May 11, 2010
Believe It - or Not
Does it matter that, if Elena Kagen is confirmed, the U.S. Supreme Court would, for the first time in history, have not a single Protestant justice? Were she confirmed, the Court would comprise six Roman Catholics and three Jews. Does this make a difference?
Honestly, I don't think it does. Sectarian doctrinal and theological differences remain strong, but they no longer translate into policy or judicial differences, in my opinion. There are pro-choice and pro-life self-described Catholics, just as there are pro-choice and pro-life Protestants; the same is true for most other issues, even moral ones like public prayer and same-sex marriage: You can find self-described religious adherents on both sides of every policy issue.
Where we find a stark policy difference, however, is between the religious and the irreligious, the believer and the strict materialist: Those who firmly believe in God and have a strong religiosity tend to think, act, and vote very differently from those who are secular, humanist, and atheist. There appears to be a very big distinction between those who see their religion primarily in terms of identity politics, as if it were a tribe or race, and those who see belief as a religious obligation with behavioral rules they must obey and a "catechism" they must profess.
(I ignore agnostics in this taxonomy. Although there are a few actual agnostics, such as myself, in practice, 99% of "agnostics" are actually practicing atheists: That is, they act as if there is no God, not as if they don't know whether there's a God.)
A religious Jew on the Court, even a liberal, would issue profoundly different rulings than would a very secular Jew; a religious Catholic would rule very differently than a secular Catholic, and so forth. Contrast the jurisprudence of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom are devout, practicing Catholics, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was raised Catholic but seems to have converted to Feminism and Wise Latina-ism in the intervening decades. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are also strongly and traditionally religious; I don't know about Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Similarly, though I haven't made an exhaustive survey, my sense is that the two Jews currently on the court, both very liberal and judicial activists -- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- are not particularly religious. I cannot find a biography for either that mentions attending synogogue nowadays, for instance.
(Note that "being a Jew" is very different from being a religous Jew; myself, for example... I'm unquestionably a Jew, but I'm not at all religious. Judaism is a religion, but Jewishness is an identity.)
The same appears to be true of Elena Kagan:
A similar murkiness haunts how Kagan handles her Jewishness -- she has alluded to it, but has not explicitly stated it since her nomination.
Her interlocutors in the Jewish community say Kagan is Jewish savvy, but they are hard pressed to come up with her own beliefs.
"Jewish savvy?" I think it safe to say that if she was a traditionally religious Jew, many people who know her would be speaking up and saying so, both those who support and those who oppose her. She appears to be a typical, secular, New York liberal who happens to be of Jewish ancestory.
Though I myself am irreligious, I think it supremely important that society be religious. I really don't care what religion a person practices, so long as it's based upon the Dennis Prager formulation of "ethical monotheism," an omnipotent, omniscient God whose most important commandment is that we humans treat each other with both justice and decency. I would prefer a religious Moslem justice over a totally secular Protestant-background justice, so long as the former practiced a form of Islam that was ethical monotheism (if such an Islamic sect exists).
It makes no nevermind to me whether we have a practicing Catholic, a practicing Protestant, or a practicing Jew; secular humanists and atheists, however, are just too prone to follow the siren song of the Left.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 11, 2010, at the time of 3:23 PM
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The following hissed in response by: Sabba Hillel
I think that you should point out that Atheism is itself a religion as it is a firm belief (in this case that there is no G-d). Note that I use the "holy" version rather than the "pagan" god, which basically means a super powerful magician (or group of magicians) who are totally self willed and amoral. This means that even if they themselves behave in a moral way, atheists do not actually have a set of tenets that can be passed on to their children and form the basis of a society. Even if they have a set of beliefs that we find moral, there is no underlying foundation that can be used to convince others to behave the same way.
I think that the main difference that you make above is that a religious person has the concept internalized that there is an objective law that stands above any current society and whose principles form the basis for judgment. As a result, he is able to rule objectively rather than twisting the law to fit the current political fads.
There is a story about Mayor Fiorello Laguardia who often sat in as a judge in night court during his term as mayor (in the middle of the Depression). A prisoner was brought up before him on a charge of vagrancy. He found him guilty and fined him according to the law. He then put twenty dollars into his hat and sent it around the court room, because that was the just thing to do, not because he felt sorry for him.
This is the way it should be. A poor man (or "victim of discrimination" in modern terms) should not be given a false verdict because we "feel sorry" for him. He should be judged honestly and fairly. Then, if he needs help, we should help him. The two are completely separate. A religious person can understand this. A "political" person cannot.
Why did G-d create atheism?
So that when a poor person comes to us for help, we should not say "G-d will help you". We should say, "It is up to me to help".
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