itself. However, atheists who claim otherwise should be treated in public discourse the same way as theists who make similar arguments based on their religious beliefs. A claim that atheism strengthens the case for Policy X can legitimately be met with the response that atheism is itself incorrect.

Waldensian (mail):

It is reasonable to have a social norm against criticizing others' religious beliefs in political discourse (though not necessarily in nonpolitical debates about the validity of religion itself).

I disagree. If you are running for office, and you profess to believe in a giant purple unicorn who runs the world, and you order your life according to its unicornish teachings, then I should be free to say something like: "We should not vote for you, because you are an idiot."
7.20.2007 7:31pm
Francis (mail):
A claim that atheism strengthens the case for Policy X can legitimately be met with the response that atheism is itself incorrect.

As an athiest, I claim that atheism strengthens the case for policies based on evidence and reason.

As an atheist, I claim that any policy which is based on religious guidance is inferior a priori, and should be rejected in favor of policies based on reason.

I further claim that the mere act of invoking (a particular) god in furtherance of policy is inconsistent with American / Renaissance values of tolerance, reason and rationality.

I further claim that there is not one shred of evidence acceptable in any court of law that disproves atheism (defined as "there is no evidence of the existence of any god"), so that challenges to the accuracy of atheism should be rejected as disproven.

(By the way, Thor told me to say this.)
7.20.2007 7:37pm
Waldensian (mail):
Just to pile on: if this guy were running for office, would it be "reasonable" to have a "social norm against criticizing" the views he expresses here?

Maybe you could claim that his theories are not religion. Accepting that, why should religion be treated differently?
7.20.2007 7:37pm
Houston Lawyer:
If a Baptist were running and taking the position that he would implement laws against selling alcohol based on his church's teachings, I would feel free to argue that his religion is wrong on this point. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.
7.20.2007 7:44pm
jimbino (mail):
How can someone write, "...neither Andy nor I are..."? Everyone are using bad grammar on this blog today.
7.20.2007 8:00pm
Bottomfish (mail):
I think the reason why sectarian political discourse is under a ban is fear of religious civil wars. There's a solid basis for such fear: look at England in the seventeenth century. These days we live under a regime of "tolerance" -- meaning that you can believe any religion you want, but not so strongly that you would impose its values on others.
7.20.2007 8:10pm
Phantom (mail):
I think the comments thus far have missed the point.

If I understand Ilya's point, it can be paraphrased to: It's not okay to criticize someone's beliefs, until they point to those beliefs as a basis for decision-making. At that point, it becomes socially acceptable to challenge the beliefs professed.

Thus, Time Cube guy would be okay, until he started basing his decisions on Time Cubism. At which point, the gloves get to come off and he's got to defend his beliefs against claims that they're delusional.

Purple Unicorn Man, by ordering his life according to purple unicornisms must, as soon as he puts his belief system out there as a basis for his acts, must face criticism of them. And he can't wig out and claim that he's being persecuted. His choice of publicizing his beliefs makes them fair game.

This seems eminently reasonable to me, except for the expectation that people will respond well to having their beliefs challenged in a public forum.

--PtM
7.20.2007 8:13pm
Reg (mail):
"If you profess to believe in a giant purple unicorn"

Nobody believes in a giant purple unicorn. Equating a belief in God, which billions believe in, to a purple unicorn, which 0 people believe in, shows you have never thought seriously about the question of what makes the existence of God an idea worthy of belief and why so many people might find it convincing.
7.20.2007 8:16pm
Francis (mail):
Ptm: what happens when people advocate for a federal ban on stem cell research on religious grounds, but fail to advocate for a federal ban on IVF techniques which result in the exact same lifeform being consigned to frozen purgatory?

What does libertarianism have to say about federal funding of basic research? Does the incredible track record of the success of that system affect that analysis?
7.20.2007 8:22pm
jimbino (mail):
I disagree with Ilya's point (paraphrased) that "It's not okay to criticize someone's beliefs, until they point [sic] to those beliefs as a basis for decision-making."

I would have asked JFK directly whether a veiled or direct threat of excommunication would affect his political decisions, holding his feet to the fire of answering the condemnation by numerous bishops of such a political leader to the hell reserved to those opposing the One True Church.

I would likewise quiz Romney on the Mormon nonsense that might affect his political or underwear decisions.

Most important for me to determine, however, is how a particular candidate, regardless of religion, can hope to serve as president nowadays and be so abysmally ignorant of science, math, and economics. What makes Christopher Hitchens so eminently preferred for president is not just his atheism, not just his brilliance and accomplishments, but the fact that he is a rationalist, a humanist, and a scientist, which cannot be said for any of the present candidates or even of any member of SCOTUS.

Getting back to Ilya's point: Scientists cannot bear to lend credence to beliefs of any kind, since they are, by definition, "evidence of things not seen" and are untestable. I would always reject a believer in favor of a non-believer!

But "atheists" (like Atheist of the Month Hitchens) rightly bristle at being pigeonholed as "atheists." Hitchens, like any good scientist, is agnostic and skeptical about everything; god is only one of the many superstitions that have to be challenged by the scientist. I'm so glad that Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, et. al., have finally broken the taboo. Of course religionists don't want it pointed out that the emperor has no clothes; it is the duty of the scientist to do exactly that, and to ask the difficult, embarrassing and politically incorrect questions that hold up religionists to ridicule.
7.20.2007 8:43pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Religious beliefs are often far more than a simple belief in god. If we produced a stripped down version of each major religion's beliefs, the Purple Unicorn would comfortably fit in the same set. For example, god parted the Red Sea for the hiking Jews, Mohamed rode a horse to heaven, and Shiva cut off Ganesh's head and screwed on an elephant's head

I wonder if one reason, other than avoiding religious slaughter, for avoiding criticism of religion is that nobody wants to be put in a position of defending this stuff.
7.20.2007 8:54pm
Bottomfish (mail):
jimbino: are you sure all of your beliefs are entirely rational? I doubt that they are. Therefore your hope of excluding religious belief from political decision-making is vain. Have you considered, for example, the religious aspect of environmentalism?
7.20.2007 9:01pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Does anyone know what religion is?
7.20.2007 9:07pm
jimbino (mail):
You're right, Bottomfish. I don't claim to be perfect and, like any real scientist, I welcome any and all rational challenges. I don't, however, welcome arguments based on authority of anyone, including Einstein, Bush, the Pope, the Bible or the Koran. Indeed I do reject most "environmentalism," starting with Rachel Carson's and now through its "global warming" phase.
7.20.2007 9:10pm
Curt Fischer:
@ Francis:

What does libertarianism have to say about federal funding of basic research? Does the incredible track record of the success of that system affect that analysis?
As a libertarian-leaning but federally-funded biotech research engineer, I have often wondered what the libertarian doctrine(s) would have to say on this point.
7.20.2007 10:04pm
Dave N (mail):
I think a person's religious beliefs will oftentimes guide them as philosophical or ethical principles. The values that a person's religious traditions teach will often guide that person's decisions--and if that person becomes an elected official, it could easily affect the policy decisions that person makes.

Of course, this isn't always so. Look at the number of Catholic politicians in the abortion debate who have taken the position, "I am personally against abortion; my church is against abortion; but I will do little or nothing as a Catholic politician to stop abortion."
7.20.2007 10:35pm
guy in a veal calf office (mail) (www):
I disagree with some of the glib comments above that religious based policy prescriptions should be disputed because of their religious origination. Much of religious based thinking started with script, but contains healthy doses of human reason, balancing and study. The devout led the the opposition to slavery, to the death penalty, and to many other harsh means of dealing with fellow humans. The devout were the first to establish hospitals in America, to feed and assist the poor, etc. In fact, the world is at a pretty good place right now, humanity has survived and thrived, because of devout people. As an atheist, I still concede that something is right with those people.

So, when a devout person argues a policy from a religious perspective, we ought to first consider the topic using our preferred method of reasoning and see if we can still agree. If knowledgable enough, I would argue within such person's framework as well, if not, ask them to step on my battlefield. Simply opposing a religious based position is stupid. You may actually agree with it.
7.21.2007 12:01am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Veal. That's a generous view. See "Sisters" about nuns in the US, for example.

However, the thing is probably moot. Few candidates for public office, or elected officials, or 'crats, trace their policy decisions directly to their religious beliefs. Or if they do, they don't say so.

WRT abortion, for example. All of us agree that murder is wrong. That a fetus is a member of the protected-person class is not a religious idea, but an idea of definitions. With a few minor exceptions, the old Judeo-Christian scriptures do not address the issue. One can be an atheist and come to the conclusion that a fetus ought to belong to the protected person class.
IMO, a certain set of views uses the religion issue to discredit public policy views with which they disagree. As, for example, pro-life. It is supposedly religion based and thus must be discredited.
IOW, first comes the policy with which one disagrees, then comes the accusation of religious sourcing.

The diff between pro-life and pro-choice is not, IMO, the difference in the sincere belief in the protected person status of the fetus. That's a rationalization on the part of the pro-choice people. But, really, they know what they're doing. The difference is that pro-lifers don't think killing a kid for convenience' sake is okay. Choicers do. The argument about blastocysts and so forth is obfuscation.
The religious support from more conservatice churches is because they are not unfamiliar with demanding other inconveniences from their adherents. The liberal protestant churches, though, are different. There is nothing you have to believe to get in, and nothing you can believe that will get you thrown out. There is nothing you have to do to stay in, or not do. It is the lib prots who rewrote the Battle Hymn of The Republic to say, "let us live to make men free" because they couldn't feature their members even breaking a sweat to make anybody free.
7.21.2007 12:22am
Randy R. (mail):
Aubrey: "The religious support from more conservatice churches is because they are not unfamiliar with demanding other inconveniences from their adherents. The liberal protestant churches, though, are different. There is nothing you have to believe to get in, and nothing you can believe that will get you thrown out. There is nothing you have to do to stay in, or not do."

Well, not quite. The conservative churches demand inconveniences from their adherents, who then *pretend* to follow them. In fact, right on que, we have this week's hypocrite story. Retired Baptist Pastor Coy Privette was arrested for having sex with a hooker. He is the President of the Christian Action League in N. Carolina.

And need I mention the scandal of the Catholic priests abusing children?

So let's be serious here for a minute. The difference of the *actions* between the congregations of conservative and liberal churches is actually fairly small, despite their professed beliefs.
7.21.2007 1:00am
Randy R. (mail):
Aubrey: "The argument about blastocysts and so forth is obfuscation."

Well, perhaps so. And all that argument from conservatives churches saying that the death penalty doesn't *really* violate the Ten Commandments is obfuscation as well.

And let's not even begin to talk about their bizarre views on gays!
7.21.2007 1:01am
Randy R. (mail):
Veal: " The devout led the the opposition to slavery, to the death penalty, and to many other harsh means of dealing with fellow humans. "

It's also true that the devout, especially the conservative churches, supported slavery, continue to support the death penalty and today even support Bush on the use of torture.

Which was hardly news to those people involved in the Inquisition, devout to a man.....
7.21.2007 1:29am
plunge (mail):
I've never understood why anyone can take seriously the argument that since I am not and no one ever is perfectly rational all the time then this somehow justifies being irrational as a matter of practice and even of thoughtful respect.

Richard Aubrey is a good example, however, of how religionists are never quite as dripping with hatred and disdain as they can be for those fellow religionists people who don't have the conversion-disorder beliefs they hold. Next to that, we atheists barely rate.
7.21.2007 1:38am
Waldensian (mail):

Thus, Time Cube guy would be okay, until he started basing his decisions on Time Cubism.

So if it turned out that George Bush himself wrote the Time Cube website, and if he said he believed in all of it, but that he didn't base his decisions on it, that would be perfectly fine with you? You don't think that would reflect at all on his qualifications to be President? You would support a "social norm" against criticizing his Time Cube views?
7.21.2007 1:51am
Waldensian (mail):

Nobody believes in a giant purple unicorn. Equating a belief in God, which billions believe in, to a purple unicorn, which 0 people believe in, shows you have never thought seriously about the question of what makes the existence of God an idea worthy of belief and why so many people might find it convincing.


This is deliciously ironic. I submit that your post actually shows quite clearly that you have not thought this matter through.

Let me see if I understand your point of view. You feel that a belief in your billion-adherent God deserves respect, and you would therefore support a social norm against criticism of a belief in that God in political discourse, unless and until a policy position is justified by that belief.

On the other hand, you feel that belief in my bizarre, zero-adherent purple unicorn theology can properly be "held against" someone. In other words, it would be proper and appropriate to say that "I'm not voting for Waldensian because he believes in the Purple Unicorn, and holding such a belief likely means he's just an idiot."

If I'm wrong about your views, you can skip the rest of this post, but I would sincerely appreciate hearing where you stand on these two questions.

Okay, God is within the social norm, the Purple Unicorn is out. Now substitute Zeus for the purple unicorn. What is the result now? Would you refuse to vote for someone who professed a belief in Zeus -- would you hold that belief against them? Or would polytheism be off the table, unless and until the candidate said "We should socialize medicine because Zeus told me to do so"?

A lot of people believed in Zeus. Maybe not a billion, but a lot.

Past tense you may say, people are smarter than that now, so I can still hold it against somebody. Okay, how about Vodou?

Not enough adherents? Fair enough. So how many adherents do you need before the social norm against criticism would apply?

Actually, I think you don't have any actual criteria for making this choice. I think you simply believe YOUR religion, and those you feel are "close enough" to it, deserve at least a limited "pass" in public discourse. They are entitled to a respect that, say, Time Cubeism or Purple Unicornism are not.

But why, exactly?
7.21.2007 2:29am
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think what some of the earlier commenters are asking is: Why can't we judge a politician based on their religious beliefs until they act on it in a public capacity while we get to criticize and demonize politicians for almost any other kind of belief without requiring evidence that it affected their public decisions? Frankly, I don't see any inherent distinction between religious beliefs and other sorts of beliefs that could be used to justify their different treatment.

I mean there isn't much question that other sorts of strange beliefs quickly get dragged into the political mud. There were several extreme examples about but to be more practical for a second what about a politician who believed that he had been abducted by UFOs? Or one who didn't believe in the holocaust? Just blasting back that these aren't comparable to religion isn't sufficent. We know that supporters of this division think these things are different. The challenge is to identify a property of 'valid' religious belief that warrants it's different treatment

Now of course I can list off a bunch of pragmatic reasons that might justify treating religion differently. Of course going for a pragmatic reason means you agree that in a better world we wouldn't need to treat religion specially but because religion has a particularly harmful effect on our ability to participate in reasoned civilized dialog we must avoid bringing it up.

Besides, the policy of treating religious viewpoints in this special way is making a semi-religious statement itself. After all there are a many atheists who have the extremely strong belief that religion ought to be treated just like any other belief. Thus either you must refrain from criticizing others for criticizing candidates based on religious belief or you have to give up your own rule
7.21.2007 2:36am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
WRT abortion, for example. All of us agree that murder is wrong. That a fetus is a member of the protected-person class is not a religious idea, but an idea of definitions. With a few minor exceptions, the old Judeo-Christian scriptures do not address the issue.

Depends I suppose on the definitions of Judeo-Christian and scripture.

I in the sliding scale camp on abortion, and I can justify that rationally, but for want of a better idea, I've adopted what I thought were the traditional Judaic norms for the bright lines, 40 days after conception and first breath. I don't have the power, but if I did I wouldn't have a problem imposing the sliding scale on others, but on the other hand if the bright lines were the trimester boundaries, I couldn't argue beyond personal intuition and opinion that my bright lines are better.

I'm with Veal -- a religiously-based position is not necessarily wrong, such as the religiously-based position :-) that it's appropriate to have one set of rules that are to be imposed on co-religionists, and a smaller set of rules that are to be imposed on everybody.

I wish the bigger governments were much smaller, but they aren't, so they have to examine the questions like "Should we use our massive power, as we do from time to time, to help the victims of this particular disaster, or to help those oppressed subjects overthrow that dictator?" The answer is going to have a lot of gut intuition as to what is "right" or "just" in the voting (and it is going to be an imposition, because the power and funding comes from the taxpayers, and is a limited resource that can't go elsewhere.) I don't know if that can or should be avoided.
7.21.2007 10:57am
Waldensian (mail):

Frankly, I don't see any inherent distinction between religious beliefs and other sorts of beliefs that could be used to justify their different treatment.

This is a much better point than my own religion vs. religion argument. I asked why Christianity should be treated differently from Purple Unicornism; but you ask the much more interesting question of why religion in general should be treated differently from everything else.
7.21.2007 10:58am
Elliot123 (mail):
"The argument about blastocysts and so forth is obfuscation."

The argument about blastocysts and so forth is an argument about the composition of the protected class. Note that even such Christian lumnaries as Thomas Aquinas didn't credit the blatocyst with a human soul. People respond that we know so much more now than in Aquinas' time. True, but how much more about the human soul do we know?
7.21.2007 1:01pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
This issue was addressed seriously in a seminar on the anniversary of Father Neuhaus' book, "The Naked Public Square" put on by Robbie George's James Madison Program at Princeton. One of the speakers noted that some of Neuhaus' arguments parallel Rawls' in the sense that Thomistic Catholics tend to eschew naked appeals to revelation or Church doctrine but believe "public arguments" must be translated into the language of natural law, which, in principle, all men (regardless of religious creed) can access through reason.

This is the way Catholic theocons, as opposed to Protestant Christianists, argue.

As I noted in this post, the irony is many of our Protestant Founders were quite suspicious of, indeed could be downright bigoted towards Roman Catholics. But, as "enlightened Protestants," they too believed in making public arguments under the rubrics of "nature" and "reason" while eschewing blatant appeals to revelation or ecclesiastical doctrine.

Yet, the million $$ question is whether their understanding of the natural law/natural rights is the same as the Catholic Church's (or Thomism).

I believe there are some profound differences there.
7.21.2007 1:44pm
Toby:
If someone is campaigning to be a political leader, it is reasonable to consider upon what basis they make their decisions, do they have a moral framework upon which they will rely to make future decisions, and if you can believe them when they say that.

A political leader can pass or fail the tests described above while discussing his Christian Beliefs. He can do the same while Discussing his Hindu Beleifs. He can do the same whie discussing his Atheist beliefs.

Political Leadership does not depend a whole lot on a detailed understanding of, say, quantum mechanics. Most people I know who have a firm understanding of quantum mechanics would in fact be lousy political leaders, no matter how rational they may be.

Note that I would classify someone who went quickly to the Giant Purple Unicorn description of religion as evidence that they lack perspective on others and on themselves, that they are crippled with a lack of empathy, and have a tendency to be smug and self-congratulating. Whtehr I am an atheist or not, I can reasonably learn information about their leadership style, and whther I could stand, say, to listen to four years of policy stements from them. Others might draw a different conclusion, that's what elections are about.

In any case, I want to know on what basis, and in what framework a politician will make his decisions. I want to know how quickly he can be bought, and by who. I want to know if he has any core of beliefs that will provide any resilience to his humanity - or will he, when handed great power, quickly become a Caligula.

And somehow his beleifs about undergarments don't really play in that discussion. Conversely, people who would stoop quickly to asking questions about those aforementioned garments would tend to discredit themselves as focused only on counting coup, on substituting snark for meaning. That, too, would tyell me something about how well I could rely on them for leadership.
7.21.2007 1:58pm
Waldensian (mail):

Note that I would classify someone who went quickly to the Giant Purple Unicorn description of religion as evidence that they lack perspective on others and on themselves, that they are crippled with a lack of empathy, and have a tendency to be smug and self-congratulating.

Can you restate this? I'm afraid I don't follow it.
7.21.2007 3:17pm
whit:
"Scientists cannot bear to lend credence to beliefs of any kind, since they are, by definition, "evidence of things not seen""

while this is generally true, i read a very interesting book a few years ago on quantum physics and elite quantum physicists. one of the things that struck me when reading the book was how many of these extremely intelligent scientists were theists. several also remarked that just a decade or more ago, it was much more difficult to be accepted as a quantum physicist if people knew you believed in God, let alone were an active member of a church. that has changed. that's good.

i also get tired of all these slags on mormon underwear. mormon underwear is symbolic, and imo i think actually makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways as a way to help prevent people from giving in to temptation. regardless, it is no more absurd imo than a yamulke but people feel free to ridicule mormons for their underwear.
7.21.2007 3:27pm
jimbino (mail):
We scientists also stand ready to ridicule muslims on their burqas, scientologists on their VOMs, catholics on their twisted displays of relics, and jews on their spelling of god, their yarmulkes and their mutilated genitals salved with wine and oral sex. We should all be giggling any time Hillary or Obama speaks of "prayer" or says that "religion was always important in my family." Yuck.

As for those "scientists" who believe in g-d, I'd love to see them stand up to debate with the likes of Houdini, Randi, Hutchins, Dawkins or Penn &Teller, the least of whom has shown the capability of practicing better science than "religious" quantum physicists or similar unicorns.
7.21.2007 3:48pm
whit:
again, you are missing the point

"we scientists"...

you don't speak for all scientists, and you are ignoring the fact that many of the greatest scientists are theists.

religion is not incompatible with scientific reason, the scientific method, etc.

i have also seen no evidence that quantum physicists (or any kind of scientist) that happen to be theists are better (or worse) in their field than those that happen to be atheists.

i love the way you use scare quotes around "religious" quantum physicists.

the point you miss is that there ARE religious quantum physicists and there are irreligious quantum physicists. neither have been shown to be better or worse at quantum physics since the study of quantum physics is what it is. and religion is what it is. and i have seen no evidence that QP's who happen to be religious are any worse at QPhysics.

dawkins, penn and teller etc. while quite brilliant and of whom i am major fans are not quantum physicists btw.

whatever you are trying to say is thus nonsensical, not on-point, and irrelevant to what i said.
7.21.2007 5:28pm
plunge (mail):
"religion is not incompatible with scientific reason, the scientific method, etc. "

I disagree. I certainly think that great scientists clearly can be and have been religious, and even that their religious beliefs have helped drive their passion for science. But I do not think it makes sense to say that religious belief and science are "compatible" in the sense that they share common agreement on method or standards of reason and evidence. Science really does have rules of methodology, and very pratical ones, that rule out the use (in science at least) a heck of a lot of what most people call religion. That's not to say that a PERSON can't be both scientific in their thinking and then additionally also be religious. But that's not the same thing as saying that religion is compatible with science. In many many cases, it just clearly isn't: claims about factual matters important to religion but also testible by science do overlap, and there is a real conflict of methods. And where they don't overlap, while science encompasses an ethic of agnoticism that simply does not endorse or condone the leaps of logic and certainty that religious faith very often praises and celebrates.
7.21.2007 6:12pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

These days we live under a regime of "tolerance" -- meaning that you can believe any religion you want, but not so strongly that you would impose its values on others.
Unless, of course, you tell people that they have to print wedding announcements for same-sex couples, or otherwise prohibit whatever form of discrimination is currently considered "wrong." That's where the "don't impose your values on others" approach seems to disappear.
7.21.2007 8:11pm
Waldensian (mail):

Unless, of course, you tell people that they have to print wedding announcements for same-sex couples, or otherwise prohibit whatever form of discrimination is currently considered "wrong." That's where the "don't impose your values on others" approach seems to disappear.

A full 35 comments before Clayton Cramer posted something bending the topic toward his disdain for homosexuality. A new record.
7.21.2007 11:05pm
ReaderY:
This is hardly a new argument.

Tolerance advocate John Calhoun decried sectarian ideas like abolitionition and as fundamentally at odds with a tolerant, pluralistic vision of America. He advocated precisely the view given here -- that it is improper to enact into law ideas based on an essentially religious view of morality that disrespect's citizens' lifestyle choices.

If he was right, as this post seems to be arguing, the 13th Amendment, which reflects the abolitionists and their sectarian, moral-mongering, intolerant perspective, has no place in out constitution
7.22.2007 12:47am
Ken Arromdee:
And somehow his beleifs about undergarments don't really play in that discussion. Conversely, people who would stoop quickly to asking questions about those aforementioned garments would tend to discredit themselves as focused only on counting coup, on substituting snark for meaning.

This isn't much different than believing in a giant purple unicorn that tells you what to do. The purple unicorn (not to be confused with the IPU, I suppose) and the temple garments are basically the same sort of thing: arbitrary supernatural elements plopped into one's life that are so ridiculous that anyone believing in them on grounds *other* than religion would be immediately recognized as an idiot who completely lacks common sense.

Sure it's snark. But it wouldn't be a successful snark if people's reaction wasn't "yeah, that's ridiculous"--which is precisely your reaction to purple unicorns. There's no difference except that purple unicorns are hypothetical beliefs and temple garments are real beliefs.
7.22.2007 1:26am
AlanDownunder (mail):
If my freedom of religion is freedom from your religion (and vice versa) then we are inescapably left with a secular middle ground. This holds equally whether your religion is Christianity and mine is Purple Unicornism, or whether your Christianity is Jesuitical Catholicism and mine is GOPinanity. If you're atheistic, you just want freedom from my religion because you don't need freedom of religion.

In the secular middle ground, policy will still be determined by votes that reflect the beliefs of all faiths, which is why secularism is not the evil that GOPinanity and Isnotlam hold it to be. Only a theocrat has a legitimate problem with secularism.

But as Andy and Ilya rightly perceive, the real problem is in political discourse. Unfortunately, this is a knotty problem indeed for countries with theocratic parties and/or parties adept at cynically fomenting and harnessing theocratic voting blocs (eg Iran, USA).

The medecine? Passionate upholding of secularism (decidedly not atheism) and denunciation of theocracy. The spoon full of sugar? Freedom of religion (including its private and public non-state and non-state-funded expression) and the right to vote.

How to deal in political discourse with nutty perversions of great religions and even nuttier inventions of new ones? Attack the nuttiness, not the nuts and their religious leaders. Sure they'll still take self-righteous paranoid offence, but stay coherent and fair. That has to count for something over time.
7.22.2007 4:09am
Brent the tired:
Actually, I believe that Elliott above has the crux of the real problem: the definition of "religion".

Unfortunately, our political system sees religion just as Justice Potter Stewart saw hard-core pornography: "I know it when I see it".

Forcing the Supreme Court to define religion once and for all would be THE premier issue of our time. I suspect that even now, the person reading this is trying to quickly decide what the real parameters are: does Scientology qualify? Mormonism?, Time Cube guy? Organized Atheism? Secularism? Organized Scientists who subscribe to a determined world-view?

And, what part does "worship" play in the definition of religion? How do you define "worship"? What does it mean to practice "worship"?

The attempt to control the discussion of any political issue always seems to include an effort to disenfranchise those with whom our personal world view disagrees. If I can define the parameters of acceptable discourse, I can win the debate.

The only question is, why should you - perhaps comforted in your position by finding a large number of similar thinkers - get to define what is "rational" (in the 'common sense' meaning)and acceptable to bring to the table of ideas?

Is everyone else but you (and your similar thinking friends) just too simple (read "stupid") to make their way through the maze of differing political ideas and then arrive at the "correct" conclusion?
7.22.2007 9:31am
Aleks:
Re: But I do not think it makes sense to say that religious belief and science are "compatible" in the sense that they share common agreement on method or standards of reason and evidence.

I think "compatible" here simply means that they do not necessarily conflict, not that they share the same subject matter or procedures. One can similarly say "Art and science are not incompatible". Now obviously there are specific religious tenets which are scientifically falsifiable (age of the Earth, etc.) but these are not universally held tenets and religion should no more be defined by its "problem children" than we should judge any other large scale phenomenon by its worst instances.

Re: He advocated precisely the view given here

No he did not-- he advocated enslaving (imposing his will very directly and profoundly on) other human beings. That is not by any definition "tolerant". That is not anywhere in the same country as "Live and let live." So send the strawman back to Oz.

Re: This isn't much different than believing in a giant purple unicorn that tells you what to do.

No religion teaches about "giant purple unicorn." Another strawman needibng to return to Oz! And no., this is not a trivial complaint. Religious beliefs exist in history. Like other cojmplex phenomena they were winnowed down by a quasi-Darwinian selection process which permits only the fittest of them to endure. If you are going to criticize religious beliefs then criticize real ones at least.
As for temple garments they are no different really than the wearing of uniforms, wedding rings, etc. We humans like to mark our membership in groups or devotion to causes by our clothing and adornments. Maybe that's illogical but it's part of human nature (heck, even some animals use the occaasional gaudy display to make a point). Temple undies may seem odd to most of us, but in principle I don't think you can criticize them as being any odder than a judge's robe, a bishop's mitre, or a general's insignia.
7.22.2007 11:11am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Tolerance advocate John Calhoun decried sectarian ideas like abolitionition and as fundamentally at odds with a tolerant, pluralistic vision of America. He advocated precisely the view given here -- that it is improper to enact into law ideas based on an essentially religious view of morality that disrespect's citizens' lifestyle choices.


This strikes me as completely wrong. In studying which churches were abolitionist I know some fire breathing conservative churches were and so were some of the most theologically liberal Unitarian and Universalist Churches. And just as many churches were on the other side.

Lincoln however, eschewed sectarian language and turned to the Declaration of Independence and the rubrics of "reason" and "nature" to justify abolition.

I think that was also the original vision of the Founders who hated sectarianism because they remembered bloody sectarian battles.

Sects were free to believe and practice what they wanted, but for public policy all must conform to the principles of the Declaration which explicate the ends of government. That's how we get "one" out of "many" sects.
7.22.2007 11:23am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Let me add some might note the Declaration of Independence's theology is sectarian itself. That's fine -- if there was any sectarian theology intended to rule us, it was that. But its theology is so broadly latitudinarian that it's practically pluralistic, to a point. The generic theism of the Declaration is not "Christian" or even "Judeo-Christian" but broader: It's universalistic. In studying the writings of its authors (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) in keen detail, I can testify they believed practically all religions they had come in contact with worshipped their "Nature's God," including Christians, Unitarians, Deists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, and Pagan Greco-Romans. Keep that in mind next time you read a quotation from our Founders talking about the importance of "religion and morality." They included all of them, but ultimately wanted all, including Christianity, to conform to the tenets of enlightened liberality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
7.22.2007 11:40am
Ken Arromdee:
Religious beliefs exist in history. Like other cojmplex phenomena they were winnowed down by a quasi-Darwinian selection process which permits only the fittest of them to endure.

That's true as far as it goes, but Mormonism, and temple garments, are relatively recent as far as history goes. The religion isn't even 200 years old. Also, I'd attribute the success of Mormonism more to proselytization and the demand to have lots of children, not to temple garments; religions may have a sort of survival of the fittest, but some traits will just be carried along for the ride because they happen to be in a religion that has other traits that are doing the work.

But if you must use a real example, try Xenu. Snark plays a big role in non-Scientologists' reactions to Xenu, just like non-Mormons' reaction to temple garments, and in both cases it's entirely justified.
7.22.2007 1:18pm
Francis (mail):
Unless, of course, you tell people that they have to print wedding announcements for same-sex couples, or otherwise prohibit whatever form of discrimination is currently considered "wrong."

One answer: people should be allowed to discrimate based on their religion.

Second answer: the government needs to weigh the liberty gained by not regulating a particular conduct against the liberty lost by allowing the discrimination to occur.

tada -- by not asking why people discriminate, we can drop religion right out of the question facing the government. And by posing the question as a balancing of liberty interests, we can minimize the impact of the religious values held by the legislators.
7.22.2007 1:20pm
jimbino (mail):
Aleks--

Compatibility of Religion and Science is at all not like compatibility of Religion and Art or of Science and Art, because Art makes no metaphysical or epistemological claims, while both Religion and Science generally do.

Religion and Science are compatible only to the extent that particular religious beliefs, such as the existence of the soul, god, heaven and hell, are not susceptible to proof.

There are a multitude of other religious beliefs, however, that are susceptible to refutation by scientific proof, such as the age of the earth and the efficacy of prayer. While it is true, as you say, that relatively few religions are dogmatic about the age of the earth, most of the ones we know in Amerika are dogmatic about prayer, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. To the extent that such prayer promises results that can be observed, it is subject to refutation by Science.

Such scientific analyses of the objective efficacy of prayer have been carried out since Francis Galton in 1872 and continue to this day. It can be fairly said that results have shown that prayer is just another unicorn.

Now it's not so problematic that an individual politician believes in unicorns or wears holy underwear, but it is demoralizing to realize that almost all of our presidential candidates and members of congress affect a belief in prayer and celebrate their superstition on a regular basis. It appears that we live under a Conspiracy of Superstition rather than a Constitutional Democracy.
7.22.2007 1:52pm
Waldensian (mail):

Religious beliefs exist in history. Like other cojmplex phenomena they were winnowed down by a quasi-Darwinian selection process which permits only the fittest of them to endure.

This claim is breathtaking in its inanity.

Where to begin. Okay, how about this: in what ways, precisely, is (the increasingly popular) fundamentalist Islam more "fit" than the (largely defunct) worship of the classical gods like Zeus?

What exactly was the quasi-Darwinian selection process at work here? How did it operate?

What are the characteristics of a "fit" religion?
7.22.2007 2:52pm
Elliot123 (mail):
1. Scientists are similar to the rest of us. They prectice their profession some of the time, and at other times they act outside of their profession. If a scientist is a theist, he did not demonstrate the existence of god through the scientific method, but came to that idea some other way.

2. Since we can't define religion, there is little logic in trying to fence off ideas as being religious. Hence, all ideas should be subject to the same scrutiny. The Purple Unicorn must face the same review as Hillary's health plan, the Iraq war, Tom Cruise's ideas about psychiatry, and the inclusion of Barry Bonds' homeruns in the record book.
7.22.2007 3:05pm
Randy R. (mail):
"As for temple garments they are no different really than the wearing of uniforms, wedding rings, etc. We humans like to mark our membership in groups or devotion to causes by our clothing and adornments. Temple undies may seem odd to most of us, but in principle I don't think you can criticize them as being any odder than a judge's robe, a bishop's mitre, or a general's insignia."

Then why hide them? I can't identify any person as a Mormon who wears the temple garments because I can't see them, unless I'm in the gym locker room. So they must have a value beyond mere identification of membership.

And they do. My uncle is a mormon, and he wears his garments all the time. And he does so because he believes that they add some sort of protection for him. Many Mormon's I've talked to say that maybe the garments don't do much, but then again, maybe they do, so since there is nothing negative about wearing them, and the potential of postive things happening is always there, they might as well conform.

Which of course makes no sense. One could just as easily argue that they bring bad luck, and so the best course of action is to not wear them.

This is no different from having a rabbit's foot, or a cross, or some other object which supposedly wards off evil, or gives good luck. Probably harmless, but totally irrational.
7.22.2007 6:00pm
Randy R. (mail):
The question of what is a religion is an interesting one. And what is a cult?

Remember a few years ago, there was a cult lead by Bo Peep, and some other creepy guy? They all committed suicide when the Haley comet passed through, because that was their 'spaceship' which was going to carry them on to another world.

People died believing it. And how can we prove that the comet was NOT a spaceship of some sorts? Isn't that religion just as valid as any other?
7.22.2007 6:03pm
Randy R. (mail):
Oh, the cult was called Heaven's Gate.

And how is that cult different from the Moonies? Are they a religion or a cult, or something else? I think most people would say they are nuts, and yet they control the Washington Times, one of the most influential conservative papers in the US.
7.22.2007 6:06pm
ReaderY:

No he did not-- he advocated enslaving (imposing his will very directly and profoundly on) other human beings. That is not by any definition "tolerant".


Not at all. He opposed religious bigots forcing their own religiously-based views of what constitutes a human being in opposition to both the Supreme Court and the recently discovered theory of evolution, which virtually everyone at the time took as scientific evidence that blacks were more ape than human, rendering those who might think otherwise religious fanatics opposed to reason. Are you suggesting that freedom of choice -- freedom to impose ones will -- is intolerant? Are you suggesting that being less developed isn't a perfectly adequate basis for being considered a "being of an inferior order" rather than being fully human?

Science of the time was quite rabid in its racisim. Religion, which opposed it, won this one.
7.22.2007 9:51pm
ReaderY:

For First Amendment purposes religion consists solely of theories about the nature and existence of a supreme being or being.

All other questions -- about sexual mores, when human life begins, race relations, the nature of marriage, free will vs. determinism, vitalism v. materialism, individual liberty v. public tranquility and order, capitalism v. socialism, etc., etc., etc., whatever one believes on these things and whatever position one takes, all positions are by definition not religious positions for establishment clause purposes.

The good citizens of San Francisco have every right to prohibit eating dogs, declawing cats, or wearing fur because people find such practices disgusting and immoral; Members of other communities can prohibit eating pork or whatever for the same reasons. It doesn't matter in the slightest that San Francisco's prohibition on eating dog meat happens to coincide with the teachings of Judaism or Islam and disagree with certain Asian cultures, because the idea that eating dogs is wrong is simply not a statement about the existence or nature of a supreme being or beings. Similarly, if another city enacted a prohibition on pork or beef, religious coincidence wouldn't matter either.
7.22.2007 10:04pm
Randy R. (mail):
Reader: "Science of the time was quite rabid in its racisim. Religion, which opposed it, won this one."

Depends on which religion you are talking about. The Baptists believed that the Bible mandated slavery of black people, and only finally recanted in the 1960s.

And slavery was sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the middle ages. In fact, there is a famous incident in which a Pope was given slaves as gift, which he happily accepted.

So church dogma DOES change over time.
7.23.2007 12:46am
Brent the tired:
ReaderY:

By your definition, many commonly accepted religions would no longer be considered "religion". For example, many sects of Buddhism do not believe in a Supreme Being. Scientology, already controversial, would have difficulty being classified under that definition.

That is why I propose that we find a legal, binding definition that will remove all questions in American jurisprudence about what exactly is meant by "religion"

You and I both know it cannot happen. It would tie the hands of anyone in authority from imposing his/her concept of what "religion" is on any given issue or debate. And that is a power - the power to set the definition - that no one wants to give up when it's their turn in power.
7.23.2007 1:02am
Aleks:
Re: Compatibility of Religion and Science is at all not like compatibility of Religion and Art or of Science and Art, because Art makes no metaphysical or epistemological claims, while both Religion and Science generally do.

I am not aware of any epistemological or metaphysical claims made by science. Most scientists deliberately avoid such things (as part of their scientific work, that is). Even in the one area where metaphysics is hard to avoid (quantum, physics) Stephen Hawking quipped, "when I hear Schoedinger's Cat, I want to get my gun".

Re: It can be fairly said that results have shown that prayer is just another unicorn.

Hmm. Here's the problem with such studies: they assume rigid, almost deterministic, cause and effect as in "I pray for X I will get X (and not Y or some other result)" You could apply that same logic to petitions directed to human beings and human institutions and come up with a similar disproof of such petitions, since neither people nor their derivative institutions always provide the hoped for response either. Indeed, even animals do not always respond as desired or expected.

Re: It appears that we live under a Conspiracy of Superstition rather than a Constitutional Democracy.

Sounds like there's no room in your reality for anything other than pure logic, rather as if you are Vulcan. which is rather sad, since how can you ever fall in love? Or even laugh? Those things require ditching logic too-- and care to dispute that they work? Reason is a good servant but a bad master, and the universe is not in fact under any obligation to us to be a rational, logical place. As Whitehead once said, it may well be not just stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

Re: Okay, how about this: in what ways, precisely, is (the increasingly popular) fundamentalist Islam more "fit" than the (largely defunct) worship of the classical gods like Zeus?

I am not a sociologist nor someone who has an in depth knowledge of Middle Eastern society. But it seems staringly obvious that is Islam (fundamentalist or not) did not provide some value to the life of its adherents it would not be embraced.
7.23.2007 3:27pm