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June 28, 2007


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Kimball Corson

I agree that droves have left the Catholic Church without a problem. Many more, who remain in the Church, love their faith, but pick and choose their doctrines with care and ignore the rest. However, they are not a part of the quiet seeming hard core of Catholics to which I refer. Many in the Church, like President Kennedy was, could do quite well politically, without giving the rest of us a sense of being subject to a Catholic agenda in regard to their work in government. However, in this era of the asendent right in power, the pressure from the conservative wing of Church members pressures everyone, including moderate Catholics, to follow Church teachings and doctrine and enforce them as a mater of law or policy whenever and wherever possible. This is indeed a problem.

Nic Cruickshank

I do see your point, I respectfully disagree but I am confidant it is a matter of politics and the differences between our countries. I am not a Catholic nor do I attend regular organized churches but I find their influence strongest when they are correct and weakest when their argument holds no water. I fully believe the general population is capable of choosing where to hold the line with their doctrine and where not to. When the values of a sizable portion of the population and the doctrine meet as it did during segregation in your country, they are lauded for "interfering" or putting their perspective on the table with rules to follow if one wishes to be. Lately the church has been far less fashionable and modern values tend to run often times contrary to doctrine. Of all the things I respect about Catholics, I respect most their steadfastness in their positions. I do not think your concerns are without merit, rather I see them as justified concerns. I do, however, feel that the judges are not following doctrine exclusively as has been charged (not by yourself of course).

Kimball Corson

Indeed, not exclusively, but the conservative habit of mind is distorting things in other areas as well, and as Prof Stone suggests, precedent is taking it on the nose more than a bit.


"I fully believe the general population is capable of choosing where to hold the line with their doctrine and where not to."

You apparently don't follow US politics closely. Maybe in Canada, but not here.

"I respect most their steadfastness in their positions"

If there is evidence refuting a position but no inappropriate coercion, what specifically is admirable about this trait? Eg, suppose something along the lines of a "gay gene" is discovered - should the CC's adamant condemnation of homosexuality be respected nonetheless?

Respect for steadfastness in weak or demonstrably wrong religion-motivated positions is precisely the sort of reaction that various of the current crop of so-called "New Atheists" decry.

- Charles

Kimball Corson

Shoot, you don't even have to be a "New Atheist" to get lathered up over that sort of stuff.


KC -

I just stumbled upon your comments on another thread re 100% inheritance tax, and FWIW have entertained similar ideas.

The genesis for me (or perhaps reinforcement - don't really recall the timing) was regular discussions with a moderately affluent friend which enlightened me as to the myriad benefits today's young enjoy if they, like Barry Goldwater per a 1964 campaign cartoon, have exhibited high personal initiative by choosing to be born into such a family. (My naivite re such matters is a product of being childless - and old - and so having no experience with sleep-away science "camps", advanced math summer courses for pre-teens, etc). It would seem that such advantages should suffice and need not be augmented by undeservedly inheriting large fortunes made by others.

How adamant "make it on your own" proponents can support any other position is incomprehensible to me (ignoring the remote possibility of rank hypocrisy, of course).

Not meaning to hi-jack the thread, but it seems to be moribund anyway.

- Charles

Nic Cruickshank

Charles, I do follow US politics but not as close as I do Canadian. I do reject that following a doctrinal position suggests that a group is incapable of realizing where to draw lines. How many North American Catholics actually avoid using contraception ? I would imagine many ignore that issue as something not worth fighting over or even holding an argument on. Because contraception is convenient many ignore the Vatican's assertions on it. The public has drawn a line, it is just not where you are comfortable with it. As for the Catholic steadfastness I admire, there is nuance to the changes in position the Catholic church has taken but in general terms they are consistant with teachings from generation to generation, and thus their "steadfastness" is a laudable thing to me as it is completely contrary to modern conventional thinking and they do not care much about that. It is even a rebelious position to take when I'm sure the vast majority of western indidviduals do not think this is a positive position. I would say that since the Catholic Church does not call for condemnation of gays but rather their actions ... the whole love the sinner hate the sin type of thing I do respect their position. Again it is nuanced and this is not the place to go into voluminous details. New Atheists are free to hate and denounce Church positions in a free society I respect their wishes to dissent as much as I repsect the churches position to maintain position. I'm not particularly pro Catholic but in light of the amount of anti Catholic positioning I have seen lately I felt the nedd to bring some balance to the argument as things are seldom as simple or easy as they look.


Nic -

Well, if we are to have a serious discussion we need to more carefully define some terms. My interpretation of some of your language:

"doctrinal position": an opinion on some social issue that is promulgated by representatives of an organized religion and remains "steadfast" despite reasoned argument that weighs heavily against it. Eg, the example I gave. If you don't accept that holding people morally responsible for a "sin" that is actually a natural phenomenon over which they can exercise minimal, if any, control is a defective "doctrinal position" unworthy of respect, then we just have to agree to disagree. I would simply note that I am a big fan of equality and fairness, and in the presence of convincing evidence to the effect that homosexuality is a disposition over which one has no control, would find it offensive to those principles to suggest that the heterosexually inclined and the homosexually inclined should be treated differently. (FWIW, knowing many homosexuals, their personal histories, and what they have had to endure, I consider the concept of homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice" to be as idiotic a posture as I can imagine, even though the scientific evidence on biological/environmental influences is, to my knowledge, currently inconclusive.)

"the public drawing the line": I interpret this as meaning that the followers of a religion abandon or ignore doctrine when it becomes sufficiently disconnected with reasoned judgment. If this is even close, then contraception is a poor example. That is simply a matter of hypocrisy - follow the doctrine until it becomes personally inconvenient, then ignore it. I'm unaware of any new evidence that would have made the prohibition against contraception any less rational than it was before it became widely ignored.

But consider evolution. In the US depressingly high percentages (50 +/- 10, the precise number depending on the specific poll question) of the population claims to believe creationist nonsense and reject evolution, the overwhelming concensus view of the relevant scientific community. The public doesn't come to that position based on independent research; they get it from religious "leaders", accepting mindless doctrine and rejecting reasoned opinion. Ie, they "draw the line" firmly on the side of willful ignorance.

"modern conventional thinking": I'm not sure what you have in mind. If this is a reference to some concept of "relativism", I need elaboration since I haven't been able to get a good grasp on what people have in mind when they use that term. If it's a disapproving reference to the process of adjusting one's opinions as new evidence arises, then far from being a "rebellious" position, it is that of the "majority of [US] indidviduals" as evidenced by the poll results re evolution (et al) alluded to above.

"the Catholic Church does not call for condemnation of gays but rather their actions": I admit that I am unfamiliar with the intricate details of the CC's seemingly convoluted position re human sexuality. So, I will merely say that if in the interest of fairness it treats transgressions of strictures against heterosexual "actions" (premarital sex, adultery, sodomy, oral sex, etc) exactly the same as those against homosexual "actions" and offers the same avenues to sexual satisfaction to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, then I'll at least admit to consistency. But of course, it doesn't, being at a minimum opposed to gay marriage. Thus, if homosexuality is one day determined to be a natural result of genetics, nurturing, whatever, the CC is condemning members of one group to a deprived life based on a natural "defect" beyond their control. Unequal treatment and therefore not a fair position that I could respect.

"New Atheists are free to hate and denounce Church positions":

First, by "New Atheists" (a term, of course, not original with me and that I don't even care for) I mean: Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, roughly in increasing order of shrillness. "Hate" is a word that shouldn't be thrown around casually, and I wouldn't associate it with the positions of any of the first three. Although I haven't read Hitchens's "contribution" to the discussion, given his rather inflammatory style I can't be sure about him.

Even the choice of "denounce" sounds a bit defensive, which raises an important point made by the NAs: challenging religious orthodoxy most often precipitates an intemperate response independent of the tone of the challenge. Dennett, for example, in essence merely argues that religion is such an important component of society that it should be subjected to the same dispassionate study as any other social phenomenon. Dawkins seeks to refute specific religious beliefs, eg, the existence of "gods", and challenges others. He does make some caustic observations about religious indoctrination that sound intemperate out of context, but any reasonable person reading the examples would surely cringe at the practices described. Harris and, as I understand from reviews and interviews, Hitchens can be described pretty fairly as "denouncing" religious belief.

But to the point, I only suggested that some of these argue that religious positions shouldn't be respected purely because they are religious. I, perhaps carelessly, interpreted your respect for "steadfastness" in the CC's positions as having something to do with their being religious. If you simply mean that one should stick by their convictions until new evidence calls them into question, then I have no real quarrel. Whether the CC - or any other organization or individual - actually does this must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"the amount of anti Catholic positioning I have seen lately": in the US, five of the nine supreme court justices are catholic. I don't know the number, but at least one of the leading candidates for US president is catholic, and certainly all profess religious faith, a requirement for success in US political life. The last D candidate for president was catholic, and we have had a catholic president already. If you want to come to the defense of an "oppressed" group in the US, I suggest that catholics in particular, and the religious in general, are poor choices. Polls show that the ethnic/religious label the fewest US voters would consider acceptable for a political candidate is "atheist", and it is generally accepted that an admitted atheist could have no serious hope of election to any high office (I understand there is one rep who acknowleged atheism after election; presumably, he does plan to run for reelection). They need support much more than catholics.

For the record, the focus on catholics was yours, not mine. I have concern about neither catholics in particular nor the religious in general who do in fact "know where to draw the line", ie, who are moderate and rational. If I had to single out a potential threat to US society, it would come from extremists of whatever religious/political persuasion. Current dialogue in the US suggests that the number of these among the religious is disturbingly high and the number of public figures willing to "denounce" them is disturbingly low.

- Charles


"New athiests?" Chariman Mao and Joseph Stalin already tried long ago to rationalize society by eradicating religion.

Wouldn't you agree, Charles, that religious discource that is neither "moderate" nor "rational" can nevertheless take place in our free and open society?

And wouldn't you agree, Charles, that a citizen can vote for a candidate based on religious convictions that are neither "moderate" nor "rational." If not, what rule would you enact to cut such religious voters out of the democratic process?

Certainly the constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. But that clause does not delegitimize faith-based political positions, as argued by many of the so-called "New Atheists" and their ilk.



para. 1: I have no idea what your point is.

para. 2,3: Yes.

para. 4: You either haven't read their books or you have interpreted them according to your own bias. They have argued no such thing.

- c


Charles -- on point 1, the point is that there is nothing "new" about the "New Atheists."

Glad you agree on point 2.

On point 3, perhaps you should clarify your position.

You said, "I have concern about neither catholics in particular nor the religious in general who do in fact 'know where to draw the line,' ie, who are moderate and rational." This implies that you do have "concerns" about religious who do not fall within your definition of "moderate and rational."

What are your concerns? I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that you considered "immoderate and irrational" religious discource on political issues to be illegitimate -- which would at least be an interesting, although indefensible, position to take.

But perhaps your "concern" was only the mundane proposition that you disagree with positions you consider "immoderate and irrational."

So, what is your "concern?"


The NA (as I said before, a label I don't embrace - they are "new" only the sense of being vocal and having a larger than usual audience) have nothing to do with authoritarian tyrants. The NAs are trying to get the public to think critically about their belief systems. Their weapons are books, not guns and gulags. Surely anyone can see the difference. (Altho judging from the frequency of the analogy, maybe not.)

If you don't understand the concern with the prospect of having the world views of the likes of Falwell, Robertson, Phelps, et al, implemented as national policy, then we just have to disagree. Perhaps you would be happy in a theocracy. I wouldn't, but if the citizenry is willing to vote one in and accept the gutting of the constitution which would be necessary to legitimize it, I agree that is their right. But then one no longer lives in the America envisioned by the founders.

Your questions suggest that you think people who express positions like mine are trying to deny religious freedom. If so, you should read


The blogger, Ed Brayton, is a passionate advocate of 1st Amend religious freedoms - both clauses. He comes down hard on state-imposed religion, but equally hard on state-imposed restrictions on religion. He takes the constitution seriously and opposes the imposition of religion or non-religion equally. FWIW, that's my position as well. I disagree with people who suggest that relgious legislators should somehow suppress their religious views when they make law, if for no other reason than that it isn't possible. But having enacted a law, I expect it to pass constitutional muster.

Of course, there are differences of opinion on what constitutes state imposition. But to have an informed opinion one really needs to read at least a few of the relevant SC opinions to get a sense of how hard a problem it is to get the right balance. (Not to suggest that you haven't - just a general comment.) And a sure-fire litmus test for determining that someone hasn't and therefore doesn't know what they're talking about is use of the phrase "religion has been driven out of X". No, religion is alive and well for all values of X so long as it's not state-endorsed. (And occasionally even if it is, such as in congress and the SC with their clearly unconstitutional opening prayers. But most people just turn a blind eye to that practice since it equally clearly is unassailable.)

- c


Help me get this straight, Charles.

You say on one hand that you disagree with "people who suggest that relgious legislators should somehow suppress their religious views when they make law."

But you also condemn "the prospect of having the world views of the likes of Falwell, Robertson, Phelps, et al, implemented as national policy."

Suppose Falwell, Robertson, and Phelps were elected and became (God forbid) "religious legislators" in your first quote. They prayed each morning, then went about passing bills, making speeches, and casting votes according to what God told them. None of the policies they endorse are ever enacted into law -- so no problem with state imposed religion. Is it your position that such a "religious legislator" would have a legitimate place in governing our country?


You're making this unnecessarily complicated. I think - as IMO does any reasonable person - that anyone who can get elected becomes de facto legitimate no matter how objectionable they may be. You seem feel people with my views have a problem distinguishing between thinking someone a fool, charlatan, threat to the republic, etc and thinking they have no right to be in government. I can't speak for others, of course, but I don't have that problem.



"You seem feel people with my views have a problem distinguishing between thinking someone a fool, charlatan, threat to the republic, etc and thinking they have no right to be in government."

Well, almost. I feel that people with your views have problems distinguishing between a policy (rather than a person) that is foolish, threat to the republic, etc., and policies that have no right to be in government.

Take my example one step further. Suppose a majority of legilators share a common faith. They meet privately each morning and pray for God's inspiration -- then go and pass laws consistent with this supposed divine revelation.

I think many would think (very wrongly) that this is an establishment of religion. Some would even throw around the word Theocracy -- and maybe the religious legislators in fact think that is what they are doing, because if God wills it they make it law. Wouldn't you agree, Charles, that legilators could pass laws they see as "God's will," impose a penalty on us for not obeying those laws, and still not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

For example, suppose they think God's will is to increase fuel efficiency because God created the earth and loves it very much. Could our religious legilators make Detroit obey this divine edict without running afoul of the Establishment Clause?


You raise an important distinction, one that has typically not gotten serious consideration in this forum.

First, a caveat: I am a layman, so my opinions are based on very cursory, informal study of these issues.

I feel that as a general rule, legislative motivation should be ignored, altho there probably are exceptions that I am neither knowledgable nor imaginative enough to anticipate. (eg, motivation was raised as an issue - not determinative, as I recall - in Edwards v Aguillard, a 1987 SCOTUS case re teaching creationism). The issue as I see it isn't the motivation of the legislators but the effect of the law. I believe this distinction is consistent with the various tests used by SCOTUS, none of which seem to me to involve legislative motivation. (I might note that motivation sometimes seems to be used in an evidentiary capacity - eg, to show that an a posteriori effect was precisely that intended a priori. But my impression is that by itself it's irrelevant.)

Applying this general rule, I would say that legislators can do anything they like in preparing the legislation - in the extreme, they could ask the Vatican or Pat Robertson to draft it. If the subject matter is unequivocally secular (as in your fuel efficiency example), whether they write the proposed law to gain favor with God or with Nader is irrelevant.

It's when the subject matter is not secular that the potential problems arise. I believe almost everyone, even J Scalia, agrees that coerced religious practice is out of bounds. (Hence, even he doesn't really think "establishment" only means declaring X to be the official government-endorsed religion - unlike Thomas who, as I understand it, doesn't even accept incorporation and thinks individual states can in fact establish official religions.)

But most cases that make it to federal courts involve much more subtle issues, notwithstanding the ignorant sound bite "analyses" that inevitably follow the decisions. I have read many of the relevant SCOTUS cases, and despite having strong opinions about religion in general often am swayed back and forth as I read the majority and minority arguments.

So, to answer your specific question, I would say "yes" so long as the subject matter is secular, "maybe" otherwise.

- c

Nic Cruickshank

Ok Charles, by doctrinal position, I meant a position supported by doctrine, which may include biblical content or context or it may not. I am a layman and nor a cahtolic so bear with me here. some positions are admirable some are not. as for the gay thing, well again I'm no proffessional, but I ahev no problem with the church advancing hetero over homosexuality. It's quite logical for a group that seeks to grow and expand its influence through the expansion of its memebrs to advocate a position that leads to expansion over one that would not. I'm not interested in debating homosexuality just the churches position on it.

I disagree that contraception is a poor example, as I see it as one where common sense wins out over doctrine. If that is not sufficient then the churches opposition to war in all of its forms. It may have participated in centuries past but it routinely condemns war and acts of violence the world over. Catholics may agree with the principle but if they are facing war with a neighbour common sense wins and the faithful and faithless alike unite against a common enemy.

Catholics in western countries are famously devoid of adherance to doctrine. bringing up evolution here is just as if not more ridiculous than the poeple who you just admonished. Catholics believe in reasoned faith. Blind faith is not something they support. Evangelicals are the ones who think the earth is 6000 years old, be careful of the language you use. so however many people disregard evolution in your country it is not the Catholics churches fault but the failure of your public education system.

Modern conventional thinking is highly influenced by relativism but I would say to limit to that is just short sighted. modern conventional thinking is what you learn in college and university. It is popular thought as expressed by the established class, intellectuals. That is the common taught curriculum and thought process therefore it must be held up as what passes for modern thinking. Many labels apply but the symptoms of it are more telling that a description because that would be a whole other dicussion altogether. As for the rebellious position, thats debateable but of no significance to our discussion.

you don't have to respect the Catholics support for hetero over homosexual behaviours because their position is not about equality but rather about increasing their numbers. Its self serving and something most religions favour.

Evangelical Athiests are by far more hateful than say a learned one you may find in a coffee shop. They exhibit the same dogmatic adherance to doctrine Evangelical Christians do but instead of using the bible as a guide they use whatever texts or arguments they have read, to the exclusion of contradictory evidence. same coin, different side. Many of my friends are athiests, converted through university but to discuss anything pertaining to God grants one a full lecture on how God "can't possibly exist".

as for the denounced comment -- well my language is loaded at times but but I refrain from attacking language use like that. I find it telling more than anything of the writers own biases. I obvioulsy have my own, which is evidetn in my writing "style" or lackthereof.

you are correct in that the Catholics have no need of my help to defend themselves, but there has been a few editorials with a very obvious Catholic bashing agenda and that is what lead me to discuss here my thoughts on the matter. they do deserve some criticism but I expect that to be more accurate and less bigoted.

Balance is an obsession of mine even when being critical. you are very right that athiests have a harder time running for office in your country and that is most definitely not fair.

to be honest though many preceive the "Islam versus the West" position to be
at best a justification for foreign groups to rally around and fight the biggest bully in the schoolyard. Some feel this threatens them dircectly, others less so to the point of it being a huge joke with no basis in reality. every country faces many threats within and without, whatever your position I imagine you would agree that logic and reason are the only paths to "some" resolution between the two. that is short of assured mutual destruction.

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