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Charles Moore's Mailbag

More Feedback on the 'Under God' Controversy

Charles Moore - 2002.07.23 - Tip Jar

The following emails were received in response to Taking the Pledge, a lengthy look at Christianity, Western culture, and the ruling about the Pledge of Allegiance - along with over two dozen reader emails.

Taking the Pledge

From Dan Willis

Mr. Moore,

I just wanted to drop you a quick line and thank you for writing such a cogent, insightful column. I don't think I've enjoyed the exposition of hackneyed liberalism this much in years. True to form, the socialists and anti-religionists came out in droves to write you. After reading their letters, I feel compelled to apologize for American brethren and their spiteful ignorance. (Isn't it amazing how the "tolerant" people always have pens dripping with vitriol? It's just another example of their hypocrisy. After all, they obviously don't believe that all ideas have equal merit, do they? They think they're right and you're wrong [and stupid for not acknowledging them].)

Anyway, I had a lot of fun reading your responses. I especially liked the ones that tried to make the point that Christians would understand how offensive "God" was if it were changed to "Allah" or something. Don't these people realize that the term "God" is religion-neutral? After all, if I were a Muslim, wouldn't I assume the God being referred to was Allah? Then there was the guy who tried to split hairs with you over the use of the word "Post-Modern." He obviously didn't take any classes on thought or philosophy in college.

There is one thing I wanted to mention for your consideration. There's a lot of talk about the American Founders being Deists or Atheists or some such. You made reference to this in your article and refuted it well; I just wanted to add a bit. America, especially at the time of our founding, was a nation in religious flux. Much of the reason we have so many brands of Christianity here is the fact that the Reformation stayed alive here for a long time. It was quite fashionable for men in those days to question the administration of the faith, i.e. what church was practicing the Bible "correctly"? The founders were no different from their countrymen in this regard. While it may be true that many of them had a problem with various religious organizations (churches), that should not be taken to mean that they were not men of deep and abiding Christian faith.

I hope in that dirge from the wacko-left you got a few nice letters.

Thanks again,

Dan Willis

Well, Dan, yours is nice. Thank you.

Charles

Under God

From Jeffrey Harris

Charles

I personally don't have much trouble with "under God" in the US pledge of allegiance.

However, I have to remind you that that Eisenhower put the addendum in in the height of the McCarthy period. No doubt an inoculation against the charge of "godlessness" often leveled at the Soviet Union. A scary form of political correctness that I still felt as a child in elementary school in the US in the late 50s.

The episode of the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade in the superb novel Catch-22 captures the spirit of the time. Bureaucracy, politics, and phony patriotism.

The pledge had survived through a century and two World wars without Under God. I recall that some of my school teachers forgot to put it in from time to time.

At university, I learned Russian (best to know the competition on its own terms) and later spent time working on research projects in the Soviet Union during, at the end of, and after the Cold War. The experience gave me a permanent allergy to the imposition of slogans, oaths, and other forms of political conformity from above.

And so I don't have any trouble dropping the "under God" either.

Best regards
JHH

Hi Jeffery,

Catch 22 was a great satire on the hysteria of the time.

However, I'm not sure I prefer the politically correct cynicism of out time. There was still some reverence for ideals then, albeit sometimes misplaced. And it's not as if communism and the Soviet empire were imaginary threats.

Charles

Pledge ruling

From David Jackson,

Charles (May I call you Charles? Going to assume so)

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that today you posted my response to one of your columns on Low End Mac. I was a little surprised actually. I sent it from my home account, so that was me under "Hervoyel." I enjoyed seeing my words out there but goofed up when I sent it to you. It was sitting in my outbox, and I got distracted with something else before I finished it. Then I later went to check mail and hit "Send & Receive" and sent it unfinished. Doh! Fortunately for me it wasn't as much of a mess as I originally thought I had left it.

I just wanted to add one final thing. As you gathered from my take on things, I don't particularly agree with the Pledge ruling. One of the big reasons for that is that I don't believe in God (though I guess due to my upbringing I feel compelled to capitalize it - funny) and so the line in question doesn't really have any meaning to me. It seems to me that the laws in this country already prevent anyone feeling that I'm not religious enough to suit them from forcing me to become so. The fact that two words are in there that I don't believe in doesn't make the ideas in the whole Pledge less important, and besides, I don't believe in God, right? Isn't that in some sense supposed to mean that I don't care about that kind of stuff? In my own belief (or would it be lack of belief) structure, it's irrelevant and so not worth my noticing.

There are a lot of documents and related references to God in the United States. It's reflective of the country's history, and so I think we should accept that this nation was founded by religious men (even if we don't have the same beliefs) and not try to purge all of that from our institutions. If you don't believe in it, then there are plenty of built in safeguards to keep you from being forced to. What are we going to do one day if no one in the US has any religious beliefs? I mean, and strictly for the sake of argument here, assuming that Atheism is in fact correct, then are we going to go back and rewrite our history and purge everything out of it that pertains to the founding fathers' religious beliefs? That would be foolish from a historical standpoint, because what they thought and believed in puts their actions in perspective for us. Whether or not it's true has no bearing on it.

I wish my fellow atheists would get another hobby and do to the religious types as they would have done to themselves. Live and let live is the only way to approach this issue. Granted, there are some Christians who are equally interested in promoting their agenda, but both groups need to not try to recreate the country in their own image and instead simply live in it. It's okay like it is.

David Jackson

Hi David,

Thanks for your further thoughts.

Christianity, properly understood, is not a religion of coercion. Faith cannot be coerced. It's interesting that most societies that have, or have had, real religious freedom are societies of a predominantly Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Judeo-Christian religious tradition strongly emphasizes the worth and dignity of every individual. Every person, whether professing these faiths or not, is seen by those who do as being made in the image of God. The Judeo-Christian tradition affirms the intrinsic equal worth of all human beings, without which real democracy is impossible. The Judeo-Christian tradition exercises a genuine social consciousness based in true compassion rather than ideology, as evidenced by the its record of providing assistance to the poor, ill, disadvantaged, and afflicted regardless of their religious, cultural, or ethnic affiliation. The Judeo-Christian tradition affirms true religious freedom, based on an ethic of voluntarism and rejecting coercion, believing that individuals must have the free will choice of accepting or rejecting God.

Charles

Miscellaneous Ramblings

From David Wiernicki

Did you write that article specifically to insult atheists?

You state, among other wildly biased comments, that the record of explicitly atheist states is bad.

Thanks, arse. I really appreciate being told that if "my kind" were in charge, things would be a lot worse.

The fact is, you don't acknowledge others' beliefs, you can't possibly imagine a world in which your narrow view of the world isn't supreme, and you don't want to think about the fact that you're just a piece of the world, not the reason for its existence.

You can forget me reading anything you write or taking you seriously from now on. Your completely self-aggrandizing view of the world is completely insulting - and you're so wrapped up you'll never even see it.

In case you're wondering, your pathetic attempt to assuage people who believe differently than you by saying, "oh, you're not evil! You're just dead wrong!" isn't going to work on anybody with half a brain, and the fact that you even tried it makes me wonder where the other half of yours is. It's a direct insult. Are you listening? You insulted me. You insulted everyone who doesn't fit into your tiny little box. Okay? Get it? You're not being generous. You're being an intolerant fundamentalist.

David Wiernicki

Hi David,

Not sure what your point is. I obviously think that Christianity is The Truth, and therefore that views that contradict Christianity are mistaken. That's disagreement - not insult.

Also see my reply to David Jackson above.

Charles

Pledge ruling comments

From Atua

Are Christians so touchy or insecure that they feel everyone should be compelled to believe as they do? The answer is yes. God-talk, 10 Commandments displays, compulsory prayers, and oaths are everywhere. They violate the laws with impunity and scoff at the Constitution. Christians would have us believe they are the downtrodden persecuted minority. Far from it. Try being an atheist in America - as I and my entire family are.

I have far more concerns about believers than I do about atheists. It was committed believers who carried out the 9/11 attacks - not atheists. The wars over whose god is better than the other has a long and bloody history.

Many Christians want nothing less than the government to scrap the laws of the land and institute Christian reconstructionism, where Biblical law is the law of the land. If that happens, we'll see Sinclair Lewis's story come to life: It Can't Happen Here, where Christian fundamentalists take over the presidency. Fascism sweeps the country, and reeducation camps are started for the heathen unbelievers. The only safe haven is Canada, where the unbeliever vice president flees to reorganize the US government.

If you want to see the path we are going down with breaking the wall down separating church and state, all one has to do is observe Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

If you want to believe in an unseen mythical guy in the sky, that's your prerogative, just don't compel me or anyone else to think or believe the same way.

Atua

Hi Atua,

The point is that the laws of America and the moral ethos underlying them are based in Biblical principles and informed by Christian principles from the get-go. Christians believe that those principles are not dispensable to the maintenance of the social and legal structures too many take for granted.

Charles

Pledge of Allegiance, second article

From Lee Kilpatrick

In your follow-up article about the Pledge of Allegiance, you said:

"By no stretch of the imagination would the drafters of the First Amendment have intended it to be interpreted as a purge of all Christian references from public life. Atheism wasn't respectable in the 18th century, and non-Christian religions were not a factor that would have been considered at all. The pertinent issue was that no particular Christian denomination was to be favored by the state.

"Consequently, as I asserted, 21st Century separationists have no legitimate appeal to the Constitution or to the Founders. Benjamin Franklin may have been a proto-atheist of sorts, and I don't doubt that a number of the others were more deist than theist, but I'm confident that none would have questioned the socio-cultural primacy and dominance of the Christian religion."

Just because the only religions considered in the First Amendment were Christian doesn't mean that "21st Century separationists [so-called] have no legitimate appeal to the Constitution." If we were to limit our application of the Constitution to only those aspects of American life that existed in the late 18th century, freedom of speech in the First Amendment would not be able to be applied to television, email, or Web pages.

You also make a big deal about how clearly the court was wrong in declaring the "under God" portion of the pledge unconstitutional. To support this, you cited the very one-sided vote by Congress as evidence of the error of the court. Well, if Congress made an error when they added "under god" to the pledge, they could certainly make the same one again. The point of judicial review is to correct errors made by the legislative branch.

Furthermore, you cited the statistical domination of the U.S. by Christians - something like 80%. One of the things I remember most from my U.S. Government class from many years ago was the characterization of the democracy of the United States as "majority rule, with the preservation of minority rights." It seems to me that this applies exactly to this situation. Though the predominant belief of the country may in fact be in the Christian God, this belief should not be universally forced upon all the citizens.

Just because something is the consensus belief of a country doesn't mean it is the most morally defensible position. Slavery was supported by much of the population for many years, but I don't think anyone today would say that it was acceptable just because the majority of the country at the time thought so. For that matter, the Civil Rights movement is probably the best example of preservation of minority rights - the result of that was the recognition that the rights of a minority of the population should not be abridged just because doing so doesn't affect the vast majority of the population.

Also in your article, you repeatedly mention that anyone professing any non-religious morals (by their own declaration) that happen to be in line with Christian morals, are in fact, relying on Christianity for their morals. I disagree that you have to take the religion along with the morals. Agreeing with "Thou shalt not kill" doesn't mean you also have to believe in Genesis. You can't take ideas from another source and incorporate them into your own philosophy? The founding fathers can't use ideas from Christianity, to make a non-religious governmental framework? If you insist on saying all moral codes that happen to coincide with the Ten Commandments should be referred to as "Christian," then perhaps they should more accurately be referred to as "Jewish".

Lee

Hi Lee,

I used the term "Judeo-Christian" in my reply to David above. Some Jewish people object to the term, but you're right - Jesus was a Jew, and the Old Testament portion of the Scriptures is shared by Jews and Christians.

As a Christian, I believe that God created everything, and that all that is good and virtuous proceeds from Him. Consequently, any moral principle that is in harmony with God's revelation of Himself, His law, and His will in Holy Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ is relying on Judeo-Christianity for their morals, whether they perceive it or not.

Charles

GREAT Article!

From John A. Swartz

Charles:

I enjoyed reading your "Taking the Pledge" article and agree with many of your points (although I must admit I hadn't thought about this so much until reading your article). I'd like to comment on one of your statements:

"Respecting the right of dissenting minorities to practice and articulate their beliefs freely is one thing; giving them veto authority is another."

I would agree, but after reading this statement, I immediately thought of how the Christmas holiday has been "vetoed," if you will, here in the U.S. in recent years. We hardly even call it "Christmas" anymore, since that implies Christianity. We must refer to it as the "Holiday Season" instead. Many towns will not allow Nativity scenes on public property anymore since they are seen as an affirmation of Christianity. The bottom line is that our respect for the rights of dissenting minorities to practice and articulate their beliefs freely HAS given them veto authority.

John

___
Hi John,

Last Christmas, Manitoba's Premier, Gary Doer, bucked political correctness nincompoopery, putting the Christ back into Christmas by reversing the foolish policy, instituted by a previous Progressive Conservative government that was PC in more ways than one, that resulted in the decorated spruce tree gracing the Manitoba Legislature's rotunda each December being officially called "the multicultural tree" since 1990. The legislature has also reportedly not officially used the word "Christmas" since 1996.

"If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's not a flamingo," Mr. Doer, evidently a more sensible man than most of his PC-cowed colleagues these days, is quoted commenting. "We don't call the menorah that's outside a multicultural candle holder. What we have in our legislature is a Christmas tree...."

"I don't like sanitizing," Mr. Doer continued. "I don't like taking the word 'Christ' out of Christmas.... You can be inclusive without being silly."

That would be silly - like poinsettia plants being banned last year at the Ramsey County courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota, because an extremist civil libertarian complained that their red leaves make them a "Christian symbol." Gasp! Also getting the bum's rush in PC St. Paul was piped-in Christmas music for the season.

Fortunately, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, who incidentally is Jewish, declared the poinsettia ban "ridiculous" and commented, "We shouldn't fall prey to this political correctness." Bravo! Mayor Norm, and bravo! as well to the anonymous soul who snuck into the courthouse one night and deposited some poinsettias among other flowers on holiday display.

As a friend of mine commented upon hearing of the St. Paul poinsettia soap opera, "In 1959 the new Castro government in Cuba issued stamps that did not bear either Christ or St. Nick, and instead chose Poinsettias. Now, some dingbat in Minnesota goes old Fidel one better!" Or as Albert Einstein put it "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am uncertain of the former."

Charles

The Pledge

From Cocsm

Charles,

I have only a few thoughts and questions for this area of discussion:

  1. What percentage of those opposed to the "pledge" would save whales but kill babies?
  2. Did any of them consider what might be their beliefs were it not for God: what would any atheist be?
  3. Mr. "God Is Dead" knew enough to know that a world without God was viewable in the life of the Marquis de Sade.
  4. I am still amazed that religious belief draws such vehemence from "intelligent" people.
  5. With all that is now know about the evolutionists disputes amongst themselves, how could anyone really see that as an alternative? Richard Dawkins "parrots" Darwin with regard to "intelligent design," and the difficulties of certain complex operations (such as the human eye). He plainly says that several areas of exposure blow holes in evolution. Best of all, he says that evolution gives him an excuse not to believe in God. This from an Oxford professor?
  6. Rave on John Donne!

J.S. Oxendine

Response to response

From: Calabanos

I was shown your site by my husband, whose letter you chose to publish. You are a very awkward man. And I am sorry that I forgot your name. You are head long in a tirade that made me very tired and reminded me of the "hunts" of my childhood. I am not American born. I am to my children, husband, community, and government an American. I attended junior high and high school and college and beauty school right here in the United States of America. I declared my choice of nations at the age of 18. I am not an item on your polls, and I am not a creature of inconvenience with lack of value.

You talk of 40-50 years ago. I came to this country in the 1970s. I attended Catholic School for one year. I was almost killed. My family moved from Vermont to Iowa to escape a Psychologists' ruling at the University of Vermont. A ruling that I was retarded and needed to be held back a grade, or two, or three. Why? Because I did, and do not, believe that God exists. The University retook intelligence tests, viewed my behavior through two-way mirrors, ignored me for hours, withheld food and drink, talked to me as though I were a monkey. All the while challenging my non-western upbringing.

Iowa was worse. Though the schools had better teachers, the students were raised to believe that foreign people were a threat and a nuisance. I was at first called "Ethiopia" by the gym teacher and his son, Mr. Jackson and mini Jackson. Then a boy named Kurt Hussendorff followed me around and repeated loudly, "Jew, Jew, Jew!" over and over and over again. After a party where someone kissed me, I was greeted by a lunch room full of high school students chanting,"Nigger lover, nigger lover, nigger lover!" over and over and over again.

Last century, black Americans and women, received the right to vote. I guess we still have to work on the right to contribute in the taking of a poll. But then I do not read Newsweek, having been told it was owned by Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Coalition. And I do not watch Fox News. And I have never eaten at McDonald's. I won't even bore you with my eating "disabilities" (I am a vegetarian, year 38). I vote. My candidates are rarely winners.

I am a minority. In Africa, I was a minority. In Japan, I was a minority. In North America (Canada?), I am a minority. I have learned to blend.

This might be your "shining light" that Jefferson set his eyes upon. We may have you thinking that we are thinking (and believing) the same way. But there isn't a chance that we are; nobody does. You have as much to do with the make up of my brain and moral constitution as Frito Lay had to do with the dismantling of apartheid. Do you really care what words I choose to capitalize? Do you really believe a "forefather" has anything to say today?

You quote writers of the worst caliber. Kant believed that education was wasted on women. Marx was upset from youth by his inability to draw horses. Most of these men you choose to back you slept with women of color. Black women; maybe that's what runs men like you around.

I do not affiliate myself with any group, religious or otherwise. I do not put parameters on my self. That is the job of the historian. I do not have faith in the local bus system, faith in God?

Just another Hegemony.

Hi,

I am profoundly saddened by the cruelty, meanness, and invidious ignorance you have been subjected to.

However, I believe that is the sort of woundedness Christ came to heal. Don't hold Him responsible for the moral failures and sometimes outright evil behavior of some people who claim to be His followers. Anyone can claim to be a Christian. Being one involves making an effort to follow Christ's example and to obey His teachings.

Charles

re: taking Pledges

From David Deckert

Charles,

I, too, have a few random observations on your latest.

"On the other hand, this Canadian seems to be pretty much in sync with both the U.S. government and most of the U.S. general public on the Pledge issue."

Given how disparate the polls you cite are from the recent endorsement by Congress, that isn't saying much about Congress' being in sync - nor you.

I am nonplused to read that my elected leaders endorse "under God." Yes, as you state, the U.S. has a rich history of endorsing God. Eisenhower was happy to see that schoolchildren everywhere would be professing their allegiance to the Almighty. It wasn't a law that said you had to, of course. But if you pay taxes, you pay them to a government that wants you to say "under God" in the classroom. "Not listening" or keeping silent during the Pledge is therefore only part of the equation. Paying taxes for something you are against tends to get people rather exited, as you can imagine.

I do not feel comforted to know most of my leaders consider themselves Christians, for I tend to pay attention to how they vote, not their professed beliefs. A broken campaign promise or a vote that didn't go your way by a Christian leader tends to have the same effect on you as by one who isn't. "No, he voted against what I wanted or needed, but he's a Christian, so I still take comfort." Whatever gets you through the night!

You cite several places where U.S. history is shaped by Christian leaders. There can be no dispute in that. We still are (see above).

You have several references as to how the most civilized societies are either Christian or have accepted values that have their root in Christianity. The reason it's not that simple is because non-Christians are capable of "Christian-like" deeds without actually being Christian. If Christian influence is nonetheless present, it could very well mean that what it means to be "Christian" has less to do with acceptance in God or Scripture and more with just being a decent person, without any religion whatsoever. "Christian-like" values and morals never existed before Christ? Not anywhere? Were the "good ones" just lucky? Or simply, unappreciative....

Hmm. Counting only Christians. That does appear to be the rub of "under God," doesn't it? You see, no matter the majority, Americans tend to enjoy the idea that they, individually, matter. The Pledge is seen as a very broad statement about our love for the nation. It's no wonder why Jews, Muslims, atheists, and anyone and everyone not specifically mentioned in it to feel left out by "under God." C'mon, how could they not, at least on some level?

"Under God" should be a glaring example of inequality because it assumes a great deal. It isn't what is said; it is what isn't said. It's what's implied by "under God" that smacks everyone else as an endorsement of one view over the other, and that's why detractors mentioned church and state. It's a cop out to officially say on one hand "under God" and then acknowledge as an aside: "why yes, there are other religions or atheists around us." Can't have it both ways; that isn't fair, and it weakens the Pledge.

If disclaimers and "politically correct" text is objectionable, try it without any reference to religion at all. The basic message still gets though without slighting history or tradition. If the Pledge were designed to be a descriptor of who we are, it would have been much longer and include more than just a reference to us being a largely religious people.

Equate God and the U.S. closely enough, and sooner or later it becomes a mandate to annex, say, Canada. I'm joking (maybe...), but it's not like wars haven't been fought in the name of Gods before. It just sounds better than doing so because you're white or rich or powerful, for example. Both Christian an non-Christian countries have displayed similar abilities to do other harm. To ignore half of that in your story is disappointing. To imply Godless people aren't as capable as Christian society to employ basic human rights (whatever the definition) is outrageous. Reread your history.

Leaving a minority out is okay (and of course necessary) when voting for compromise, but religion is a difficult thing to compromise and therefore vote on. You might say our nation was formed around religious independence. Even as I was saying "under God" everyday as a school kid, I was taught that one religion isn't any better than another. But when "everyone" is under God, what's the difference?

So the religious freedoms are there to the extent they are protected by law, but that isn't quite the same as enabling a society of Godless people (whatever that means) to enjoy the same atmosphere of freedom.

You have to embrace before you can extend. The thing that nonbelievers have difficulty with is the notion that believers can't seem to help themselves when it comes to extending. Tolerance is risky, I know. It sounds a little too much like defeat if you retreat an inch. Admitting that "under God" is wrong would be tolerance for those that don't think it belongs. In a way, you could say it's agreeing. Scary thought, I know.

Why do you think the Baptist minister who wrote the Pledge didn't feel compelled to include religion? He knew it wasn't the point. We were fine with the Pledge until Joe McCarthy wrapped himself in the flag and used it, and religion, to trample on basic human decency. 1954: look at the era. No politician wanted to be seen as not God-fearing. Such was the climate of the Cold War.

Hollywood, of course, got into the act, and still is. Hollywood is often derided by conservatives as "too liberal," but even Hollywood will air a show featuring openly gay people before one with avowed atheists.

"Under God" is claimed the majority of us, yes, but so what? By that measure, we really need to include that as a nation, we are Caucasians. That is just as accurate, just as important in describing what we do and who we are and where we come from. The assumption that a nation is special resulting from "good Christian values" is incomplete at best - and inaccurate and arrogant at worst. And just as irrelevant when talking about a pledge to the nation as a whole. Leave it out; it's unnecessary for the purpose the Pledge was originally intended.

The 9th Circuit Court will be overturned, and it won't be to anyone's surprise. And no, the little girl's Constitutional rights aren't being trampled by her having to listen to "under God." But I defy anyone to argue that there's still something not right about her having to hear it if she doesn't want to.

She isn't in an environment that allows her to express her views, or in this case, "non-views." Because she isn't in a "public square," she can walk away from without notice. You have to believe you are in an atmosphere of freedom before you'll exercise it, especially if you're a young schoolgirl.

Classrooms and schools and schoolmates don't work that way. Even if she has the ability to do something such as leave the room or put headphones on (don't laugh, someone will suggest it!) it isn't difficult to see she might be ostracized or seen as "different." No Constitutional protection against being unpopular, of course. It's part of growing up to learn others around you aren't tolerant or understanding. Values, indeed. Where'd they learn that I wonder?

You'd have to prove your right isn't being enforced, and that's much harder to do. She'd probably have to suffer physical abuse instead of verbal teasings before the school is found to be harboring an environment that blocks any of her rights. At least it would be more persuasive in court.

Laws can change over time when something doesn't seem right to enough people. No amount of "where's it say that in the Constitution?" can protect the Constitution itself from amendment. If government began to disassociate itself from religion, but otherwise showed positive improvement for all it's people in such worldly thing such as getting them food to eat and clothes to wear and even (gasp) money to spend, would that be OK? Or would you feel more comfortable knowing your government was inherently religious, but didn't advance humankind any other way except to endorse it's people to embrace God and hope for the best as a result?

Forgive me if the evidence appears my chances look better with the former.

-David

Christians vs. secular humanists

From: Ed Livingston

The response you received from Clayton Bennett said much of what I would like to have said, much better than I would have said it. But I do want to take issue with a few of your comments from your recent article.

First, let me just say that while I tentatively agree with the court's decision in this case, I don't think the issue is one that was of any grave or real concern, and I would have been much happier if the decision had never been rendered. Unfortunately, this minor issue will now take center stage, with politicians of all stripes and flavors cynically using the issue to curry political points. Meanwhile, issues of real concern, including those involving the question of an appropriate level of religious influence on politics, will be unaddressed.

Second, I think you have really set up a straw man with your Christians vs. secular humanists arguments. Secular Humanism is a specific belief system that certainly does not describe all atheists, just as Southern Baptist is a form of Christianity that does not describe all Christians. As a lapsed Christian and a current atheist, I can say that I have problems with both the Humanist and (most) Christian camps.

As to some of your specific points:

"IRONICALLY, IT IS THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT OF HUMAN SOVEREIGN FREE WILL THAT MADE LIBERAL SECULARISM POSSIBLE. THE IDEAS OF INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL VALUE, HUMAN EQUALITY, LIBERTY, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE THAT SECULAR HUMANISTS CLAIM TO HOLD IN ESTEEM ARE ESSENTIALLY CHRISTIAN CONCEPTS."

It is statements like these that raise the hackles of non-Christians, and by that I don't just mean atheists. Such statements imply that the Judeo-Christian moral worldview is the only place were such ideas exist or thrive. All of the three major religions hold similar broad ideas of moral value, asks just about any atheist out there and they will give a similar list of moral ideals. (And I'll certainly admit there are some frothing-at-the-mouth type atheists out there, but the same could be said for Christianity as well. Do you really want atheists to judge all Christians by Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson?) Christianity, as defined by an exclusively Old Testament interpretation, often seems to be in opposition to the values you have laid out.

That said, it is also interesting to note the order you place the values listed: individual personal value first, social justice last. This has less to do with your Christianity, however, I would guess, than it does with the secular culture to which you belong, i.e., being part of a capitalistic/individualistic society - yes even Canada qualifies. ;) A Christian from Latin America, Russia, or Japan, for example, might come up with the same list, but the order would likely be reversed because of the influences of the secular culture in which they are surrounded.

"THE BEST GUARANTOR OF THE CONTINUED FREEDOM MINORITY RELIGIONS AND THE IRRELIGIOUS HAVE IS THE CONTINUED APPLICATION OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT."

"MANY SECULAR HUMANIST VALUES DO VIOLENCE TO RELIGIOUS MORAL PRINCIPLES, AND THUS DEMAND THAT RELIGIOUS INDIVIDUALS COMPROMISE THEIR BELIEFS AND CONVICTIONS IN PUBLIC LIFE."

I have no problem with Christian ethics, especially the ones you laid out above. (Again, I might choose a slightly different emphasis on some over others.) However, what so many American, and I assume Canadian, Christians seem to want these days is not adherence to Christian ethics, but adherence to Christian dogma. People naturally bring their moral worldview and ethical consideration to them when they engage in public works - it would be impossible to require them to do otherwise, and counterproductive at that. But in a world where even individual Christians can't agree on the moral correctness of any specific actions - abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, charity, etc. - then dogma should be left at the door. It is, to my mind, perfectly understandable and right that a Christian senator should start his or her day with a prayer and perhaps even some Bible reading, but when her or she steps onto the Senate floor to make an argument, there rhetoric must be more than, "this is the way it should be done because the Bible says so."

"THE HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD OF EXPLICITLY ATHEISTIC STATES IS NOT ENCOURAGING."

Neither, unfortunately is the record of many explicitly Christian states. The bastardization of Marxist theory and the accompanying "state-sponsored atheism" of many of the regimes to which such theory was applied is the most recent method of totalitarian oppression, but you certainly aren't going to argue that such human rights failures are the exclusive purview of non-Christian states, are you? Beyond official state power, Christianity has also been used a tool of oppression time and time again within and outside of the United States. (Bible justifications of slavery being only the most egregious of the examples.) This doesn't mean that I believe there is any inherent flaw in the ethics of Christianity, I don't. It all depends on how and by who it is used, just like any secular moral outlook.

"RESPECTING THE RIGHT OF DISSENTING MINORITIES TO PRACTICE AND ARTICULATE THEIR BELIEFS FREELY IS ONE THING; GIVING THEM VETO AUTHORITY IS ANOTHER."

Actually, providing "veto authority" to minorities, when the practices of the majority seriously infringe upon their own actions and liberties, is one of the deliberate consequences of the American governmental system. The Constitution and our governmental bodies are designed to assuage the "tyranny of the majority." This has been much more realized in ideal than in practice. A cursory look at race relations in the United States, unfortunately, proves this out quite clearly. The question of course is where do you draw the line in determining "serious infringement."

"IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BUILD A COHERENT NATION WITHOUT A DOMINANT CULTURE - AND IN OUR CULTURE, THE U.S. OR CANADA, THAT IS, BY CULTURAL HERITAGE AND HISTORICAL REALITY, CHRISTIANITY OR NOTHING."

Yes, and no. We certainly need to forge a dominant culture in the U.S., and historically the dominant U.S. culture has been to some degree or another been wrapped in Christianity - although the founders were more concerned with ancient Greek democratic culture and were actively opposed to building a theocracy, that's what they had just finished a war against. But American Christianity itself has been in constant change historically - gaining and losing influence at various points; emphasis, expression and even dogma changing over time. Many of my Christian friends would like to think that the way they are Christian now is the way Christians were 100, 200, or even 1000 years ago. They like to think of their flavor of Christianity as a constant with the secular world moving around them. But this is not the case, the secular culture has always influenced the religious practice of believers, just as believer have influenced the secular culture. Christianity is not going away anytime soon in the United States, nor do I necessarily think it would be a good thing if it did, but that is not to say that it can't continue to change and evolve - incorporating a broader worldview.

Thanks for the articles and your time. I apologize for the length.

Ed Livingston

Hi Ed,

Thanks for your thoughts.

The operative question is: "Where do moral ideas and principles come from?

The moral fabric of a society that is rooted in Christian principles will be different from one based on, say, Confucianism, although there will be some crossover.

Christians believe that because we humans are made in the spiritual image of God, the divine moral law is hardwired into us to some degree, but we also have sovereign free will, which allows us to override it, ergo - sin.

However, we disbelieve the humanist assertion that "people are essentially good."

The "different flavors" of Christianity actually disagree on vastly fewer points than they agree on, and many of these are matters of form and emphasis rather than essential core beliefs. The Bible is still the same Scripture as it was in the early Christian centuries.

Charles

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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