Infidels and Evangelicals, United Against the Man

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Writing in The Washington Monthly, Steve Waldman points to the 18th century's most forceful advocates of a radical separation of church and state: evangelical Christians.

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  1. “Thomas Jefferson stood, dressed in a black suit, in a doorway of the White House on Jan. 1, 1802, watching a bizarre spectacle. Two horses were pulling a dray carrying a 1,235-pound cheese?just for him. Measuring 4 feet in diameter and 17 inches in height, this cheese was the work of 900 cows.”

    Cheeses love you and have a wonderful plan for your life. Let them show you the whey.

    -Allen

  2. Blessed are the cheesemakers.

  3. I’ve commented about this magazine before. …It’s been published for over a hundred years, as I understand, and if you give it a read, I think you’ll see that it’s written for Christian fundamentalists and it’s written by Christian fundamentalists. …and that it’s all about preserving the separation of church and state.

    The fear of government is still common in many fundamentalist circles, just not the ones that get the media coverage. …or so it seems to me.

  4. Anyone who’s read the gospels and comes away with the idea that Jesus wants his followers to seize political power either just doesn’t get it or worse.

  5. This is really a great article, thanks for highlighting it. Ken S. I’ll comment on your post by saying that lamentably these kind of fundies don’t speak for the majority (looking at basic survey data), though I would concede that this may be because of the lack of coverage.

  6. Ken Shultz,
    I appreciate the additional reading material but I fear that the ‘conservative’ (governmental influence) mindset has taken root there as well.

    http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/articleview/543/1/88/

    To quote:

    But how do we secure these rights in a world where others seek to violate them? We form a government servient to these God-given rights, or more precisely, a government under God. “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men?” In the American view the only legitimate exercise of force by one individual over another, or by a government over its people, is in the defense of these natural rights.

    This concept is the foundation of American liberty. And because it defines limits to the powers of government, it is supremely offensive to the radicals of the left. They abhor the words ‘under God’ because these words stand in the way of an all-powerful state.

  7. I am by no stretch a leftist radical but having a lack of any particular faith (mono- or polytheistic) that quote strikes me as being disingenuous and downright inflammatory. To say that I don’t believe in the American ideal of governance over man only to protect natural rights because I don’t believe those rights are granted by an omnipotent creator (God) is false and misleading. You do not need to believe and proclaim that a god has granted you the rights to do things unless you wish to use that power to rule over “heathens” and “infidels” by having “moral superiority”.

  8. “If the source of our fundamental rights is not God, then the source becomes people–or more precisely, a government of people. And rights that can be extended by government can also be withdrawn by government.”

    —-Senator Tom McClintock represents the 19th Senate District in the California State Legislature

    I’m not defending Tom McClintock’s piece, and I’m not saying that Liberty Magazine is always right. …I’m not saying that that this is a libertarian, Christian fundamentalist magazine either. I’m saying that there is a relatively sizable, Christian fundamentalist population out there that’s extremely mistrustful of government.

    The idea being expressed in the piece you quoted–and try to read it from a fundamentalist perspective–is that if the government isn’t subservient to our God given rights, then our rights are subservient to government–and we can’t have that. …I fail to see how that’s indicative of a “governmental influence mindset”.

  9. I might have added the following Kwix, which is taken from the Editor’s note at the bottom of the piece you linked:

    Inspiring words from a leading political figure. There is a lot at stake in the Pledge of Allegiance debates. His essential point of authority is insightful. There is, of course, a danger in the way some argue that the U.S. government is founded on Christianity. That is not so, and was never intended to be so. The United States arose out of a society that had many shared Christian assumptions, and the framers of the Constitution were acutely aware that government authority derives from a higher power. But the government itself was intended to be a secular system, separate from religious power and control. Editor.

    P.S. I guess I am defending something or other.

  10. I’m all for separation of church and state, properly understood, as it protects the church as much as it does the state. A church that becomes directly involved in the operation of a government soon becomes a church directly controlled by that govt (as happened with the Spanish Inquisition). The loss of all its earthly power is the best thing to happen to the Catholic Church in the past 1000 years.

    However, the phrase is often interpreted to mean that any belief influenced by one’s religion must never enter the arena of politics. Even when exercising the power that all people have access to, as voters and/or officeholders, religious people are expected to refrain from allowing such beliefs to “taint” their judgement. The same restriction, however, does not apply to devotees of secular ideologies like rad feminism and environmentalism.

    Thus, despite the fact that, while many religions address the topic of abortion as a matter of faith, the case for considering abortion to be a form of homicide can be (and has been) presented in totally secular terms, without appeal to the supernatural, abortion opponents are accused of violating the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, the radical feminist’s wet dream of open season on embryos/fetuses throughout all nine months of pregnancy stands as the law of the land.

  11. Whoa. Way too many nested adverbial and subordinate clauses in that last post.

    Yet another sign that I’ve been reading too many encyclicals… 😉

  12. Yeah, back then Evangelicals were the minority so it was to their advantage. Now that they’re the majority separation of church and state doesn’t look so sweet. It’s all about the dollar.

  13. Ken Shultz,
    Yeah, my mistake for not reading the Editor’s comments. Learn from me kids, this is what happens when you type before you think.

  14. Not at all Kwix…

    To most people’s ear, when fundamentalists talk about God given anything being over government, they’re also talking about government being over all of us.

  15. this is what happens when you type before you think.

    The government often coerces before it thinks. And when it does think before coercion, it’s often in a malicious manner.

  16. I wouldn’t’ve thought a cheese only that size would weigh that much.

    Anyway, the situation these days has changed so much since Revolutionary times that it’s only to be expected that evangelicals would’ve switched stances. I wrote this a few years ago to illustrate that problem, among others:

    http://users.bestweb.net/~robgood/politic/religious.html

    These days gov’t is so big that if you don’t try to use the state to favor your interest, you’ll only be subject to those who wish to use it against you, with no offsetting benefit. For instance, when you’re taxed so much to support schools, you’re deprived of that portion you might’ve wanted to donate to a church, so why not try to have some of that tax money used for religious teaching? When the state is big enough, there’s no stable point of neutrality it can reach on big interests such as religion.

    Analysts such as Mr. Waldman seem to fail to take this different milieu into account. Is he missing something, or am I?

  17. Whenever the media reports on religion it’s always “institutional religion”, i.e. an organized church. Alot of theist’s, including those who are well read in the bible, don’t belong to an organized church. Perhaps they make up 25 percent or more of the poulation. Maybe they outnumber Catholics. They just don’t have an organization that politicians and journalist can cite. So their lumped in with the so-called “people without faith”. I think guys like James Dobson and Pat Robertson are charlatans. David Barton is decietful. He is notorious for quoting out of context.

    The first 16 words of the first amendment are divided into the establishment clause and “free exercise” clause. Free exercise means one does not have to follow a priest or pastor. And we sure as hell don’t look to the government to find truth.

  18. Our rights do not come from God. There is no God.

    The only mention of God in the Constitution is the date, which, following the Augustine calender, is based on the life of Christ, and so, whether one is religious or not, it is, in fact, the year of “our Lord”. Our rights come from each other in our constituional representative democracy. Our rights can not come from God because the monotheistic traditions do not spell them out with any discernable specificity applicable to all too many realities of the modern world.

    Crimethink,

    “Thus, despite the fact that, while many religions address the topic of abortion as a matter of faith, the case for considering abortion to be a form of homicide can be (and has been) presented in totally secular terms, without appeal to the supernatural, abortion opponents are accused of violating the separation of church and state.”

    Yeah, right – like intelligent design is secular too, right? No thinking non-religious person believes in any of the specious rationalizations for the “pro-life” (but only in the womb and only if it’s someone else’s womb) that attempt to present themselves as “secular.” The fact is that an insentient embryo is not a human being any more than an egg is a chicken or a seed is a tree. Only a moron would buy the “secular” argument against early term elective abortion.

    “Meanwhile, the radical feminist’s wet dream of open season on embryos/fetuses throughout all nine months of pregnancy stands as the law of the land.”

    This is how a sick mind thinks. You’re right – it is a crime when you “think.” Perhaps you have desirous dreams of murder, but “radical feminists” (women who dress well and have good jobs, I assume…) do not want or need abortions. They simply understand that there are those amongst us who do – like poor slobby girls who get pregnant from idiots who think that “radical feminists” are big problem in America.

    JMJ

  19. So how long ago did you quit smoking, Jersey?

  20. One person’s moral views may come from his or her understanding of human dignity; another’s view may come from utilitarianism; another’s may come from libertarianism; another’s may come from fundamentalist Christianity. None of these bases are somehow provable; none is constitutionally superior to the others. As we see, many of the arguments for religious freedom itself came from the “sectarian religious beliefs” of deeply religious people; I suspect that they supported religious freedom for religious reasons since religious reasons were the only moral reasons that counted to them.

    Any other approach is itself deeply discriminatory — it suggests that atheists, agnostics, utilitarians, and the like are entitled to enact their moral views into law (because they don’t rest on religion) while devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others are forbidden from enacting their moral views into law (because they do rest on religion). That’s not mandated by the Constitution, it’s not in my view compatible with our national traditions, and it’s not right.

    I think it’s certainly proper to ask whether a law is morally and constitutionally sound. A law banning — or allowing — abortion, the destruction of embryos/blastocysts for medical purposes, or the killing of members of endangered species might be sound or unsound.

    But it shouldn’t matter whether someone supports them because of his belief that laws should turn on the greatest good for the greatest number, his belief that we are all sons and daughters of Gaya and must thus protect our environment, or his belief in the Bible. For most, quite possibly all, of us, our moral beliefs ultimately rest on unproven and unprovable moral axioms. The Constitution doesn’t consign those whose moral beliefs rest on unproven and unprovable religious axioms to a lesser citizenship, under which they may not enact their views into law, while others with the same views that rest on unproven and unprovable secular axioms are free to do so.

  21. > A church that becomes directly involved in the operation of a government soon becomes a church directly controlled by that govt (as happened with the Spanish Inquisition).

    Yes, NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition.

    By the way, Crimethink, when Pontius Maximus does something wrong that’s because the government forced him to?

  22. Probius,

    Ethics are the standard we should abide. Morality is arbitrary and useless. Even when people do the right thing for moral reasons, they are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Ethics are the empirically provable standard – far better than religion or libertarian ideology.

    JMJ

  23. Our rights do not come from God. There is no God…Our rights come from each other in our constituional representative democracy. Our rights can not come from God because the monotheistic traditions do not spell them out with any discernable specificity applicable to all too many realities of the modern world.

    I hate to sound elitist, but I truly believe that our perpetually afraid representative democracy would vote away our constitutional (and I believe, God-given) rights in bite-sized pieces if the procedure wasn’t so cumbersome. After a few more years of court packing and scaremongering, it won’t be so hard, and those who claimed to derive their rights from a fickle populace and a two-page document won’t have any basis for their rights.

  24. Crimethink,

    And the same people who would give our rights away would do so in the name of the same God from whom you believe our rights are derived.

    Leviticus, anyone?

    No, thank you.

    JMJ

  25. Michael Palin,

    If you’re referring to papal infallibility, keep in mind that it only means that a pope’s teaching on a matter of faith and morals cannot be in error. That some medieval popes were themselves moral monsters or simply stupid administrators has nothing to do with papal infallibility.

    In regard to the Spanish Inquisition, it was mainly directed at Muslims and those suspected of collaborating and sympathizing with them while Spain was under Muslim control. These people were considered enemies of the state, which goes to show who was really pulling the strings in that episode.

  26. Oh bullshit. It was the STATE using RELIGION to consolidate the kingdoms of Iberia. Period. Anyone who thinks otherwise is historically illiterate.

    JMJ

  27. JMJ,

    It was the STATE using RELIGION to consolidate the kingdoms of Iberia.

    …which is EXACTLY what I was SAYING. I’m GLAD you AGREE.

  28. ExCeLlEnT!!! 🙂

  29. Our rights do not come from God. There is no God.

    I don’t THINK it MATTERS so much WHAT SOURCE we BELIEVE our RIGHTS to ultimately SPRING from, so LONG as we AGREE that our RIGHTS DO NOT spring from GOVERNMENT.

    …I would add that going out of our way to alienate Christian fundamentalists who might lend us some support otherwise is strategically foolish. …and, as I’ve pointed out, Christian fundamentalism, in this country, isn’t now, and never was, a monolithic force.

  30. I agree, Ken, that the belief that rights come from the govt is misbegotten. But when you see all the phony federalist conservatives turn a blind eye to:

    Every time that sleazy moron “president” of ours’ says we’re at “war.”

    Warrentless searching of American citizens private communications.

    The exclusion of the judiciary from criminal proceedings – because we’re at “war.”

    The partisan application of federalism by the courts to fit their whims…

    It’s sickening. Rights should come from not God, not the government, but from the Constitution – law that is based on empirically testable, provable ethics.

    JMJ

  31. I’d argue that rights are independent of the Constitution too, Jersey. …and that’s what people mean when they talk about rights being endowed by our creator or given by God, etc.

  32. Tehn what’s the point of the constitution other than to construct the estates of power? What about constitutional law?

    JMJ

  33. Rights exist independent and free of government, constitutional or otherwise. Government can either be in harmony with our rights or out of harmony with our rights. …If someone changed the Constitution to allow for slavery again, slaves would still have rights regardless. …it’s just that government would be out of harmony with those rights. Rights exist independent of government.

    People in the Soviet Union, circa 1975, had the right to free speech and the right to a free press–it’s just that their government didn’t recognize those rights… …African slaves in the United States circa 1855 had all the rights we have today, it’s just that the government didn’t recognize them.

    …Get it?

  34. crimethink,

    Meanwhile, the radical feminist’s wet dream of open season on embryos/fetuses throughout all nine months of pregnancy stands as the law of the land.

    Wrong. There are many restrictions on the abortion right, especially post-viability abortions (which are banned in a majority of states).

    As to the issue of whether Church or State abuses freedom more when it has power, both do so equally, which is perfectly evidenced by the Papal States – that is the state where the RCC actually ran a large geographic expanse in Italy. The Church’s various semi-sovereign enclaves throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, etc. are also evidence of this.

    Rick Barton,

    Governments don’t think; individuals do though.

    Jersey McJones,

    The Abrahamic religions say nothing about Enlightenment concepts like freedom of conscience. If religion is related to these concepts its because religious thinkers placed a latter-day gloss on the matter not because those religions in their inception or their initial growth honored them. As that is the case there is no particular reason to keep the religions associated with that gloss.

  35. Ken Shultz,

    Rights are cultural constructs.

  36. We’re workin’ on a construction project right now, I think.

  37. Wrong. There are many restrictions on the abortion right, especially post-viability abortions (which are banned in a majority of states).

    Tell me Hakluyt, how many successful prosecutions of post-viability abortions have taken place since Roe?

  38. crimethink,

    Find out for yourself. Given that I had to teach you about post-viability limits on an earlier occassion it seems that such an exercise would do you good. Anyway, the point is that there are indeed lots of limits and checks on the abortion right.

  39. Hakluyt,

    I’ll take that as a “no”.

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