"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Notion of Atheocracy

Baylor Prof. Francis Beckwith hit me with a fascinating new term last week -- Atheocracy. It is simply the opposite of a theocracy. Atheocrats want a governent and public square completely denuded of religion. I thought the term would be good for spurring conversation and BOOM, Dr. Beckwith turned it into a web site and blog. You can check it out here.

Here's a little snippet:

Welcome to the Atheocracy Report, a website dedicated to supporting the political liberty of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal democracy.

Atheocracy.com intends to accomplish two goals: (1) To offer a positive case for the right of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal demorcacy by critically assessing the burdens placed on them by those who mistakenly claim that an atheocratic public square is a neutral one; (2) To document and offer commentary about unjust and uncharitable discrimination, depictions, and marginalizaiton of religious believers who seek to participate as citizens in the public square and shape the laws and policies of their communities. Because this injustice is often supported and perpetuated by groups and individuals that maintain that all religious belief is irrational and thus ought to be sequestered from the public square, we refer to these groups and individuals as atheocratic, which literally means supporting "atheistic government."

These atheocratic groups and individuals often misrepresent, charicature, and enage in ad hominen attacks against serious religious believers. The Atheocracy Report believes that church and state ought to separate, and that a theocracy is just as bad as an atheocracy. However, religious believers often come to the public square, not merely with blind faith and sacred Scripture, but with arguments and reasons that are distinctly pubic. We believe that these ought to be assessed on their own terms. Citizens should not be dismissed by an atheocratic litmus test that excludes them from the conversation because they happen to be religious believers. Nor should these citizens have their arguments ruled out a priori because they happen to be consistent with views congenial to belief in God and inconsisent with atheocratic views on the nature of law, morality, the good life, or human beings.

Check it out and encourage the good professor to follow through on a great idea.

19 comments:

John Huisman said...

Can those who claim that "an atheocratic public square is a neutral one" ever be brought to task if right off the bat they are granted the distinction---as Prof. Beckwith seems to do---that some citizens are religious and some are not? Atheocrats may not be theists, but they are no less religious than anyone else. Instead of acknowledging the theistic God of Christianity as ultimate, they elevate something else, something merely creational, to divine status. So, for example, the materialistic philosopher, by taking the physical universe as ultimate and self-originating, grants to it some of the qualities that are proper to divinity alone. And this religious elevation is by no means uncontroversial (even amoung nonChristians), or provable on a purely rational basis. It is not a philosophical or scientific belief, but a religious belief born of faith. If Prof. Beckwith wishes to level the playing field that Christians and nonChristians play upon, he would do well to begin by exposing the religious nature of the nonChristian's ultimate convictions. Unless this is done, Christians will never be anything to the mind of the atheocrat other than second class citizens.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, atheism is a form of religion. And sexual abstinence is a form of sexual intercourse! Stop having sex with my wife, Mr. Huisman! How dare you?

John Huisman said...

I did not make the claim that atheism is a form of religion. I said that atheocrats "are no less religious than anyone else." My claim is that atheists do more than simply reject the God of Christianity, or theism in general. They also elevate something else to ultimate or divine status. That is, like everyone else, they have faith in something that they believe is revealing itself as ultimate. And consequently, they are no less religous than anyone else. Thus, some atheists are also materialists, or vitalists, or idealists, or whatever. Indeed, the multiplicity of answers to what is ultimate given by people who are also atheists is the factual basis for a sound argument that reason is not the source of our beliefs as to what is ultimate or divine. If these things could be rationally adjudicated in a definitive way there would not be this multiplicity.

Tlaloc said...

It might be instructive to look at Rome as an example of a society that accepted many different religions and yet felt the need to persecute Christianity. Why did that one religion meet fierce resistance? Partly it was political, but partly it was because unlike the other religions christianity insisted it was not only right but all others were wrong and evil. It quite simply could not play well with others and so it was treated with the same hostility with which it regarded others.

Now fast forward to today where the religious zealots are still(!) trying to force their views down everyone else's throats. While I don't advocate singling out Christianity for special restriction you do have to ask if maybe they don't tend to bring this kind of thing on themselves due in large part to the inherent intolerance of the religion.

John Huisman said...

A web site like Prof. Beckwith's is necessary because many of the proponents of the various secular religions think that Christians have no place in the public square, that they should be disqualified at the outset simply because they are Christians (i.e. not proponents of any of the secular religions). Tlaloc's comments seem to provide us with more evidence for this contention.

Although Tlaloc would not personally participate, Christians perhaps deserve whatever hostility and persecution comes their way because they have the audacity to actually believe that what they believe is true and to reject other religions, including secular religions. It seems reasonable, then, to ask the following questions: Who is it that is actually dishing out the "hostility" here? Who is it that cannot "play well with others?" Who is it that is "trying to force their views down everyone else's throats?" Whose religion is it that is inherently intolerant of other religions?

Secular religionists need more self-awareness. They need to see the deeply religious nature of their ultimate convictions. If Prof. Beckwith wishes to radically engage the secular mindset, he cannot allow it to remain blissfully unaware of the religious nature of these ultimate assumptions. If this is done, then perhaps the playing field can be leveled and secularists will not so quickly seek to exclude Christians and people of other faiths from the public square.

Hunter Baker said...

I think we should talk further, Mr. Huisman. Email me some time so I can get to know you. Great comments.

James Elliott said...

Feed a few Christians to a few lions a couple thousand years ago and look at the results: The eternal persecution complex. It's classic cultist behavior. "We're under attack by the faithless masses! To arms, faithful Christian (Branch Davidian, Bornean Monkey Devil Worshippers, etc.) soldiers!"

The argument that secularists want to exclude religious people from public debate is the charge of a lunatic willfully misunderstanding the secularists' point of view. Note how the reverse is, rather than being far from true, practically de rigeur among the fundamentalist evangelical Protestants.

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc at least acknowledges the existence of hostility against Christian participation as Christians in the public square and refuses to be a participant. Mr. Elliot, on the other hand, seems to be unaware of or in denial about this reality. I suggest anyone who agrees with him read David Limbaugh's book "Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity." The litany of wrongs perpetrated against Christians in the public forums of our country is long and, for a Christian, disturbing indeed. We're a long way from lions being set loose in those forums, but the way things are trending, it doesn't seem far-fetched for someone to think something of the sort could happen someday. Mr Elliot's sweeping ad hominem attacks---we have an "eternal persecution complex," have "cultist behaviour," and are "lunatic"---does nothing to allay such thoughts.

Tlaloc said...

"Christians perhaps deserve whatever hostility and persecution comes their way because they have the audacity to actually believe that what they believe is true and to reject other religions, including secular religions."

Typically the intolerant do not inspire tolerance. Call it Karma. If Christianity as a whole learned to be a tad less xenophobic it might do much better.


"It seems reasonable, then, to ask the following questions: Who is it that is actually dishing out the "hostility" here? Who is it that cannot "play well with others?" Who is it that is "trying to force their views down everyone else's throats?" Whose religion is it that is inherently intolerant of other religions?"

I'm sure the KKK tries to portray themselves as the recipients of intolerance too, but it fails the reality test. Christianity has attacked countless other faiths. The reverse was not true. With the solitary exception of voodoo I can't think of any religions that have digested Christian myths into themselves. The reverse happens in abundance.

Religions like Taoism, hinduism, shintoism, et cetera do not explicitly say christianity is wrong and christians will be punished for it in the afterlife. The reverse however is unfortunately true.

In any analysis grounded in reality it is clear that christianity has been the intolerant aggressor.

Tlaloc said...

"The litany of wrongs perpetrated against Christians in the public forums of our country is long and, for a Christian, disturbing indeed. We're a long way from lions being set loose in those forums, but the way things are trending, it doesn't seem far-fetched for someone to think something of the sort could happen someday."

Oh please. Demanding that Christians stop pretending they own the universe and can treat everyone else like garbage is nowhere near setting lions on them. Equality always seems like a loss to those who formerly opressed their peers. Ask the Sunni of Iraq if you don't believe me.

James Elliott said...

Mr. Huisman appears to feel that calling certain Christians on their nonsense is tantamount to oppressing them.

A religion whose disparate sects collectively claim a near 80% majority in American society is not oppressed. A religion to whom politicians must pay at least lip-service, if not outright obeisance, in order to have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected, is not oppressed. A religion whose places of worship cannot be avoided no matter what street you turn down in any town in America is not oppressed. A religion that can command a multi-billion dollar industry commodifying its faith and its deity cannot claim it is oppressed. A religion that has a radio and television network of programs that claim to reach 200 million faithful (in a country of less than 300 million) cannot claim that it is oppressed. Explain to me exactly where this "marginaliztion" you decry occurs.

Don't confuse a secularist's point that, in a pluralistic society made of many different religions (and non-religious folk) government needs to therefore be non-religious with an atheist's hostility to religion and dogma.

Why does a secularist's point of view matter? Because a secularist knows that there is no difference in having faith in God and/or a divine Christ and having faith in the Borneo Monkey Devil are the same thing. Both are equally unprovable (being the nature of faith) and therefore equally legitimate and equally deserving of respect in society. Meaning neither should be repressed, but that therefore government cannot acknowledge one above the other.

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc said: "Christianity has attacked countless other faiths. The reverse was not true"

I am willing to acknowledge the wrongs that Christians have perpetrated against those of other faiths (the Catholic Inquisition always leaps first to everyone's mind). I think it is clear to any fair-minded person, however, that such atrocities are deviations from Christianity and not representative of Christianity. Tlaloc should not forget that the various secular religions came to birth and flourished within the context of Christian civilization.

But to say that Christians have not been attacked by people of other faiths beggars belief and contradicts the Human Rights Watch statistics that about 200,000 Christians die at the hands of people of other faiths every year. It also contradicts Tlaloc's own admission above that Christians died at the hands of Roman emperor worshippers. My own pastor was recently placed under house arrest for a short time by radical Hindus in India merely for speaking at a conference of Christian people. Tlaloc should also not forget the murders perpetrated by some of secular faith against various opponents, including Christians (Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are leaders on this list). If I should be willing to acknowledge the wrongs of Christians, then it seems only fair that Tlaloc acknowledge secular atrocities as well. Indeed, the persecution perpetrated by Christians pales to insignificance compared to the crimes of these 3 monsters alone. Monsters, I might add, of the secular left.

"Religions like Taoism, hinduism, shintoism, et cetera do not explicitly say christianity is wrong and christians will be punished for it in the afterlife. The reverse however is unfortunately true."

"In any analysis grounded in reality it is clear that christianity has been the intolerant aggressor."

Tlaloc also seems to think that Christians are intolerant aggressors simply because they hold strongly to certain convictions that contradict the convictions of others. There is self-contradiction in such a position. Tlaloc seems unaware that, even as he criticizes Christians for proclaiming their faith as the only true way, he is proclaiming the supremacy of his own strongly held faith. His position attempts to combine a critique of Christian faith with a denunciation of Christians who critique others' faith. Who said secularists don't believe in miracles? Again, I feel the need to say that secular religionists need more self awareness.

"Demanding that Christians stop pretending they own the universe and can treat everyone else like garbage is nowhere near setting lions on them. Equality always seems like a loss to those who formerly opressed their peers. Ask the Sunni of Iraq if you don't believe me."

Equality, a level playing field, is what Prof. Beckwith feels Christians do not have enough of. I submit one egregious example in support of his view: Christians are forced to pay for the education of their own children in Christian schools and through their property taxes also pay for the education of those who send their children to secular schools. Who is it that has actually been treated like garbage here and who is it that is actually threatened with loss if ever equality were achieved? Christians who can't afford or don't have a nearby Christian school are the ones getting a religion shoved down their throats.

Mr. Elliot said: "Mr. Huisman appears to feel that calling certain Christians on their nonsense is tantamount to oppressing them."

I have no problem with, and I believe Prof. Beckwith has no problem with, trenchant secularist critique of the Christian viewpoint. The problem is with mindless ad hominem attacks and actual cases of discrimination in the public square. I would like the thousands and thousands of dollars I have spent educating children in a religion I do not agree with back.

"A religion whose disparate sects collectively claim a near 80% majority in American society is not oppressed . . . "

As I said, "We're a long way from lions being set loose in those forums," but that doesn't mean that there is no marginalization at all. I just cited one example above. Read Limbaugh's book to discover the many others.

"Don't confuse a secularist's point that, in a pluralistic society made of many different religions (and non-religious folk) government needs to therefore be non-religious with an atheist's hostility to religion and dogma."

My position implies that there is no such thing as a neutral, public square, and that there is no such thing as "non-religious folk." Thinking that there is priviledges the supposedly nonreligious secularist position. I can see why a secularist might want to hold on to such a view. Can you see why a Christian would not?

"Why does a secularist's point of view matter? Because a secularist knows that there is no difference in having faith in God and/or a divine Christ and having faith in the Borneo Monkey Devil are the same thing. Both are equally unprovable (being the nature of faith) and therefore equally legitimate and equally deserving of respect in society. Meaning neither should be repressed, but that therefore government cannot acknowledge one above the other."

If there is no difference between Christianity and belief in the Monkey Devil, why is everyone lining up to come to America (80% Christian you say) and virtually no one wants in on Borneo?

I agree that ultimate religious convictions (inclusive of secular religions!) cannot be definitively proven on a purely rational basis, but that doesn't mean you can't make persuasive arguments for a religious view or that the lifestyle consequences that flow from a religion are relative.

James Elliott said...

Setting aside the idea that secularism is a religion (isn't then, all ideology a religion, by that standard?), which appears to be nothing more than a ridiculous semantic argument, this has to be the most ridiculous statement you've made yet:

"I would like the thousands and thousands of dollars I have spent educating children in a religion I do not agree with back."

Your apparent problem with public education is that it doesn't reinforce religious teachings that it is your responsibility as a parent to instill. In what possible way does a public school's lack of religious instruction infringe upon your ability as a parent to teach religion to your children, or on your children's ability to believe in it? Education can be used to make the perfect case for secularism: Because students at public schools will be many denominations of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and so on, no religion should be taught, BECAUSE the state has no right to interfere in which religion parents choose to expose their children to. Rather than preventing parents from raising their children as religious, it does the exact opposite: Secularism encourages people to be active in the raising of their children if they wish to instill religion upon them.

This is a point I have made repeatedly that you have kept dodging with absurdities that are only tangentially related.

As for people wishing to take part in America's prosperity rather than Boreo's, perhaps it has more to do with the poorest of Americans still having a better standard of living than over 90% of the world's population than with Christianity.

Tlaloc said...

"I think it is clear to any fair-minded person, however, that such atrocities are deviations from Christianity and not representative of Christianity."

How so? Christianity explicitly says that it is the only path and that anyone not following that path is doing the work of Satan. That kind of puts the atrocities in context, wouldn't you say?


"Tlaloc should not forget that the various secular religions came to birth and flourished within the context of Christian civilization."

First off I find the term "secular religion" to be an oxymoron. Secular means non-religious. Second off if you mean the Renaissance then it's worth pointing out it came about despite fierce resistance by Christianity. In other words these secular philosophies arose despite christianity not due to it.



"But to say that Christians have not been attacked by people of other faiths beggars belief and contradicts the Human Rights Watch statistics that about 200,000 Christians die at the hands of people of other faiths every year. It also contradicts Tlaloc's own admission above that Christians died at the hands of Roman emperor worshippers."

You are forgetting the chronology however. The Romans killed Christians AFTER those Christians started attacking other faiths. This same dynamic explains the violence against Christians around the globe. Look at the actions of "missionaries" in Central America and China. Christianity has invaded countless countries putting the inhabitants and their faiths to the sword and then acts hurt when it gets attacked in return.


"Tlaloc should also not forget the murders perpetrated by some of secular faith against various opponents, including Christians (Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are leaders on this list). If I should be willing to acknowledge the wrongs of Christians, then it seems only fair that Tlaloc acknowledge secular atrocities as well."

Secularity is not a single philosophy. If I was a stalinist I should accept the atrocities he committed. I'm not though. I don't feel a need to accept the crimes of a philosophy totally alien from mine just because you don't bother to distinguish between them.



"Tlaloc also seems to think that Christians are intolerant aggressors simply because they hold strongly to certain convictions that contradict the convictions of others. There is self-contradiction in such a position. Tlaloc seems unaware that, even as he criticizes Christians for proclaiming their faith as the only true way, he is proclaiming the supremacy of his own strongly held faith."

Not at all. I am not saying your faith is wrong due to my own beliefs. Rather I am observing that your faith is hostile toward all others and that this is connected to the issues of violence that surround your faith. Maybe your faith is right and the persecutions are warranted but at least I can help you understand why Christians may not be seen as the benevolent shepherds they claim to be.



"Equality, a level playing field, is what Prof. Beckwith feels Christians do not have enough of. I submit one egregious example in support of his view: Christians are forced to pay for the education of their own children in Christian schools and through their property taxes also pay for the education of those who send their children to secular schools. Who is it that has actually been treated like garbage here and who is it that is actually threatened with loss if ever equality were achieved? Christians who can't afford or don't have a nearby Christian school are the ones getting a religion shoved down their throats."

Puh-lease. I suppose that Hindu's have state supported schools in the US? Or Muslims? Or any other faith? No. The state schools use a science based curriculum (or try when fundies aren't interfering) because science is not a faith, it's an emormously successful method of dealing with the physical world in such a way as to explain and understand it. Christians are so far above equal it's not even funny. My ex-wife is pagan. You want to talk about being opressed try belonging to a religion that isn't in the 80% majority. Until then your protests seem more than a tad shallow.



"My position implies that there is no such thing as a neutral, public square, and that there is no such thing as "non-religious folk." Thinking that there is priviledges the supposedly nonreligious secularist position. I can see why a secularist might want to hold on to such a view. Can you see why a Christian would not?"

Yes indeed it is understandable. But you are wrong. There are indeed non-religious people. Religion is an impulse toward conformity, as such you suffer the fallacy of believing such is universal when it is not. There really are people who prefer to think and explore life for themselves rather than accept some cookie cutter version.



"If there is no difference between Christianity and belief in the Monkey Devil, why is everyone lining up to come to America (80% Christian you say) and virtually no one wants in on Borneo?"

Are you saying you think people come to america for the religion? It couldn't possibly be the (secular) freedoms or the economy, right?



"I agree that ultimate religious convictions (inclusive of secular religions!) cannot be definitively proven on a purely rational basis, but that doesn't mean you can't make persuasive arguments for a religious view or that the lifestyle consequences that flow from a religion are relative."

The only basis on which to judge a religion is whether it is internally consistent and when in the cases it makes claims that can be physically verified if those claims hold up. For example, people who insist on taking genesis literally are irrational because their claims are disproven by the historical record and physical sciences. Those who take it as a figurative parable however are fine.

John Huisman said...

"Setting aside the idea that secularism is a religion (isn't then, all ideology a religion, by that standard?), which appears to be nothing more than a ridiculous semantic argument, . . . . . "

I can see why you would want to set this issue aside, for it lies at the crux of everything I have said so far. Doing so apparently makes it possible for you to avoid confronting the deeply religious nature of your secular beliefs and apparently makes it possible for you to justify, at least to your own mind, the sweet deal that secularists have with the current government-run school system. And yes, all ideologies, philosophies and theories in general have at their rock bottom core certain religious assumptions as to what is ultimate (see my previous comments on materialistic philosophy above)

"This is a point I have made repeatedly that you have kept dodging with absurdities that are only tangentially related."

I fail to see anything in the comments you have made prior to this that concerns education or my responsibility as a parent to educate my children in my own faith.

Your comment that "Because students at public schools will be many denominations of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and so on, no religion should be taught," assumes the neutrality of the secular faith, an assumption I have challenged in my previous comments. A more just system than the one you advocate would be pluralistic in nature and parents would have the prerogative to use vouchers at any school they choose. Such a system is already in place in a number of countries (the Netherlands for instance) and it works well. How could anyone object to such a system? Unless, of course, it is to preserve their priviledged status within the current system.

"As for people wishing to take part in America's prosperity rather than Boreo's, perhaps it has more to do with the poorest of Americans still having a better standard of living than over 90% of the world's population than with Christianity."

America's prosperity is intimately connected to the Christianity, more specifically, the Protestant version of Christianity, that was so important in its development. At least since Max Weber's "The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" it has been commonly understood that American economic life has been deeply influenced by the Protestant faith. You can't divorce religion from the marketplace, or any other area of life for that matter. Ultimate religious beliefs have repercussions that affect all of life. You can thank Luther and Calvin for the good life you now enjoy.

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc said: "How so? Christianity explicitly says that it is the only path and that anyone not following that path is doing the work of Satan. That kind of puts the atrocities in context, wouldn't you say?"

Not at all. Christianity is all about redemption, not destruction, despite the actions of her errant members. Anyone familiar with the teachings of the New Testament would know this.

"First off I find the term "secular religion" to be an oxymoron. Secular means non-religious."

I am well aware that secularists think of themselves as being nonreligious. That doesn't mean they are, however. What characterizes all religions is that they take something as ultimate or divine in status. A person's ultimate is taken in faith as the explanation for everything else and cannot itself, therefore, be rationally explained in a definitive way. Secularists do this no less than anyone else. The particular example I have been using so far is secular materialism, where the physical universe is accepted in faith as ultimate and the origin of all things.

"Second off if you mean the Renaissance then it's worth pointing out it came about despite fierce resistance by Christianity."

It is still true that the secular religions arose and flourished within the context of Christian civilization---something that would seem impossible given your characterization of Christianity in this discussion.

"In other words these secular philosophies arose despite christianity not due to it."

That's a pretty ironic statement given that many (if not most) of the early leaders in secularism's rise were also Christian. Descartes and Locke come to mind as the most prominent members of this bunch.

"You are forgetting the chronology however. The Romans killed Christians AFTER those Christians started attacking other faiths."

I responded to you unequivocal, absolute statenment that "Christianity has attacked countless other faiths. The reverse was not true." Thus, it was sufficient to cite an example or two of attacks upon Christians to refute it. Chronology is immaterial. But your historical reference is incorrect nonetheless. Nero persecuted Christians in 65 A.D. Christians did nothing to deserve this.

"This same dynamic explains the violence against Christians around the globe. Look at the actions of "missionaries" in Central America and China. Christianity has invaded countless countries putting the inhabitants and their faiths to the sword and then acts hurt when it gets attacked in return."

The main thrust of your comments so far seems to be that persecution of Christians is always preceded by Christian persecution of others. This is another gross historical inaccuracy that can also be refuted by some examples. Who were the sword-carrying missionaries whose actions incited others to kill the disciples of Jesus save John? Who are the sword-carrying missionaries in the Darfur region of Sudan?

"Secularity is not a single philosophy. If I was a stalinist I should accept the atrocities he committed. I'm not though. I don't feel a need to accept the crimes of a philosophy totally alien from mine just because you don't bother to distinguish between them."

Christianity is a family of denominations that have a common core. So likewise is secularism a family of movements that have a common core. I am willing to own up to the atrocites of Christian groups to which I am not personally associated because, indeed, they are Christian groups. It seems to me that you should do the same with respect to the crimes of secularism. Could it be that the reason you do not is that my statement "the persecution perpetrated by Christians pales to insignificance compared to the crimes of . . . the secular left" is correct?

"Not at all. I am not saying your faith is wrong due to my own beliefs."

You have fooled me well Tlaloc. If I were a betting man, I would have bet heavily that with statements like "In any analysis grounded in reality it is clear that christianity has been the intolerant aggressor" you meant to be critical of Christianity itself. I would have bet the ranch that the main thrust of your comments has been to show that the reason for Christianity's sufferings is due to a fault within Christianity itself, that Christianity "can't play well with others."

"The state schools use a science based curriculum (or try when fundies aren't interfering) because science is not a faith, it's an emormously successful method of dealing with the physical world in such a way as to explain and understand it."

I grant that science is not faith. But science, like every other human endeavor, is radically influenced by religious assumptions. I tried to show this in my comments above about secular materialism. To assume the neutrality of public schools is a gratuitous assumption that perpetuates the secular faith's priviledged status. It is a belief that justifies what is unjust.

"your protests seem more than a tad shallow."

So then you wouldn't mind picking up the education portion of my property tax bill?!

"Yes indeed it is understandable. But you are wrong. There are indeed non-religious people. Religion is an impulse toward conformity, as such you suffer the fallacy of believing such is universal when it is not. There really are people who prefer to think and explore life for themselves rather than accept some cookie cutter version."

You seem to be equating the religious/nonreligious distinction with the conservative/progressive distinction. This utterly fails to grasp the true nature of religion. On your reading of religion, anyone who believes in anything traditional is religious, whereas anyone who believes in anything recent is nonreligious. On your reading, a person who adheres to antiquated quilting techniques is being religious, whereas a person who utilizes the most recent techniques is being nonreligious.

A better explanation of religion is that it has to do with what people take in faith as ultimate. And everyone does that. Being religious is an inescapable aspect of being human.

"The only basis on which to judge a religion is whether it is internally consistent and when in the cases it makes claims that can be physically verified if those claims hold up."

The belief that all beliefs, including religious beliefs, must be (internally) rational and/or empirical is self-referentially incoherent. It is so because it cannot meet its own standard. As a second-tier belief that would establish the rationality of all belief, it can't possibly be rational itself. It is, instead, a religious belief born of faith. The person who expresses such a belief is expressing his trust in reason, is expressing the main dogma of the religion of rationalism. And thus, for the person who does not share this faith, it has no weight whatsoever. Why would I want to subject my faith to the standards of another's faith?

Tlaloc said...

"Not at all. Christianity is all about redemption, not destruction, despite the actions of her errant members. Anyone familiar with the teachings of the New Testament would know this."

You have to learn the difference between what it claims to be and what it is. It claims to be a religion of peace. It is a religion with no few number of offenses it claims deserve death. Christians unfortunately still reference the New Testament and use it's rationale despite the declaration by Christ that his coming completed the first covenant.


"I am well aware that secularists think of themselves as being nonreligious. That doesn't mean they are, however. What characterizes all religions is that they take something as ultimate or divine in status. A person's ultimate is taken in faith as the explanation for everything else and cannot itself, therefore, be rationally explained in a definitive way. Secularists do this no less than anyone else. The particular example I have been using so far is secular materialism, where the physical universe is accepted in faith as ultimate and the origin of all things."

Your understanding of secular materialists is false. They do not take the universe on faith, they take it on evidence. They accept that for which there is evidence and reject that for which there is none. That is entirely different than a religion which require that unproven things be accepted on faith. Secular materialism requires absolutely no faith.



"It is still true that the secular religions arose and flourished within the context of Christian civilization---something that would seem impossible given your characterization of Christianity in this discussion."

Wrong again. These secular philosophies came about in the face of violetn christian persecution. That perfectly supports my point.


"That's a pretty ironic statement given that many (if not most) of the early leaders in secularism's rise were also Christian. Descartes and Locke come to mind as the most prominent members of this bunch."

And Luthor was a Catholic. So what?



"I responded to you unequivocal, absolute statenment that "Christianity has attacked countless other faiths. The reverse was not true." Thus, it was sufficient to cite an example or two of attacks upon Christians to refute it. Chronology is immaterial. But your historical reference is incorrect nonetheless. Nero persecuted Christians in 65 A.D. Christians did nothing to deserve this."

You aren't paying attention. Christian attacked other faiths, other faiths fought back. If you prefer we can add "unprovoked" to "attack" so you understand the difference. As for Nero, again you are wrong. Read up on the romans sometime, they persecuted the Christians as I said out of both political reasons and because the Christians were violently opposed to all other faiths. Rome was a diverse and accepting place, the christians hated that.



"The main thrust of your comments so far seems to be that persecution of Christians is always preceded by Christian persecution of others. This is another gross historical inaccuracy that can also be refuted by some examples. Who were the sword-carrying missionaries whose actions incited others to kill the disciples of Jesus save John?"

Oh please. You are talking about one story that may well be apocryphal about a handful of guys dying. I'm talking about historical accounts of the genocide of millions. do the math.



"Who are the sword-carrying missionaries in the Darfur region of Sudan?"

You still haven't gotten the connection here: Christianity has been violently oppressive for 2000 years. There's been some of what the CIA calls "blowback."



"Christianity is a family of denominations that have a common core. So likewise is secularism a family of movements that have a common core."

Again you don't understand secularism. It has no common core, only a common attribute. One may be secularist for any number of reasons.


"You have fooled me well Tlaloc. If I were a betting man, I would have bet heavily that with statements like "In any analysis grounded in reality it is clear that christianity has been the intolerant aggressor" you meant to be critical of Christianity itself."

Thats because you mistake an observation for a moral judgement. Christianity has been both intolerant and aggressive. that's not a moral judgement its a fact. Whether you condemn it or praise it based on that fact is the moral judgement.



"I would have bet the ranch that the main thrust of your comments has been to show that the reason for Christianity's sufferings is due to a fault within Christianity itself, that Christianity "can't play well with others.""

That is indeed my point. Again an observation not a moral judgement. Christianity has attacked others for two millenia, in return Christianity is sometimes regarded as an unfit companion at the civilized table. Again an observation. Whether you feel that such a judgement is appropriate or ridiculous is the moral aspect. The fact however remains that christianity has indeed brought many of it's woes on itself.



"I grant that science is not faith. But science, like every other human endeavor, is radically influenced by religious assumptions. I tried to show this in my comments above about secular materialism."

You did try but due to your incorrect beliefs regarding secularism you did not succeed.



"So then you wouldn't mind picking up the education portion of my property tax bill?!"

Of course not. It's a tax levied to provide free education to all children, that you don't understand science shouldn't excuse you from it. The country has an obligation to provide the best education possible to it's children. That's a secular education.



"You seem to be equating the religious/nonreligious distinction with the conservative/progressive distinction. This utterly fails to grasp the true nature of religion. On your reading of religion, anyone who believes in anything traditional is religious, whereas anyone who believes in anything recent is nonreligious."

I have no idea where you get that from since it's false but I guess that shouldn't surprise me at this point. I equate religion with a conformity impulse. Conformity exists on both sides of the (tiny) american political divide and so to then does religion.



"A better explanation of religion is that it has to do with what people take in faith as ultimate. And everyone does that. Being religious is an inescapable aspect of being human."

Again you are wrong. Secular materialists (which i guess I should point out I am not one of) do not take ANYTHING on faith. If you can't prove it they don't accept it.



"The belief that all beliefs, including religious beliefs, must be (internally) rational and/or empirical is self-referentially incoherent. It is so because it cannot meet its own standard."

No it's not incoherent, it's in fact a logical process which says that you can work in any given framework so long as that framework is consistent. We can say that everything is made of cheese but we must form a worldview that accepts that in all aspects. A religion that is internally inconsistent is therefor useless. Even if accurate it'd be so incomprehensible as to defy any purpose.

In other words an inconsistent religion (love your neighbor but by the way here's the list of people to hate...) is incoherent allowing it's adherents wiggle room to claim whatever action they want to take is consistent with the religion in general. That makes the religion useless as an actual moral guide.

Tlaloc said...

doh, should be "old testament" not new that christ completed the covenant of.

James Elliott said...

" Doing so apparently makes it possible for you to avoid confronting the deeply religious nature of your secular beliefs and apparently makes it possible for you to justify, at least to your own mind, the sweet deal that secularists have with the current government-run school system. And yes, all ideologies, philosophies and theories in general have at their rock bottom core certain religious assumptions as to what is ultimate..."

Nonsense. A religion requires faith in an unprovable. The only thing secularism requires is treating all religions equally. A secularist is not hostile to religion. A secularist trusts a religious community and parents to instill the values it wants to instill. A government "of and by the people" must be "of and by" all of the people, which means a curriculum in public education that emphasizes no particular religion.

Your comment that "Because students at public schools will be many denominations of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and so on, no religion should be taught," assumes the neutrality of the secular faith, an assumption I have challenged in my previous comments."

But not successfully. Your entire line of reasoning is held by a linchpin that secularists are somehow biased against Christianity, which is nonsense, and has been repeatedly shown to be nonsense.

"A more just system than the one you advocate would be pluralistic in nature and parents would have the prerogative to use vouchers at any school they choose. Such a system is already in place in a number of countries (the Netherlands for instance) and it works well. How could anyone object to such a system? Unless, of course, it is to preserve their priviledged status within the current system."

Leaving aside the fact that you're plagiarizing David Gelertner's latest op-ed in the L.A. Times ("Let's Get Rid of Public Schools" May 13, 2005), I would like you to prove that secularism enjoys a "privileged" (and for the love of CHRIST will you please start spelling that word correctly!) status - or how this status interferes with the education of Christian youth. In what way are Christian students ill-served by an education that relies upon parents and religious communities to instill religious thought and moral education? Indeed, for your voucher argument to hold any weight, you must first prove how a Christian's public education is deficient compared to any other childs'. After all, it is the private schools which are not required to have certified teachers or to abide by state and federal education standards.

"America's prosperity is intimately connected to the Christianity, more specifically, the Protestant version of Christianity, that was so important in its development. At least since Max Weber's "The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" it has been commonly understood that American economic life has been deeply influenced by the Protestant faith. You can't divorce religion from the marketplace, or any other area of life for that matter. Ultimate religious beliefs have repercussions that affect all of life. You can thank Luther and Calvin for the good life you now enjoy."

Both true and untrue. Modern economics has deep roots in the Protestant religions, as you note. Most notable of those roots is the faith in a system that works despite all evidence to the contrary. Calvinism, which holds that the rich are rich because God wants them to be and the poor are poor because God wants them to be, is nothing more than a theological attempt to justify oppressive socioeconomic policies. Since the poor have always scared the crap out of the rich, Calvinism was an attempt to get the poor to accept their powerless position in society, nothing more. Adam Smith knew this, and his writings on the subject of class oppression (which predate Marx) are often ignored or glossed over by those who would embrace economics. He contended that the wealthy, those that focus on material gain, will inherently become evil and oppressive.

I believe that hard-working Catholics (such as the Spanish and Mexican settlers) and the African slaves who were only later converted to Christianity might object to your characterization of Protestants as the sole source of wealth in America. Americans worked hard because it was HARD to settle America. Life was difficult. It required hard work, tight communities (the settler family eking a lonely existence is largely a concoction of American mythology), usually bound by a faith that protected them from the uncertainties they faced in the Great Wilderness.

Religion is important in many aspects of American life, mainly for the security it provides. Security from being alone, security from the big scary world and all the strangers and unknowns in it. Religion is the ultimate transitional object, a security blanket and socialization tool. It's crowd-control writ large. Which is not to say this is a bad thing. After all, when you have a country with far-flung communities, like ours, you need something to draw them together. As Europe became more dense, they could embrace more humanistic learnings and common humanity. The United States is too big for that. It's why you see liberalism and diverse religions in the cities and conservatism and religious intolerance in the rural and suburban areas. As long as Americans are scared little children at heart, religion will be important. As long as parents do not take it upon themselves to raise their children, religion will be important. When Americans grow up, religion can be placed in its proper context - as a community identity, a tool for teaching morals, and a provider of metaphysical certainty.