August 2, 2006
A Pro-Christian Jewish Agnostic Speaks Out
Another CQ post (did I ever mention I once had a book reviewed in GQ, not CQ? It was compared to Tolstoy, but Tolstoy won). This one from July 21st, 2005.
Hm... July 7th, 14th, 21st... do I detect a pattern here?
I could have more provacatively titled this post "Are Atheists Actually Demented?" because that is the impression I get from the founder and head of the premier anti-religion organization in the country, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State -- or United Separators, as I call them for short.
Up on their website, the United Separators have come out swinging against Judge John. G. Roberts, who the president named as his nominee to the Supreme Court a couple of days ago. In "Senate Should Reject Confirmation Of John G. Roberts To Supreme Court, Says Americans United," an unsigned article posted yesterday, founder and chief anti-religion guru Barry Lynn draws his line in the sand (hat tip to Michael Medved, who mentioned this on his radio show today):
“John Roberts has long been a faithful soldier in the right wing’s war on the Bill of Rights,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “He does not support personal liberties and should not receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.”
He cites only one example of Roberts' "war on the Bill of Rights": his brief, while serving as deputy solicitor general for Bush-41 (that is the say, the position of the first Bush administration, which Roberts, as their attorney, faithfully argued to the Court), which Lynn describes as follows:
Lynn noted that Roberts, as deputy solicitor general in the first Bush White House, drafted a key legal brief urging the Supreme Court to scrap decades of settled church-state law and uphold school-sponsored prayer at public school graduation ceremonies and other forms of government-endorsed religion. (At the time, Roberts was serving as political deputy in charge of crafting policy under then Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.)
“Roberts will work to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state and open the door to majority rule on religious matters,” Lynn said. “In a game with such high stakes, this unwise crusade should disqualify him.”
What? You mean -- Roberts actually supported enforced prayer in the schools, where young tots would be forced to their knees under penalty of physical brutality and forced to mouth words against their own religious faith? Yep, that's exactly what Mr. Lynn would like you to believe. (And note the reverse name-dropping, guilt-by-employment of noting that Roberts' boss was... Kenneth Starr, gasp!)
However, the New York Times, at the end of a lengthy and surprisingly flattering bio-piece [link no longer free] on Roberts, went into somewhat more detail on this case:
The government had asked the Supreme Court to discard an earlier test and overturn a lower court ruling that held a clergyman could not give an official address at a junior high school graduation in Providence, R.I. It asked the court to rule that "civic acknowledgments of religion in public life do not offend the establishment clause" of the Constitution "as long as they neither threaten the establishment of an official religion nor coerce participation in religious activities."
At the time, officials in the first Bush administration told reporters that the reason for intervening was a tactical decision to try to draw out Justice David H. Souter, then the court's newest member, and get him on the side of the administration, which was hoping eventually to change the approach to religion in public settings.
In the end, the court voted 5 to 4 against the administration and upheld the lower court's decision. Among those in the majority were Justice Souter and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Judge Roberts has been nominated to fill.
Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday that Judge Roberts's participation in the case makes him "unsuited for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court." He said that if confirmed to the court, Judge Roberts would "open the door to majority rule on religious matters."
So the case was actually about allowing a clergyman to speak at a junior-high graduation. Great Scott, it's a theocracy!
The hair-on-fire hysteria on the part of the United Separators at the mere idea of a guy with a backwards collar being allowed to say a word at a graduation is only marginally less irrational than the ACLU threatening to sue the County of Los Angeles unless they removed the teeny, tiny cross atop a mission in the county seal, lest some unsuspecting and easily influenced Hindu or Buddhist see it and spontaneously combust.
Full disclosure: the "Jewish agnostic" of the title is myself; I'm Jewish on my parents' side, coming from a long tradition of secular American Jews stretching back to about the 1830s. But far from sharing Mr. Lynn's frothing hatred of anyone who believes in God, I myself love widespread Christianity and Judaism in society.
I absolutely believe that it is vital for a free and civilized society that the huge majority of people believe in what Dennis Prager calls "ethical monotheism." Prager defines ethical monotheism (as I understand it) as the belief in one omniscient God who demands that human beings behave towards each other with both decency and justice. Unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.
So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!
For the rest of this crabby, pro-Christian, pro-Jewish rant by a secular agnostic, read on.
The necessity is clear: all of our concepts of freedom and liberty derive from belief in the divinity of the human soul, found in both Judaism and Christianity. The rule of law derives from the idea of universal right and wrong -- which derives ultimately from Judaism's belief (even before Jesus) that the law is for all, king and shepherd alike. Even the scientific method also derives from the idea of universal right and wrong: gravity in the United States in 2005 is the same as gravity in Napoleonic France, Mediæval Germany, and the Roman Empire, whether it was recognized or not... which means not only the eternal values of Western civilization and the United States but even the material benefits that derive from modernity all depend upon ethical monotheism.
Which is why the farther you stray from that societal religious belief, the more tyrannical, backwards, and poverty-stricken that society becomes. Europe has turned its back on religion, and not coincidentally, on self defense, on economic growth, and on justice and decency (examples available upon request). But they sure love their anti-American grandstanding!
We may pass lightly over economic basket-cases like Tibet, horrific "atheist" dictatorships such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, and the Latin American thugocracies (now new and improved in Venezuela!), and... well, the less said about the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa, the less likely I'll get my mug shot up on the wall of the Daily Kos: Wanted, dead or even deader, for crimes against progressivism!
(Note that just claiming to be a Christian does not make one an ethical monotheist; it depends upon one's actual beliefs, not the label.)
And I think it also succinctly answers Professor Bernard Lewis's question, "what went wrong" with Islam? Islam is monotheistic; but it is not, in my opinion, an "ethical monotheism." This is because in Islam, the most important duty that believers owe to other men is not to treat them with decency and justice, but rather to convert them to Islam, by force if necessary; and if they will not convert, to enslave them -- or kill them.
Ethical monotheisms very often behave unethically; this goes all the way back to the reign of King Saul in ancient Israel. But for every King Saul there is a Prophet Samuel who can step up to point out that the Law is for all. Throughout the long and evil history of slavery in the Christian West, for but one example, there were always opponents, some clergy and some lay, who argued that the institution was inherently unjust and wicked, for all men and women had divine souls that could not be herded like cattle. For centuries, the arguments fell on ears deafened by greed and inertia... but the arguments were there, ready to be used, when civilization finally matured to the point where it became the majority view in the nineteenth century.
Those arguments were never made in other cultures, for they made no sense: they did not have the concept of universal right and wrong. And they still don't, even today; I have never heard any deep or heartfelt rejection of slavery within Islam, for example; the arguments are merely of practicality, if they are even made at all.
The highest ideal of Buddhism appears to be acceptance of one's fate, from my reading; this is the ideal of perpetual victimhood. And the highest ideal of Communism and Naziism is obedience to the current party line. As I said supra, I believe the greatest ideal of Islam is conversion by any means necessary.
Only in Judeo-Christianity is the greatest ideal justice. For this reason, hostility towards mainstream Judeo-Christianity deeply offends me as a civilized Westerner, as an American, and especially as a secularist.
I want mainstream Catholics, Protestants, and Jews on the Supreme Court. I want the president and members of Congress to be mainstream Jews or Christians of some specific and heartfelt sect. Not some vague "Christian" who changes his religion over a bicycle path (if you know what I mean, and I think you do); but somebody who actually has a firm belief in some specific religion that actually sets ethical boundaries on his decisions and behavior. To quote my favorite TV show, "no man should be allwed to govern others until he has first learned to govern himself."
To repeat myself (because I like the phrase and because I'm basically too lazy to think of a different ending)... unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.
So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 2, 2006, at the time of 3:40 PM
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The following hissed in response by: Jim,MtnViewCA,USA
"provacatively" (spell check!) :)
The following hissed in response by: Infidel
Picking one line at random: "Only in Judeo-Christianity is the greatest ideal justice."
Aside from J-C's blatent subjectivity on the subject, you should get out and read more...a lot more.
Try Thales, Aristotle, Cato the Elder, all the good fellows who described the subject you claim J-C has a monopoly on.
The following hissed in response by: Big D
Ethics has something to do with the ability of various religions to help or hurt a society. But there is something else, something deeper. The concept of submission.
In Islam, it is all about complete submission to the will of God. Allah is all powerful, therefore everything that happens must be according to his will. This means that the world is not fixable, and no one is ever at fault. Accept your misery, it is the will of Allah!
It is very easy to go from submitting to Allah to submitting to a Mullah, or a despot, or a terrorist. Once you are on you knees you might as well stay there.
This is why, ethically, there is no real problem with slavery in Islam. If God wanted the slave to be free, and God can do anything, then why is the slave not free? It can only be because God wants the slave to remain a slave. We should not interfere with the will of Allah.
So as not to pick solely on Islam, Hindus believe that you are born into what you are. Therefore, bad things are punishment for a transgression in a previous life. In fact, your are punishing yourself! Try getting out of that one, smart guy.
Christianity and Judaism teach something very different. Our actions are our own, what happens is up to us. We are largely responsible for our fate.
In the case of the slave, God is all powerful, but he won't free the slave because this is a test. A test of the slave, a test of the slave owner, a test of the people around him. Good or evil, make a choice.
If bad things have an earthly causes, and God is letting us sort it all out for good or evil, and he will judge us on our actions later, then the slave must be freed.
The concept that the world is ours to make of what we will is what drives western civilization forward. It drives our technology, our culture, our politics. We believe everything to be fixable, perfectible. We are supposed to build the shining city on a hill, not wait for it to be delivered postage due.
Circling back around, why wouldn't we want sincere believers in Jewish and Christian religions on the Supreme Court? They seem like the ideal candidates to me, whether I agree with their particular version of religion or not.
Really atheists oppose believers on the bench because of an unstated assumption - that believes in religion are stupid because they believe in a silly myth.
The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard
Dafydd, your post on this topic reminds somewhat of a book I have read a lot about but haven't actually read yet (it's on the list): Rodney Stark's "The Rise Of Christianity", an examination of the sociological reasons for Christianity's success. The task he set himself and at which he appears to have succeeded based on the reviews I've read was to try and explain the rise of Christianity in non-supernatural terms. As Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek put it:
"Stark finds that Christians prospered the old-fashioned way: by providing a better, happier, more secure way of life...."
The following hissed in response by: septagon
I would have to say it is not "ethical monotheism" that is vital for a free and vibrant society for this fails to adequately explain Islam, and civilizations that thrived prior to the rise of monotheism such as Ancient China, Ancient India, Babylonia, Akkad, Sumeria, and Egypt. While you state that Islam is not an "ethical monotheistic" system you fail to demonstrate that Islam lacks ethics. You actually demonstrate that Islam has ethics but they are an ethic not conducive to a free and vibrant society.
The things that make a free and vibrant society possible is the rule of law, respect for private property, and the rights of the individual. It is an age old struggle from the first Sumerian city states down to today to maintain these institutions. As Thomas Jefferson said, government is instituted among men to protect our individual rights and property. It is other systems mentioned in your post which are hostile to these concepts such as Collectivism and Islam.
Europe with its embrace of Socialism places the state before the individual. As the rule of law individual rights and property rights are stripped away one by one in the name of the greater good the individual becomes more child like. Since the state has assumed responsibility for everything and the individual has no meaning outside the group. Why should one strive to improve? It is like the saying in the union shop to the new “Don’t work too hard, son, you make the rest of us look bad”. Since the late 19th century the USA has suffered from the same creeping collectivism that promises to rob our society of its vitality more that some athiest’s fear of a Christian on the Supreme Court.
Islam while monotheistic and has its own system of ethics, and while the PC police have been trying to convince us for years that all ethical systems are equal, Islam versus Judeo-Christian ethics clearly demonstrate this not to be the case. St. Paul states that you shall be judged by your fruits. The tree of Islam has borne some rotten fruit. Tyranny, despotism, terrorism, and poverty are just among the most obvious. For a greater exposition of these concepts I would suggest Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit.
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
I have to say I find it rather offensive that you assume that anyone who thinks differently from you must be ignorant.
First, I was talking about religons and cultures, not the writings of particular philosophers.
Second, I have never read Thales, but neither Aristotle's nor Cato's concept of justice is the universal justice for all to which I refer.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at August 3, 2006 9:17 PM
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