Monday, May 12, 2014

Freedom of Religion or Freedom from Religion

George Will opened his column on the recent Supreme Court decision about invoking God at a public meeting with a mild irony:

After the marshal on Monday spoke the traditional “God save the United States and this honorable court,” the Supreme Court ruled that the upstate New York town of Greece doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of “establishment of religion” by opening its board of supervisors’ meetings with a prayer.

This ruling would not scandalize James Madison and other members of the First Congress, which drafted and sent to the states for ratification the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. The Congress did this after hiring a chaplain.

Will described the court’s 5-4 decision:

The majority held that ceremonial prayer — an encouragement to gravity and sobriety — is not harmful to the plaintiffs, who felt somehow coerced when present at public prayers, and who said such prayers are necessarily divisive. The court should have told them: If you feel coerced, you are flimsy people, and it is a choice — an unattractive one — to feel divided from your neighbors by their affection for brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity.

In a nation whose currency declares, In God We Trust, where presidents take the oath of office by putting a hand on a Bible, where  everyone pledges allegiance to a nation “under God,” some secularists wish to eliminate all manifestations of religion from public life.

Surely, it is strange that the plaintiffs feel coerced by prayer when they themselves seem to want to eliminate religion altogether. By their enlightened minds, religion is a hotbed of superstition and illusions. When a Christopher Hitchens declared that religion poisoned everything was he not hinting that we would be better off without it. Many of today's militant atheists have mistaken freedom of religion with freedom from religion.

Their own character is such, Will suggests, that they cannot make a conciliatory gesture toward their fellow citizens by sitting through a public prayer. 

To Will, the debate is a symptom, not only of American litigiousness but also of American hypersensitivity. We as a nation have become excessively thin-skinned:

Taking offense has become America’s national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them. As the number of nonbelievers grows — about 20 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, as are one-third of adults under 30 — so does the itch to litigate believers into submission to secular sensibilities.

One suspects that some of the thin-skinned masses are using moral outrage as a way to get their way. If throwing tantrums to get your way is thin-skinned, so be it. I suspect that, in some cases, those who are doing so are more manipulative than sensitive.

Being a moral individual no longer involves getting along with your neighbors, respecting their beliefs and even their practices. Now it involves showing how quickly and easily you can take offense. And using that attitude to impose your views on then.


Ares Olympus said...

Taking exaggerated offense for political power is maybe the oldest game.

I've liked George Bernard Shaw's snarky quote:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Its interesting to consider evolution means "change" while not necessarily implying a direction, while progress implies a direction, being different than regression, backwards.

Supporting diversity seems to be progress, but when the common ground between people falls too small, then what are we?

A couple years ago I went through a Presbyterian church orientation, including some of the 2000 years of Christianity, and it gave me some perspective on how easily we become divided by small differences, and how do we bring all these Christians back together, much less all the nonchristian beliefs, and pseudochristian beliefs, etc.

So there's one movement I imagine called "common ground" and so you focus on what religions share rather than disagree upon, and that seems sensible, but Atheists, who only see the vices of religion want none of it, or at least they group their common ground under goodness humanitarianism.

You'd think common ground between religions and humanitarians could be found. How do humanitarians "transcend ego" and raise awareness towards an unknowable higher authority?

I'd say sensible humanitarians would find a way, but religious folk and atheists alike have fundamentalists in their folds who are so afraid they might be wrong, that they have to make sure everyone knows how certain they are of their beliefs.

So maybe that's where sensible folks "agree to disagree" and let the fundamentalists have their say before ignoring them?

Anonymous said...

Another day, another thinly-veiled Marxist critique by the vanguards of victimhood. We have to listen to never-ending protests about everything unequal in society, and they want free speech to share their "cutting edge" ideas that have been the cause of misery and the death of millions throughout the world. Except, they tell us, "THIS TIME we've got it all figured out..."

Eventually these malcontents have to live with themselves and actually produce something of value -- something they've resisted all their lives. When that doesn't work, they turn on each other. It's no different than every theological fight-to-the-death struggle in history. It's ideas that frame the debate, and they have an idea that there is no God. I have an idea that there is a God. In fact, it's three persons and one being all at the same time. How do you like that one? So then I am dismissed as a superstitious know-nothing, a crank. Does that dispel the supposed "idea" they don't want to talk about? No, it does not. Their existence is predicated on my idea, not mine on theirs. Mine assumes there is something special about humanity, theirs is the contention that we're just bumbling sacks of protoplasm. Now, I'm not willing to kill them for disagreeing with me, but they are certainly willing to kill me, aren't they? And why not? If there's nothing special about human beings, they're expendable. It's all about power. Period. It may seem like it's a long way from a Supreme Court ruling, but it's really not.

The Marxist/Leftist mind leans totalitarian because it has to. If this isn't all there is, they're #$%@ed. The Marxist's materialist critique is always something so interesting to me, because they create so little of anything, material or otherwise. It is the great deceit of the malcontent, the one where they get to sit around and think they're smart, when there's no there there.

Warmed-over Marxists are always talking about the freedom of speech, freedom from religion, but they somehow think that the "free exercise" clause is just another anachronistic idea (created in corrupt colonial America by evil, white slaveholding men, or so the class struggle critique prattles on). That's because they don't believe in the free exercise of others' rights... just their own. At what point does this non-issue with the establishment clause (which is clearly not in play here, as there is no effort to establish a connection between the state and one particular religion) have to balance with the free exercise clause? Someone exercising their right to worship as they see fit is not an issue unless you want to control their thinking. And I think this is a lot of what we're talking about here: thought control. The free market of ideas is a great thing, as long as we don't have to hear any theological, spiritual and metaphysical ideas we don't agree with. After all, let's keep in mind that Marxism is a materialist critique. If you can't comprehend something with your physical senses, it's worthless. Kind of like a human soul, which I'm confident is the reason Marxists find eliminating millions of souls to be inconsequential. Read Marxist history and check out how well the "agree to disagree" works out.

I'd love to find some way to get along with such people, but their emotivism pervades modern America. I feel I'm in the minority. And if I'm feeling something, and I'm a minority, don't I get a hearing from these people? No, I don't.

This entire philosophy is a house of cards, if only the proto-Marxists would subject their high-brow ideas to debate. But they're not interested in debate, are they? Check out Ruth Wisse's column in today's WSJ. She wanted to debate feminism (another Marxist critique) at Harvard, but they can't find a feminist who's willing to show up on behalf of the other side.


Ares Olympus said...

A good demonstration of emotivism, Tip. Do you feel better now?

Dennis said...

The Founders of this country were all very intelligent men who were familiar with John Locke and the Enlightenment philosophers. In fact the Constitution is an example of an Enlightenment document.
They were also smart enough to recognize the way that language can be twisted to serve a personal agenda. That is why they were careful to utilize very specific meanings.

Amendment 1:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," To pray or to talk about is not to establish. "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof:" Ever wonder why the Founders included this part? So no governmental agency, group of individuals and/or malcontents, to include people who are controlled by an insatiable desire to be aggrieved by others can prohibit that exercise to pray or talk about their religious beliefs.
"or abridging the freedom of speech,' Interesting that this follows religious freedoms. Ever wonder why? One without the other will not stand the test of time. "or of the press," This was mean to maintain an adversarial relationship that would keep the Government in check. "or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This all was meant to be part of a whole statement.
And people wonder why there are a lot of us who fault how American history is taught if at all. Instead of Civics we have Social Studies with the emphasis on social and not on the checks and balances, both horizontal and vertical, in the Constitution that is supposed to limit Government and not the country's citizens in the free exercise of their natural freedoms, in other words GOD given.
The Constitution is as applicable today as it was when written and ratified. If one is really interested there are a number of good books. The interplay between Jefferson Hamilton and John Marshall, who was largely responsible for moving us away from limited government to an increasingly intrusive one.

Tip, as usual nicely stated with a passion that I always enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus: Yes, I do feel better now. Thank you for asking. And by saying "emotivism" I'm not saying emotions don't matter. Emotions do matter, they are a part of who we are. But they are not ALL of who we are. I care about issues like this because I sense a totalitarian impulse by those who practice unchecked emotivism. It's childish to want to shut other people's metaphysical/spiritual/religious thinking out of the public square because one has a belief that it doesn't exist. That's not an argument about public policy, that's an argument to ban certain thinking from the public square. That is dangerous. Just because one feels something doesn't make it true for others. I object to the Oprah-esque hegemony of subjective emotion as sufficient justification for a particular viewpoint one seeks to impose on others. I reject it outright, because it cannot be challenged, and maturity teaches that no one can make you have an emotion. Each of us is responsible for our own emotions and the meaning we assign to our experience. Emotions are to be simultaneously heard and challenged. They have to be discerned. Otherwise, they own you. I, too, believe in common ground. I am not absolutist and ideological in my views of human politics, nor do I have any romantic notions that politics can create heaven on earth. There is more to life. Just because one is "passionate" and "emotional" and "angry" about particular issues is not a justification to a advancing a position. It's not persuasive. But many of those who speak about "common ground" and "bringing people together" want nothing of the sort. Their life is a Burger King ad that's become a philosophy: "Have it your way," which for some a tagline that's been turned into a political philosophy: "I want it my way." Incidentally, that's one of the many problems with fundamentalists of all varieties (they're not just religious). The "certainty" you speak of as being the fundamentalist's raison d'ĂȘtre is astute. Admitting one might be journeying down the wrong path is a dash of humility, which is a virtue. Transcendence is a separate matter for intellectual exploration, but it's not separable from human experience. It's a both-and. So I agree with much of what you say, but I challenge what I sense is your characterization of what I commented on before as being a "demonstration of emotivism." It is nothing of the sort. It is a challenge to emotivism. Going back to Stuart's original post, I'm saying that just because someone wants their life to be free of religion doesn't make it binding on everyone else. And I don't care how much it means to that person. The Constitution is quite clear. I find it more alarming that 4 Supreme Court Justices see it the opposite way. Though I appreciate their concerns, I think they are exaggerated and seek an absolute ban where a balance will do.

Dennis: Thank you.