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February 27, 2007


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Mr. Garnett, I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at here. You seem to be making a strong case for separation, but at the same time you reject certain aspects of separation. In particular, your reference to Ten Commandments monuments seems to imply that you approve of government institutions retaining such monuments. Would you clarify this for me?


Someone seems a little drunk with the free exercise clause and seems blind to the establishment clause. Yes of course separation calls for keeping religion out of politics, whether it be the institutions themselevs or just the religious beliefs of their minions. It means exactly that not only should the Catholic shurch not be directly involved with politics, but also that its followers keep theier faith out of politics as well and be able to engage others in the public sphere in a form of discourse that all can understand - one based on reason and logic.

So yes, the point of separation is actuallyto prevent religious believers from addressing political questions if the manner in which they are adressing them is based on faith rather than reasoned argument, to block laws that reflect moral commitments if those moral comittments cannot be arrived at by virtue of a rational secular inquiry, and certainly it calls for tearing down Ten Commandments monuments, becasue atheists and those of us who don't believe in irrational fairy tales and have some intellectual spine are made to feel like catholics under Mao when they witness theier governemnet embrace a specific religion's commandments for behavior hat are steeped in religious doctrine.

Hello Establishment clause. It is part of the notion of separtation too.

Remeber the enlightenment? Yea, Jefferson was big into it. Sure it doesn't mean anyone who is religious can't be in politics, but it does mean they shouldn't be imposing their faith based religious beliefs on the rest of us without secular, rational justification.

One need only look at how religion has influenced the foreign policy of of our current presisent to see just how dangerous it is. If religion shouldn't be a part of dinner party conversation, it certainly shouldn't have any role, none,in policy deliberations and the public sphere.

Save me Jebus.



Your fervor for secular humanism is almost . . . what's the phrase . . . fanatically religious.

Why are you so comfortable putting faith in reason but find religious faith so disquieting? Wouldn't you agree that many a tragedy has come from laws and leaders motivated by cold blooded logic? Why is fallable logic so much better a source of laws than the morality expressed in the world's ancient and varied religious traditions?

Also, LAK, could you please identify the societies that most closely resemble your dream of a secular humanist utopia where laws are completely devoid of "moral comittments [that] cannot be arrived at by virtue of a rational secular inquiry."


Ok, but let's analyze the claims here like a member of the aforementioned civil society.

The issue is why should we care if the Chinese Government, a big opressive authoritarian institution is involved in picking bishops for their state regulated version of Catholicism, rather than the Vatican, another big authoritarian institution.

The claim is we should be because The vatican resiting the State "is a reminder that free and independent non-state institutions - for example, political parties, labor unions, social clubs, and churches - are essential to the development and survival of civil society and political freedom."

My response is:
1. what grounds do you have to claim the Vatican or any centralized relgious institution plays the same role labor unions and political parties in the development of poltical freedoms. Seems like you are bootstrapping here and ignoring the unique consideration of religion (both in the establishment clasue context as well as the free excercise context) at the outset of the founding of our nation. Political parties and Labor unions evolved out of necessity to address those wrongs, they weren't important because of their 1500 year old instituional weight.

2. What is to say that your church, or any church is "essential" to the "development" and "survival" of "civil society" and "political freedoms?"

Such institutions (though I argueorganized relgious institutions had a much lesser role) certainly were important in the history of OUR country 150 years ago, but I'm not sure where you get the right to claim universality here over time and political context. The world is a different place over there, now. Political and social organization, political resitence, the exercise of freedom - they all happen very very differently now, or have you not noticed the computer in front of your face? (And you wonder why white men and claims of universal truth have taken such a beating in the recent academic past)

Ok so where are we?

I dispute "essential" from a time and social context perspective.

"devleopment" I guess I addressed inso far as the church (much less than political parties and labor unions) did have a (passive) role in the creation of freedoms in OUR country over 200 years ago. Labor unions and political parties can take a much greater responsibility for further development.

"civil society" I'm not sure what this is, other than to say there is plenty that is uncivil about our country with all of its supposed "freedom" and "civility." Literacy rates? Poverty rates? Depression? Anorexia? Britney Spears? The distribution of wealth? Environmental destruction (when there's heaven who needs Earth, right?) We can talk about the unfreedom and the lack of civility at another time.

"survival" of civil society and political freedom?? Well in many ways this is my favorite sub-claim of yours due to the irony I see in it. Plenty of your collegues would argue that now all labor unions due is increased costs and decrease efficiency. The Catholic church? Well it siphons off wealth from the poor, it represses sexuality to the point where Clergy were as a matter of statsistical significance molesting more children than other members of the public, etc. Political Parties? There are two monopolist parties who define the conversation and political spectrum like some two dimenmsional space (as opposed to the n-dimestional space politics should be). They then crowd the center and pander to the Rich. Dems to those corrupt labor unions and the entertainment industry. Repubs to the Military Industrial complex.
Social Clubs? Well the KKK did start public schools between the lynchings.

"Political freedoms" Well I am proud of the Catholic Church insofar as it talks about poverty and the distrbution of wealth. And I guess som relgious institutions did fight for civil rights of blacks (though not women). But There were plenty of segregationists who couched their policies in religion as well. And the political freedom of free exercise of relgion is only really important if relgion exists in the first place (or if you are an atheist and go to the court house and have to see the state commanding you not to take Yahweh's name in vain or have no other Gods before Yahweh, I suppose - which also requires relgion as a premise for the exitence of this freedom)



Rather than rambling on, you could easily prove your point by identifying one, just one, civil society with robust political freedoms that developed without any religious influence. Where is your counter example?


Yes, BAC. bad logic. If greed and violence and power and expolitation of others are your ends you have failed at the logic game. I promise.

Fallible logic is better than religious faith because it tries to be right and is often enough. It is less fallible than religious doctrine that violates known truth. The Earth was not created 6000 years ago. God did not create all animals atthe same time. The scientific method and logic are about updating knowledge, testing it, verifying the truth, trying to beome less wrong. Religion is not. It proffers personally gratifying but politically destructive narratives that are at odds with scientific knowledge or have you not noticed the people flying airplanes into buildings in the name of God? While inpossible to prove I can say with a good amount of certainty that there was no immaculate conception, that Jesus was not the son of God, that there is no Heaven in the clouds, that that you won't go to hell if you have sex before deciding to be paired off forever.

Reason brought me bridges and electricity and penicillin and indoor plumbing and airplanes and tom yum gai soup and the internet and the ability to talk to and even see those I love when I can't be with them. What has relgion done for me lately other than give me a nonsensical story and grounds for discriminating against those who don't share the same irrational beliefs? I still have my prayer(meditation) I still have my communal effervescent (concerts and lectures). I still have my community (my friends and loved ones who don't all have to live near me and look like me). I still have my faith - in love and human decency and goodness.

As for pointing to a society that resembles my ideals - I can't. But human history is one of progress, or have you not noiticed how different life is for humans today as it was just 200 years ago before the industrial revolution, or 1000 years ago, or 25,000 years ago.

Go read some Hegel and Marx, think about progress, telos and historical materialism and then get back to me on if you think pointing out what doesn't exist somehow matters in determining what might or could exist in the future. Study of quantum wave functions would be beneficial to your understanding of reality as well. What goes on at this instant, T = 0, only helps narrow down what might be going on in the future, at T > 0.


BAC, surely you are more sophisticated than thinking what happened in the past limits or determines what goes on in the future. Can you see how relgion might have had a certain significace for humans in just one part of our history as a species, at the dawn of our organization and undersating of thw wrold around us? organized institutional religion makes sense and made sense, but won't always make sense for humanity. How old is the species? How long has monothesim been around? Paganism and idol worship? How long has it been since we discovered what electricity is and how we use it? How long has it been since we determined the earth was not flat, and that the Earth revolves around the sun (though not before the catholic church killed some folks for such blasphemy)

We're coming in from the cold BAC. Time to realize you are on the same progress train as me. Take your head out of your bible and look out the window. The real world is happening and humanity is flourishing despite its troubles. And it isn't thanks to religion, but rather reason.


"The organization of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease, and barbarism."

V.I. Lenin

Sorry if I'm not ready to come in out of the cold quite yet LAK -- but history tells me not to trust the utopian promises of secular humanists.


History isn't finished BAC. Don't you know some sohisticated farmers and country dwellers? They just got sattelite broadband. Give it some time. Pointing to the U.S.S.R and saying "see look, secular humanism and progress didn't work" is an argument from ignorance. It's been 150 years since we've even begun to really try BAC. Give it 2000 more, would ya? We've just started to creat wealth and we're just figuring out how to manage our modern selves. We might kill ourselves before we get anywhere(espcially if the relgious are in charge of the bombs the scientists made) but if we don't there will be lots of prgoress to be had in the creation of wealth and its just distribution.

At least the Catholic church publicly worries about the global distribution of wealth. If they'd just concede the population thing... but they won't cause God wants as many babies as possible to become tithers.


OK, LAK, we all agree to give up religion as long as you really, really, really promise that everything will be alright in the future.

And who is acting illogically here?

The secular humanist's faith in reason quickly leads to faith in the power of state institutions (that go about logically fixing all the world's problems). And that, LAK, is a simple recipe for despotism.


I don't follow you in the slightest. Not sure what the power of state institutions has to do with secularism. You are making huge conceptual jumps, and any laissez faire secularist would probably take offense. Most of the libertarians I know have little love for Religious institutions or Chinese style command authority.

Rick Garnett

Thanks, BAC and LAK, for the comments.

Erasmussimo, you wrote, "[y]ou seem to be making a strong case for separation, but at the same time you reject certain aspects of separation." My view is that those aspects of "separation" that I would reject -- for example, the claim that religiously motivated arguments about political questions are inappropriate -- are not *really* part of separation, correctly understood. With respect to the monuments, I'm probably indifferent, on the policy-merits. That said, I do not think that a commitment to church-state separation *requires* one to oppose all such monuments, symbols, etc.


Whoa LAK . . . you admit that there has NEVER been a society that endorsed your brand of secular humanism, then accuse ME of making "huge conceptual leaps."

History is on my side here. Societies that have exalted secular humanism over religion (e.g., Soviet Russia, Maoist China) have always wound up in despotism.

Rather than give a counter example, you point to some hypothetical, theoretical, abstract conception of a future society.

Sorry LAK, but I'm not the one with my head in the clouds here.


BAC, you are just willfully ignorant and sound like it. There was no electricity either not too long ago, or internal combustion, automobiles or air flight. Both were anticipated. Have you never studied history, or studied it scientifically? Never read any Hegel between your bible lessons? Can't tell which way the wind blows? The progress we have made must come as a perpetual surprise to you. It must be kind of shocking to be you without any ablity to understand the trajectory of progress.

"Electricity!? There has never been electricity before. You have your head in the clouds to think we could supply electricity to the public!"

"flying? You boys think humans can build a flying machine! There's never been one before so it isn't goint to happen!"

Save me from the willfully ignorant Jebus.


Is it that you think that knowing about human history and knowing where we are today, we can't have any insights into where we will go tomorrow as a species? Or are you a Catholic and refuse to recognize what is happeneing to the Church in the modern developed world? There is a reason they focus on the second and third world these days. TELOS BAC. Look it up!


Thanks for the Hegel example, LAK, because it brings us nicely around to the point of the original post.

The point was that religions play a critical role on the preservation of individual and societal freedoms. This view is entirely consistent with Hegel's views and writings on religion and the teological development of history.

We can agree that, to the extent history has a teological purpose, it has not been achieved. But that's not the point. The point is that religion has played a positive, not negative, role in progressing towards that purpose.


Well, yes, in our country, which was unique in that it was founded by multiple religious sects at a time Religion was a completely dominant social instituion. The same cannot be said for modern times, and certainly not for China, which was my point.
It is hardly essential for bringing about political freedoms in any context but our own. Fighting for basic political freedoms in modern time does not necessarily involve relgious institutions.


Mr. Garnett, thanks for your clarification. I'm not in full agreement with you, but I can't say that my disagreement with you is strong enough to present a case.

Mr. BAC, I'd like to address your use of the silly phrase "secular humanism". I consider this phrase to be of no more utility than other group slanders, such as "religious fanatics", "left-wing extremists", "right-wing extremists", "environmental extremists", and so forth. I challenge you to provide us with a definition of your phrase that clearly differentiates it from "rationalism". Let's revisit some of your statements, replacing your sloganeering phrase "secular humanism" with "rationalism", shall we? I shall include my responses inside brackets.

"could you please identify the societies that most closely resemble your dream of a rationalist utopia where laws are completely devoid of "moral comittments [that] cannot be arrived at by virtue of a rational secular inquiry."

[Um, remember that the word "utopia" means "nowhere". The very notion of utopia is that it doesn't exist. Yes, we can talk about societies that might be closer or further away from utopia, but that is in effect asking which societies most closely approximated perfection. Given the frailty of human nature, your challenge seems rather ill-framed. Nevertheless, I'd suggest that the USA is one nation I'd put on the list -- precisely because of its highly rational nature. I'd also put most of the northern European nations on that list -- and ALL of those nations have political structures inspired by rationalism, not religious faith.]

"history tells me not to trust the utopian promises of rationalists."

[Whose promises DO you trust? Politicians'? If we want to be cynical here, there's no reason to trust anybody. I'd suggest that your statement is devoid of information content.]

"The rationalist's faith in reason quickly leads to faith in the power of state institutions (that go about logically fixing all the world's problems)."

[You have it backwards. It is the religionist who regards his own truths as god-given and therefore demanding of imposition upon all. The rationalist accepts the diversity of human values and attempts to devise political structures that tolerate that diversity to the maximum extent possible. The religionist rejects all who do no share his beliefs as infidels unworthy of equal treatment. The notion of the "Chosen People" did not originate in rationalism. And indeed, those societies with the strongest religious foundations have always been the most oppressive. Afghanistan under the Taliban; the many Christian states with their wars and massacres of intolerance; the early Moghul emperors; the Roman Empire during the Diocletian period; and so on. While you cite the modern communist states as rationalist states, you are incorrect; while these states were surely anti-religious, they were most assuredly NOT rationalist.]

"Societies that have exalted rationalism over religion (e.g., Soviet Russia, Maoist China) have always wound up in despotism."

[You misunderstand the nature of these nations. Neither nation exalted rationalism over religion. Both nations attacked organized religions for two reasons: 1) as part of the broad attempt to sweep away the old political structures; and 2) to eliminate any political organizations that might challenge their authority. I remind you that, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Orthodox Church suddenly revived. The Soviets had not attempted to destroy private faith (although they discouraged it). All those Orthodox priests and congregations did not materialize out of thin air in 1990. They had always been there.

China has NEVER been religious in the sense that you imply. Confucianism is most certainly not a religion. The Chinese government did attack any ORGANIZED religion that offered a threat to its authority, but they never attempted to wipe out religion per se. That's why there's still a Catholic church in China. They don't mind religion, they just don't want any powerful political organizations. That's also why they went after Falung Gong.]


Mr. BAC, when you write,

"The point was that religions play a critical role on the preservation of individual and societal freedoms."

you have it backwards. Religions have played little role in advancing individual or societal freedoms. There is absolutely nothing in the Judeo-Christian tradition that supports the notions of democracy, self-determination, freedom of speech or association, the right to a speedy and fair trial, protection against self-incrimination, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, habeus corpus, or any of the other notions that are central to our notions of freedom. All of these notions are derived from two sources: the Classical Greco-Roman heritage, and a variety of Germanic mores.

This notion that religion fosters human rights is utter balderdash.


Eras, as I am using it hear, a secular humanist rejects the supernatural as a basis for decision making (either individually or collectively). A rationalist believes logic or reason is the only source of knowledge. I could be a rationalist, but not a secular humanist, if I deducted logically that allowing religious legislation was the best way to govern (even if such religous legislation was only supported by non-reasoned views).

But you can squish the two ideas together if you want, Eras.

Now, as to the substance of your post . . .

Are you seriously arguing that religion plays a lesser role in the laws, government, and society of the United States than it did in Soviet Russia?

By the way, what do you mean by "Northern" Europe? Only Scandinavia? Everything but Italy? What about the Austria?

As for China never being religious -- it is also true that it has never done very well in protecting individual freedoms either.


"Are you seriously arguing that religion plays a lesser role in the laws, government, and society of the United States than it did in Soviet Russia?"

There's lots of religious influence in local laws and minor aspects of American government. But the great ideas of American government have absolutely zero foundation in religious thought.

"By the way, what do you mean by "Northern" Europe? Only Scandinavia? Everything but Italy? What about the Austria?"

I mean England, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. These all have secular governments that rely on rationalist criteria in making policy, not religious criteria.

"As for China never being religious -- it is also true that it has never done very well in protecting individual freedoms either."

That's neither here nor there. The Chinese approach to human rights is based on a completely different cultural context. I'm not defending or apologizing for Chinese abuse of human rights -- I'm saying that the presence or absence of religion plays no role in that phenomenon.


Right, not to mention major cosmopolitan cities in the U.S. are functionally secular, you know the cities resoponsible for the creation of the vast majority of wealth in our nation? I don't know where you live BAC, but I have a diverse group of friends and we all are completely secular with only nominal ties to our parent's religious institutions. I have gay friends and asian friends and black friends too! Catholics and Prods and Jews alike! We all share a similar lifestyle, have lots of fun and deal with each other through reason. None of us bases his decisions on church dogma. None of us worry about going to hell for being sexual. None of us think any of the other are less human or live incorrect lives because they don't belong to a particular religion. Certainly none of us think the pope is infallible or that Jesus was physically resurrected as a means of saving our imperfect souls. We have commuinty, we have our own versions of prayer and worship. We govern our cities with a notion of inclusion and justice. And we certainly don't impose any beliefs grounded in religious faith on others. It's great! Modern Western life! you should try it!


"I do not think that a commitment to church-state separation *requires* one to oppose all such monuments, symbols, etc"

and neither has a majority of SCOTUS. but more to the point, what's your opinion vis-a-vis, say, the paired 10C decisions of a couple of years ago (McCreary and ??? - don't recall the latter)?

FWIW, I thought they made sense in that due to the timing of the installations, one seemed clearly to be endorsement, the other not. my emphasis on timing arises as follows. any argument to the effect that our current laws derive from the 10C is manifestly bogus since several would always (or at least after the XIV A as interpreted by almost everyone but J Thomas) have been patently unconstitutional if enacted (eg, monotheism) and several others have proven to be unenforcable (eg, adultery). hence, although one might argue that "back then" the majority were enacted in our then-current laws, not today (I count only 3-4 left). hence, it seems quite reasonable to presume that the only reason to currently post all of them in a courthouse is to endorse the source.

BTW, that those who militate for posting the 10C in public facilities so often seem not to know what they are - and hence that so few actually appear in currently effective law - seems to argue in support of this presumption.



Eras writes:

"The great ideas of American government have absolutely zero foundation in religious thought."

So, when the founders talked about the "self-evident" truth that men were "endowed by their Creator" with certain rights, they were being rationalists? You'll have to connect the dots for me on that one Eras . . .



Can you tell us any stories about the funny things you and your friedns have done together.

I love reading about your friednds.

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