October 13, 2009

Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, Easter bunnies, and dispassionate judges.

A joke about judges, in a 1944 Supreme Court opinion:
All schools of religious thought make enormous assumptions, generally on the basis of revelations authenticated by some sign or miracle. The appeal in such matters is to a very different plane of credibility than is invoked by representations of secular fact in commerce. Some who profess belief in the Bible read literally what others read as allegory or metaphor, as they read Aesop's fables. Religious symbolism is even used by some with the same mental reservations one has in teaching of Santa Claus or Uncle Sam or Easter bunnies or dispassionate judges.


Richard Dolan said...

This reminded me of Nietzsche's saying that the truth is just a mobile army of metaphors.

He would have made a great blogger.

rhhardin said...

The trick is an allegory that you cannot avoid literalizing, even if you are well aware it's allegory.

``When there was as yet no shrub of the field upon earth, and as yet no grasses of the field had sprouted, because Yahweh had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the soil, but a flow welled up from the ground and watered the whole surface of the earth, then Yahweh molded Adam from the earth's dust (adamah), and blew into the nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being.''

To shape by molding, to make a fiction, is to fashion Adam out of the adamah, out of the red clay. Adam is not faked; he is fictitious and not factitious. Yet J's uncanny trope of this fashioning has become another facticity for us. True reading would recover the trope, and yet can any of us avoid literalizing it?

Harold Bloom _Ruin the Sacred Truths_ p.10

rhhardin said...


I should add that the passage describes itself, i.e. the birth of a figure of speech.

Bissage said...

That's a very funny joke, but it would have been a greater exercise of personal freedom to have used the word “incorruptible.”

traditionalguy said...

So there are no dispassionate Judges after all, just some that seem better a role playing the dispassionate part. The judge that has a passionate since of right and wrong is fine by me...It's the ones who could care less that are the phonies to the core.

Lem said...

Reminds me of Supreme Robert's description that judges should be “like umpires calling balls and strikes”?

Hell hath no fury like an umpire upset over players daring to second guess balls and strikes.

Nobody got tossed when he watched?

traditionalguy said...

Don't even go there about Passionate Latinos.

elHombre said...

The Supremes traditionally have difficulty with the transcendent except when it comes to penumbras formed by emanations.

jprapp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jprapp said...

My brain is melting. Maybe I’m over-thinking this.

I read Jackson’s dissent. And agreed that Jackson meant his comment about dispassionate judges as a joke.

I re-read Jackson’s dissent a few more times. Because I liked other parts of it.

And now, I wonder if Jackson was joking?

Before Ann’s quote, Jackson writes: “If religious liberty includes, as it must, the right to communicate such experiences to others, it seems to me an impossible task for juries to separate fancied ones from real ones, dreams from happenings, and hallucinations from true clairvoyance.”

Immediately after the quote, he writes: “It is hard in matters so mystical to say how literally one is bound to believe the doctrine he teaches, and even more difficult to say how far it is reliance upon a teacher's literal belief which induces followers to give him money.”

Again, maybe I’m over-thinking this. But it makes me wonder if Jackson is not joking at all, and instead, is saying that dispassionate judges may well exist, but that we’re as incapable as juries to “separate fancied ones from real ones,” and, that it’s impossible to “say how literally one is bound to believe the doctrine” of dispassionate judges?

Or is that the joke?

Is Jackson confirming Nietzsche’s morass of armies of metaphors from which we cannot but arbitrarily distinguish metaphors from true facts about dispassionate judges? (Jackson cannot have meant this!?) Or, is Jackson the prescient Bloom, identifying symbolic dispassionate judges who we cannot avoid literalizing?

In the rest of his dissent, Jackson is clean and honest in publishing his bias that the Ballards were frauds. He knows this. He takes this judgment away from the jury. To protect the First Amendment “price of freedom of religion or of speech or of the press .. that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.”

NB - rhhardin, good riff to Bloom. Curious that Jackson goes empirical by quoting James. What’s really curious is how Jackson gives James’s empiricism nearly literal credence - while wondering how literally to take empirical claims! Anyway, Jackson waxes empirical instead of going literary in his criticism. Fascinating.

Fun to re-visit. But I’m confused whether he was just joking.

Ern said...

Jackson marched to his own drummer, for which I admire him. He was also one of the dissenters in Korematsu v. United States, the case about the Japanese internment camps during WWII.

Definitely a passionate judge, himself.