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February 27, 2007

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LAK

Well we go skiing and to concerts and rent houses in wine country and go on vactaions and attend each others weddings and cook meals and drink and have fun. We engage in philsophical conversation and the best part is our understanding of truth isn't filtered through religious lies! It's awesome!

ctw

prof garnett:

BTW, I agree with you re "separation of C&S" - utterly useless generalization. which is why I try to focus my discussions on specific issues raised in specific cases.

-c

Political umpire

"when the founders talked about the "self-evident" truth that men were "endowed by their Creator" with certain rights, they were being rationalists?"

1. They were not referring to the truth or several true things, but their own political theories. Where was their authority for the 'Creator' having said what those rights were?

2. Those rights most certainly were not and are not self evident.

Therefore, the founders were not being rational at all with that passage.

Religion influenced (heavily) Apatheid South Africa's government, the Taliban and (not so heavily) the United States. These systems of government cannot be reconciled. They each contained sets of rights that are not compatible with each other (primacy of whites, primacy of Islam, primacy of equality). Deciding which we prefer cannot be done by appealing to religious authority or origin, since all claim it. Therefore, we decide which of those systems of government is best on rational grounds.

Accordingly, whilst ideas about government might derive from religious authors and religious texts, their merit has to be judged on non-religious grounds.

BAC

Political Ump --

Nobody here has argued that a government's merits should be measured with a religious yardstick.

The argument is that religious discourse can amplify, rather than hinder, freedom and liberty (which is our "rational" or "logical" yardstick for measuring the merits governments).

LAK

How is that BAC. What do yo mean relgious discourse can amplify freedom and liberty? I don't follow. I mean relgion is necessary for the concept of free exercise to exist, but beyond that, discourse founded in faith does nothing but foreclose on Freedoms- a woman's right to do what she will with her own body, a dying human being's right to end his or her life with dignity. Hell Bill Frist and his disgusting religious Republican cronies were even willing to take a steaming dump on basic notions of Federalism by granting special jurisdiction to Fed courst in the Terry Shaivo case in the hopes that a Republican appointed judge would follow the party line instead of the rule of law.

So other than the somewhat circular free exercise of religion, do tell what Religious discourse does for freedom and liberty other than attempt to keep science out of science class and deny women the right to control their reproduction and terminally ill people the right to die with dignity.

BAC

LAK,

Take a deep breath and reread Prof. Garnett's original post, which precisely addresses how religion can amplify freedom and liberty.

LAK

Yea, I did. It pretty much is a circular argument as the only freedom religion helps to bring about is religious freedom, and I responded in detail above. Other than minority religions acting as a node for free exercise rights, there is little to discuss on the matter. Chian is a very different place an relgious institutions will not play the same role bring about personal freedoms there as they did here, as Chica is a completely different historical material context than 18th Century USA.

Why don't you actually attempt a response after you clear the dogma out of your head?

Rick Garnett

LAK, you write (just above) that "the only freedom religion helps to bring about is religious freedom." I don't see why it is "circular" to propose -- or, I would say, to report -- that, in fact, religion has helped to bring about "freedom" generally. What am I missing? best, rg

Erasmussimo

Mr. Garnett, I see nothing circular in your reasoning. I do differ with your assessment of the role that religion has played in human history. I do not perceive that religion played any role in bringing about freedom in human societies. It is, of course, easy to point out the many bloody wars and massacres fought in the name of religion, but I don't think that is directly relevant to our question. In considering the role that religion has played in history, I can cite just a few cases in which it served to advance the cause of freedom -- and they're pretty minor.

The first is the "Peace of God" system developed in the Middle Ages, which discouraged some fighting. It wasn't terribly effective, but it did slow down the bloodletting.

Perhaps the strongest example comes from the Spanish missionaries in Latin America, who repeatedly sought to protect the Indians from the local Spanish bosses, who were abusing the Indians terribly.

When we consider the foundations upon which our political and legal system is built, we find nothing whatever that is directly attributable to Christianity. The notion of individual rights is at core derived from ancient Germanic culture. The idea of a formal trial abiding by standard rules comes from Greco-Roman civilization, not Christianity. Democratic principles come from both Greece and the Germanic traditions. The concept of "rule of law" is fundamentally Greco-Roman, not Christian.

When we consider other religions, things come out even worse. Certainly nothing in Islam is conducive to democracy or freedom. The eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism) were profoundly antithetical to the concepts of freedom and democracy because they emphasized the self-suppression of individualistic feelings. If anything, they implicitly supported respect for, or acquiescence to, authority.

The argument is sometimes proffered that Christianity has bolstered the dignity of the individual, but I see nothing in Christianity that supports that argument. Remember, the emphasis on the individual was evident in both Greco-Roman culture and Germanic culture. Indeed, if you compare the New Testament, Plato, and later Christian philosophy, you'll see that much of the "Christian philosophy" that exalts the individual is really rehashed Greco-Roman stuff. Christ's own words concentrate on loving your neighbor, not asserting your rights -- or even respecting your neighbor's rights. Christ wanted people to love each other, not define their inviolate boundaries.

One could argue that Christianity deserves the credit for at least preserving and transmitting Greco-Roman cultural ideas to the modern world. I'll concede that point. I'm not trying to trash Christianity, I'm just objecting to the idea that religion is the source of what is best in our modern political ideas.

LAK

Circular I use too liberally. Just that you are arguing that religion is involved in bringing about religious freedom. The notion of religious "freedom" as some sort of legitimate political freedom wouldn't exist or be necessary in the first place withoutvarious religious institutions telling its followers different irrational stories. Now if you are making the stronger claim that religious institutions are essential for creating and maintating political freedoms other than religious freedom I might be more sympathetic to your arguement. But as I argue religious institutions on the whole tend to attempt to minimize personal freedom especialy recently. For every MLK there was a KKK in religion's past.

BAC

Eras,

By saying that "Christianity deserves the credit for at least preserving and transmitting Greco-Roman cultural ideas to the modern world," aren't you agreeing that religion played a critical role in the development of our current freedom and liberties?

BAC

LAK,

By "too liberally" I think you mean "incorrectly."

Political Umpire

BAC:

"The argument is that religious discourse can amplify, rather than hinder, freedom and liberty (which is our "rational" or "logical" yardstick for measuring the merits governments)."

Well indeed, but that doesn't get us very far. Some political theorists try and ground their preferred ideas in religion, as with the founding fathers in the quote mentioned earlier. That, however, does not give those arguments any greater validity. We do not applaud the US constitutional requirements of due process because we identify that they were laid down by the/a "Creator", instead we (those that do, anyway) think that they are superior theoretically and in practice than systems of arbitrary arrest and detention such as prevail in certain third world countries.

It is true that religious thinkers have given us some good arguments, but also bad ones. I really don't see it as an endorsement of religion that _some_ good ideas have derived from religious authors, any more than you would accept as a general indictment of religion the fact that other religious authors (the Taleban, for one) use religious-based arguments for very bad ideas about politics.

As we agree, one assesses arguments about politics and law independent of religious authority. Prof. Garnett says:

"The point of separation is not to prevent religious believers from addressing political questions".

No-one would suggest that they should be prevented, any more than we should discount people of different occupations, or ethnicity or anything else. Just that religous arguments - eg "the Creator says x, therefore we should do x - provide no basis for accepting x; we assess it otherwise. Unlike, say, apatheid South Africa, where it was an accepted political argument in favour of the regime to say that the Dutch Reform Church informed them that black people were inferior to whites.

Prof Garnett also refers to "the ambition of kings to expand their power, and keep down their rivals, by controlling the church and its affairs. And, by resisting, the medieval church affirmed the foundational and still-fundamental principle that the state and its power are limited."

Actually in mediaeval times the Church was quite keen on getting and retaining political authority for itself, and the other side of Prof. Garnett's coin is that the Kings were resisting that. There is a good argument that Henry VIII of England dissassociated from the Catholic Church not because he wanted to marry his latest fancy, but because he was tired of sending English wealth to Rome and receving his orders in turn.

Erasmussimo

Mr BAC writes, "aren't you agreeing that religion played a critical role in the development of our current freedom and liberties?"

Indeed I am. Again, I seek not to denigrate Christianity. However, we must be precise in our understanding of the role that Christianity played. It was not the source of any of the ideas that inspired the American experiment. We therefore should not look to Christianity for any political guidance or inspiration. Would that more Christians understood the words of Christ: "Render unto Caesar..."

BAC

Pol. Ump,

I don't think we are that far apart, but I am confused by your apartheid argument.

If you are going to allow religous discourse on political topics, then why is can't I make decisions base on my faith?

You can evaluate the efficacy of a faith-based decision on whatever grouds you like, but religous motivations do not make a political decision illegitimate. Reverend King had just as much right to preach equality as a political issue as the Dutch Reform Church had to preach inequality.

BAC

Right, Eras, we need to be precise, which is why I am utterly confused when you first say that:

"This notion that religion fosters human rights is utter balderdash,"

and then you agree that:

"religion played a critical role in the development of our current freedom and liberties."

I will happily grant you the "source" point for argument's sake, but you have to recognize the importance of the "preservation" point.

What good would the you ancient "Greco-Roman" ideas be if not nurtured through the centuries by Christianity?

Political Umpire

"You can evaluate the efficacy of a faith-based decision on whatever grouds you like, but religous motivations do not make a political decision illegitimate. Reverend King had just as much right to preach equality as a political issue as the Dutch Reform Church had to preach inequality."

Absolutely, no disagreement there. My point was that the religious founding of any argument does not add to its strength as a political proposition, but it's quite true that on the other hand it doesn't detract from it either. We assess the argument independent of the fact that the author is a Reverend or an atheist (or a chemist, or someone tall or short etc)

ctw

"religion has helped to bring about "freedom" generally."

this quote seems questionable for some types of freedom and for others manifestly untrue. consider these types of "freedom": political, material, and intellectual.

the first has been adequately explored by others. I'll just add that it seems no more meaningful to make the statement "religion has helped to bring about political freedom" than to substitute for "religion" in that statement: "mass communication", "technology", "the enlightenment", "people of exceptional intellect", "cultural history", et many al, each of which has played a role in getting us to where we are today. so what? some of these influences are arguably mostly "good", some are arguably mostly "bad". what value conclusions should we then draw from such statements?

by "material freedom", I have in mind minority rights and economic security. re the former, dr king was a courageous, religious black man, the son of a minister, and a superb orator. did his religion help bring about material freedom for minorities? of course, but what about his other attributes? take any away and he mightn't have been the exceptional leader he was. abolitionists were often religious; so were segregationists. care to suggest a measure by which we can guage what the net effect of religion on minority rights has been?

I'm not familiar with adam smith, but his bio in wikipedia suggests that in assessing the factors behind "the wealth of nations" he didn't credit religion as a major factor behind our economic freedom. and I'd be willing to bet neither did galbraith, hayek, et al.

but the easy one is intellectual freedom. by definition (per webster), the essence of religion is faithful observance of a system of beliefs. not subscribing to any formal religion, I can't speak knowledgably about "faith". but those who do typically emphasize the aspect of believing things independent of tangible evidence. that seems to me to be the antithesis of intellectual freedom as we now view it (not meant to be a value judgment, just an observation).

arguing the pros and cons of religion per se always seems to be a go-nowhere endeavour, especially pointless since for better or worse - like death and taxes - it apparently will be with us always (or at least for the foreseeable future). it seems more useful to address how those who are and are not religious can achieve some level of social and political harmony. which is why I prefer to focus on the more managable (though decidedly not easy) task of defining where the C-S boundary should be.

-charles

Erasmussimo

Mr. BAC, allow me to explain the distinction I am making. Yes, Christianity played a historical role in the development of Western notions of freedom and democracy -- but only as a conduit, not a source. Therefore, we can freely credit Christianity for this HISTORICAL role. This does not, however, in any way justify the use of Christian notions in CURRENT political discourse.

By the way, I have no objection to any individual relying upon religious beliefs to reach a political decision. If somebody decides that we should attack Iran because God told him we should do so, that's OK with me. However, I do not believe that such an argument should be given any weight in public political discussion, because ultimately it doesn't serve to resolve disagreements. Your god tells you we should invade Iran, my god tells me that we should pull out of Iraq -- how do we resolve our difference? Hitting each other over the head with crucifixes? The whole point of faith is that it lies beyond the reach of reason.

BAC

"Your god tells you we should invade Iran, my god tells me that we should pull out of Iraq -- how do we resolve our difference? Hitting each other over the head with crucifixes?"

I think this is the point where LAK should jump in and tell you to read Hegel, Eras.

BAC

Also, Eras, historical significance provides plenty of reason to pay current attention to a particular aspect of society. This is a fairly bedrock idea in conservative political philosophy, which we don't really need to debate again in this string.

Rick Garnett

LAK, I'm sorry if my blog post was not clear, but I did (and do) mean to make "the stronger claim that religious institutions [were and] are essential for creating and maintating political freedoms other than religious freedom."

Eras, it is not appear to me that our disagreement is very wide, given that you write -- and I agree -- that "Christianity played a historical role in the development of Western notions of freedom and democracy -- but only as a conduit, not a source." It strikes me that the fundamental Christian "political" claim, i.e., that there are things which are not Caesar's, was both revolutionary and essential to the development of individual freedom under limited government. Do you disagree? best, rg

BAC

"Care to suggest a measure by which we can guage what the net effect of religion on minority rights has been?"

I proposed one above, ctw, which is to evaluate how freedoms and liberties faired under those societies that most expansively eliminated religous discourse from politics.

As for religous preservation of intellectual freedom, you seem to forget the historical role of churches in education and the preservation of knowledge.

LAK

I guess you're right. The conclusion doesn't make an appearance as a premise. Saying relgion is important to political freedoms because it brings about and preserves religious freedom which wouldn't exist as a concept without religion in the first place does have an strange self justifying air to it doesn't it? It's not much of an argument at all, a self fulfilling identity? I'm not sure what the argument is now. We should care that the Vatican chooses its bishops and not China becasue Religion is important in bringing about relgious freedom? Something compelling and essential about assumng the necessity of religion and relgious freedom is missing from this argument to me, circular or self fulfilling or not.

Certainly Relgion has done nothing for any other political freedoms, right? For every member of the clergy who fought for civil rights, there was one who opposed it. And certainly these days religions do far more to foreclose on political and personal freedoms than they do to preserve them, right?

In no way is relgion essential for the preservation of any political freedom other than religious freedom which isn't circular but may not be much of an argument at all if the one inherently implies the other.


What freedoms other than relgious freedom do you argue Religion helps preserve? Freedom in general? The prgress of civilization becasue you claim credit for the church for the development of democracy in Greece and Rome? Is that what you are claiming?

LAK

right. Religion is important because religion is important is circular. That is if the Chinese didn't care about religious freedom in the first place, if there weren't multiple competing ghost stories to believe in in the first place, then religion would not be important in China as relgious freedom would be meaningless (unless the argument is Religion will be intrumental in bring about and preserving freedoms other than religious freedom.

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