December 5, 2007

Just in time for the election, Michael Newdow's "Under God" lawsuit is back, along with a challenge to "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.

"I want to be treated equally," said Michael Newdow yesterday, as he argued 2 cases consecutively to a 9th Circuit panel. He's the atheist who challenged "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance around the time of the last presidential election only to lose in the Supreme Court on a rather innovative interpretation of standing. (Somehow the state court's decision that the mother had custody and did not want the daughter involved in the lawsuit deprived him of a sufficient interest in what the state taught the daughter about her father's beliefs.) But, in time to inject the issue into the new presidential campaign, he found other parents and he's suing on their behalf. So the first of his 2 cases is the Pledge challenge revived. The second case challenges the strange but familiar practice of stamping the motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.
Terence Cassidy, a lawyer for the school district, argued Tuesday that reciting the pledge is simply a "patriotic exercise" and a reminder of the traditions of the U.S.

"How is pledging allegiance to a nation under God not a religious act?" Judge Dorothy W. Nelson asked. Cassidy said the pledge has religious elements but is not a religious exercise.

Newdow said the pledge has "tons of religious significance. That's why everyone gets so angry when we talk about ... taking it out."

Nelson asked Cassidy whether removing the words "under God" would make the pledge any less patriotic.

"Not necessarily," he replied, arguing it provided a historical context, not a religious one.
In the money case, the Justice Department lawyer also pushed the God-as-patriotism notion.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt indicated support for Newdow's position.

The "In God We Trust" motto "affects Mr. Newdow every moment of his life," Reinhardt said. "The government has no compelling interest to put a slogan on a dollar bill."
I'm almost certain that if the 9th Circuit agrees with Newdow, the Supreme Court will accept the generic "God" that has become such a familiar presence in the Pledge and on the coins. There will be talk of history and the phrase "ceremonial deism" will be thrown about and the controversy will be packed away and reshelved for a generation.

What will be interesting however, will be to see the various presidential candidates needled over this issue, because this is exactly the kind of thing that people get all excited about (even though it has nothing really to do with running the country). It was troublesome in 2004. (I think the Supreme Court majority that disposed of the case by concocting a new standing doctrine did John Kerry a great favor 4 months before the election.) It's irritating to see this issue rearing up now.

158 comments:

former law student said...

One parent wanted the child exposed to the Pledge; the noncustodial parent did not. This difference in opinion on how to raise a child was really a matter for Family Court, not the Supreme Court

Ralph said...

In God We Trust, not the Federal Reserve.

Can't kids skip two words if they want to?

Revenant said...

I dislike these lawsuits because they always encourage the government to think up some bullshit new reason why official government appeals to "God" aren't an establishment of religion. It creates bad law and offends common sense.

Atheists need to realize that YES, the Pledge violates the Constitution, and NO there isn't anything we can do about it, so don't take it to court because it'll come back to bite us all on the ass.

Zeb Quinn said...

It's irritating to see this issue rearing up now.

Many who are inclined to support Democrats are irritated "now" because it redounds negatively upon their precious candidates when people stop and think about the issue and about the arrogant twit bringing the lawsuit.

In large numbers the folks have no problem with the pledge, the deity being mentioned in the pledge, or with the deity being mentioned on coins. Elitists, however, do. And this issue points that up.

Ann Althouse said...

"One parent wanted the child exposed to the Pledge; the noncustodial parent did not. This difference in opinion on how to raise a child was really a matter for Family Court, not the Supreme Court."

Yes, but that isn't much of an explanation for why the father (as opposed to the daughter) lacked standing. He still has an interest in his relationship to her and what the state is teaching his child that undermines that relationship. Nothing in the federal court's decision would have affected the custody of the child. Moreover, the majority was composed of the Justices who normally take the broader view of standing. I have read and taught this case several times, and I maintain my belief that the majority was trying to avoid getting to the merits of the case. You just can't square it with the attitude taken in other standing cases. These were also the Justices least interested in enforcing federalism, yet there they were creating a new federalism doctrine supposedly out of deference to state courts. Sorry, I'm not buying it.

Antonin said...

"I think the Supreme Court majority that disposed of the case by concocting a new standing doctrine did John Kerry a great favor 4 months before the election."

That, professor, is a rank insult.

PatCA said...

How can any court take seriously the notion all these litigants are damaged by "exposure to" words like God or Christmas.

downtownlad said...

Yeah - just think how un-American it would be if we had to go back to "E Pluribus Unum" on our currency.

Eli Blake said...

Well, there is an issue of timing, like it or not. But it isn't the court's fault.

The schedule can be manipulated by people who want the court ruling to come at a particular time, by how often and how many delaying motions they file.

If the ruling is likely to come shortly before the election, then the question needs to be asked whether 1. it is a coincidence, or 2. the plaintiff wants to make the issue part of the political debate, or 3. whether someone else, perhaps someone who is challenging the plaintiff wants to make it an issue at that time.

Ann is implying (and I'm inclined to agree) that it may be the third of those cases, though in fairness case 1. or 2. are plausible enough that they can't be rejected.

Jackie said...

Court cases usually don't excite me, but I've been following this one for a number of years, after having done a project on it.

I don't think it's right for students to recite a pledge containing references to deism in a classroom, led by a teacher, to whom they are a captive audience.

The original idea of the pledge was to unite people, and the only reason the words "under God" were added (60 years later) was to separate us from those godless Communists.

I wonder how many lawsuits it would take to get legislatures to stop praying before session

sean said...

I wonder why Prof. Althouse says this issue has nothing to do with running the country. Why isn't the making of symbolic statements (there is no other kind!) about the ultimate epistemological object the primary purpose of the country?

Eli Blake said...

One other observation, which no one has made but it is too obvious to ignore:

With the advent of plastic, internet shopping, and checks, it is possible, if someone really wants to do it, to go through life without ever touching cash.

In the future, things will be even more so, to the point where eventually cash will be an anachronism.

It seems to me that Newdow and others who dislike the words on the currency could take a more proactive role in ending it, and have more personal control over the issue by paying bills online or with credit cards or checks and encouraging vendors to move away from cash faster.

Naw, they'd never do that; a lawsuit is more fun, I guess.

jeff said...

"Atheists need to realize that YES, the Pledge violates the Constitution,"

Does it violate the constitution as it was written, or as it has been interpreted the last few decades? Does putting "In God we trust" on the money establish a state religion, and if so, which religion?

EnigmatiCore said...

"The government has no compelling interest to put a slogan on a dollar bill."

Every time I see "E PLURIBUS UNUM" on currency, I mutter that those bastards have no compelling interest in putting that there.

EnigmatiCore said...

DTL-- you must have them big fancy bills us yokels never get to see. On my dollar bill here, it has E PLURIBUS UNUM right now. Nothing to go back to.

Besides, the government has no compelling interest in putting slogans like E PLURIBUS UNUM on currency, anyway.

Zeb Quinn said...

From Washington's first inaugaral address, April 30, 1789:

"...it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."

George's own personal pledge. I guess he should've been impeached right then and there.

downtownlad said...

Sorry Enigmaticore - It's no longer our motto.

Because religious nutcases like you insisted that it be changed in the 1950's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_pluribus_unum

It happens to be on the seal of the united states - but it is not our motto.

I think our motto should be "Jesus is a bastard child who never existed"

downtownlad said...

Four more dead Americans in Iraq. Who knew "mission accomplished" would be so easy????

JohnAnnArbor said...

Four more dead Americans in Iraq. Who knew "mission accomplished" would be so easy???

Who knew threadjacking pricks could crassly celebrate dead soldiers in a pathetic bid to score political points?

Ralph said...

Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.
What a sentence! Did Hamilton write it, or George himself?

Could Newdow be a Republican plant, stirring this up before major elections? Who's paying for his side?

Skyler said...

As a hard core atheist, I'm pretty secure in my understanding of the existence of deities. There ain't none.

But a lot of people think that there are some. Or one. Or spirits, or whatever.

Nothing I ever do will make these people change their minds. Taking silly words out of a ridiculous pledge will not change how anyone in this country thinks or votes.

I don't care if we have "under god" in a pledge of alleigance so long as no one makes me go to their church or live by their rules of religious observance.

I'm more concerned about requiring people in a free country to pledge allegiance to the country. If the allegiance isn't given freely, then it's not worth much.

If the pledge is mandatory, I won't give it. If it's voluntary, I'd give it every day, even with the "under god."

I would think that having a dissenter or two for a voluntary pledge would only make those pledging feel better about their decision since they know that they're giving it freely. And that's what we're supposed to be all about.

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"...I maintain my belief that the majority was trying to avoid getting to the merits of the case. You just can't square it with the attitude taken in other standing cases. These were also the Justices least interested in enforcing federalism, yet there they were creating a new federalism doctrine supposedly out of deference to state courts. Sorry, I'm not buying it."

Perhaps we could invert an observation from your reply to Prof. Woolhandler and say that what matters is not so much how many doctrines encourage litigation, but rather, the degree of incentive that justices feel with respect to avoiding answering a given question. If there is strong incentive to do so, how many doctrines will be needed to prevent access?

Simon said...

By the way, I ought to make clear that even as an agnostic, I think Newdow is campaigning to be crowned the biggest asshole alive in America today.

jeff said...

"I think our motto should be "Jesus is a bastard child who never existed""

Great idea. You could get a bumper sticker and put it on your car. Then you could complain about all those people that dislike you only because you're gay.

jeff said...

Also agnostic myself, but secure enough in it to feel no need to ridicule other people's religious beliefs. But that's just me.

Palladian said...

"By the way, I ought to make clear that even as an agnostic, I think Newdow is campaigning to be crowned the biggest asshole alive in America today."

I think he's got some stiff competition for that title from the grotesque downtownlad.

mtrobertsattorney said...

I have a hard time understanding why Newdow gets so exercised over a name that, to him, signifies nothing but a purely imaginary being. I'll bet Mickey Mouse and Frodo Baggins really drive him up a wall.

Steven said...

As an atheist, let me make it absolutely clear that I have no objections to any of the following appearing on currency:

"In God We Trust"
"In Prester John We Trust"
"In Superman We Trust"
"In Odysseus We Trust"
"In Bigfoot We Trust"

Really, I don't care what fictional character you print praises to on currency. If you're not forcing me to tithe, or to attend church, or denying me the right to vote, or doing something else that has substantive effect, I don't care.

Same thing if you want to put the Ten Commandments or the Jedi Code or whatnot in courthouses, or include "under the protection of the Green Lantern" in the voluntary Pledge of Allegiance. Or even put a manger in a Christmas display on public land, provided the marginal cost is covered by voluntary donations instead of my tax money.

jeff said...

Well, that's nice steve. Very tolerant of you. Any reason you feel the need to insult all the religious people though?

Skyler said...

A little sensitive, there, aren't you Jeff? I didn't see any insult.

Revenant said...

I have a hard time understanding why Newdow gets so exercised over a name that, to him, signifies nothing but a purely imaginary being.

And you have a hard time seeing what Congress declaring the nation subject to an imaginary being would bother anyone? Can you get why someone might think "one nation under Spongebob Squarepants" was a stupid thing to pledge -- not despite the fact that Spongebob is a fictional character, but because he is?

Heck, at least pledging allegiance to Spongebob would pass Constitutional muster.

Joe said...

"I'm more concerned about requiring people in a free country to pledge allegiance to the country. If the allegiance isn't given freely, then it's not worth much."

Oh those godless communists.

reader_iam said...

George's own personal pledge.

Hmmmmmm.

Revenant said...

George's own personal pledge. I guess he should've been impeached right then and there.

Zeb, in your rush to share your Appeal to Authority fallacy with the group you overlooked something entirely obvious -- namely, what the Constitution actually says.

I'll highlight the relevant phrase:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The President is free to talk out his ass about whatever subject he wants to talk about. So are the members of Congress. If Nancy Pelosi stood at her podium tomorrow and declared that this was One Nation Under Zeus that would make her a bigger dolt than she already is, but it wouldn't violate the Constitution.

The reason the Pledge violates the Constitution is that Congress passed a law inserting an expression of religious faith into it. That violated the first amendment. Saying the Pledge doesn't violate anything. Saying that this is "one nation under [whatever]" doesn't violate anything either. The violation, Zeb, was the act of passing the law, thereby establishing the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the official deity of the United States of America.

Revenant said...

Any reason you feel the need to insult all the religious people though?

Saying that "in Bigfoot We Trust" is equivalent to "in God We Trust" isn't any more insulting to religious people than the declaration that this is "one nation under God" is insulting to atheists.

The former conveys the opinion that God is just another fictional being, which pretty much everyone already knows atheists think. The latter conveys the opinion that atheists aren't real Americans, which pretty much everyone already knows religious people think.

reader_iam said...

George Washington as evangelical, much less fundamentalist, Christian!

Faith in that implication speaks for itself.

Synova said...

It's a bit like the pink locker room thing, isn't it?

People ought to be able to take a minimum amount of grief without having the vapors.

In God we Trust on currency "establishes" nothing, even if it gives Michael Newdow a rash.

I always liked "under God" in the pledge because, if you believe in God or *not*, it's a nice reminder that we ALL have moral allegiances to something greater than our nation. So someone doesn't think of this as "God" do we really have to sprain ourselves because someone can't view the word symbolically? I understand many people don't say the pledge. That's fine. They don't have to.

When it comes to establishment, is religion established more by an attitude that individuals, who do have religious freedom, are expected to actually *exercise* that particular muscle, or by ingraining in every faint heart the notion that you never *never* have to face the fact that others don't share your sentiments?

I mean... what sort of man actually *cares* that he's got to dress in a pink locker room and what sort of man doesn't care?

To go back to the locker room thing.

And what sort of woman gets the vapors over the fact that some men (most, probably) like the fact that they are men and don't like to be accused of being girly?

It's not really the same sort of thing I suppose but I think the two issues are similar in that our laws say the government has to stay out of religion and our laws say that we can't discriminate over gender. Those things *are* protected. But it's just silly, really, to think that the standard as to what is establishment and what is discrimination rests on whether or not some individual gets their panties in a twist or not.

And I *do* recognize that both "getting the vapors" and "panties in a twist" are sexist phrases but you know, there's a reason for that and vapors and twisted panties are NOT something I want to claim simply because I'm female. I'm just a little bit tougher than that and, frankly, I'm not the least bothered by pink urinals even expressly as a "you play like a girl" statement, and if I lived in a country that had Muhammad's name, or Shivas, or the Emperor god or Japan's name on them, I think I could deal with that too.

I think that the average person could manage to use the money without getting a rash or having emotional traumas... even in countries that *do* establish religion.

You know what is really off-putting is money with romanticized pictures of current rulers. Personality cults weird me out far *far* more than religious ones.

reader_iam said...

I have the most tremendous respect for our first president (and other founders). This is despite the likelihood that he did not share with me some of the same particularities, or convictions, of the Christian faith.

Why must he be represented today as if he would, today, be mounting a shining steed and bearing a sword at the front of a movement to promote, much less restore, a national government of a particular Christian flavor?

This strikes me as every bit as ridiculous, and counter-historical, as those who would say he'd be spending his itme picketing local celebrations of holidays and wiping every bit of evidence of public religious faith, including that offensive large wreath in a jointly publicly funded, much less privately funded, local place of commerce or, God forbid, in someone's neighbor's yard.

Aggressively prescriptive fundamentalism, of whatever flavor, as an attitude and wellspring of blindered zealotry determined to impose and compel what it's failed to achieve otherwise, is to be viewed with deep skepticism and to be resisted accordingly.

There is, or at least was, a better, though imperfect, Idea.

reader_iam said...

Trashing that, however, is of no matter--as long as one extreme side or another gets to "win," or destory each other--and everyone in between--in the process.

Amen, citizens!

reader_iam said...

It should have been "destroy," not "destory"--although, you know what? That works, too.

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

In God we Trust on currency "establishes" nothing

The people who proposed adding it to the Pledge thought it did. It was added explicitly to establish that this nation, unlike the USSR, is religious. Except that this nation isn't religious -- not officially. That's what the Constitution says.

So someone doesn't think of this as "God" do we really have to sprain ourselves because someone can't view the word symbolically?

Oh, please, Synova -- is *anyone* going to fall for that song and dance? "Under God" is symbolic of the nation being under God. It isn't a nonsectarian invocation of the idea that everyone believes in a moral code superior to the United States (which isn't true either, incidentally) and nobody, you included, believes that it is.

If the word "God" was changed to, say, "Allah", do you think for one instant that the Christian majority that is so desperately peddling the transparent lie that the the Pledge isn't religious would continue to do so? Of course not. Would we be hearing nonsense about how it was just "symbolic" and didn't have anything to do with Islam? Of course we wouldn't. Two hundred million Christian Americans would be having a screaming coast-to-coast hissy fit over it.

The reason they don't see a problem now is simply that (a) they believe in the Christian God, (b) they know that's the God that's being talked about, and (c) they think there's something wrong with anyone who doesn't believe in that God. So by definition anyone who has a problem with the Pledge must has something wrong with them and is objecting to a simple statement of the "obvious" truth.

titussu said...

As a fellow republican and lover of the Bush Admin. I demand that you do a patriotic, god fearing vlog with Flags and the word God painted on your tits.

You forgot to link to the Dowd op ed this past Wednesday. Oh, wait it goes off on Bush... never mind. When she goes off on Hilary we can and should expect a link.

Now get in that bathtub, get the spray paint out and do a vlog. It is your patriotic duty.

I want a bathtub vlog and I want one now. I also want God painted on your tits and you speaking of this lawsuit.

Yes, it will be risque, but it will be hot, very American, and take the blogging world by their balls. Now get in that tub and show your patriotism.

I have my astro-glide ready. I will be doing my part.

Or just do a vlog where you jump up and down bare breasted. No face shot just the tits. After some time begin to sway side to side so we can see your republican tits jiggling left to right.

The thought of this vlog is very exciting to me as well as my fellow republicans.

You will be a star my fellow Bush lover.

titussu said...

No talking in the vlog either. Just jumping with a focus on the tis only.

rhhardin said...

In God We Trust elevates Humbug, as it motivates U.S. political speechmaking.

That makes politics possible. You can vote for somebody campaigning on something that doesn't matter, rather than having to find actual agreement on things it would be impossible to find agreement on.

That's why it's patriotic.

rhhardin said...

The reason for the pledge in school, like the reason for the national anthem at ball games, is to get the crowd to change from milling around individually to some focussed activity.

Realizing that the crowd had to stand up and be quiet was a marketing stroke of genius, for ball games. It's self policing, crowdwise. Violaters are severely sanctioned by the crowd itself, which gets the ball game underway successfully without raising employment costs.

John and Ken of KFI, a long ago show, June 3 1998, on a pledge lawsuit here , which starts slow but becomes amusing as angry patriots call in.

Blake said...

The Pledge was really about selling flags, so if any changes are made they should probably be made in a way that would best boost flag sales.

I never said it as a kid. The captive audience thing for one. Didn't really understand it for the other. I'd say it now, "under God" and all.

I think kids taking oaths to the state (with or without God) is creepy, though.

Blake said...

I'd be interested in hearing the more aggressive atheists here describe how they reconcile their (perfectly-logical-based-on-amendment-one) desire to wipe God from the government with the fact that the basis of our government was, by that definition, essentially religious.

In other words, our rights were given by God, according to the founders. How do you get rid of God without eroding the basis for those rights?

I don't really have a dog in this race, but I do like my natural "God-given" rights. Say what you want about "godless communists" but they were pretty comfortable with the idea Man had no rights other than what the State conferred.

titussu said...

I am thinking of you waving sparklers while doing the patriotic tit vlog.


It must be done. This vlog will be a small display of all of our patriotism and support for this incredibly important case.

I am thinking Stars and Stripes playing in the background.

The blogging world will be taken by storm and not know how to react to this strongest form of patriotism and love of country.

titussu said...

I saw Valii Nasr on Charlie Rose last night and I would definitely do him.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Blake Said...In other words, our rights were given by God, according to the founders. How do you get rid of God without eroding the basis for those rights?

Maybe this is the point; if there is no God, where do these rights come from? If we have no basis in a Supreme Being for having a right, then all rights are granted by the government, can be controled and distributed by the government, and can be denied by the government.

On another point
Revenant said...If the word "God" was changed to, say, "Allah", do you think for one instant that the Christian majority that is so desperately peddling the transparent lie that the the Pledge isn't religious would continue to do so?

God is a generic Supreme Being; Allah is not. All religions recognize a God (even atheism, where God is Self); as long as the Pledge and the currency say 'God', I say let it go. If someone decides to change it to Allah, Jesus Christ, Yahweh, Krishna or Budda then we hava problem.

EnigmatiCore said...
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EnigmatiCore said...

DTL--

"Because religious nutcases like you insisted that it be changed in the 1950's."

What religion would that be? I have not attended church in God knows when, and my primary feelings are that I haven't a clue.

Other than knowing that a supreme being probably does not want us cutting off heads to force people to keep believing in him. I'm pretty confident about that. The rest? Dude, I just don't know.

As for your rejoinder there, I didn't call it a motto-- I called it a 'slogan'. There is a reason I did so-- I was mocking the guy's argument that the government has no compelling interest in putting slogans on currency.

My argument extended no further than that. As soon as I posted it, I saw you write:

"Yeah - just think how un-American it would be if we had to go back to "E Pluribus Unum" on our currency."

You did not say it is not there as a motto. You just said it wasn't there. Since my whole snark was about another slogan being on the money, I thought I would point that out to you.

I am starting to think the others who told me last week in some other thread that I was making a mistake in thinking you argue in good faith were correct.

To eliminate further confusion, here my complete view on matters like this.
* I don't care if "IN GOD WE TRUST" is on our money.
* Since it is currently there, and it would have a cost to take it off, I oppose efforts to take it off.
* Since we waste a hell of a lot more money on other crap, if we as a country decide to remove it, I probably won't lose a second's sleep over it.
* Those who do lose sleep over it, including those who are filing lawsuits and those who would change their votes in times like these specifically because of a ruling in this case (either direction) really need to re-examine their priorities. Lighten up, Francis. Need to get laid. Badly need a toke. You name it.

Comprende, padre?

Paco Wové said...

"God is a generic Supreme Being; Allah is not."

Good luck convincing Muslims (or non-Christians in general) on that one.

EnigmatiCore said...

What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home?

Paco Wové said...

"That, professor, is a rank insult" ...squawks the sockpuppet chorus.

Steven said...

Three responses:

1) Any reason you feel the need to insult all the religious people though?

Well, sometimes I feel such a need, and I assume it's probably for the same reason many people feel the need to make fun of, say, 'alien abductees'. Granted, not a high or noble motive, but a very human one.

Now, if you mean, why did I actually do it? My target of ridicule was actually Newdow, who simultaneously denies God exists and strenuously objects to harmless expressions of reverence for Him. Newdow's awfully worked up about expunging references to Someone he claims to believe is fictional.

2) And you have a hard time seeing what Congress declaring the nation subject to an imaginary being would bother anyone?

Oh, I understand why the selection of honorees would upset people. For example, I despise the honor given to FDR by putting him on the dime. I think his policies were strongly objectionable, and I can argue his presence on the coins indicates an endorsement of them. And I can design a Constitutional theory by which government speech on currency is compelled speech, and thus FDR's presence on the dime violates the free speech provision of the First Amendment. I still think it would be stupid for me or anyone to sue to remove FDR from the dime.

3) If the word "God" was changed to, say, "Allah", do you think for one instant that the Christian majority that is so desperately peddling the transparent lie that the the Pledge isn't religious would continue to do so?

Well, you see, they have a religious requirement that specifically forbids them from honoring other gods. Atheists, by definition, don't have a God demanding that no other gods be held before Him. If I thought allowing a statement about God to stand were going to keep me out of Atheist Heaven, I'd be a lot less relaxed about the issue.

If Newdow were a follower of, say, a goddess religion that specifically forbade honoring male deities, I'd be a lot more sympathetic to him. Oh, I'd think his religion isn't any less mythical than I think all the rest are, but he'd have a clear motive for his objection. (I still wouldn't feel the bits on currency actually establish a religion, any more than FDR on the dime establishes a national party line in favor of outlawing private ownership of gold, but I can see how others would disagree with me.)

As things stand, Newdow's objections look a lot more like he's a theist angry with and trying to punish God than anything else.

Roger said...
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knoxwhirled said...

Wow, this is one of the best comment threads ever.

Roger said...

Has anyone's life been changed because of what slogans are on our currency and coinage? Why is this even an issue except for a small select bunch of ideologues. I regard myself as always an agnostic, and most of the time atheistic--and I dont give a hairy RA about some extra wording on our currency and coins.

Steven said...

Oh, and on the issue of God-granted rights . . . where did God enumerate them? I can't find them in the Bible or Koran or Vedas, while I can find a lot of specific injunctions that contradict them.

The answer, of course, is that they can be found in the "laws of nature and of nature's God" — that is, they are logical deductions from our natures as human beings. Which is to say, they still exist even if one denies the existence of a God behind the laws of nature, because with or without a God, human beings still are who they are.

Hoosier Daddy said...

The "In God We Trust" motto "affects Mr. Newdow every moment of his life," Reinhardt said.

Then I'd say that Mr. Newdow needs to lighten up and get some poontang. Or call titus if he sits on that side of the fence and is a fetching enough lad to catch his fancy. Evidently, he is wound up a tad too tight.

rdkraus said...

From a practical standpoint, there's a big difference between the currency and pledge issues.

Except for people like Newdow looking for an "issue," no one pays any real attention to what is on currency except to see whether it's legit, and if it's a 1, a 5, a 10 etc.

The pledge, on the other hand, involves millions of public school teachers leading classrooms full of children in a pledge to a nation "under God" regardless of what the children's parents, or the children themselves, think. Even if "saying" the pledge is "voluntary," (and what child does not feel pressure to conform?), the children are exposed to it everyday by a key authority figure in their lives.

MadisonMan said...

What is needed, I think, is a new definition of God. Perhaps the currency should say 'In GOD We Trust' and Congress should pass a law that says GOD is an acronym for Government Operations Director.

"One nation, under the Government Operations Director (GOD), with Liberty and Justice for ALL"

ALL: Any Literate Legal

titussu said...

Tit Vlog...Tit Vlog...Tit Vlog...come one everyone maybe if we all beg we can get one.


I want a Tit Vlog. Please can I have a Tit Vlog. I want patriotic, God fearing, republican, tits jiggling on screen.

It's the least you can do for all of us that support you.

AlphaLiberal said...

This is a debate I weary of, as well.

But the fact is that there has been a concerted and organized effort to push religion into many aspects of government and civic life. These changes came late in our nation's history, in the 1950s.

There is a sizable contingent of people in this country who really think this nation was created to be a "Christian nation" whatever that means (which denomination?). This is just not so. It was created to be a free nation and history tells us again and again and again official religions are incompatible with freedom. (Please, religionists, show us an example of a free religious state where all are treated equal).

The silliest example of late is the insistence by the right wing that we all stop saying "Happy Holidays" and we say "Merry Christmas." So very hypocritical of them to use Christmas as a political wedge.

AlphaLiberal said...

d'ow. I misedited too quickly. (Must get out the door). The 1950s reference was to "In God we Trust."

I agree it should be removed from currency and "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. In respect to my atheist neighbors, I do not utter these words, but say "united" instead.

I think God has a much better sense of proportion to care about such trivialities.

titussu said...

Stars and Stripes playing, sparklers waving, republican principles, God painted on bouncing tits-what could be more American and patriotic.

Now do it.

Hoosier Daddy said...

The silliest example of late is the insistence by the right wing that we all stop saying "Happy Holidays" and we say "Merry Christmas."

I think it's silly of the left wing to insist on Happy Holidays. After all, exactly what holiday are we celebrating?

MadisonMan said...

I think it's silly for either side to try to control speech.

Paddy O. said...

After all, exactly what holiday are we celebrating?

Hanukkah. Until the 12th at least.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

On the "Happy Holidays" issue- I have long believed we celebrate two holidays in late December: Commercial Xmas (pronounced Christmas) and Religious Christmas.

Very few do not celebrate in some fashion Xmas (I'll bet even Mr. Newdow has an Xmas Tree and presents); the Christians amoung also celebrate Christmas, with our Creache and religious traditions, along with Xmas and its pagan symbols.

Titan said...

I've been doing a series of blog posts on this new litigation, and I will keep it up as it moves on. If you're interested, the first post is here.

Here's Newdow's opening statement in the SCOTUS argument:

"Every school morning in the Elk Grove Unified School District's public schools, government agents, teachers, funded with tax dollars, have their students stand up, including my daughter, face the flag of the United States of America, place their hands over their hearts, and affirm that ours is a nation under some particular religious entity, the appreciation of which is not accepted by numerous people, such as myself.

We cannot in good conscience accept the idea that there exists a deity. I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong."

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong."

This proves he has no contatct with the child.

My kids have no trouble saying their old man is wrong, and do it several times a day that I am aware of.

Joan said...

I work as a substitute teacher in my kids' school, which has grades from pre-school up through 8th grade, and which is very patriotic and civics-minded. I have subbed at every grade level. The Pledge of Allegiance is part of morning announcements every single day.

My observations are, about two-thirds of the kids genially get up and say it. Of the remaining third, some are on another planet and are not paying attention, some are reading, drawing, or trying to finish their homework, and some just think it's stupid. I have never seen a student say anything to a non-pledging student.

We have at least one boy who is Native American who actively refuses to say the pledge and trash talks US policies towards Native Americans constantly. None of the kids pay any attention to him, either. The teachers try to keep him from derailing history lessons, but there's not much we can do to counter his programming.

My point is: if there is no stigma attached to not saying the pledge, at any grade level, in this very patriotic school (our Veteran's Day assembly didn't leave a dry eye in the house), what are the odds that there's any kind of reaction anywhere else? Anecdotes aren't data, I know, but kids are kids, and if kids who truly love America don't care if their peers are saying the pledge or not, then why would they anywhere else?

I think this suit is dustless black pepper.

JohnAnnArbor said...

d'ow. I misedited too quickly. (Must get out the door). The 1950s reference was to "In God we Trust."

Which actually started in the Civil War. It took a long time to make it on all coins and currency, though. And Teddy Roosevelt tried to leave it off his new coin designs in 1907, but Congress put it in. Teddy objected to having God's name everywhere like that.

titussu said...

Does anyone else around here want a tit vlog?

If so let's hear it.

This is important, patriotic and very American.

Gedaliya said...

Revenant...

Are you truly making a case that having the words "In God We Trust" on our currency violates the First Amendment? That it constitutes the establishment of a national religion?

I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this, because frankly, I think you're getting into some deep weeds here.

EnigmatiCore said...

"Does anyone else around here want a tit vlog?"

I admire your persistence. I would have thought by now that the lack of positive feedback would have left you realizing that you aren't being as funny as you hoped, if that was your hope, and the lack of negative feedback would have left you realizing that you weren't being as annoying as you hoped, if that was your hope.

So keep it up, pointless tit vlog pleader. You are a Real Man of Genius, and Bud Light salutes you.

MadisonMan said...

Joan: Excellent use of the phrase.

storkdoc said...

Revenant chose to hghlight the following..."Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" But stopped the highlight at no law. But the rest of the phrase states no law respecting an establishment of religion.

At the time of the adoption of the constitution the various states had established religions. In Virgina it was the Anglican church which was supported by Virgina.

It seems to me, a non-lawyer, that the first amendment prohibits Congress from declaring that the Baptist are the official religion of the country and our tax money will be used to support it. It would not forbid Congress from placing the words under God into the pledge, for that does not establish a state religion. No Tax dollars go it.

Brian said...

Newdow says: "I want to be treated equally."

Please. He is an arrogant jerk who thinks that not giving him his way is unequal treatment. This guy has a medical degree and a law degree, and what is his life's mission? To get "God" off our money and out of the Pledge.

I almost feel sorry for him.

rdkraus said...

Joan: "I have never seen a student say anything to a non-pledging student."

They don't have to say anything. It's an inherently coercise scenario, especially for the younger grades. A pledge led by the child's every day authority figure (second only sometimes to the parents, who the child probably spends less time with).

garage mahal said...

The Pledge of Allegiance is part of morning announcements every single day.

If it's so important, why don't the adults say the Pledge every day? I probably never make a stink of my kids having to say it every day, but really it is silly in my opinion.

P. Rich said...

Patriotism and belief in God are evil. Didn't you know?

Paddy O. said...

We don't make adults do math sums everyday or read books of increasing difficulty or learn a foreign language or take spelling tests or cut up dead frogs or all sorts of stuff. That's what school is for. Have kids do stuff that isn't done later.

The pledge isn't about supporting the war in Iraq or Democratic economic policy. It's mostly about acknowledging civic responsibility, duty, and community unity. Instead of saying a pledge we adults get to acknowledge the same when we serve on a jury or pay taxes.

Personally, I'd rather say the pledge. Given the choice.

Roger said...

While I am sympathetic to garage's position, what Paddy O says is the larger issue: it is what political scientists would call "political socialization" and it really is important for the health of the polity, Doctor Newdow's concerns notwithstanding.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

How about we compromise.. Take out the words In God we trust and make it mandatory that ALL schools have children participate in the Pledge of Allegience at the beginning of the school day just as we did in the past.

I'd rather they say the pledge than to not say it because a few people have their panties in a bunch.

In addition, I vote that we also force the schools to actually teach history without distortions.

garage mahal said...

Paddy-O
I'm a soft agnostic, if there is such a thing. And your right the Pledge has nothing to do with Democratic policies or Iraq, so I'm at a loss why you brought it up. Every kid has it memorized by the 2nd or 3rd time they say it -- but why do we make them say a million times then? You didn't answer, why not adults too? Would you remember the internal organs of a frog? I don't, and I can't remember hardly any math or algebra I was taught, so it can't be that. Seems to me adults would need to say the Pledge the most.

That said I wouldn't embarass my kid and make it an issue at school, and I had to say it every day and look how I turned out ;)

B said...

.
The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and shall ever be "In God We Trust."
John F. Kennedy,President of the United States, February 9,1961

Middle Class Guy said...

How many times does the SCOTUS have to rule on this? It is time some court, somewhere calim Mr. Newdow and his ilk are fomenting frivolous legal actions and hold them accontable; severe financial responsibility.

rcocean said...

What a crank and a freak Newdow is to waste his time on this trivia.

He's a doctor who seems to have quite a bit of money and spare time. Too bad he doesn't spend it more productively, like helping people in Africa (for example). Like most atheists he's emotionally challenged.

Sigivald said...

If it helps, I'm an atheist and always have been, and I think that part of the pledge is harmless ceremonial deism, too.

I don't think it violates the Constitution, since it's not an establishment of religion. But I don't share the view the Courts have inclined to that "establishment" in this context means something other than what it meant in 1789.

As long as no religion is promoted as the Official American Religion, I don't see an establishment violation.

Nor can I seriously consider "one nation under God" to interfere with freedom of religion, especially as exactly zero penalty is applied to those who modify the pledge as they recite it, to conform with their beliefs.

The only thing about this that confuses me is why people care so much about the issue in the first place, especially those on Newdow's side.

Paddy O. said...

Garage, I brought up issues right and left because I think that's a popular reason to dispute saying the pledge, as though it's committing to some political platform. I don't like this president or some policy so I can't say it.

For kids, repetition is huge. And it's an orderly system. So both for, as wonderfully put political socialization and for, as also greatly put, crowd management saying the pledge daily is helpful. There's nothing profound about it, except as a useful tool for discipline for that particular day and for later in life. Just as doing the other tasks that build intellectual development even if not used later in life, reciting the pledge helps to build civil development even if not recited as an adult.

Kids don't have the daily reminders of social obligation like adults do. They are passive recipients for the most part and so it's useful to bring a bit of political liturgy to their lives.

That being said I'm a lot like you really. If a class didn't say the pledge every day I certainly wouldn't press the point.

Joan said...

Joan: "I have never seen a student say anything to a non-pledging student."

They don't have to say anything. It's an inherently coercise scenario, especially for the younger grades. A pledge led by the child's every day authority figure (second only sometimes to the parents, who the child probably spends less time with).


By "coercise" I believe you mean coercive. Here's the wiki on Coercion: Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.

The children are not compelled to say the pledge. They're not even compelled to stand up. There are no threats, intimidation, or other form of pressure or force, including peer pressure, mocking, ostracism, or anything. The kids don't care, and all but the most incompetent teachers know that it's the kids' right to say the pledge or not, or even to stand or not.

Are these people claiming actual damage, or just offended sensibilities?

Roost on the Moon said...

Kudos to everyone who is putting forth something worthwhile in good faith, so to speak. It's an unusually high signal-to-noise ratio today. In particular, I think Rev is spot on, including in his first post.

I'd like to answer Blake's call: "I'd be interested in hearing the more aggressive atheists(*) here describe how they reconcile their (perfectly-logical-based-on-amendment-one) desire to wipe God from the government with the fact that the basis of our government was, by that definition, essentially religious."

You refer (I assume) the part in the Declaration where it talks about rights granted to all men by their Creator, etc...

These aren't "rights" in the Bill of Rights sense. Let's take, for example, the life of a one year old African child, about to die of starvation. I think it's safe to say that the world has violated his god-given rights. His brief stint alive contained no Liberty nor Pursuit of Happiness. The point is this: if we have God-given rights, God isn't much of a Guarantor, in this life, anyway. When one's God-given rights (that all people have) are violated, nothing much happens. It's a crying shame and not much else.

Contrast this with the other kind of rights that are being discussed here. Legal rights, the kind that the Bill of Rights establishes. Not everyone on earth has them. And like it or not, they are established and protected by the government. They aren't written by God, and more importantly, they aren't enforced by God. But, stuff happens when they are violated. The laws of the United States protect its citizens.

So what are these god-given rights? What good are they? They aren't earthly laws; they are the laws of morality. "Man's God-Given Rights" is a theological way to say "justice" or "natural law". When the founding fathers brought up god-given rights, they weren't talking about legality. They were explaining why they felt morally justified in seceding from Great Britain, which was of course illegal under British law. They were justifying the new state by appealing to a moral law outside of man's laws. Justice.

You don't need to be a Christian to believe in that. You don't need to be monotheistic, or even theistic at all. I'll grant you that the US is "essentially religious", but only if you'll grant that so is every state that has ever premised its existence on some kind of extra-legal fairness, including the USSR.

I guess you see where I'm going with this. Even if the religion that the founders took their terms from (protestant Christianity) never existed, the platonic ideal that they were talking about, Justice, would. There is no need to worry about that eroding away if the state doesn't promote religiosity. In fact, the establishment clause indicates that the founders saw such promotion as a real enough threat to our "god-given" rights to explicitly forbid it in the First Amendment.
___
*and, just for the record, I don't consider myself an aggressive atheist. Still, I don't have the patience to go all the way to Garage Mahal's "soft agnostic". I saw a bumper sticker that had it about right once.

"MILITANT AGNOSTIC: I DON'T KNOW, AND YOU DON'T, EITHER."

MadisonMan said...

Dust Bunny Queen: I'd happily say a God-less pledge. God is only in there in a reaction to Godless Communism anyway, and what to we have to fear from Communism these days?

In fact, I always skip the under God when I say it. And when I say the Creed at church, I'm always changing His Church to God's Church.

Revenant said...

I'd be interested in hearing the more aggressive atheists here describe how they reconcile their (perfectly-logical-based-on-amendment-one) desire to wipe God from the government with the fact that the basis of our government was, by that definition, essentially religious.

I reconcile it by being aware that the second half of your statement is objectively false. :)

In other words, our rights were given by God, according to the founders. How do you get rid of God without eroding the basis for those rights?

The founding document of our nation is the Constitution, which makes no mention of God as a basis for our rights or government. It is certainly true that many of the founders believed that our rights derive from God. They are entitled to their opinion, but it doesn't have any bearing on how the government functions.

I would also point out that the Declaration of Independence says that our rights are endowed by "our Creator", not by "God". That was (given who wrote it and the phrasing used) most probably a reference to the Deistic deity, not to the Christian God referenced in the Pledge.

Revenant said...

Maybe this is the point; if there is no God, where do these rights come from?

Where do they come from if there IS a God? Is your entire basis for believing in human rights really that someone just declared they exist? And a "someone" we can't directly query as to those rights, at that!

God is a generic Supreme Being; Allah is not.

There is no linguistic difference between "God" and "Allah", aside from one being English and the other Arabic. Arab Christians call God "Allah".

All religions recognize a God (even atheism, where God is Self);

Atheism does not imply a belief that the Self is a Supreme Being. Furthermore there are many religions (e.g., Shinto and Buddhism) that do not believe in a Supreme Being of any kind. Where are you getting this nonsense from?

Revenant said...

Has anyone's life been changed because of what slogans are on our currency and coinage? Why is this even an issue except for a small select bunch of ideologues.

Hm, think of it this way: suppose our national motto was something like "In the White Race we Trust".

There's certainly a mountain of historical evidence that the Founders considered the white race to be the designated leaders of the nation -- and certainly it is true that our government has been, and continues to be, led almost exclusively by Caucasians.

But can you see how "a small select bunch of ideologues" might (to borrow Synova's phrasing) "get the vapors" and "get their panties in a twist" over such wording?

Roger said...

Agree with Roost: great thread! Someone asked about aggressive atheists. Well, I am not one of them, and even while I believe there is no supreme being, I think that belief in a God serves a useful purpose. Read the Declaration of Independence: by the laws of nature and nature's God.... Great formulation. Resolves the whole issue of authority for self evident truths! And it is my observation that people who adhere to a supreme being tend to be better neighbors than those who dont. So while I don't believe in a supreme being, I am not about to trash the faithful. Their beliefs apparently serve them, and me, very well. Plus I happend to like sacred music.

Skyler said...

Roger noted,
Resolves the whole issue of authority for self evident truths!

Isn't the fact that the truths are self-evident kind of eliminate the need to ascribe them to some deity to teach to us?

Roger said...

Skyler: good point!

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Revenant said...
Maybe this is the point; if there is no God, where do these rights come from?

Where do they come from if there IS a God? Is your entire basis for believing in human rights really that someone just declared they exist? And a "someone" we can't directly query as to those rights, at that!


The idea is that as creatures all created by the same Creator we all have been granted the same rights by that Creator, kind of a Natural Law thing, these rights are not granted by government, and cannot be taken by government. And wasn't it Voltaire who said 'if God hadn't existed, man would have needed to invent Him'?

God is a generic Supreme Being; Allah is not.

There is no linguistic difference between "God" and "Allah", aside from one being English and the other Arabic. Arab Christians call God "Allah".

That maybe; my education in various languages is less than perfect, yet you have proven my point. God is God. My languge may call Him God and yours call Him Allah; so for you In God we Trust will mean Allah, and for me it will mean Christ.

All religions recognize a God (even atheism, where God is Self);

Atheism does not imply a belief that the Self is a Supreme Being. Furthermore there are many religions (e.g., Shinto and Buddhism) that do not believe in a Supreme Being of any kind. Where are you getting this nonsense from?


HERE:

Shinto creation stories tell of the history and lives of the "Kami" (deities). Among them was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/shinto.htm)

Synova said...

4:45 "I think kids taking oaths to the state (with or without God) is creepy, though."

It is creepy to have the state in charge of compulsory education. Period.

Because public education is compulsory the pledge to the state is creepy. It's also a disturbing case of conflict of interest to have the State itself in charge of teaching government and civics.

The situation, without compulsion, wouldn't be creepy. If the association is voluntary a pledge to the state or flag or school or god is entirely different.

Synova said...

"I don't really have a dog in this race, but I do like my natural "God-given" rights. Say what you want about "godless communists" but they were pretty comfortable with the idea Man had no rights other than what the State conferred."

Regardless of what Revenant claims I don't actually think, the idea that there is an authority above the State is *very* important to me.

And regardless of what Revenant claims I don't actually think, I have and do equate freedom of religion to freedom of conscience and did, before this conversation, actually think about that and did associate "under God" and yes, "God given" rights with freedom of conscience and a individual responsibility above the State and above Law.

The State can be wrong and Law can be immoral.

People view religion far too narrowly and, unsurprisingly, freedom of religion far too narrowly. And I'm sorry but some atheists, particularly, seem invested in making the definition of religion as narrow as possible, some of them do so with religious fervor... which isn't *religious* only because they've carefully defined religion so narrowly that it no longer can be applied to conscience or ideology or cosmology or essential and profound world-view.

I believe that most believers, not just me, understand freedom of religion as something that takes in more than just which god you worship. Or else how does it apply to the freedom to reject religion as well as chose freely between them?

It's not just gods in contention but the freedom to be unobservant or unbelieving.

Original Mike said...

I'm a passive atheist. Couldn't care less about God in the pledge or on the currency.

My question is, can there be any doubt why Mrs. Newdow dumped this twit?

Revenant said...

The idea is that as creatures all created by the same Creator we all have been granted the same rights by that Creator, kind of a Natural Law thing, these rights are not granted by government, and cannot be taken by government.

I think you missed my point. What gives the Creator the authority to grant "rights", and how are we to know what they are? It is patently obvious that even people who believe in God can't agree on what rights he gives us -- see, e.g., the disagreement over whether or not gay sex can be made illegal or whether we possess a right of sexual freedom with other consenting adults.

You're also setting up a false dichotomy here, with rights being either granted by a god or granted by the government. There are a lot more options than just those two!

My languge may call Him God and yours call Him Allah; so for you In God we Trust will mean Allah, and for me it will mean Christ.

That's because you, the Jews, and the Muslims all worship the exact same deity. The other four billion people in the world don't, which is why your claim that "God" is generic is silly.

Shinto creation stories tell of the history and lives of the "Kami" (deities). Among them was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans.

Do you realize you just disproved your own claim? The word "God" is singular. You falsely claimed it stands for a generic "Supreme Being", also singular. Shinto believes in MANY deities (the aforementioned "kami"), none of them "supreme"; it is sort of halfway between animism and the old European and Middle-Eastern faiths where the gods were human-like and possessed of human weaknesses (e.g., Zeus and the rest).

Revenant said...

Regardless of what Revenant claims I don't actually think, the idea that there is an authority above the State is *very* important to me.

What I said you "don't actually think" is that "under God" is "symbolic" of the so-called "fact" that "we ALL have moral allegiances to something greater than our nation". It isn't symbolic; it is an objective fact that it is an explicit and literal reference to God, you and I both know it.

The State can be wrong and Law can be immoral.

I completely agree. But that's got no relevance to this discussion.

which isn't *religious* only because they've carefully defined religion so narrowly

Damn us and our use of common English terms in their common English manner! Can't we see that really everything's a "religion" if you simply redefine the world "religion" to mean "any belief about anything at all"?

Or else how does it apply to the freedom to reject religion as well as chose freely between them?

Freedom of X has always encompassed the freedom to refrain from X. The right to free speech entails the right to not speak, the right to keep and bear arms entails the right to go unarmed, the right to privacy entails the right to reveal details of my life -- and the right to freedom of religion entails the right to have no religion.

former law student said...

Ann, it is true that the Supreme Court will not hear cases, no matter how timely the issue, if the plaintiff lacks standing. That is part of the whole "cases or controversies" deal. Although, I don't know why they did not simply deny cert, as they did in Poe v. Ullman -- even though they had to revisit contraception and abortion over and over later. Here, Newdow could not obtain relief without injuring his wife, and vice versa.

Newdow argued: "And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong." And every morning his child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart and say that her mother was right. The former Mrs. N had every right to dress their daughter up in a plaid skirt and send her to parochial school, as far my understanding goes, without Newdow having a thing to say about it.

I wonder how many lawsuits it would take to get legislatures to stop praying before session

Infinite. The same crowd who added the Bill of Rights paid for chaplains to start sessions of Congress. As they understood the Establishment Clause, they saw no incompatibility so neither should we.

mtrobertsattorney said...

The unstated assumption in this discussion has been that the concept of "God" is exclusively a religious one. But this is neither self-evident nor correct.

The notion of a supreme Being or supreme Mind has long been a subject of philosophy. The belief that word "God", as it appears on currency or in the pledge, is being used in a religious context is not at all self-evident.

A good case can be made that the term should be understood in a philosophical sense.

htoob said...

I just wonder why the so much smarter than everyone else atheist don't realize that they too have a religious opinion that guides there day to day life and by demanding that there is no God in school work or play they are pushing there religious view on others.

C said...

When I was a little girl, the custom was for every gathering in public or patriotic buildings to begin with the Pledge followed by a rendering of the Star Spangled Banner. I often stood next to my grandfather, a WWI veteran, and we would recite the Pledge and sing the anthem together. Try as I might, I could never finish the pledge as quickly as he did. It wasn't until many years later I realized he said the pledge with fewer words than I had been taught. All those WWI and WWII veterans were not saying "under God" in their Pledge, because it wasn't the way their generations had learned it by heart.

Are there truely no atheists in a foxhole? I don't know, but these men had no problem with God not being part of their national pledge.

It would be nice to see it go, even though I would have to relearn the pledge to finish it as quickly as my grandchildren.

Though we are predominently a Christian nation, our constitution assures us all freedom of, and freedom from, a government established religion. Having the christian God so often mentioned in connection with Government makes me concerned the two have become entwined in the sensibilities of Americans.

Excising mentions of God from formal government symbolism, supports the promise that we are indeed free to pursue our own personal beliefs without the constraint of an official government religious endorsement.

Titan said...

htoob said that by "demanding that there is no God in school work or play" atheists are pushing their belief in non-belief on others. This clearly misses the simple distinction between asking the government not to give an opinion and asking the government to be atheist. An atheist pledge would declare this country "not under God".

I can't understand people like Roger who say that "[E]ven while I believe there is no supreme being, I think that belief in a God serves a useful purpose."

This is a person who lacks the conviction of his own (non)belief. You think it would be good for people to believe in things that you think do not exist?

Any reasoning justifying this can only be bad.

You argue that God helped give us rights. You think there is no God, so in fact people helped to secure their own rights. Give credit where credit is due.

B said...

`
February 9,1961:

The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and shall ever be "In God We Trust."
.........John F. Kennedy,President of the United States

Original Mike said...

Titan said: "I can't understand people like Roger who say that '[E]ven while I believe there is no supreme being, I think that belief in a God serves a useful purpose.'"

I can. I'm in the same boat. I don't know if this is what Roger meant but, though I don't believe in God, I do think if people followed the teachings of the major religions society would be better off.

Titan said...

Original Mike Which teachings? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? (A principle that pre-dated Christ, check the Old Testament), Thou shall not suffer a witch to live, homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death?

People pick and choose among the ethical principles provided by religion based on current concepts of morals. So much has occurred since then. For example, free speech and democracy - principles NOT found in religion.

Morality didn't begin in 1 A.D., nor did it end in 32 A.D.


(And I left out the argument that you only approve of religious moral teachings, which could be separated from theological beliefs.)

Revenant said...

The same crowd who added the Bill of Rights paid for chaplains to start sessions of Congress.

In the words of James "Father of the United States Constitution" Madison:

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.

You're right that several of the men involved in the Bill of Rights favored chaplains -- but Madison was one of those who felt that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the rights it protected were already protected by the Constitution as written (e.g., "appointing a chaplain" is not among the enumerated powers of Congress).

Original Mike said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Titan. Same old, same old. Come up with something original.

Synova said...

Original Mike said "major religions" and not "Christianity."

Most major religions have a whole lot in common when it comes to rules and picking out the parts that are (essentially) misunderstood or misapplied doesn't lessen the fact that, oh, observant Mormons make good neighbors. Or Buddhists or Jews or even most Muslims.

Observant just about *anything* would make good neighbors, actually. Even if they weren't cozy, approving neighbors.

Observant Humanists would make good neighbors.

The element that is desirable is having a code of internal constraints on behavior. Obviously, people who don't believe in God can have moral philosophies that they *follow*. But it's not worth anything unless a person actually follows or observes their moral code. Religion is *one* way of providing that.

Original Mike said...

Couldn't have said it better, myself, Synova. (Really. I couldn't.)

Titan said...

Original Mike Wow. You convinced me. Nice talking to you.

Synova You said "The element that is desirable is having a code of internal constraints on behavior. Obviously, people who don't believe in God can have moral philosophies that they *follow*."

I agree, but I think people give religion way more credit than it deserves in this area. The idea is 'religious people have a code of conduct they follow, and therefore may be more moral (as long as that code is itself moral).'

That ignores the fact that religious people must first choose their religion. Why choose Christianity over Jainism over Radical Islam? There still has to be an outside moral basis before you can invoke the religious framework.

Original Mike said...

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?
Yes

(A principle that pre-dated Christ, check the Old Testament)
I don't care. As Synova said, who said anything about Christianity?

Thou shall not suffer a witch to live,
No

homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death?
No.

People pick and choose among the ethical principles provided by religion based on current concepts of morals.
As they should. Who suggested people should stop thinking?

So much has occurred since then. For example, free speech and democracy - principles NOT found in religion.
Who said religion was the only source of guidance?

Morality didn't begin in 1 A.D., nor did it end in 32 A.D.
No shit, Sherlock.

(And I left out the argument that you only approve of religious moral teachings,
Where did I say that? You sure are full of assumptions.

former law student said...

Reading that "Detached Memoranda" further, it's clear that Madison objected only to paying the chaplains with public funds, not to their presence per se (although he found their prayers to be a boring, empty exercise.) To remedy the drain on the public purse, he suggested that Congress pass the hat among themselves to fund the chaplains. He also thought chaplains violated equal rights of the legislators, because while a Roman Catholic or Quaker might be elected, hiring one to be chaplain would never happen. (What would he say about a Muslim or Hindu chaplain, I wonder.) In any event, Madison considered Congressional chaplains a de minimis violation of the Constitution.

If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Cong wd suffice for the purpose! How just wd it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expence of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Ex. or Judiciary branch of the Gov

Were the establishment to be tried by its fruits, are not the daily devotions conducted by these legal Ecclesiastics, already degenerating into a scanty attendance, and a tiresome formality!

Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex: or to class it cum "maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura."


Talking about the Pledge reminds me of the immortal words of NatLamp's Deteriorata: "Therefore make peace with your God whatever you conceive him to be, Hairy Thunderer, or Cosmic Muffin."

Revenant said...

Most major religions have a whole lot in common when it comes to rules and picking out the parts that are (essentially) misunderstood or misapplied doesn't lessen the fact that, oh, observant Mormons make good neighbors. Or Buddhists or Jews or even most Muslims.

According to government statistics, atheists have either the lowest or second-lowest rate of criminal activity (Jews might beat us, I forget). We are also generally better-educated and earn more money than the religiously observant. In other words, your daughter is more likely to be raped by your church-going Baptist neighbor than by your atheist neighbor.

Obviously, people who don't believe in God can have moral philosophies that they *follow*. But it's not worth anything unless a person actually follows or observes their moral code. Religion is *one* way of providing that.

Religion can also provide an excuse for bad behavior. Take just one example -- the Christian doctrine of divine forgiveness, wherein you can go out and murder a busload of kids and still get into Heaven provided you're really really sorry about having done it. If I commit murder, I've committed a horrible act that cannot be undone or made better, plus I'll be jailed or executed for it -- ruining what remains of my life (and of course "what remains of my life" is all there is of me). If a Christian commits murder, on the other hand, he can ask God for forgiveness. His victim (assuming his victim was a good person) goes to Heaven, as does he himself assuming he genuinely feels sorry.

What this means is that the cost of immoral activity, to an atheist, is a lot higher than it is for a Christian. There isn't a Big Daddy to wag a finger at us and give us a lollipop for being so brave and honest about how we'd done bad things. Christians believe that there is. They know that even IF they screw up and do something evil it can still all turn out ok. Atheists like myself know that it can't.

I would also say that belief in an afterlife discourages people from fixing the problems of the real world, but that's a much longer conversation for another day. :)

Original Mike said...

As you know from previous discussions, Rev, we pretty much agree on this topic. My only comment was if more people took the moral strictures of the major religions to heart (love thy neighbor and all that stuff), I think we'd be in a better palce than we are now. The fact that they don't is, I think, beyond contestation.

rcocean said...

There is no "Separation of Church and state" in the bill of rights or the constitution.

The Bill of Rights was enacted to protect the people from the Federal Government. Not to allow a handful of unelected FEDERAL judges to interfere and rule every aspect of American life based on their interpretation of the sacred scroll.

From 1789 to 1962 people prayed in school. It was not "unconstitutional". This is nothing more a handful of elite lawyers, imposing their bizarre viewpoint on 300 million Americans.

Revenant said...

The Bill of Rights was enacted to protect the people from the Federal Government.

The Bill of Rights was enacted to make explicit the limits on the powers of the Federal government.

Now, a quick quiz. Congress is part of:

(A): The Virginia State government
(B): The US Federal government
(C): The Russian government
(D): Washington High School student government.

Take all the time you need.

Not to allow a handful of unelected FEDERAL judges to interfere and rule every aspect of American life based on their interpretation of the sacred scroll.

The first amendment forbids Congress from passing laws respecting an establishment of religion. The insertion of "under God" into the Pledge is an establishment of religion by Congressional law. It is therefore unconstitutional. Next!

Roger said...

Titan: let me try to explain this apparent paradox to you: I don't happen to believe in a god. This is most certainly not a belief that I think is important to me personally. The fact that I don't personally believe in a god doesnt mean that other people should or should not believe in a god. Its their choice, and to the extent that their belief in a god influences their behavior in positive ways, thats a good thing.

Has nothing to do with the courage of my convictions, unless, of course, you think I should be like Dr Newdow and fall on my sword on this issue. My non-belief in a supreme being is not a make or break moral issue to me. You may think its important; allow me to think that it isnt.

Does that help?

Joan said...

Religion can also provide an excuse for bad behavior. Take just one example -- the Christian doctrine of divine forgiveness, wherein you can go out and murder a busload of kids and still get into Heaven provided you're really really sorry about having done it. If I commit murder, I've committed a horrible act that cannot be undone or made better, plus I'll be jailed or executed for it -- ruining what remains of my life (and of course "what remains of my life" is all there is of me).

For Catholics, your interpretation is incorrect. See the subheading "Satisfaction" in this entry of the encyclopedia. Also, it's bizarre that you would suggest that Christian forgiveness somehow literally gives one a "get out of jail free" card. Here in the US, Christians criminals are just as likely to be tried and sentenced as anyone else, whether or not they've been forgiven. I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant to say, but the "plus" construction implies that you think the societal consequences only apply to atheists.

Regarding your views of how belief in an afterlife encourages poor behavior during life: for the religions that include doctrines like reincarnation, I can see why that might be true, although why you'd want to end up lower on the wheel in the next life is beyond me. Similarly, are you saying that the religious faithful are too stupid to weigh an eternity of suffering against temporal pleasures (or neglect of responsibility), and thus come down in favor of carpe diem, screw the eternal consequences? What, are we all adolescents in perpetuity? I don't think so. Your arguments are not persuasive.

Synova said...

"What this means is that the cost of immoral activity, to an atheist, is a lot higher than it is for a Christian. There isn't a Big Daddy to wag a finger at us and give us a lollipop for being so brave and honest about how we'd done bad things. Christians believe that there is. They know that even IF they screw up and do something evil it can still all turn out ok. Atheists like myself know that it can't."

This is almost the same conversation that I've had with a Jewish man. He said that Nazis could kill Jews knowing they'd be forgiven. I asked him if he *really* thought that those people actually *really* thought to themselves, "I can go gas Jews today and God will forgive me." He had to admit, no.

Firstly, planning on being sorry later and doing something you know is vile sort of proves that the repentance is a scam and Christianity also says that God knows the truth of it. The idea that a murderer can plan ahead to get off the hook with God seems to preclude the necessary repentance and actually being sorry about it. Sorry they got *caught* maybe, and we know what that is worth in this life. I see no reason at all to think that being sorry you got caught is worth more in the next. After all, you can't even fake it with God.

Can a terrible person be forgiven, be saved? Yes. Absolutely. And in Christian doctrine this involves being reborn as a new person and turning away from the old. Nothing about it says that punishments shouldn't be carried out *here.* Some people seem to think they should get a pass but they probably aren't *really* sorry either.

Do you really think that getting a chance to start over is a bad thing?

So how does an Atheist have a higher cost for being immoral? The cost *here* ought to be the same. Your neighbors hate you and you might get arrested and punished if it's a criminal thing and if it's just being really stupid both Christians and Atheists will feel the same consequences and impact on their life, or at least the random sort of consequences but certainly not split up so Atheists get it worse.

Unless it's that other Christians might forgive you (not a bad thing, anger and vengeance tear us up from the inside) and other Atheists won't? I don't believe that.

Joan said...

The insertion of "under God" into the Pledge is an establishment of religion by Congressional law.

You keep saying this as if repeating it will somehow make it true.

OK. Please explain: what is the official, national, recognized-by-law religion of the USA? Where are the official, national churches? To whom do we send our tithes? How and when are we enjoined, by law, to worship? How do I sign up to be a minister? Where are the national seminaries where the priests and ministers of our national religion are educated? Who is charged with enforcing the laws that we all worship as prescribed, and contribute as required? Where are the courts and tribunals that are dealing with all the people who are flouting these laws, made by Congress, establishing the national religion?

Wake up, Rev. Two words do not a religion make.

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...

Madison may be the "father of the Constitution", but he was also a political partisan with specific views which were not universal among the Founders, and that needs to be considered on a number of issues.

One of these areas include matters of the establishment of religion. Madison was one of the Virginia disestablishmentarians, who opposed the existence of any state church. A major reason that New England states supported the First Amendment is that it guaranteed Congress would not disestablish their state Congregationalist churches; they wanted protection from the Virginia disestablishmentarians.

That is, a major reason that the First Amendment was adopted was to protect states from the imposition of Madison's views on church and state. Which clearly makes it questionable to read it to impose Madison's views on church and state, minus contemporary evidence other than Madison's opinion.

rcocean said...

The first amendment forbids Congress from passing laws respecting an establishment of religion. The insertion of "under God" into the Pledge is an establishment of religion by Congressional law. It is therefore unconstitutional. Next!"

Revant: Your response, first part, had nothing to do with mine. So I'll pass over it.

Your 2nd response is incorrect. Newdow is not suing Congress, he's suing the local school board to get a FEDERAL JUDGE to interfere with a local school board's policy. It's nothing more than a use of Federal judicial power to micro manage a local school in the name of the US constitution.

Which is exactly the opposite of the original intent of the Bill of Rights.

And BTW, if Newdow doesn't like the Federal law, why doesn't he lobby Congress to change it.

Finally, neither Jefferson or Madison wrote the Bill of Rights. Madison was just one member of the Convention. And Jefferson, wasn't even at the Convention.

Revenant said...

My non-belief in a supreme being is not a make or break moral issue to me. You may think its important; allow me to think that it isnt.

Nicely put. I feel much the same.

Revenant said...

Here in the US, Christians criminals are just as likely to be tried and sentenced as anyone else, whether or not they've been forgiven.

Actually they're more likely to be paroled, which I personally find annoying. But I didn't mean that Christians escape punishment here in the real world.

Christians believe in a larger existence of which this world is only a part -- and the less-important part, at that. Their primary concern is (in theory, at least) their fat in that larger existence, i.e. the ultimate fate of their soul. Atheists, or at least the materialist ones like myself, think this is all there is. So from our individual perspective, winding up on death row is absolutely horrible for an atheist but not necessarily horrible for a Christian, provided that he obtains forgiveness before he actually dies.

That's what I mean about the cost of crime being lower. I know that I'll lose everything if I commit a really bad sin. Christians "know", even if only subconsciously, that there will always be the possibility of escaping punishment and going on to Heaven.

Of course, in reality the Christians die, cease to exist, and get eaten by worms just like I will. But because there's that belief in the back of their mind that they can be forgiven, their resistance to committing crimes in the first place is, I think, lower (and I feel the fact that Christians are more likely to commit crimes than atheists are supports this somewhat). Keep in mind that virtually nobody -- not even rapists and murderers -- really believes that they are a bad person. And God only sends the really BAD people to hell. The ones who at heart aren't that bad can obtain forgiveness.

One final note, or question rather -- I don't see what it is about Catholicism that conflicts with what I said (although I might have been overly sarcastic). My understanding is that there was no sin for which a Catholic could not be forgiven if he truly repents. Is this not the case?

Joan said...

My understanding is that there was no sin for which a Catholic could not be forgiven if he truly repents. Is this not the case?

Yes, that is the case. But you can't murder a busload of kids (a premeditated crime) one day and truly repent the next. We're not talking about snowing a judge or jury here, we're talking about God looking into your soul and seeing what is truly there. People are adept at self-deception but God see through it all.

Excerpt from the link I provided earlier, which you either did not read or are discounting: Penance is a sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same. (emphasis added)

Also:
the absolution given by the priest to a penitent who confesses his sins with the proper dispositions remits both the guilt and the eternal punishment (of mortal sin). There remains, however, some indebtedness to Divine justice which must be cancelled here or hereafter...[snip] The quality and extent of the penance is determined by the confessor according to the nature of the sins revealed, the special circumstances of the penitent, his liability to relapse, and the need of eradicating evil habits. (emphasis added)

Some penances are lifelong. If you commit a mortal sin and die unforgiven, there is no redemption possible. If you have been absolved of your sins but die before completing your penance on earth, you'll owe in the afterlife.

You suggest that any Christian can sin, say "I'm sorry", and still be assured a place in heaven. That is not only reductive but incorrect.

Also: Christians are more likely to commit crimes than atheists? I'd like to see that data. I'd say it's most likely true because most atheists are well-educated and well off, and the higher your level of education and economic status, the less likely you are to commit a crime. But if you factor those elements out, does it still hold true?

You may have missed my 9:45 reply; I'd like to hear your response.

Revenant said...

Sorry for the spam... two more quickies:

steven,

Madison may be the "father of the Constitution", but he was also a political partisan with specific views which were not universal among the Founders, and that needs to be considered on a number of issues.

I quoted Madison simply as a response to FLS's comment about the people who wrote the Bill of Rights not being worried about Congressional chaplains. Obviously, yes, the Founders were divided on the issue. But -- like it or not -- the First Amendment was extended to cover the states years ago, so the fact that it originally didn't do doesn't tell us much.

Heck, if you want to go by the Constitution as originally written and interpreted, Congress has no power to authorize an official Pledge in the FIRST place. :)

rcocean,

if Newdow doesn't like the Federal law, why doesn't he lobby Congress to change it.

You don't have to lobby Congress to change unconstitutional laws. If they were honoring their oaths they'd repeal them without being asked. For those occasions when they are unwilling to honor their oaths, it is the proper and Constitutional role of the judiciary to forcibly throw out the law.

Synova said...

"Keep in mind that virtually nobody -- not even rapists and murderers -- really believes that they are a bad person. And God only sends the really BAD people to hell. The ones who at heart aren't that bad can obtain forgiveness."

Bad doctrine there. That's not what the church teaches, generally. It's not *bad* people going to hell, it's *everyone* going to hell, because ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and being GOOD does nothing for you.

Being bad on purpose, on the other hand, sends you to hell for eternal torment because, as a Christian, you know the truth and have rejected it. It's not that you don't sin, it's that you try not to sin. It's not the failure but the intent, see.

The terms involved are probably "justification" which is referring to forgiveness and grace and God seeing you as blameless through Christ, and "sanctification" which is a daily process of trying to remove the sin from your life for real. Even without understanding the terms, few Christians figure that because they are "justified" that they can say FU to "sanctification."

If they think about it at all.

"My understanding is that there was no sin for which a Catholic could not be forgiven if he truly repents. Is this not the case?"

Yes, and certainly for Protestants too. The hitch is "truly repents".

This also is a counter argument for the idea that "good" people go to heaven and "bad" people go to hell. What was the point of Christ dying for our sins if we get to go to heaven if we're good? And if he didn't come to die for the "bad" people, what was the point?

And if we're tempted to think, "but I'm better than so-and-so" then we're not asking or accepting that we have flaws and faults and are guilty, too. And we're probably not *truly* sorry and we're probably not asking for forgiveness. Jesus said, if you're not sick do you need a physician? So he came for the *bad* people who needed him, and reminded us who might be inclined to be full of our own righteousness that we screw up too. We aren't comparing ourselves to someone else who is worse in order to claim some status of goodness.

Revenant said...

We're not talking about snowing a judge or jury here, we're talking about God looking into your soul and seeing what is truly there. People are adept at self-deception but God see through it all.

That's exactly my point -- minus the "God sees through it all" bit. It doesn't matter if God could hypothetically see through their BS. What matters is if the person believes he is worthy of God's forgiveness. The very fact that people excel at self-deception is what makes the idea that you can be forgiven of anything if you convince God you're sorry so dangerous -- because most people, deep down, think they are good people who deserve to be forgiven for what they've done. Even the rapists and murderers.

If you have been absolved of your sins but die before completing your penance on earth, you'll owe in the afterlife.

Which brings to mind one of my favorite scenes from The Sopranos, where Paulie explains Limbo to Christopher. Something along the lines of:

"You have to do 25 years for every venal sin and 50 years for every mortal sin. I figure I gotta do about 20,000 years. But 20,000 is nothing in infinity terms. I could do that standing on my head!"

Sure, you have to (if you're Catholic, at least -- Baptists have it easy) make up your sins in the afterlife. But the afterlife lasts forever. Ultimately everyone gets that happy ending.

And I didn't say you just had to say you were sorry. I just said you just had to BE sorry. Heck, there are plenty of crimes for which you might feel sorry right away, e.g. stealing my wallet to buy crack.

Revenant said...

Bad doctrine there. That's not what the church teaches, generally. It's not *bad* people going to hell, it's *everyone* going to hell

Which church are you referring to? I can think of a few big ones that don't believe that.

I think there's some confusion here. You seem to be talking about truly devout Christians who follow the teachings of Christ with their hearts and minds. I'm talking about ordinary Christian human beings with human flaws. The difference between the two is that the latter actually exist.

And if we're tempted to think, "but I'm better than so-and-so" then we're not asking or accepting that we have flaws and faults and are guilty, too.

Yes, but that's just it -- almost everybody thinks they are a better-than-average person, morally speaking. Virtually nobody believes they are going to Hell, which is quite amazing given that supposedly *everybody* is going there by default. But all of this is entirely understandable when you realize that the one thing humans are better at than ANYTHING else is rationalizing. The Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sin is a rationalizer's dream.

Joan said...

It doesn't matter if God could hypothetically see through their BS. What matters is if the person believes he is worthy of God's forgiveness.

No, we don't get to judge whether or not we are worthy of God's forgiveness, God is the judge. Why would you possibly think otherwise? Our capacity for self-deception is therefore taken out of the equation.

I finally had an opportunity to watch The Last King of Scotland, and there's a scene towards the end, when everything is unraveling, when the young Dr Garrigan realizes he has blood on his hands for telling Amin that the health minister was meeting with some white guy at the Holiday Inn. Amin had the minister assassinated; it turns out he was negotiating for vaccines. Garrigan insists he didn't want the minister dead, he just wanted Amin to look into it, talk to him, but Amin stares him down and finally gets him to admit that he knew what would happen when he told Amin, he just didn't want to think about it.

That's the kind of thing that God will do, force us to face the reality of the choices we've made. It's then up to Him to decide whether or not we truly repent, and whether or not we deserve forgiveness.

I just said you just had to BE sorry.

You continue to trivialize. "Being sorry" is easy; true repentance is a conversion of the heart.

My interpretation of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sin is a rationalizer's dream.

Fixed.

What, no answers for my 9:45 questions?

Revenant said...

No, we don't get to judge whether or not we are worthy of God's forgiveness, God is the judge. Why would you possibly think otherwise?

You're missing the point.

I'm talking about the perceived long-term cost is, to a Christian, of doing something wrong. It doesn't matter if the objective reality is (a) he goes to Heaven, (b) he goes to Hell, or (c) he just dies and nothing happens. What matters is whether he thinks the answer is a, b or c. THAT is what influences his decision.

For example, from the point of view of many fundamentalist Protestants, they are going to Heaven and Catholics are going to Hell. Catholics, obviously, feel differently. Now obviously God's will (assuming for the sake of argument that God exists) either does or does not conform to those human beliefs -- but the humans are motivated by THEIR opinions, not directly motivated by the will of God. Hence, even if the will of God is entirely in accordance with Jack Chick's view of the world, Catholics are going to keep on going to confession right up to the point where they die and are cast into the Fiery Pit for all Eternity.

You are right that, from a theological perspective, what really matters is what God thinks. But the point I've been trying to make is that most people, even the evil ones, think God is in their corner. People who go "muhaha" and deliberately flaunt the will of God barely exist outside of works of fiction, because obviously you'd have to be stark raving nuts to deliberately spit in the face of an all-powerful being with plans to torture you for throughout the rest of time.

the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of sin is a rationalizer's dream.

I had it right the first time, thanks. You're either unaware of or deliberately ignoring the fact that individual interpretations of God's will are the only kind anyone has.

Revenant said...

What, no answers for my 9:45 questions?

I don't make a habit of answering disingenuous questions.

Joan said...

I don't make a habit of answering disingenuous questions.

How are they disingenuous? You said Congress established a religion by putting "under God" in the pledge. I've been a citizen since birth but this is the first time I've ever heard that we have a Congressionally established religion.

If you really believe that's true, back it up, otherwise you're just, what, playing Devil's advocate? Poking hornets' nests for fun? What?

Of course you are correct that individual perceptions govern our behaviors; how could it be otherwise? But I disagree that most people think that God is in their corner. I think most people don't think about God at all, more's the pity. The typical agnostic/spiritual/non-denominational "believer" you find so prevalent these days rarely spends any time at all thinking about the afterlife. I especially doubt that the typical two-bit criminal who vaguely self-identifies as "Christian" ever thinks about anything much more than what's happening to him at the moment, or where and when his next score is going to be.

Chris said...

Roger: I replied to you earlier, but it looks like my comment didn't make it. You wrote, "The fact that I don't personally believe in a god doesnt mean that other people should or should not believe in a god. Its their choice, and to the extent that their belief in a god influences their behavior in positive ways, thats a good thing."

If that's all you meant, then I don't have a problem with it. I thought you were making the stronger claim that, although you don't believe, other people should.

Joan: The Constitution doesn't say that Congress shall not establish a religion, it says that Congress shall make no law "respecting" an establishment of religion. I'm not sure what this means, but I think it's clearly meant to prohibit more than just direct establishments.

Newdow's argument is this: Government should not take a position on a theological question, and then ask children to affirm that position on a daily basis.

Revenant said...

How are they disingenuous?

Because they are based on the premise that unless a law establishes official churches, tithes, there are official churches, required days of worship, seminaries, religious laws, and tribunals, the law doesn't represent an establishment of religion. Now, either you haven't been paying attention for the last, oh, 140 posts or so, or you've already seen my argument that the law represents an establishment of religion because it establishes the Abrahamic God of three of the world's religions as the official supreme deity of the United States of America. As a matter of Congressional law the Christian God officially exists and the (for example) Hindu position that their gods are supreme is officially wrong. That, Joan, is an establishment of religion. And that, Joan, is why your questions were disingenuous. Not a single one of them has an answer that matters to this discussion.

But I disagree that most people think that God is in their corner.

Well, here is a typical poll on the subject that establishes that the vast majority of Christians (including virtually all "very religious" people and evangelicals) think they're going to Heaven. That certainly sounds like they think God's in their corner to me. The numbers are even more interesting when you consider how much larger those percentages are than, say, the percentage of Christians that obey the law, remain faithful to their spouse, and give generously to the needy.

The typical agnostic/spiritual/non-denominational "believer" you find so prevalent these days rarely spends any time at all thinking about the afterlife.

I think a look at history suggests that there's nothing unique to "these days" where the tendency for the large majority of Christians to live and think in a non-Christ-approved-manner is concerned. I think the problem here is that you're focusing on the theological angle, while I'm talking about the psychological side. Maybe all the bad Christians go to hell; I don't give a rat's ass about that, particularly since I don't believe in the place anyway. I'm focusing solely on how religion actually *does* make people behave, here and now, in the material world we live in. I think it is hard to escape the fact that religion comforts not only the innocent, but an awful lot of the evil people to (see also: al Qaeda, et al).

Synova said...

You haven't supported your version of how religion, or at least Christianity, makes people actually behave, Rev.

You've described a reasonably logical reaction to how you see the message of forgiveness applied but not have not showed that it is actually applied that way when it comes to *behavior*. That people who aren't perfect believe they are going to heaven is their beliefs, not their behavior.

That Jewish gentleman I mentioned also described a logical progression that took the doctrine of forgiveness and showed how it supposedly caused the holocaust. Yet, were observant Christians gassing Jews? No, they weren't.

If what you're saying is that non-observant persons who don't give a second thought to what God wants of them but if asked will identify as "Christian" and who have some notion that a person needs to be "good" to get into heaven, will use that as a rationalization when they do something bad since they need to think of themselves as "good" in order not to worry about the final destination of their souls. Well, you may have a point.

But it seems to me that they'd be more likely to at least try, a little bit, to be "good" than to decide they can be bad on purpose since they are basing their idea of their eternal destination on their goodness.

Those with a slightly better understanding of doctrine, who realize that the point of redemption is that we're *not* good and can't be good *enough*, also will understand what Joan, from a Catholic POV and I from a fundy Protestant POV have been saying (and we *do* agree). Which is that rationalizing bad behavior on the basis of knowing that forgiveness is freely available *doesn't* work because "planning on it" is simply incompatible with being "sorry for it."

Granted, Catholic and fundy Protestant doesn't cover the entire gamut of Christian doctrine and tradition but it's about as diverse as you can get without heading off into LDS land or Jehovah's Witness territory.

Synova said...

In other words... a person may convince themselves that divorce is *not* a sin, but they won't get a divorce knowing it's a sin and figure they can just repent of it later.

The tendency to rationalize behavior, to convince one's self that one's desires are quite acceptable, has nothing to do with a church having a doctrine of forgiveness and everything to do with the fact that it's human nature to do this.

You mention Al Qaida. I'm pretty sure that Islam doesn't have the Christian "get out of jail free" card. I know Judaism doesn't. Eastern religions don't either, although they have a "you get to try again" option.

Joan said...

Now, either you haven't been paying attention for the last, oh, 140 posts or so, or you've already seen my argument...

I apologize; I've been drifting in and out of this thread and really hadn't seen that. Thank you for repeating it for me. These threads do tend to get unwieldy, and since there are multiple conversations going on at the same time, I don't always read every single post. Sorry about that.

I think the problem here is that you're focusing on the theological angle, while I'm talking about the psychological side.

Yes, I've noticed a lot of talking past each other between you and me. It's frustrating for me to make a comment, say, about how non-denominational believers don't think about the afterlife, and for you to reply with a comment that it's nothing new for Christians to be ignoring most of Christ's commandments. Whether or not it's intentional, it seems as if you can't pass up an opportunity to display your scorn for Christians. You're very polite about it, but there's a definite hostility there.

This feels very familiar to me... I know we've done the atheist-v-Catholic thing in other threads, and once again I find that you are much, much better at this sort of thing than I am. Unfortunately I have spent what ever energy I had available on this thread, and so I ask you to please excuse me, and I thank you for the discussion.

Revenant said...

You haven't supported your version of how religion, or at least Christianity, makes people actually behave, Rev.

With all due respect, Synova, I've supported it better than you have supported your claim that "observant just about *anything* would make good neighbors" -- in fact, come to think of it you haven't supported that claim at all. I've mentioned the fact that Christians are more likely to behave criminally and explained why I think their religion might interact with the human desire to rationalize our supposed "goodness" and thus lower the barrier to committing wrongful acts. Maybe you're unconvinced, but please don't tell me I'm not supporting my argument when you're making one unsubstantiated claim after another.

Yet, were observant Christians gassing Jews?

Yes.

Would Christ have approved? No, of course not. But among the people cheerfully loading Jews on to cattle cars and sending them off to their deaths, among the people working the camps and sending them off to the gas chambers, among all those groups were people who went to church regularly and believed in their hearts that they were good, decent people.

If what you're saying is that non-observant persons who don't give a second thought to what God wants of them

I'm tired of repeating this, because I don't know how to say it in simpler terms and you seem intent on missing the point: most people think God is fine with them behaving the way they behave, or at least not so "un-fine" with it that they won't get into heaven. You say "observant Christian" like there was some objective standard for that beyond "believes in God and goes to church". There isn't.

You and Joan are arguing theology and trying to determine what God thinks. What God thinks isn't relevant to the real world, since even if he does exist he doesn't intervene to prevent people from doing evil things. I'm arguing human psychology, which DOES affect the world and which does encourage or discourage people from doing evil things. Christianity lets evil Christians rationalize their behavior by giving them a Big Daddy figure who approves of them and forgives them.

Revenant said...

In other words... a person may convince themselves that divorce is *not* a sin, but they won't get a divorce knowing it's a sin and figure they can just repent of it later.

Well, yes, actually, they'll do exactly that.

The argument you're using is the same one socialists used when economists predicted that welfare child-support payouts would increase the number of unwed mothers. "Surely", they said "women aren't going to go out and get pregnant, and endure all the society scorn that goes with single motherhood, just because the government is giving them money!". But of course that's exactly what a lot of them did. Oh, not consciously -- not in most cases -- but by lowering the "cost" of extramarital pregnancy, the economically inevitable result occurred. More people "bought". The fact that sins CAN be forgiven lowers their cost. Lowered costs = more "sales". Lower the cost of wrongdoing and you get more wrongdoing, even if only because people know, at a subconscious level, that the cost isn't absolute.

Let me put it to you in a way that should make my point absolutely crystal clear: say God had rules that under no circumstances would he forgive, say, adultery. Atone all you want, that's one sin that will taint your soul forever. Do you honestly believe that the number of Christians committing adultery would be the same that it is today? Because if you concede that the number would be lower (which I feel is obvious for all the reasons I mentioned above) then you have to admit that the possibility of divine forgiveness is encouraging adultery to occur that otherwise would not.

Revenant said...

Whether or not it's intentional, it seems as if you can't pass up an opportunity to display your scorn for Christians. You're very polite about it, but there's a definite hostility there.

I've spoken up in defense of Christians against the nastier atheists (e.g. Downtownlad) who swing by to accuse them of being a force of evil in the world. I don't think I have "hostility" to Christians, at least no more than I have hostility to anyone else who wants to tell me how to live a moral life (I'm doing just fine figuring that out on my own thanks). I just think Christians are entirely wrong about the way the world works, that's all.

But thanks for the discussion. Sorry for wearing you out. :)

Synova said...

I realize that you're talking psychology and I'm talking Theology or at least doctrine but if you're going to talk about how people react to an idea, psychology, it makes sense to talk about what that idea *is*. And that is doctrine as taught.

The example of subsidizing unwed mothers is a good one, as far as it goes, but it seems to me that you've been arguing that the idea of forgiveness leads people to immorality. No? That *without* forgiveness as a concept that people would be more careful about their behavior.

I don't see the evidence for this. Really. And saying that some Christians somewhere did bad things and didn't think they were bad doesn't show any sort of causality or trend for bad behavior among those who expect forgiveness. Can you show a correlation?

And you ought to be able to, because this isn't a discussion of a new idea, it's a discussion of a very old idea. If expecting forgiveness was going to lead to lawlessness it would have done so in a way that could be compared and measured... ie., people who believed a religion with forgiveness would behave less well as a group than a control group of people who believed a religion without that doctrine or those who believe no religion at all.

It would be different if I had cause to slap my forehead and exclaim, "So *that's* why Christians are so prone to be immoral criminals!" Do Christians have more divorces? More teen pregnancies? Make up a bigger portion of the prison population? They are far from perfect, of course, but I simply do not see evidence of cause and effect as you describe.

Synova said...

It's logical to think that an expectation of forgiveness would lead people to do more bad things.

It would also be logical to say that atheists will do more bad things because they have no one to answer to.

And it would be just as wrong.

I doubt that anyone could back that up with observed behavior either.

Synova said...

If adultery was an unforgivable sin there would be less of it, yes.

But, expecting forgiveness, do Christians commit adultery *more* than others do? It's still considered *very* bad and a sin, not just against your spouse but against your own self and God. I am personally disappointed in the extent to which adultery, divorce, and such things are tolerated in the church. (On the other hand I've seen what happens in churches that are hard line on this and it is really *bad*. I can hardly think that God wants that result either.)

I do wonder sometimes, Rev, if you really badly *want* Christianity to, oh, be consistent or something like that. That you want it to be harsher and more defined and far *far* less squishy.

I sincerely hope this doesn't offend you, though the fact I mention it means I think it might, but I know Christians like that, too. And I've thought from time to time that there is a similarity in outlook between those who force religion into a box they can control and those that reject it entirely because they realize it won't fit.

Either way, the box is a lie.

I probably shouldn't let myself get into this sort of discussion with you, or at least figure out how to let it go sooner. Probably I get into it because I feel you are a logical and thoughtful person and I respect your opinion.

Revenant said...

if you're going to talk about how people react to an idea, psychology, it makes sense to talk about what that idea *is*. And that is doctrine as taught.

Well, no. The doctrine as taught is AN idea, one of many believed by Christians, and generally not well-understood by them (hence the fact that Christian theologians still have jobs, 2000 years in -- shouldn't this stuff have been figured out by now?).

Can you show a correlation?

I've already noted the correlation between Christian belief and violation of the law.

I have done all of the following:

(1): Explained how economics and psychology tell us that lowering the cost of an activity encourages people to undertake it
(2): Explained how the Christian doctrine of forgiveness lowers the perceived ultimate cost of wrongdoing, and
(3): Noted that the empirical evidence indicates exactly what (1) would predict, given (2), which is that Christians do more bad things than atheists do.

Now, you're welcome to offer an alternate explanation -- and support it. You're welcome to try and explain why (1), (2), or (3) is wrong (and no, "the Church wouldn't agree" does not count as a reason why (2) is wrong). But so far as I'm concerned, I've established my case quite solidly.

And by the way, I'm still waiting for evidence of your earlier claim that "believers make good neighbors".

Do Christians have more divorces? More teen pregnancies? Make up a bigger portion of the prison population?

In order: yes, I don't know, and yes.

It would also be logical to say that atheists will do more bad things because they have no one to answer to.

No it wouldn't, for the reasons I cited earlier. If this world is all their is -- as most atheists believe -- then being killed or jailed in this world destroys or ruins all or most of your remaining existence. If, like most religious people, you believe in an unending afterlife, then what happens to you in this life really isn't much of a concern in the long run. What really matters is whether you get punished in the afterlife. In other words, Syn, we've got more reason to obey the law because we perceive ourselves as having more to lose than Christians do. Psychologically speaking, Christians and atheists live in two very, very different universes.

If adultery was an unforgivable sin there would be less of it, yes.

Then I'm right, and divine forgiveness does increase adultery among Christians. As for whether or not Christians commit more acts of adultery than atheists, I don't know. But the same argument holds for "rape" or "murder", which Christians definitely DO commit more frequently than atheists.

I do wonder sometimes, Rev, if you really badly *want* Christianity to, oh, be consistent or something like that. That you want it to be harsher and more defined and far *far* less squishy.

I hold Christianity to a strict standard because Christians insist that there really are hard and fast rules handed down by God and that I ought to follow them. I expect them to be able to defend their case. Namby-pamby faiths like Deism I pretty much leave be. :)