Friday, December 31, 2004

Thoughts on the "Christian Nation" Battle:

In this culture war, when one side thunders, "we are a Christian nation" (or Judeo-Christian) and the other side roars back, "no we are not," the two sides seem to shout past one another, perhaps meaning different things, or, I think, many don't even understand what they mean when they spout such platitudes. Let me give some brief thoughts on how we are and are not a Christian Nation.

The United States is:

1) Demographically: Overwhelmingly predominately Christian (just like we are overwhelmingly predominately white);

2) Culturally: A mixture of both Christian and Pagan. Western Civilization has two sources a) Jerusalem (our religious or Christian source) and b) Athens (our secular or Pagan source). Christianity may have become dominant, but the Pagan or Profane never was completely wiped out. I agree with Camile Paglia that Western Culture is and always has been every bit as much Pagan as Christian. From Aquinas's coopting the teachings of the Pagan philosopher Aristotle (and let me thank those members of the medieval Catholic Church for preserving Greco-Roman philosophy), to the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment, to the Romantic period, the Secular/Pagan is every bit as important to Western culture as is the Christian.

3) Publicly: Our government is secular-or neutral on matters of religion. Race is the best analogy. Even though we are overwhelmingly a white nation, our public institutions ideally are colorblind. This sentiment in regard to religion is best summed up by the Treaty of Tripoli which states that "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

The statement in that treaty is, I think, a statement of historical fact. That document is often invoked in this "Christian Nation" battle and I've heard it said that 1) the phrase in question never made it to the final document, 2) treaties are federal law on the same level as Congressional legislation, therefore it's the law that we are not founded on the Christian religion. On the other hand that the treaty expired after a couple of years, therefore it's no longer law; 3) that the US made a desperate overture to Muslim pirates (the terrorists back in the day)....

None of this really matters; if you examine our two founding documents, -- the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution -- it's clear that the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. If it were, these documents would have said so. The Declaration and/or the Constitution would have invoked Christ or the Trinity, or would have cited Biblical passages; they didn't. The Declaration invokes a "Nature's God" (show me in the Bible where God is referred to as "Nature's God") and the Constitution leaves God out of the document entirely.

Now, as I mentioned, Christianity was and is a big part of our culture, therefore a document coming out of a Christian culture inevitably will be sprinkled with language that denotes this (yet, because our culture is equally Pagan, there will be Pagan language in there as well).

And those who would argue that our Constitution mentions the Christian God show their desperation by clamoring onto the most minimal Christian references to be found there. For instance, in replying to the charge that the Constitution mentions not God, Thomas Krannawitter argues

In fact, the Constitution explicitly mentions God in Article VII, which dates the Constitution "in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven."

The fact that someone cites the customary way of stating the date in Christian cultures as "proof" of God in the Constitution goes to show how little that side has to offer. Western nations have, until recently, used the letters "AD" after the date. What do you think those letters mean?

When the constitution mentions "Sunday" will these folks argue that we were founded on Sun worship or "Thursday," the worship of Thor the Thunder God?

Note the fact that civil governments are in no sense properly founded on Judeo-Christianity doesn't mean that all references to religion need to be stripped from the public square or otherwise cleansed from our culture.

Western Culture is a unique admixture of Christianity and Paganism. As I've written before in the context of examining the Christian and Pagan elements of Christmas,

And what makes the West special is this unique combination, this tension between Athens and Jerusalem. The orthodox and the Pagan agree on some matters, vehemently disagree on others, borrow from one another and create separately and together. Indeed, this tension enabled the West to be the greatest creative force there ever was.

Another classic example is the LA County flag that features both a Christian Cross and a Pagan goddess of Justice. Or the friezes at the Supreme Court, which feature a public display of Moses and the Ten Commandments, surrounded by historical Pagan lawgivers. As this article notes,

[Moses] is given equal prominence with lawgivers from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Islam, Confucianism, sun worship, and both Egyptian and Greco-Roman paganism. While Moses is shown holding the tables of the Ten Commandments, Muhammad is shown holding the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, and the first pharaoh, Menes, is shown holding the ankh, an Egyptian mythological symbol representing eternal life. Other figures are shown holding secular legal documents. England's 12th-century King John is shown holding the Magna Carta, which he signed, while the Dutch legal scholar and statesman Hugo Grotius is shown holding his 1625 book, Concerning the Law of War and Peace, one of the first books on international law.

If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself.

Sometimes I get the impression that the ACLU-type secularists want to strip all religious references from the Public Square. Note, the ACLU is often terribly distorted by the right-wing as wanting to stamp religion out from society altogether, like the Soviets. This is a terrible slander. The ACLU zealously defends the right to worship, but in private.

But as the case with the ACLU attempting to remove the cross from the LA County Seal reveals, some secularists of that mindset seem to want to strip anything religious from anything connected with government.

It would be better if secularists demand a public policy that accepts that civil governments are not properly founded on any religion (Christianity or any other) and government as such must remain neutral between the religions, and between religion and non-religion, but leave alone those religious references in the public square that 1) are made by private parties pursuant to a generally applicable neutral program or rule, and/or 2) reflect that Christianity (like Paganism) is an important part of the history and Culture of Western nations.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Highlights of CLE:

1) The burger and drinks that I bought at the Hotel Bar;

2) Bumping into an old friend from law school, also there to get his credits, whom I haven't seen in years...;

3) The fact that one of the presenters let us out at early and gave us a longer break so I could catch up with my friend over drinks at the bar.

But as to the substance of the three courses that I took, the most interesting subject matter was the employment discrimination seminar. However, the instructor was "so-so" in terms of his grasp of the subject matter and presentation. Especially when it came to the First Amendment and Hostile Work Environment theory.

I found him to be especially insensitive to the notion that the hostile work environment theory might conflict with the free speech norm. He gave a few examples, for instance, of openly racist and sexist speech and expression in the workplace. He assumed arguendo that employers had an affirmative duty under present law to quash such speech if it occurred, or else be subject to a hostile work environment, Title VII claim. He rightly noted that private employers had every right to dictate what speech they would tolerate in their workplace -- but scoffed at the notion that private employers could permit openly racist or sexist speech and have a First Amendment defense against a hostile work environment claim if they chose not to forbid such speech or expression in the workplace.

He really needs to read this classic article by Eugene Volokh before he puts on another one of these seminars.
Off to CLE:

Hopefully, I will have something more to say tonight when I get back from taking 9 of my annual 12 hours of Continuing Legal Education required to maintain my law license in the Commonwealth of PA.

I did 2 hours online yesterday and additionally had some carry-over from the year before.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Highlights from FPM:

Agree or disagree with the content, David Horowitz's features some of the most provocative (and intellectually diverse) polemics in its daily offerings.

Today's edition is especially interesting. Three articles in particular stand out; each of them, like David Horowitz, pull no punches to make their points. And note, just because I cite these articles doesn't necessarily mean that I agree in toto with their content. I feel I have to make that reservation because in reading them...well you'll see. They really do pull no punches.

First, an interview with Christopher Hitchens, where Hitchens explains his philosophy of organized religion and many other things (I like the religion part the best):

I was quite young when I concluded that the stories in the old and new testaments were both nasty and untrue. I was also quite young when I noticed that they were used, by rather questionable authorities, to keep order and to invest their own status with a little extra penumbra. I continue to notice this kind of thing, and I try keep up with the archaeology and science that combats belief in the racial and tribal mythmaking of the Bronze Age. Some agnostics and even Atheists say that they are sorry that there are no grounds for belief, but I am glad. It would be horrible if we were the objects of a permanent supervision by an unassailable power, which kept us under control even after we were dead. At least in North Korea, you can escape the divine leader by dying... Meanwhile, it's pretty obvious that the priests and rabbis and imams are at least sensible enough to demand power in this world rather than the next. If they are all such materialists, who am I to disagree?

If there had been a divine creation, or if there is a god or an afterlife, which there is every possible reason to doubt, it could not be within the competence of the clerics to know this. So one can start by eliminating from the argument those who claim to know, let alone those who claim to know what god thinks about sex, for example. I think one should proceed from there to eliminating the power of religion over public life, and keeping it in the home or in the private mind. If I thought I had found a redeemer or prophet who really cared about me, I imagine I should be happy. But those who actually affect this belief can't be happy until I believe it, too. This shows, among other things, their own insecurity. I say to hell with them. At the moment, this certainly helps give me a reason to live, not that I feel I need one.


Next Susan Sontag's obituary by Roger Kimball:

In "What's Happening in America (1966)," Sontag tells readers that what America "deserves" is to have its wealth "taken away" by the Third World. In one particularly notorious passage, she writes that "the truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history."

What can one say? Sontag excoriates American capitalism for its "runaway rate of productivity." But she has had no scruples about enjoying the fruits of that productivity: a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1964, a Merrill Foundation grant in 1965, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1966, etc., etc., culminating in 1990 with a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award.

The kernel of Truth in Sontag's otherwise despicable condemnation of civilization is that the West is responsible for unleashing Marxism-Communism on the world, and that system certainly was a cancer on all of humanity. But luckily the West also "cured" that cancer by defeating communism.

Finally an article on Kwanzaa by (theocrat) Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson entitled, "Kwanzaa -- Racist Holiday from Hell":

In an earlier time, blacks held a strong faith in God. But over the past 40 years, the black community has largely let God slip away. Sure the community has maintained the outer trappings of religion, but the solid morality at its core is nearly gone.

Enter a God-hating black racist named Ron Karenga. Born Ron Everett on a poultry farm in Maryland, Everett invented Kwanzaa in 1966, based on an African harvest festival (though it takes place during the Winter Solstice!), and celebrating the first Kwanzaa with his family and friends.

Calling himself “Maulana” (Swahili for “Master Teacher”), Karenga became a black nationalist at UCLA, and formed his group, the United Slaves (US) for the purpose of igniting a “cultural revolution” among American blacks. US members followed Karenga’s “Path of Blackness,” which is detailed in his Quotable Karenga: “The sevenfold path of blackness is think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black.”

It gets better:

On May 9, 1970, Karenga and two others tortured two women who Karenga believed had tried to poison him by placing “crystals” in his food and water.

The Los Angeles Times described the events: “Deborah Jones, who once was given the title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electric cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes at gunpoint. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis’ mouth and placed against Miss Davis’ face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said.”

Karenga was sentenced to one-to-ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and false imprisonment. At his trial, the question arose as to Karenga’s sanity. The psychiatrist’s report stated: “This man now represents a picture which can be considered both paranoid and schizophrenic with hallucinations and illusions, inappropriate affect, disorganization, and impaired contact with the environment.” The psychiatrist reportedly observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons, and he believed he’d been attacked by dive-bombers.

Eight years later, California State University Long Beach named Karenga the head of its Black Studies Department. By this time, Karenga had “repented” of his black nationalism and had become just a harmless garden variety Marxist. This must be our esteemed university system’s idea of repentance!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Posner on Religious Rationale for Public Policy:

I’m glad to see Richard Posner, one of the most interesting and brilliant legal thinkers, guest blogging on Leiter Reports. However, is it me or is Posner’s first post about faith based morality and public policy nearly identical to what Eugene Volokh wrote a few weeks ago?

The bottom line of both posts, it seems to me, is that it’s unfair to exclude support for public policy positions that derive solely from one’s religious faith from the public square, and demand some kind of secular “reason” for all underlying policy positions because all moral sentiments ultimately rest upon some unprovable moral assumptions. In other words, unaided reason cannot establish universal notions of morality (any more than religious faith can).

But interestingly, Posner and Volokh are non-religious. So they don’t believe in the ultimate Truth of religious teachings either. So ultimately we are left with no objective grounds for moral judgments. That, it seems to me, is postmodernism-nihilism.

But it’s interesting how postmodernist assumptions lead to a defense of religious conservatism in the public square.

This might surprise us because we associate postmodernism with Leftist-Deconstructionists, ala Foucault. But if the true father of postmodernism is Nietzsche—from what I understand about him, even though he loathed Christianity (for its softness and egalitarianism), he was the antithesis of an antireligious person (he thundered “God is dead” on a note of lament, not celebration). And the historical religion that Nietzsche lauded (not Zoroastrianism which was his foil) was Old Testament style Judaism.

So I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that postmodernist-nihilist assumptions could be used to defend religious conservatives and their views having a fair shot in the public square.

I suppose the problem with postmodernism that sees objective morality as an illusion is that we are left with, as Posner notes, the “practical consequence that morality is simply dominant public opinion.” So what do we do when the masses support genocide or slavery?

For more on this, see my posts here and here.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Harry Jaffa, Homosexuality & the Natural Law:

[Note: I’ve been planning on tackling this issue for some time now. I am simply going to raise a few points; this post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive rebuke of Jaffa’s position, or the last word.]

Harry Jaffa believes that unaided reason-nature demonstrates that homosexuality is not just wrong, but wrong along the same grounds and on the same level as slavery and genocide (perhaps that thesis by itself, so self-evidently absurd on its face, is enough to impeach Jaffa’s argument, but let’s examine his logic nonetheless). He writes:

I challenge anybody who wants to defend homosexuality to say if they condemn slavery and genocide. Assuming they do condemn slavery and genocide (unless they are some kind of a Hitler) I think we would say that all would agree today that slavery and genocide are wrong.

Well, I’m up to the challenge!

However, as far as I can tell, the only ground on which they can be condemned is on the basis of nature. We do not speak of a rider enslaving a horse, or the farmer enslaving the ox who is pulling the plow. We do not speak of the slaughter of cattle in the Kansas City or Chicago stockyards as genocide. Why? Because these are animals of an inferior species, which we understand can be used for human purposes without violating any moral law.

Thus, the distinction upon which we make these moral judgments is based on distinctions in nature, which we find in and are consistent with nature.

In other words there is a natural distinction between man (rational) and beast (subrational). Elsewhere Jaffa notes the at least equally profound distinction between man (rational) and God (suprarational).

Not everyone accepts these distinctions. Pete Singer and the animal rights crowd argue that man and animals ought to have equal rights. And if we accept things such as slavery, genocide, and cannibalism to be wrong, then logically we would have a moral duty not to enslave, kill, or eat animals, or turn them into our clothes. Indeed, PETA has analogized what Kentucky Fried Chicken has done to the Holocaust for its “genocide” of chickens. Animal rights activists also object to humans “owning” their pets (as people presently do under the Uniform Commercial Code, and other relevant provisions of property and contract law), because that implies that our pets are our “slaves.” No, we should “adopt” our pets and have the legal relation to them of not “owners,” but “guardians.”

Also others—atheists, agnostics, etc.—reject Jaffa’s distinction between man & God, because, they would ask, how do you draw distinctions between something that does exist (man) and something that doesn’t (God)?

Let us, for argument's sake, accept Jaffa’s premises of the profound natural distinctions between man & beast on the one hand and man & God on the other. And although I question the existence of God (but tend towards belief in some kind of ultimate intelligence and sphere of existence for human consciousness beyond this realm), I do accept the distinction between man & beast, along the same grounds that Jaffa argues (that there is nothing wrong with slaughtering, enslaving, eating, and wearing animals, because rights, by nature, belong to humans only).

Then Jaffa raises a new natural distinction (the one that homosexuality violates):

Of all the distinctions in nature from which morality can be inferred, nothing is more profound than the distinction between male and female, which runs not only for human nature but through all nature.

The word nature itself, both in Greek and Latin, refers to living things. The principle of life, in virtue of which a species perpetuates itself, is the distinction between male and female. If we look at this distinction as it occurs in the human species, we can see the principal of self-preservation at work.

All of this leads Jaffa to conclude, "Sodomy is against nature, since it treats men as if they were women."

The central flaw in Jaffa’s logic is exposed in the longer passage cited above. Yes, there are natural differences between male & female, and gender is more than just a “social construct” as the poststructuralists argue (although, certain aspects of gender and gender roles certainly are socially constructed). But as a matter of Truth, the male-female distinction is not nearly as profound as the distinction between man & beast on the one hand and man & God on the other.

As Jaffa notes, these distinctions are found in and consistent with nature (in other words, “observe nature” then derive our oughts from distinctions in nature). When we observe nature, we see that the distinction between man & beast is so profound that nature never blurs the line between the two. There are no naturally occurring “man-beasts” that have both human and sub-human features. While it’s true that some animals, like apes, are from an evolutionary point of view more closely related to humans, there still are no “ape-men”; humans and monkeys clearly belong to different species; from what I understand a human and a monkey cannot procreate with one another.

In the future, science most likely will allow us to blur the line between man & beast and create a world like that of the Island of Dr. Moreau and that will in turn demand that we re-think through some of these issues. Although scientists have begun the process already, presently the distinction between man & beast remains very nearly absolute in nature.

Likewise, in observing nature we see that there is no blurring of the distinction between man & God. God-men do not exist. If one believes in the Trinity (I don’t), then Jesus represents the one and only time that the natural distinction between man and God was blurred.

But what of the distinction between males & females in nature? Nature commonly blurs the line between the two. First, not all species reproduce heterosexually. Some reproduce asexually. Some creatures have both male and female genetalia. And some species naturally and spontaneously “switch” genders in their lifetime.

Although many of these examples are in animal nature, Hermaphroditism exists within human nature. Because of what we know about how gender differences arise in nature, it shouldn’t surprise us that nature often blurs the line. As James Q. Wilson writes (and keep in mind what side of the culture war he is on):

It seems clear that Mother Nature would much prefer to produce only girls, because she does such a poor job of producing boys. Her preferences are quite clear in this regard: All fetuses begin as females; only in the third month of gestation does masculinization begin. And when it does begin, it sometimes is a process prone to error, leading to all manner of deficiencies and abnormalities….Having invented the male, Mother Nature doesn't quite know what to do with him. It is as if she had suddenly realized, too late, what every student of biology now knows: Asexual reproduction is far more efficient than sexual reproduction. But now we are stuck with men who are likely to be both troublesome and vulnerable.

ALL male fetuses go through a natural transmogrification from female to male—another natural blurring of the male/female distinction, one that is universally applicable. It is thought that male homosexuality may very well have a neonatal origin, that during the masculinization process of the fetus, the delicate hormone balance becomes out of whack and hence a natural “error” or “abnormality” occurs where certain parts of the brain are left more feminized while other parts remain masculinized, or perhaps over masculinized.

It should not surprise us then that homosexuality is observed not only in human nature, but also animal nature.

After taking this into account, I don’t see how anyone can argue with a straight face that “nothing is more profound than the distinction between male and female, which runs not only for human nature but through all nature,” which is a keystone to Jaffa’s theory.

Man, Beast, God, Race, & Gender:

Now let us examine how we morally, socially, and legally distinguish between man, beast, & God and contrast that with how we make such distinctions between males & females and between the races.

Because of the profound difference between man & beast, the two are wholly non-interchangeable. An animal is closer to property than it is to a human—we may enslave, slaughter, eat, & own animals. And we may not marry animals or contract with them in any way. Nor is it possible to philosophize with animals, or flourish in a meaningful relationship (as we would with a lover, a child, parent, or close friend) with them. In other words, man and beast’s differences are wholly non-arbitrary.

Likewise the difference between man and God (if He exists) is so profound that we in no way exist on an equal footing with the suprarational intelligence who created the Universe. In short, just as beasts are subservient to man, man is subservient to God.

Racial distinctions perfectly contrast with human-animal distinctions. Racial differences although biologically evident, are from a natural, and hence a legal, moral, and (what ought to be) social context wholly arbitrary. Someone of a different race is perfectly interchangeable with someone of the same race in terms suitability for a contract or marital partner, equal familial status, capability to serve in public office, to vote, to sue or be sued or enjoy any “privileges or immunities” that human, but not animal citizens, may enjoy.

And our legal policy reflects this natural truth: If government discriminates on the basis of race, the 14th Amendment automatically strictly scrutinizes such a policy, and chances are, such a distinction will be unconstitutional. Likewise, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and various state and local laws, in private markets, it’s illegal to treat blacks on a sub-par level as whites.

As mentioned above, animals have no similar rights; they can’t contract, hold public office, sue or be sued—they lack even the most basic rights against enslavement and slaughter.

So what about gender based distinctions? Western society views gender differences closer to racial differences than human-animal differences. Women, like men, have equal rights of citizenship and may not be slaughtered or enslaved. Gender, like race, has a high degree of “arbitrariness” associated with it. If government treats women differently than men, such distinctions are subject to 14th Amendment scrutiny and gender discrimination is illegal in private markets according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other state and local laws as well.

Although natural gender distinctions pale in comparison to natural human/animal distinctions, gender differences are not as non-arbitrary as race. We permit gender distinctions where we don’t permit racial ones: Segregated bathrooms, dorm-rooms, and the military (although these are all highly contested by militant feminists). The 14th Amendment subjects gender distinctions to intermediate scrutiny as opposed to strict (race) thus allowing for more gender based exceptions. And gender is a bona-fide-occupational-qualification according to private anti-discrimination law, where race and color are never.

Using Men as Women and Vice Versa:

Ultimately Jaffa's case fails because he inadequately explains why ignoring the distinction between genders is morally wrong along the same lines as ignoring the man/beast distinction. Jaffa begins his argument by showing that ignoring the man/beast distinction can lead to slavery and genocide.

If gender is as profound a natural distinction as Jaffa assumes, then men & women likewise ought to have profoundly different roles to play in society. Moreover, there must be many examples, other than homosexuality, of "using men as women" and vice versa.

And are they, like homosexuality, morally wrong along the same lines as slavery and genocide? Let's try to think of some.

I once debated a fundamentalist who said she was "sickened" by a gay interlocutor's remark that he was going to "pick out China patterns" for an upcoming wedding. Why? Because he reveled in acting a woman's role. Is this as wrong as slavery?

Gender roles were once understood as denying women the right to vote or hold public office. Is it unnatural and hence wrong that we now allow women to do these things?

While few defend denying women the right to participate in government, some still argue that a man's natural role is to head the family and provide, while the woman's is to nurturer and raise the children. So what if gender roles are reversed, where the wife is a high-power executive and her husband stays home, cooks, cleans, and raises the children. Is this immoral along the same lines as genocide?

Jaffa's logic would lead us to believe that for a man & woman to swap their natural roles, whatever they are, violates the natural law as does homosexuality. And the head of household-provider/ nuturer-caregiver model is the most elementary to understanding traditional gender roles that the likes of Jaffa support. I know Jaffa opposes feminism, but I have yet to see him argue that if women wearing the pants in a marriage is not unnatural and wrong, then nothing, not even serial killing is wrong.

Our social custom has largely eliminated such gender distinctions and our laws have almost entirely obliterated them. Our anti-discrimination laws and constitutional jurisprudence make little attempt to preserve such gender roles, as one would think they should if men & woman acting outside of their prescribed roles is as bad as slavery.

I have yet the see Jaffa thunder against including "gender" in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, something that surely helped many women out of the home, or the Constitutional application of intermediate scrunity for all government gender based classifications as fostering "using women for men" and hence violating the law of nature as does genocide. Jaffa would if he consistently applied his theory. But then that would just help to expose its ridiculousness. So it's no surprise that he doesn't go there.

Guest Blogging:

This week I will be guest blogging at Timothy Sandefur's Freespace and cross-posting over here!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Secularist Defense of Christmas:

I, as a committed secularist, don’t mind public Christmas displays, provided they are done in a way compatible with the core American principle of religious neutrality. Christmas has non-religious-Secular as well as Pagan elements to it—and the celebration of the Secular, Pagan, along with the religious-Christian and other non-Christian religious holidays is precisely the appropriate context for public Christmas displays.

And here is where the ALCU type secularists, (purge everything religious from the public square) of which, I am not one and religious conservatives fundamentally agree: Christmas cannot be secular because Christmas cannot be separated from the notion that Jesus is the savior of all mankind and thus the endorsement of Christianity. Well if that premise is true, then Christmas has no business being a federal holiday or receiving any kind of government imprimatur.

But I think Christmas can be separated from its religious message: What the Hell do Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Christmas Trees, and the date of December 25 have to do with what’s written in the Bible? Absolutely nothing, of course. (And there are the universal messages of peace on earth and goodwill towards fellow man, that are not Christian per se).

But some on the secular side disagree. They argue everything about Christmas ultimately traces back to the religious message, hence Christmas is in no way appropriate for public endorsement or display of any element associated with it, such as a Santa or candy canes. In my First Amendment class in law school, I asked what Santa Claus has to do with orthodox Christianity? Someone replied, “Saint Nick??” (Santa was loosely based on a religious saint) meaning that because Santa had *some* connection with something religious, the religious can’t be separated from the non-religious, and since nothing religious is appropriate for public display or endorsement, it should be banned.

Still, I fail to see how Santa and Rudolph have anything to do with the birth of Christ, any more than a candy egg delivering Rabbit has anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus.

And Christian conservatives likewise argue that you can’t separate Christmas from its religious message—but Christmas should receive public endorsement because we are publicly a “Christian Nation”; thus it’s appropriate for government to endorse the underlying religious message that Jesus is savior of all mankind.

That sentiment of course conflicts with core American principle that government must remain neutral on religious matters and, as the Treaty of Tripoli put it, “the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

Let’s flip the question. Instead of asking whether we can separate the “Christian” elements from Christmas, maybe we should be asking whether we can separate the “Pagan” elements from Christmas.

Christmas perfectly exemplifies the larger phenomenon of the unique culture that is the West which has a religious (Jerusalem) and a Secular-Pagan (Athens) origin. Culturally, the West presently is and always has been every bit as much of a Pagan society as it is Christian.

And what makes the West special is this unique combination, this tension between Athens and Jerusalem. The orthodox and the Pagan agree on some matters, vehemently disagree on others, borrow from one another and create separately and together. Indeed, this tension enabled the West to be the greatest creative force there ever was.

And what we now celebrate as “Christmas” is every bit as much of a Pagan holiday as it is a Christian one. The date of December 25 has nothing to do with when Jesus was born, but rather was borrowed from a Pagan mid-winter festival, Saturnalia.

(Hat Tip to Strange Doctrines for the article)

Whatever credal differences they might have had, a fortnight or so before the end of December would have found almost everyone preparing for a great festival, the Saturnalia, which lasted from the 17th to the 24th of December. During this period of revelry slaves changed places with their masters, and all manner of licence was permitted. The holiday concluded on December 25th with a great feast, the Brumalia, when parties were given and presents exchanged.

In the Roman calendar December 25th was called Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. That was when the sun, three days after reaching the lowest point of its annual course through the heavens, once more began. to rise higher in the sky, the first indication that winter would come to an end and that the animal and plant life on which humanity depended for its existence would flourish anew. So everyone celebrated, and above all it was an occasion of religious rejoicing.

And it’s more than just the date of Dec. 25 that has pagan origins:

The pantomime, the Christmas tree, candles, mistletoe, holly, feasting on special kinds of meat, the mince pies and the flaming sun-shaped Christmas pudding-all were pagan in origin and symbolism, and all were anathema to the Fathers of the Church. But that is not all. Even the Christian Nativity scene is originally pagan-representing the rebirth of the Sun-god on earth, born of a virgin at midnight on the 24th of December, laid in the manger of a stable, and visited by three gift-bearing kings or magicians.

Presently some Christian Sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter precisely because of their Pagan elements. Historically the poster boys for Calvinistic orthodox Christianity in America, the Puritans, not only did not celebrate Christmas, but outlawed the holiday because of its Paganism. (Also because “Christmas” literally means “the mass of Christ” Calvinistic sects, who see the concept of the “Mass” as heretical, thus deem Christmas as wholly inconsistent with their understanding of Christianity).

This is important, I think, because the “Christian Nation” crowd believes that government should give its imprimatur to their view of what orthodox Christianity is and that government ought not endorse Paganism. If they had their way, the James Dobsons and D. James Kennedys of the world would attempt to “purify” the public square of any messages that they view as antithetical to their faith. The religious right wants Christmas to remain a national holiday because they view it as “scoring points” for their side; yet they would absolutely cringe if we were to elevate Halloween to a federal holiday because they would view this as government endorsing Paganism and the Occult.

But the truth is Christmas is at once a religious, Secular, and Pagan holiday. And it’s precisely because this is the case that Christmas is appropriate for national celebration.

If the Calvinists of the religious right were to understand Christmas more accurately, according to its true historical origins, one could very easily imagine them changing their tune, and coming out against Christmas in the name of “purifying” heresy from Christianity and hence our “Christian Public Square.”

Regarding public displays of religious symbols: My understanding of secularism demands religious neutrality—or that government take no stand on the matter of religion and otherwise remain neutral between religions and between religion and non-religion. I don’t think this automatically means stripping the public square of religious symbols. Rather if they are displayed pursuant to a generally applicable neutral program (like first come first serve) that would allow Christian (Nativity scenes), Jewish (Menorah), Secular (Santa & Rudolph), Pagan (Christmas Trees & Mistletoe, or a renewed interest in Saturnalia), Muslim (Ramadan), Buddhist (Chinese New Year) all at once, I think that would send the overall message that government is not taking a stand favoring one particular religion over another, or favoring religion over non-religion.

This is similar to how the Supreme Court has held in Pinette, Lynch, and Allegheny. Yet, I wouldn’t focus so much on whether a “reasonable” observer would think that the displays send the message that one religion, Christmas for instance, is being endorsed, but rather that the displays are done pursuant to a generally neutral program that gives Secular, Pagan, and otherwise non-Christian religions equal rights to partake in the program (regardless of whether any particular display has the incidental effect of “aiding or appearing to endorse Christianity”).

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Why does God kill so many babies before they are born?

I’ve often wondered how religious conservatives, who believe that a fertilized egg is a human being with a soul, react to the central fact of Ronald Bailey’s aptly entitled piece, Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?

What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature's God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos? John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we're talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Replacing Freddy:

Over at Positive Liberty, Jason thinks Queen's forthcoming reunion with Paul Rogers is a terrible idea.

Bad Company was a talented but formulaic 1970s cutout band with absolutely none of the originality and flair that Queen once had. Hitting the notes is one thing--but projecting the image is quite another.

Yes, but Paul Rogers has the vocal chops to pull it off, and not that many other prominent male rock singers do. Perhaps the three others in Queen can supply the "originality and flair." Jason suggests Peter Gabriel or David Bowie. The problem with them is that neither have the vocal chops of Freddy Mercury. From a technical standpoint, even Rogers can't do everything that Mercury could; but he will come closer than Bowie or Gabriel.

I also object to Jason categorizing Gabriel's Genesis as "very much like a workingman's Queen." No, Genesis were much more than that. I think that they made an artistic statement that far surpassed Queen's. (And sadly, I was going to see The Musical Box -- a Genesis tribute band that perfectly reproduces The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway -- last Saturday, outside of Philadelphia, but the show was sold out. My fault for waiting to the last minute to get tickets. But they were playing three nights in a row at this venue, I had no idea they would sell out. Oh well, there's always next time.)

Whoever is picked has to have vocal chops (and Paul Rogers does). You don't necessarily need vocal chops to be a "good" rock singer (you just need a "cool" sounding voice). Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Jim Morrison -- countless others were never "singers" in the technical sense. I remember a (classical) guitar teacher of mine, who loved jazz and classical music, but hated rock, complaining after listening to an REM CD that even though they were good songwriters and the music (melodies) were good, rock singers like Michael Stipe reminded him of "guitar players" who get to the microphone and sing. And what he meant by that is that these were folks who had a good sense of musicianship and could carry a tune, but didn't know how to use their voice as an instrument. He contrasted them with a jazz singer Peggy Lee, who mastered the voice an instrument in every sense of the word.

Well not every rock signer is as untechnical and limited in what they can do with their voices as Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan. Some rockers actually can sing. And Freddy Mercury epitomized the rock singer who could.

Some other prominent rockers who can sing and who also may have been good choices:

Steve Perry (Journey)
Klaus Meine (Scorpions)
Ronnie James Dio
Geoff Tate (Queensryche)
James LaBrie (Dream Theater)
Gary Cherone (Extreme and Van Halen. Maybe -- he was good at the Queen Tribute concert)
Steve Walsh (Kansas -- he had the chops before his voice changed in the 80s).

I'm not sure if any of these would be able to pull off Freddy's act or image, but they are all examples of rock singers with strong vocal chops.

Monday, December 20, 2004

WorldNutDaily's Reckless Label:

Tragically, a US soldier murdered a young Iraqi male after sex. WorldNutDaily recklessly labels the perpetrator-soldier "homosexual" (their lead in to this link is titled "Homosexual soldier killed Iraqi after sex").

But in reading the story further, the story notes:

Friends and family members wrote the Army asking for a reduction in Merida's sentence, citing the fact that his son, a toddler, needs him and that his wife speaks little English and relies on him. Merida was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and moved to the United States as a child.

Now the fact that this male was married and had a child doesn't "prove" that he is straight (we all know of plenty of gay guys who get married and have children); yet the fact that he had consensual sex with another male doesn't prove he was "homosexual" or, I'd argue, even "bisexual."

(Note: the reports are that this sex was "consensual," of which I am skeptical. It could be that this American soldier coerced this 17-year-old Iraqi into this).

A homosexual is someone who is predominately or exclusively attracted to members of the same sex. Until WND produces evidence of this, it is wrong to label this soldier as such. And the fact that he is married casts doubt that this soldier is authentically homosexual.

What about the fact that he had consensual sex with another man? Many would automatically place someone like this in the "bisexual" or "homosexual" box because he engaged in homosexual contact. As I've argued before, I think this is wrong. If this soldier had strong sexual and/or romantic feelings towards members of the same and the opposite sex, then, I'd argue that he was bisexual. If he could flourish in relationships with members of both sexes, then he is a bisexual. In all likelihood, this soldier is primarily attracted to members of the opposite sex, and hence is heterosexual. If this soldier were using the Iraqi boy as a substitute for a woman, then I think it's improper to label him as "bisexual"; it's certainly wrong to label him as "homosexual."

It could be argued that anyone who can derive pleasure from homosexual experiences must have *some* kind of "bisexual" orientation. But if that's the standard we use, then a huge chunk of the human population, way beyond that 2-5% that have a primary homosexual or authentic bisexual orientation, are "bisexual," or at least, have a bisexual potential (meaning that there might be a lot of guys who have never tried it, but could enjoy it, but not as much as the "real" thing -- heterosexual sex). We are talking about at least 1/3, perhaps over 50% of the human population.

Even Harvey Mansfield gets this. While giving his lecture on "manliness" at Princeton, he was asked if he thought it ironic that many of the Spartans who typify manliness for the Straussians were "gay." Mansfield answered, (and prefaced his answer with something along the lines of "excuse me if I sound a little vulgar") that, although more than a few of them commonly had such experiences, they didn't understand themselves to be "homosexual" as an identity. And re: their "manliness," it depended on what "role" (bottom or top) the actor played. If a man plays the "masculine" role in a homosexual act, in many cultures (and this certainly was the historical case with the Ancient Greeks), this isn't considered "gay" or "feminine" at all, especially if that man is primarily attracted to women, has relations with them, and gets married and sires a family, which is what virtually all of those Ancient Greeks did.

In fact, in Latino cultures (presently and customarily) one is not considered "homosexual" OR "bisexual" if one a) is primarily attracted to women and has lots of sex with them, and b) occasionally uses other men -- preferably younger or "girly" men -- as substitutes for women. The "straight" guy, of course, plays the role of the "man." This soldier in question comes from such a Latino Culture, where it is extremely common for heterosexual men, especially the "macho," heterosexually promiscuous types, to use males as substitutes for women, on occasion.

And this Iraqi was 17 years old, probably not a big scrapping hairy chested "man," but more likely "boyish" with smooth features, hence a closer substitute to a female.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that this soldier was a straight guy who abused (used as a woman) and then killed an innocent guy. He should be strung up for this. But likely, he is no more homosexual than those thugs in prison who sexually abuse the younger and weaker inmates (and just call one of those guys "gay" to their faces and see how they react).
Queen are Coming Back!

Queen are coming back and replacing Freddy Mercury. Some thoughts.

1) Is Freddy Mercury irreplaceable? Arguably yes. But they are replacing him with one Paul Rogers, of Free and Bad Company fame. Mercury was arguably one of the greatest rock vocalists of all times. But so too is Paul Rogers. There are very few vocalists in Mercury's league. I'd say Rogers is one of them. He is a legend as well.

2) Stylistically, however, Paul Rogers may not be gay enough (although he is striking a Freddy Mercury pose in this picture here). I'm trying to imagine him camping it up, as will be needed for many of their classics. Rogers is the type of rock vocalist who exudes male heterosexuality. He may be too damn masculine for Queen.

3) I'd say they have waited long enough to try this out as an experiment. I don't consider it disrespectful of Freddy's legacy. Who knows if they will be able to pull it off, though.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Brayton on Farah, and other thoughts:

I love this zinger that Ed Brayton delivers while discussing this article of Joseph Farah's where Farah attempts to reconcile his literal belief in the Bible with science, going so far as to admit that he believes that human beings walked the Earth with dinosaurs. Brayton writes: "But apparently Mr. Farah thinks that the Flintstones was a documentary and not a cartoon."

My readers know ID-Creationism v. Evolution isn't a primary interest of mine. But I'll note a few things nonetheless. It's no secret that there is a religious fundamentalist push behind this controversy. As Farah states in his article, "The primary reason I believe [in ID], of course, is because the Bible tells me so. That's good enough for me, because I haven't found the Bible to be wrong about anything else."

But even if it turns out that the universe were created by an intelligent designer -- and I suppose this is not only possible, but also rational to presume that if a "watch" exists, then a watchmaker created it -- that's a far cry from believing that everything in the Bible is true. And it would be a huge jump from believing in the existence of some ultimate intelligence behind all of reality on the one hand and that the Earth is only 6000 years old, that Noah's Ark contained two of every species (or "kind"), that dinosaurs walked the Earth with man, that Lot's wife really turned to salt, etc., on the other. There is no scientific evidence for any of these assertions, period. And the scientific record is replete with evidence that much of what the Bible says -- or to put it another way, the interpretation that folks like Farah derive from the Bible -- is either false or scientifically impossible.

For instance, science tells us that the Earth is well over 6000 years old by only oh a few billion or so years. How do these "young-Earthers" reply to this incontestable fact? That when God created the Earth 6000 years ago, he created it so that it would measure, via scientific instruments, billions of years already. In other words, God created the earth new with a few billions years of life in its record. I kid you not. They actually argue this with a straight face.

But let us humor these folks and assume this is true. If it is, then God purposefully tries to conceal the Truth from man. He planted evidence that would lead one to doubt that His Word is true, (if His Word is properly understood as teaching that the Earth is 6000 years old). Why is the God of the Bible trying to conceal His existence from man by planting seeds of doubt where the science will contradict what is written in the Bible? Many of the things that the Bible talks about that are scientifically impossible are "miracles," which are, by definition, God breaking the laws of science. But God performs miracles so infrequently that not a one has ever been recorded by science. Now consider that fundamentalists like Farah believe that all who don't accept that the Biblical God is true are destined to burn in Hell.

So rational men who doubt the Biblical God's existence using the rational faculties that God gives us and basing this conclusion at least in part because God himself planted seeds of doubt and effectively conceals His existence are destined to burn in Hell for their rational doubts. Real fair.

Now, God's lack of recordable interference in the affairs of men and concealment of evidence for His existence may have some ultimate underlying spiritual purpose -- for instance, God wants us to come to Earth to learn, and doesn't want us to kill ourselves to get to the other side -- but only if we reject the fundamentalist conclusions of men like Farah.

Friday, December 17, 2004


Although I don’t always acknowledge it, I am always grateful when I am linked. This week thanks to Lawrence Solum, Timothy Sandefur (love the title to his link) and Ed Brayton for their links. Earlier in the week Brayton linked to some of my first posts way back when I was a guest-blogger at Freespace. Rumor has it that I will be guest-blogging there again, some time in the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Just how “Religious” is the Declaration of Independence?

Lawrence Solum has an interesting post that examines Justice Thomas’s belief in the natural law of the Declaration, complete with its reference to a “Creator," and notes how we might square that belief with the Rawlsian notion of secular “public reason" that ought to underlie judicial decision making.

Solum references an article by Thomas Krannawitter defending not only Thomas’s belief in the natural law of the Declaration, but stressing in his defense

the principle that our rights come not from government but from a "Creator" and "the laws of nature and of nature's God," as our Declaration of Independence says, and that the purpose and power of government should therefore be limited to protecting our natural, God-given rights.

To which Kevin Drum replies

Coming from a priest or a preacher, this would be fine. Coming from a Supreme Court justice who's supposed to interpret the constitution on secular grounds, it's an embarrassment.

Solum notes how it is possible to adhere to Rawls’s ideal of public reason, with its demand of secular rationale for public policy and still believe that rights ultimately derive from a Creator. I concur. And I think it’s very important that secularists not reject the Declaration because it invokes a “Creator.” The Declaration’s invocation of a “Creator” ought not to be understood as transforming it into any kind of “religious” document, more appropriate for “priests or preachers” than for public officials.

First, the Declaration is a document of “man’s reason”; it’s not any kind of essentially religious document, not even an essentially Judeo-Christian document—because it's not clear that the God of the Declaration is the God of the Old Testament—something that might unite Jews & Christian. It is not clear that “nature’s God” gives any commands, nor that he is a jealous God, which are characteristic features of the Judeo-Christian God. Moreover it’s not clear from the Bible or traditional orthodox understanding of Christianity that God grants rights, unalienable or otherwise. And it's certainly not clear that nature’s God was the Trinitarian God of the New Testament (given that the majority of the drafters of the Declaration rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and how widespread deism and unitarianism were among even many of the founders who were members of Christian Churches).

So who is nature's God? As Claremont's own Thomas West has noted in a speech he gave to the Family Research Council on John Locke, "nature's God" "mean[t] God insofar as we can discern his existence through our reason unassisted by faith." If "secular" = universal Truth accessible to man as man, from unaided reason, then the concept of "nature's God" is as close to a secular concept of God as one can get.

Nature’s God was in many ways a lowest common denominator version of God. Any monotheist, whether a Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Deist, Unitarian, Trinitarian or non-Trinitarian, could believe that nature’s God was their God.

I know that, of course, atheists and polytheists are not united under this concept. But, nature's God according to Jefferson gives men an unalienable right to worship no God or twenty Gods, thus including atheists and polytheist within the rubric of the rights of conscience. In fact, the rationale behind many of the present Establishment Clause battles, (for instance, removing the “under God” from the pledge) simply takes the founders’ logic of religious rights and seeks to lower the lowest common denominator to include atheists & polytheists. But that in turn, would require removing all references to a “Creator” from the public square. I’m not sure we should go that far. References to a singular “Creator” should be permitted under the Doctrine of Ceremonial Deism if for no other reason that so many of our important “rights of man” natural law documents ultimately tie rights to a “Creator.”

Another reason why our founders tied our liberal order to God: They had to. We could not have made the theoretical case for revolution without invoking God. Remember what our founders and John Locke were arguing against was the divine right of Kings, most famously articulated by Sir Robert Filmer. Divine rule of Kings ultimately tied the right to rule to God, therefore liberal democracy similarly had invoke God, or else Divine Rule of Kings would have “trumped” it.

Let me note a few things. First, Filmer defended divine rule of Kings on explicitly Christian grounds. Locke also invoked Christianity in his defense of liberal democracy; but I’ve heard it argued (by the Straussians) that Filmer’s case was in fact more consistent with the then understanding of orthodox Christianity than was Locke’s. I’m sure Jeremy Waldron would disagree. Certain versions of orthodox Christianity may indeed be compatible with liberal democracy, but other versions of orthodox Christianity are every bit as compatible with illiberal forms of government like divine right of Kings.

The Straussians also argue that Hobbes & Locke’s, and hence our Founders’ premises were atheistic at heart. They may have invoked a “nature’s God,” but these atheists did so only because they needed God as the ultimate “trump.” But in any event, the Straussians argue, even if Locke and our Founders did believe in God (as they said they did), their concept of a rights granting nature’s God and Locke’s state of nature theory itself is so “wholly alien to the Bible” (as Strauss himself put it) that it amounts to a denial of the Christian God. This is what Allan Bloom meant when he wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, “[t]he philosophers appeared to deny the very existence of God, or at least of the Christian God.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The Dell computer I use now is fine. I have another one that is a few years old and that I’d like to save (and there are files on there that I’d like to access). For the past few months, I haven’t been able to work it. It had a real bad spyware problem, so I went online and attempted to download a program to remove the spyware. The program crashed while I was downloading it; so I rebooted. But the computer never worked since then. It now turns on in "safe mode" and doesn’t launch Windows because the “registry file” is not found.

I am going to contact Dell, and maybe have some professional come over to see what they can do (if it’s worth it). Any solutions from my readers as to how to fix this?

[Update: After an hour on the phone to Dell in Bombay, India (!) the problem seems to be fixed. Although I lost all of the files on the hard-drive (damn Spyware!).

Monday, December 13, 2004

In defense of Retribution:

The four classic rationales for criminal punishment are Restraint, Reformation, Retribution and Deterrence. Some modern criminal legal theorists scoff at the notion of retribution, writing it off as "legalized vengeance." In reality, retribution is every bit as important a theory as the others. (Arguably, reformation is the loser of the bunch, given recidivism rates.)

The proper understanding of retribution is that justice alone demands an individual be punished for committing a certain crime, independent of any other purpose that punishment may foster. Call it vengeance if you will, people deserve to be punished (perhaps with death) for certain transgressions against society.

For instance, let's conduct a thought experiment. Let's imagine a scenario where someone does something really bad, like murders in cold blood. Let's say for some reason, we knew to an absolute certainty that he would not commit such a violent crime again (negating the restrain and reformation rationales) and that no one would find out that he "slipped" through the cracks and didn't get punished (therefore, there would be no anti-deterrent effect). Would it be okay if such a person went free? If you answered no, then you believe in retribution.

Or let's take the case of Ira Einhorn, who recently after years of living it up in France was captured and put in jail for the murder of Holly Maddux. Why was it so important to go after him? Why spend the millions of dollars? Was it because we were concerned that he might murder an innocent Frenchman or woman? That we needed to capture this 60-something-year-old to "reform" him? That if we didn't capture him, *someone* out there would get the message that "I too may be get away with murder just like Ira Einhorn"...but now that we got him that will *change* someone's mind?

Did we really do anything to prevent future murders by getting our hands on Einhorn? Of course not. We went out of our way to get this bastard because he was living the good life abroad and he deserves to rot in a jail or be put to death, regardless of any other independent effect on deterrence, restraint, or reformation.

There is also a converse to retribution: "Due Process" or "natural justice" demands that punishment be limited by the moral desert for the crime committed. Why don't we just execute all drunk drivers? That would 100% effectuate our policies of deterrence, restraint, and reformation of drunk drivers. It's because a drunk driver doesn't justly deserve to be put to death for this act, regardless of the positive effects that certainly would occur. Plain and simple.

Which brings me to the Peterson case and the death penalty. If Peterson did what he was convicted of, then he deserves to be put to death. That's not the same as supporting the death penalty. I'm sort of on the fence on this issue. We have to weight the positives and negatives and there are a lot of both (although I remain a cautious supporter of capital punishment).

The ultimate negative is government wrongfully executing an innocent. To my knowledge, this has never occurred in the modern (or perhaps entire) history of US's death penalty (or at least, there is no proof for it). But regarding why in modern history no innocent has been executed, it's because we execute so few and the few that we do have sat for so many years, going through so many appeals...we have between 15-20 thousand homicides committed each year, and execute only between 50-100 people a other words, it's almost impossible to execute an innocent man in this society because it's almost impossible to execute any given murderer period.

I realize that heroic journalism students were responsible for recently getting a pretty surprisingly high number of innocent people freed from death row. But the point is, these innocents were not put to death. Our system of almost infinitely dotting our "i's" and crossing our "t's" worked to free these innocents. But such a system also makes it impossible to execute all but a nominal number of murderers each year. In other words, we really don't have the death penalty. And we won't have it until we start consistently executing all first degree murderers in this nation within a timely manner after they commit the crime (or under our federalist system, have one or a few states try this out). That might mean somewhere upwards of 1,000 people executed each year. But if we did this, then chances are an innocent person would be put to death. And that, unlike a prison sentence, is an irreversible mistake. Therefore, I'm not sure if I could support it.

So now you see why I'm on the fence. But when one of these bastards gets it, I shed no tears. (My older brother half-jokingly claimed that he wanted to attend the protest/counter-protest gatherings that inevitably occur outside the place of execution whenever one occurs, in a Grim Reaper outfit complete with a scythe. When the media cameras came by he would give his message by swinging the scythe.)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Mystery Revealed:

My article on non-Christians and the philosophical rationale for their right to worship will appear in Liberty Magazine, hopefully in their May 2005 issue. Note this is not that Liberty Magazine; both of them are very good (maybe one day I will be published in that one too).

I didn’t want to jump the gun; but since I just got the check in the mail, I am assuming they will run my article—at the very least, they have bought the right to do so.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Bill Press is right (or what do we mean when we say, “the Founders were deists”?):

One of the saving graces of WorldNet(Nut)Daily is the that, despite having a general crackpot-rightwing (as opposed to “loony-left”) thrust, they maintain a modicum of fairness by running columns by leftists and libertarians, many of them very good.

Bill Press is one of the liberals whose columns they carry. And in this piece about the religious beliefs of our founders, Press is, for the most part, right on:

For starters, the Founding Fathers were not Christians. Most were Deists, who believed in a remote Providence, or "Watchmaker God," who created us, wound us up and left us on our own. From their writings, we know that few of them believed in Christ's divinity and none of them accepted Jesus as their personal Savior.

I’m sure he will be attacked in their letters section (I don’t care about that); it’s likely that WND will feature columns responding to Press, attempting to rebut him. But they will fail (and Ed Brayton, I, and others will be there to refute such attempts). WND in the past has pushed some real phony stuff about our Founders. I can just hear those phony David Barton quotes getting ready to be cited.

But let me comment on Press’s above cited passage. “The Founding Fathers” that Press refers to, I would assume, are those men who were responsible for the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (sometimes that phrase can mean more than one thing—for instance, I don’t think the theocrats running some of the state governments at the time constituted our “Founding Fathers,” and I certainly don't consider the Puritans from Mass. to be "Founders." The men responsible for the Declaration and the Constitution, if anything, attempted to radically break with the Puritan tradition). There were many Founders, and certainly there were orthodox Christians in the bunch (see John Witherspoon). But the most prominent ones were anything but orthodox Christians. Let’s take the first four Presidents—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and add Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine—and test their beliefs against Press’s claims.

Critics might argue (as have ME Bradford and others) that only Franklin and Paine were avowed Deists, the other four belonged to Christian Churches, and were thus not Deists. He would be right if we define Deism as (1) a strict belief in a remote Watchmaker God, who never interferes, AND (2) self-defining solely as a Deist AND (3) not belonging to any Christian Church. Well under this understanding, Jefferson doesn’t even quality (on each prong): He belonged to an Anglican Church; he, at times, referred to himself as a “Christian” (as well as a “Unitarian”, and a “Deist”) and he often alluded to a God that could interfere with human affairs.

Russell Kirk, on the other hand, gives a broader definition of deism:

Deism was neither a Christian schism nor a systematic philosophy, but rather a way of looking at the human condition; the men called Deists differed among themselves on many points….Deism was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific speculation. The Deist professed belief in a single Supreme Being, but rejected a large part of Christian doctrine. Follow Nature, said the Deists (as the Stoics had said before them), not Revelation: all things must be tested by private rational judgment….

Under this definition, Jefferson certainly qualifies as a deist, as do all of the above men that I cited. This is what is meant when we argue, “the Founders were deists.” I think that Franklin and Paine’s belief could be labeled as capital D Deism, while the rest of the framers should be termed small d deism (note how I have very carefully chosen in this post when to capitalized the “d” when I have used that term).

Any system of categorizing the Founders that puts Jefferson in the “Christian” box, because he 1) belonged to a Christian Church, 2) sometimes labeled himself as such, and 3) believed in a Providence that could perhaps interfere with human affairs, is not a meaningful understanding of Christianity. It’s like putting Phil Donahue in the “Christian” box because he belongs to the Catholic Church and describes himself as “Christian.”

Here is Alan Dershowitz on Jefferson and Christianity:

Jefferson…believed that the New Testament was written by "ignorant, unlettered men" and that much of it consisted of "so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture" that it could aptly be characterized as "dung." He thought even less of the Old Testament, whose vengeful God he deplored and whose draconian laws he rejected. He did not believe that the Ten Commandments, with their inclusion of punishment of children for the sins of their father, came from God, and he characterized the history of the Old Testament as "defective" and "doubtful." As for the supposed miracles of the Bible, he compared them to the false miracles of Greek and Roman mythology. Jefferson rejected the "supernatural" and regarded the concept of the Trinity as "insane." He specifically disagreed with Blackstone’s claim that the "law of Moses" was the basis of English law, characterizing the claim as a "fraud" based on an "awkward monkish fabrication.”
America Declares Independence, Pages 14-15.

In all fairness, Washington, Adams, and Madison probably thought higher of orthodox Christianity than did Franklin, Paine, and Jefferson. But as Press puts it, “From their writings, we know that few of them believed in Christ's divinity and none of them accepted Jesus as their personal Savior.” Let me put it more bluntly, there is no credible evidence that any of the six believed in Christ’s divinity or accepted Jesus as their personal savior. And we do know that Jefferson, Adams, Paine, and Franklin explicitly rejected the Trinity.

Most of these men tended to be silent about their non-orthodoxy and for good reason. Paine, who wasn’t silent, was absolutely vilified for it. Most of Jefferson’s harshest criticisms of Christianity, he was not public about (literally, we had to go into his personal letters to find this stuff); but when he did publicly rock the religious orthodoxy boat, he too was vilified. Madison and Washington kept their mouths shut. They left very little on record—therefore I can’t point to any smoking gun quotes of theirs explicitly rejecting the Trinity—but on the other hand, there is absolutely no evidence of their religious orthodoxy either.

Adams belonged to an unorthodox Church—Unitarian. And although he didn't publicly criticize non-Catholic orthodox Christianity (he, like many of the framers, was practically an anti-Catholic bigot), he did reveal his non-orthodoxy to Jefferson, in their personal letters. And there, in an 1813 letter, remarking on Britain’s repealed of a statute that made it illegal to publicly deny the Trinity, he lets Jefferson know that he too disbelieves in the Trinity. Adams also rejected the doctrine of eternal damnation.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

What a guy!

David Brudnoy was one of the greatest, fairest, talk-radio hosts in the nation, and an eloquent defender of libertarian philosophy as well. He died today at age 64. When I went to college in Boston, (Berklee College of Music), I first became aware of his show, and fast became a fan. Personally, his show made me challenge many of my own left-liberal premises that I had when I entered college.

Ten years ago, he nearly died from AIDS. He was hospitalized and was in a coma for nine days. He had hoped to live just five more years (he was being overly optimistic—doctors weren’t sure if he would live out the year). Then, by virtue of groundbreaking AIDS drugs, he got an extension on his wish. Up until last year, he was alive and kicking. Then he came down with a rare form of cancer that nearly killed him. But once again, he came back from the brink of deaths door; his cancer was in remission. But alas, it just recently came back and did him in. It was cancer, and not AIDS, that he died of.

See this news story about his death which has some great audio-links to his radio show. Also listen to this gut-wrenching (and heart-warming) goodbye that this agnostic man gives. Ready for death, he has no regrets and no fear. Gary LaPierre, the interviewer, hits upon his exact nature: Based on what he has gone through and how he has handed it, he is (was) goddamned tough. He typified Harvey Mansfield’s manliness virtue.

Goodbye David Brudnoy. You will be missed.
Mansfield at Princeton:

Last night, my Dad and I went to see Harvey C. Mansfield speak at the James Madison Program at Princeton University. And boy were the public intellectuals out that night. Robbie George, Marvin Olasky, Cornell West, and countless others attended.

Mansfield’s subject was “manliness.” Mansfield, who desperately wants to preserve societal gender roles, posits the notion of “manliness” as a virtue. In order to understand Mansfield’s position on this matter, we have to dig deeper into his underlying philosophy. Mansfield is one of those “East Coast Straussians” who believes neither in God and the Truth of Revelation, nor that metaphysical Truths are self-evidently found in nature. Yet, he believes that a healthy society must believe that there is (capital T) Truth to be found in God (revelation) and Nature (reason).

Thus he lends his intellectual support to those arguments on behalf of traditional gender roles that are both religiously and natural law (metaphysically) based—even though it is not clear that he believes in the ultimate Truth of either supports.

What distinguishes Mansfield from the leftist-Nietzsche inspired rejecters of Reason and Revelation (other than being secretive about his nihilism) is that these post-moderns have also come to reject biological nature as well. And it is clear that Mansfield believes in biological nature.

In their drive to reject “nature” in the “ought” sense, Foucault inspired leftists (the deconstructionists), following very bad science, have come to reject nature in the “is” sense as well. All gender differences, it is argued, are “social constructs.” Raise a girl from birth as a boy and vice versa, and, if we had the right controls, we would see XYs with healthy “female” personalities and XXs with healthy “male” personalities. This experiment was in fact tried and and yielded gruesome results. The social constructionists are wrong. Nature, in the “is” sense, does indeed exist; there are pretty significant biological (physical and mental) differences between the sexes.

And during the lecture, Mansfield endorsed the science in the book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, authored by leading conservative documenter of natural gender differences, Stephen Rhodes. However, in it, Rhoads documents such natural gender difference as males having naturally promiscuous (seed spreading) sexual instincts. This trait certainly has a sound evolutionary basis; the farther and wider a man spreads his seed, the more likely the human race in general and a man’s genes in particular will perpetuate. Here is how Mansfield reacts to this natural fact:

What evolutionists think is the closest we usually get to the notion of nature these days. But it is not close enough. For evolution sees everything as organized for survival and cannot recognize our better, higher nature. Thus it sees no difference in rank between the male desire for an active sex life and the male interest in being married, or between the promptings of desire and the instruction of reason. What kind of seriousness is this?

Of course Mansfield realizes that “our higher nature” is a myth (a “social construct” if you will, that needs to be perpetuated, not deconstructed). And if it were true that nature in the “is” sense, didn’t exist (as the social constructionists argue) then defending the notion of “higher nature” would be all the harder.

But because there is a big overlap between what nature “is” and Mansfield’s concept of higher “ought” nature (the “ought” is always in some way derived from the “is”), these “is’s” give Mansfield ammunition to defend his “oughts.” As Mansfield puts it:

No doubt with a view to these problems, Rhoads does not declare evolutionary psychology to be true. He merely refers to what "evolutionists think" as a useful authority, perhaps with which to defend common sense. He also does not accept the injunction of social science against judgments of value. He has no hesitation in stating, as the result of his research, that "women would be wise to realize" they have a sexual makeup that differs from men's. All women who doubt this finding would be wise to read Rhoads's fine book.

In other words, by virtue of our biological nature, women really may prefer and be better suited towards nurturing and home-care, and men, supporting, protecting, and providing (where the “is’s” and Mansfield’s “oughts” coincide). But nature also makes men more predisposed to violence and sexual promiscuity (the “is’s” that don’t confirm or that even contradict Mansfield’s “oughts.” Certainly homosexuality—something not a part of the traditional morality that Mansfield endorses—exists in human and animal nature as an “is”).

But the same argument that Mansfield may make against sexual promiscuity or homosexuality (it may be part of human nature, but not our “higher nature”) can be made against the traditional gender roles that he supports: Nature may incline men towards providing and women, homemaking, but, in a fair society, one premised on equality as an ideal, that doesn’t make such societal gender roles just.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pedophilia Chic Revisted...Again:

The Weekly Standard revisits the “pedophilia chic” issue (in the form of a movie review) that they originally raised concern about in these two articles. Kudos to the Standard for running this article that contradicts the laughable thesis of the original “pedophilia chic” articles, that this problem is endemic to the gay, not the straight community. As Mary Eberstadt’s original article put it: “The reason why the public is being urged to reconsider boy pedophilia is that this ‘question,’ settled though it may be in the opinions and laws of the rest of the country, is demonstrably not yet settled within certain parts of the gay rights movement.”

Jonathan Last’s article, on the other hand, nary mentions homosexual pedophilia, but rather focuses exclusively on the heterosexual community’s problem with pedophilia. And he aptly demonstrates what a canard Eberstadt’s original thesis was.

BEFORE LINDSAY AND HILARY, before Amanda, before Kirsten and Britney, even before--if you can imagine--Mary-Kate and Ashley, there was Natalie [Portman]….

This isn't the first outbreak. In the '60s, Stanley Kubrick tippy-toed up to the edge when he cast the 16-year-old Sue Lyon in Lolita. In 1980, the syndrome flourished with the scantily-clad Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon. Shields made an entire career out of that semi-soft core movie. She was 15 at time, so director Randal Kleiser coyly used body-doubles for the nude scenes, a fact which was not widely advertised. America was gripped in Shields-mania and for a while, Blue Lagoon became short-hand for the pervy thrill of seeing naked adolescent girls….

And after Natalie, the deluge. There was Britney Spears's dirty-sweet school-girl act. The celebrated website devoted to a countdown to the Olsen twins' 18th birthday. And then the crowning moment: Vanity Fair's Youngest Hollywood issue, which displayed on its cover nine underaged vixens in various states of get-up-and-go, along with a headline proclaiming: "It's TOTALLY Raining Teens: And it's, like, so a major moment in pop culture."

Even the taboo of Blue Lagoon lust is a thing of the past; today we celebrate the sexualization of young girls. Thanks, Natalie.

As Last’s article indicates, this “question” clearly is not and in fact never was “settled” “in the opinions and laws of the rest of the country.” A problem with both Last’s and Eberstadt’s theses is their contention that this phenomenon is “chic” (or cutting edge, new, most likely a product of post-60s sexual modernity). As Last puts it, “[Portman] is patient zero in our culture's latest epidemic of pedophilia chic.”

First off, let us understand the “problem” that Eberstadt and Last refer to: It is not authentic “pedophilia,” which technically is sexual attraction to a prepubescent boy or girl. No, their examples in all of these articles are almost entirely sexualization of post-pubescent, but underaged, teens.

This phenomenon is known as ephebophilia, and while I agree with the Standard that this is wrong and thus unacceptable (both pedophilia and ephebophilia are wrong for the exact same reason—they both harm the underaged), it is important to note the difference between these two phenomena.

Pedophilia, from a statistical point of view, is extremely abnormal (relatively rare). The sexual attraction of the pedophile tends to be exclusively or primarily directed towards prepubescent children. And the orientation is strongly resistant to treatment. As far as I know this culture has never accepted real pedophilia (nor should it).

Ephebophilia is a behavior that is far more common, and that’s because the attraction is more natural. A post-pubescent teen is, let us not forget, a biological adult. Generally, there is no exclusive “ephebophilia” orientation; rather the desire stems from a general heterosexual (or homosexual) orientation. So while it would be a mistake to refer to a man who is exclusively attracted to pre-pubescent boys as “homosexual,” (just as it would be a mistake to describe a man who is exclusively attracted to pre-pubescent girls as “heterosexual”) men who have relations with post-pubescent, but underaged girls or boys, most likely do have general heterosexual or homosexual orientations, respectively.

Oh sure, some have predilections, or “fetishes” towards underaged teens, in the same way that some have racial, height, weight, etc., predilections (some adults have preferences for significantly older partners as well). But these are usually not understood as exclusive and separate sexual or romantic desires. Moreover, many adults who partake in ephebophila have no preference for younger partners. The underaged actor simply is biologically fully developed, as much as a legal adult is (one thinks of 6-foot tall, 14-year-old golfing sensation, Michele Wie).

How does the difference make a difference? Because sexual relations between an adult man and underaged teen girl is biologically natural (from a procreative point of view), this behavior has been “normalized” throughout Western Culture, so long as sexual relations took place within the context of a marriage. So can we note a point of origin in Western Culture, “normalizing” this type of pedophilia? Yes, when the Ancient Jews declared women to be adults at the age of 12 and men at the age of 13. It’s not hard to understand why they drew that line. Typically, that’s the onset of puberty, when nature declares us to be adults.

So is this behavior a product of post-60s sexual modernity? Hardly. In the heyday of social conservatism—the South in the 1950s—marriages between adult males and girls as young as 12 were allowed. Some prominent celebrity examples—both Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis were involved in marriages where one party was an adult male and the other was a 13-year-old girl. We can assume many non-celebrity examples as well. (Could you imagine the outrage if gay marriage advocates like Andrew Sullivan or Jonathan Rauch wanted to marry 13-year-old boy partners?)

Adult-teen marriages are important to note because foes of same-sex marriages argue that marriage confers the ultimate status of “normalization” upon such legally recognized relationships. If that’s the case, then traditional pre-1960s Western sexual morality has conferred the status of “normal” on sexual relations between adults and 13-year-olds, exactly the sorts of things with which the Standard's articles are concerned.

In fact, as far as I understand, the modern-post-1960s-trend has been to raise the age of consent to uniformly closer to 18. In all fairness, until the changes of the 60s, girls were somewhat protected the by fact that teenage sex was only socially permitted when it took place within the context of a marriage. And since the sexual revolution, since people more freely and openly began to have sex before marriage, exploiting underaged girls thus became easier. Hence, it became more readily apparent that sex between and an adult and a 13, 14, 15, or even 16-year-old ought to be permitted in few if any circumstances.

But that, and not pedophilia is the “modern” or “chic,” post-sexual revolution trend.