Thursday, June 30, 2005

A breathtakingly silly article:

In these intellectual battles over religion and government a few friends have cautioned me not to get carried away with knocking down certain figures like David Barton, who are straw men. More serious arguments have been made by respected scholars like Philip Hamburger.

There is an inchoate tendency, in legal thinking, to want to punish people for making bad arguments. But judges are supposed to follow the law nonetheless. For instance, the laughable arguments made in the "Christian Nation" briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in the recent case attempting to demonstrate that the Ten Commandments are the Foundation of US Law and that the Decalogue gave rise to the Declaration of Independence. If the outcomes of the Ten Commandments cases turned on that being true, then the decisions would be easy slam dunks for the other side. But that's not the way constitutional law works.

So with a grain of salt, I'll point you to one of the most laughable "Christian Nation" articles I've yet to see published by of course, WND.

The article begins by deeming "The Separation of Church and State" a

lie...spread by theophobic atheists, neo-pagan fascists, radical liberals, socialists, Marxists, anti-Christian bigots, sexual perverts, Christophobic politicians and journalists, and other such people who wish to obliterate the European Christian foundation on which America was built...

and gets worse from there. I don't have the time or interest in refuting the entire thing. Just read my blog and all of the refutations are found in past posts. I will, for the fun of it, point out a few of the article's absurdities.

First the author, Tom Snyder, says,

Jefferson was not, however, saying that the First Amendment prevents the Congress from declaring Christianity in general as the official religion of the United States.

Not only did the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution not declare Christianity in general as the official religion of the United States, but as far as Congress is concerned, in 1797 (certainly part of the Founding era) they ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by the Adams administration, which expressly declared that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." The unamended Constitution only refers to religion once in Article VI, stating "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." And of course we have the First Amendment which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

What's the point of all this? Not to prove that the ACLU's absolutist notion of a Wall of Separation reflects the Founders' original intent, but rather to demonstrate that the text of the Constitution seems to indicate the United States was founded, in principle, to have a religiously neutral government. Deriving from the text of the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence that our Founders intended the US to be founded as a "Christian Nation" in a public sense is, in the words of Leonard Levy about "as valid as reading the entrails of a chicken for the meaning of the establishment clause or for portents of the future." p. 80.

The article further claims that

the Founding Fathers were overwhelmingly Christian men who used their Christian beliefs to found a Christian nation....[I]n the text, the Constitution clearly says "in the year of Our Lord." This is a direct reference to the Christian doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. It is an indirect reference to the concept of the Holy Trinity that can be found in Matthew 28:18-20 in the New Testament documents!

So the customary way of stating the date in the Constitution magically transforms the document into a Trinitarian Christian document. This guy really doesn't want to get into the Trinity/Unity debate. The majority of key founders were militant unitarians, three of them, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin made up a majority of the Declaration of Independence's drafting board. As I noted in this post, John Adams stated in a personal letter to Jefferson that the very theory upon which our government was built -- "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" -- revealed God to be unitarian!

So you have to wonder how this guy is going to address Article VI of the Constitution which states, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

In Article VI, the Constitution also requires elected and appointed officials, including members of the Supreme Court, to take an oath of office. According to M.E. Bradford in "Original Intentions," at the time the Constitution was written, to take an oath of office was to swear publicly by Almighty God. That is one reason the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution felt it unnecessary to require elected officials to also take a religious test in order to run for office. Why take a religious test when you have already sworn by God to uphold a document that expresses an explicit belief in the Christian Trinity?

Isn't it funny how the "original intent" of the Founders reveals the Constitution to mean the exact opposite of what the text of the document states. So now, "no religious test shall ever be required" in reality means that you are taking an oath to Trinitarian Christianity. Isn't it further ironic that if one had to be a Trinitarian Christian in order to hold public office, the first four Presidents, and many other key founders, would be disqualified.

But he's not done with the "religious tests" clause yet,

David Barton shows in "Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion" that the idea of having no religious test meant only that the federal government could not force political candidates to become members of one Protestant denomination. Thus, when the Constitution forbids making a religious test, it did not mean that candidates must be non-Christians. It meant they could be Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, or a member of any other orthodox Christian denomination.

Another textbook case of attempting to use "original intent" to contradict the TEXT of the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't say, "no religious test among the various Protestant sects shall ever be required, but one may still be required to believe in the Truth of Trinitarian Christianity or Christianity in general." Rather the Constitution says, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

In any event, his argument from original intent is wrong: The text clearly forbids any kind of religious test oaths including ones which would require generic beliefs in the Christian religion and the Founders understood this. In fact, many religious fundamentalists during the time of the Framing argued against the Constitution precisely because it forbade such religious tests!

For instance, a North Carolina minister, in his state's ratification debate, noted that Article VI was "an invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us." At the Massachusetts convention, one speaker noted that unless the President was forced to take a religious oath, "a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States."

The article concludes:

Let us return to the Christian vision of our Founding Fathers. Let us free all Americans from their ignorance of the Christian heritage that formed this once-mighty nation!

Yes, let us return to the militant anti-Trinitarianism and anti-Calvinism of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. Let us return to the Freemasonry of George Washington, a man who systematically avoided referencing Christ in his public statements, a man accused of being a deist by his own Church's ministers and who used to get up and walk out of Church before they served communion. Let us return to the vision of James Madison who said:

Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together;


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Prayer in School and Coercive Establishments:

I've been flirting with the notion that the Establishment Clause, as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids only "coercive Establishments," that the Clause does indeed mandate government neutrality between all religions and between religious and irreligious citizens, but only when some tangible right, some "Privilege or Immunity" is on the line. In other words, if a government action does nothing more than "offend," if it doesn't "pick the pocket" or "break the leg" of a citizen, maybe it's constitutional, even if not good public policy. After all, as a libertarian, even a "secularist" one, I think I need to offer more than, "this government act offends me" before it becomes a Federal Constitutional issue.

Let's turn to the issue of school prayer. Obviously, if the prayer is a mandatory exercise, in which the students are expected to participate, this is a tangible harm and shouldn't be allowed. You can't force a Jewish person to say a Christian prayer, or even a non-religious person to say any kind of prayer, even if non-denominational.

But what if it's a prayer, written by the school and recited over the loudspeaker where the students are expected only to sit back and listen. How is that any different than sitting back and listening to the administrative nonsense that public schools broadcast over their loudspeakers every morning.

I'm still inclined to believe this to be inherently coercive and thus do/did school prayers operate in the real world? Aren't the students supposed to participate in some manner at least by bowing their heads. And those who don't want to participate have to get up and leave (making them stand out like those Jehovah's Witnesses who sit down when everyone else is standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance)?

But let's say, for sake of argument, that prayers are non-coercive, that it does no harm to a Jew or a Muslim to have to sit and listen to an explicitly Christian prayer over the loudspeaker every morning. Let's further say that the Supreme Court allows this to go on in public schools, by overruling Engel v. Vitale and like rulings. How might the outcomes look in present day America?

Sure some school districts dominated by fundamentalists in a few states like Alabama would adopt explicitly Christian prayers and Jews, Muslims, and everyone else in the minority would have to listen to such Christian prayers, every morning.

But federalism and the institution of public education work in strange ways.

For instance, even though Mormons are a minority in this nation, in Utah, they comprise a majority, at least they do in certain parts, if not in the entire state. So what if a school board in Utah voted to adopt Mormon prayers, reading right from the Book of Mormon with Protestants and Catholics having to sit through readings of what they regard as a false religion. Now, one could say it would be more palatable to search for a Lowest Common Denominator between Mormons, Protestants and Catholics. That might be a good political principle. But I don't see how it holds any water as a constitutional principle. What sound constitutional principle could tell us that the reading of a Mormon prayer is unconstitutional but a more general Christian or Judeo-Christian prayer to be constitutional. If we are arguing for a Lowest Common Denominator standard, then the presence of one atheist or one polytheist will reduce the LCD to zero. And if government's "mere words" are not coercive and cause no harm, how is a Protestant fundamentalist harmed by having to listen to a Mormon or a Muslim prayer, in a way that an Atheist is not harmed by having to listen to any prayer or a polytheist harmed by having to listen to any Monotheistic prayer.

Thus, even though Christian prayers might dominate demographically, there will be plenty of individual instances of overtly Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan prayers where through federalism, politics, and changing demographics, different factions manage to get their agendas passed in various states or through various local school boards.

Also keep in mind the politics of Public Education and Teachers Unions. They've embraced the diversity and multicultural ideal -- especially in places like the North-East and parts of California. Some of these places, no doubt, wouldn't have any prayer at all in school because they embrace secularism.

But I could also see some fuzzy-headed multiculturalist "re-thinking" the prayer issue, especially in response to some of the "horror stories" of fundamentalist prayers in Alabama. Some school administrator would construct a "multicultural" prayer to be read over the loudspeaker every morning where Jesus is mentioned along with Buddha, Allah, and Hindu Gods like Ganesh and Pagan Gods of the Earth.

Now the fundamentalists who go to such schools would have to listen to such prayers that I think they would regard as blasphemous and worse than having no prayer at all. But if the Constitution outlaws only government actions that cause tangible harms or deny actual privileges or rights, I don't see any difference between a fundamentalist being offended by what he regards as a blasphemous prayer and a Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Polytheist or Freethinker being offend by the reading of a Christian prayer.

So to the orthodox Christians who may read my blog: Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. And "it" means having Jesus's name invoked in a government prayer with false demon Gods like Ganesh and Allah.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Scalia, Monotheism, and Deistic-Unitarianism:

Justice Scalia, in his dissent in MCCREARY implies that "monotheism" has some type of constitutional privilege over non-monotheistic religions, at least in the context of government endorsement of monotheistic, over non-monotheistic religions.

Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principle that the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today's opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another....That is indeed a valid principle where public aid or assistance to religion is concerned...or where the free exercise of religion is at issue...but it necessarily applies in a more limited sense to public acknowledgment of the Creator.

If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word "God," or "the Almighty," one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational, but it was monotheistic.

Let me try to explain what I think is going on in Scalia's head. He is willing to entertain the notion that the Establishment Clause does more than forbid a national Church, that government may indeed be forbidden from favoring one sect over another in its mere acknowledgements, and he is looking to the historical record for evidence. What he finds is that all of the first four Presidents, like the Declaration of Independence, commonly invoked God in their public pronouncements. But he also finds that their invocations were "scrupulously nondenominational," so much so that they hardly can be termed "Christian" or even "Judeo-Christian." As Scalia notes, "This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not)" and,

All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government's favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.

Scalia instead dubs him "the God of monotheism." And further notes, "The three most popular religions in the United States, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- which combined account for 97.7% of all believers -- are monotheistic."

So Scalia doesn't really answer whether it is constitutional for government to endorse in its mere acknowledgements, one Christian sect over another, Christianity over Judaism, or Christianity and Judaism over Islam...but instead he concludes, based on the historical practice of the first four Presidents, it is constitutional to endorse "monotheism" over "non-monotheism." Monotheism therefore is a Lowest Common Denominator between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

Scalia then connects such "monotheism" with the Ten Commandments themselves.

All of them, moreover (Islam included), believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses, and are divine prescriptions for a virtuous life....Publicly honoring the Ten Commandments is thus indistinguishable, insofar as discriminating against other religions is concerned, from publicly honoring God.

Here is the fatal flaw in Scalia's argument. He fails to include "another" monotheistic tradition within the Lowest Common Denominator, arguably the most important tradition for purposes of this discussion because it happens to be the personal religion of the first four presidents he mentioned: Deistic-unitarianism (or "theistic rationalism"). And the deistic-unitarians did not believe that "the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses." Nor did they ever say so in their public invocations of God.

These Founders did believe in a God, in fact believed that Reason discovered God exists and grants man unalienable rights. But Reason, not Revelation is where the Truth is to be found. And these Founders disbelieved a great deal of Revelation which they regarded as either unreasonable or unproven. And Moses divinely receiving those Commands was one of those Truths about which our Founders were highly dubious.

For instance, here is Jefferson in an 1824 letter to Adams:

Where did we get the ten commandments? [The Bible] itself tells us they were written by the finger of God on tables of stone, which were destroyed by Moses; it specified those on the second set of tables in different form and substance, but still without saying how the other were recovered. But the whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful, that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it; and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the other texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right from the cause to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine.

There is nothing in the writings, or public acknowledgements of any of the other three Presidents that contradict Jefferson's sentiments here. They were all men of Reason. Therefore, if we include the deistic-unitarians in the Lowest Common Denominator of Monotheism, we would have to exclude the notion that the Ten Commandments were divinely given by God.

What we would be left with in our Lowest Common Denominator is this: There is a God; He grants us unalienable rights; He is concerned about human beings and will intervene, especially if we don't respect the unalienable rights of others and nothing more. None of the above four Presidents ever more specifically defined the attributes of God when publicly acknowledging Him.

In other words, the religion that founds our public order is the natural religion of the Founders; "Nature" meaning what is knowable through Reason, not Revelation. This vague natural religion is our civic religion; Revealed religion is to be consigned to the private sphere of society (as Harvey Mansfield, Michael Zuckert and Walter Berns argue that our Founders, after Locke, intended).

Here is another problem for the "Christian Nation" crowd: If we define the attributes of "Nature's God's" too specifically, their consciences will be the next --after the atheists and polytheists -- to be gored. For instance, in his 1813 letter that I am fond of quoting, written in the context of Britain's repeal of a law that made it a crime to deny the Trinity, John Adams writes this to the militant anti-Trinitarian, Thomas Jefferson:

We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature's God, that two and two are equal to four....This revelation had made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one....Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine glory, and there been told that one was three and three one, we might not have had the courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

What Adams is saying here is quite profound: The same theory -- "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" -- which gives us our principles upon which we erected our government also reveals Nature's God to be unitarian!!! I could offer quotes that demonstrate the unitarianism of Jefferson and Franklin as well. And they together made up a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration of Independence. We could say that the Declaration of Independence refutes Trinitarian Christianity. But there's a problem isn't there? There were many Trinitarian Christians in the nation who supported the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution and Constitution. And they didn't understand Nature's God this way.

The problem is easy avoided by being vague and refusing to identify the attributes of God when publicly invoking Him any more than 1) He exists, 2) He created us and grants us rights, and 3) will Intervene to do Justice. There is no good reason to believe that He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Reason never "discovered" or "confirmed" that.
Sandefur on Limbaugh:

Wow this is cool. Sandefur was interviewed on Rush Limbaugh. Check it out.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Duck, Duck...Goooooose!!!

Uh, no Clayton, I do believe that's a Mallard Duck.
Exploring the Coercive Establishment Norm:

More thoughts on the Ten Commandments. I have to admit, my mind isn't fully made up on how to properly apply the Establishment Clause to every detail of government and life. I do believe, as a matter of constitutional principle, government must be neutral between the different sects of all religions, whether orthodox or not, and neutral between religion and non-religion. Justice Scalia disagrees:

With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that "'the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between. . . religion and nonreligion,'"...Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principlethat the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today’s opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another . . . . If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word "God," or "the Almighty," one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists . . . .

The problem for Justice Scalia is that both Jefferson and Madison held that, when respecting religious rights, government must be neutral between all religions and between religion and non-religion, that the rights of conscience apply to in Jefferson's words, "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." Here is Madison confirming Jefferson's account.

A more apt point might be that government doesn't have to, in every instance, be neutral, but only when some tangible right is on the line. To use a recent example, Bush when he engages in public prayer, and to his credit, attempts to be inclusive, far more so than many of his religious right supporters would be. He's actually included the name "Allah" and claimed that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. Because he is the President and was speaking in his official capacity, this sent the message to some that our government recognizes that "Allah is the same God as the God of the Bible."

I distinctly remember one fundamentalist think-thank lady from CWFA or FRC objecting to this, claiming that she doesn't pray to Allah and that Allah is not the God of the Bible. In other words, the government through its official act offended her conscience (although Bush was attempting to be neutral between Christianity & Islam; imagine if a government official were to endorse that Islam, not Christianity contains the Truth). But did she suffer any tangible harm?

This is where Thomas and his notion of "coercive establishments" comes in. I think Thomas is wrong in believing that the EC isn't properly incorporated at all; but he states, were it properly incorporated, the EC should prohibit only certain types of establishments which cause tangible harm, or that are "coercive":

Even if the Clause is incorporated, or if the Free Exercise Clause limits the power of States to establish religions, our task would be far simpler if we returned to the original meaning of the word "establishment" than it is under the various approaches this Court now uses. The Framers understood an establishment "necessarily [to] involve actual legal coercion." "In other words, establishment at the founding involved, for example, mandatory observance or mandatory payment of taxes supporting ministers." And "government practices that have nothing to do with creating or maintaining … coercive state establishments” simply do not "implicate the possible liberty interest of being free from coercive state establishments."

There is no question that, based on the original meaning of the Establishment Clause, the Ten Commandments display at issue here is constitutional. In no sense does Texas compel petitioner Van Orden to do anything. The only injury to him is that he takes offense at seeing the monument as he passes it on his way to the Texas Supreme Court Library. He need not stop to read it or even to look at it, let alone to express support for it or adopt the Commandments as guides for his life. The mere presence of the monument along his path involves no coercion and thus does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Thomas may be on to something. I'm loathe to endorse, as a matter of constitutional principle, that government actions which do nothing more than offend someone's religious sensibilities, like the mere invocation of some God in which one doesn't believe, should be a federal issue. But on the other hand, when government has a program which gives out funds, offers any kind of tangible protections or privileges, it must do so on an equal and neutral basis.

However, let's explore some of the implications of Thomas's rule. First, what I call the "Newdow trap." I've seen Michael Newdow, in his debates, lay this trap when debating religious opponents, who almost always fall in. He argues, "if 'under God' is fine, then what if some public school wanted 'under no God' or 'under Allah'?" The opponents always balk. They say, "no that's not okay." But in what sense? It's perfectly fair for them to argue, as matter of public policy, I wouldn't support "under no God" or "under Allah"...ok, but what about as a matter of constitutional principle? What if some small socialist controlled town in Vermont, or Muslim controlled school board in Mich. democratically enacted such policies? Should they be struck down on constitutional grounds?

Under the "coercive Establishment Clause" norm, they should be okay, at least constitutionally. Usually the opponents of the "Newdow Trap" attempt to change the debate by arguing that we are a "Christian Nation" or a "Judeo-Christian" nation, that the Judeo-Christian tradition is what establishes liberty in the first place. Two problems with that: First, the history is questionable. Second, it doesn't matter. What is indefensible is to argue that the Christian religions, or "Judeo-Christian" religions are entitled to any more Constitutional protection than the unorthodox religions. In other words, if non-coercive Judeo-Christian Establishments are fine, then so too must be non-coercive unorthodox and atheistic establishments.

So all of the following would be fine as a matter of constitutional principle as non-coercive establishments. The following are all some kind of government proclamations, which cause no tangible harm:

If Utah wants to proclaim itself to be "the Mormon state."

If a Protestant Fundamentalist governor, speaking in his official capacity, were to refer to the Roman Catholic Church as "the Whore of Babylon." Or if Protestant fundamentalist dominated town wants to erect a government billboard declaring the Catholic Church to be "the Whore of Babylon." Remember, as long as they let the Catholics worship as they please, or don't bar them from government "privileges" that other religions can get or tangibly harm them in any way, it's just a billboard, nothing else.

If a socialist town erects a billboard stating, "there is no God."

If a town erects a statute to the God Bael and puts it in the public park.

Remember, all of these things may be bad public policies, but under Thomas's "no coercive Establishments," they are fine constitutionally. As I said, my mind isn't made up.
Ten Commandments and the Establishment Clause:

The Court ruled 5-4, in an opinion written by O'Connor, that they can't be displayed.

This should make for some fun reading & blogging. BTW: Even though I am a secularist, I don't find this case to be an easy one. Based on current Establishment Clause precedent, I think the case is rightly decided. But then again, I'm not sure if such precedent is entirely proper.

But on the other hand I do disagree with the notion that only the Free Exercise Clause should be incorporated, that the Establishment Clause properly is a federalism only provision that prevents Congress from establishing a national religion and prohibits Congress from otherwise interfering with state establishments.

Rather as I have written before, the natural rights theory that undergirds the religion clauses is that man has unalienable free and equal rights of conscience. Whereas incorporating the Free Exercise clause protects freedom of conscience, it does not fully protect equality of conscience. And something else has to do that. It could be the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection clause, or the Privileges or Immunities Clause.

But ultimately if a particular move by a government doesn't violate anyone's freedom or equality of conscience, I don't think government should be forbidden from doing it, even if it results in an intermingling of Church & State. Vouchers are the perfect example: If they are available on a generally applicable, neutral basis, -- if they can go to a Christian school, Muslim school, Scientologist school, Socialist school, Atheist school, Prep school, etc., then they are fine.

Now, how does the Ten Commandments issue relate to the norm that I have just posited? I'm not fully sure yet.

Update: It appears that there was a split. The Kentucky display was struck down, 5-4, while the Texas display was upheld, 5-4.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Our Founders' "Benevolent" God:

In doing research on the Founders & Religion, I'm struck how they raised many of the same moral problems with the God of fundamentalist Christianity that we freethinkers and secularists raise today.

This may surprise some readers; I consider myself to be pretty open minded on religious matters regarding whether there is any Truth to be found there, certainly more so than some of the militant atheists/materialists who I am sure read my blog. I am not an atheist and think it's entirely possible, likely even, that a supernatural force created the universe. But there are certain things to which I have closed my mind. For instance, I have closed my mind to the possibility that Allah called those 19 high-jackers to ram our airplanes into our buildings and rewarded them with 70 virgins in Heaven. Likewise I've closed my mind to the possibility that God would send the overwhelming majority of the human race to Hell for all of eternity, for not figuring out the "right" religion, for belonging to the "wrong" Church, not accepting Jesus as Savior and becoming "born-again," etc. And I have closed my mind to that possibility for the same reason that I have closed my mind to the first: Both would seem to indicate a malevolent, unjust God being in charge of the universe. And that cannot possibly be so.

And Jefferson and Adams thought the exact same thing. They believed in a kinder, more benevolent God than the God of fundamentalist Christianity. These Founders had utter contempt for John Calvin and Calvinism. And a big source their dispute with Calvin was his teachings on the doctrine of eternal damnation.

Here is a passage from an 1823 letter from Jefferson to Adams.

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.

That little passage says many things. While Jefferson's God was a "benevolent governor of the world," Calvin's was a "daemon of malignant spirit." Something else... I've noted on this blog that whereas our Founders weren't orthodox in their religious beliefs, they did believe a religious citizenry to be superior to an irreligious one. While that's true, we should caution before we conclude that they therefore supported fanatical fundamentalist Christianity as being good for society. Jefferson's letter indicates that "it would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin."

As Mark Lilla wrote in the NY Times, the Founders wanted the citizenry to be religious, but they also wanted religion to "liberalize [] doctrinally, [and] become less credulous and dogmatic, more sober and rational."

It's also interesting to note that Jefferson claims that Adams believed in the same "benevolent God" that he does. I've read much of their correspondence, and I found this to be a pleasant surprise about Adams. Many are under the misconception that Adams was an orthodox Christian; he wasn't. His personally held religious views were almost identical to Jefferson's.

Here is Adams, again in correspondence with Jefferson, on his disbelief in the doctrine of eternal damnation and his distaste for Calvinism.

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal ... his presence is as extensive as space. It is said that he created this speck of dirt—the earth—and the human species for his glory. And then, the orthodox theologians say, he chose to make nine-tenths of our species miserable forever, for his greater glory.

Now, my friend Jefferson, can prophecies and miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power created and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, only in the end to make them miserable forever, and for no other purpose than his own glory?

Wretch! What is glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions…but I believe no such thing. My adoration for the author of the universe is too profound, too sincere. The love of God and his creation—delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence—are my religion.

The Calvinist, the Athanasian [Rowe: formulators of the doctrine of the Trinity] divines ... will say I am no Christian. I say they are no Christians, and there the account is balanced.

Something else that has surprised me in my research is that not only did Adams and Jefferson possess nearly identical religious beliefs, Washington's, Franklin's, and Madison's religious beliefs differed little if in any way at all from Jefferson's and Adam's.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Blogger pics:

Blogger now allows you to upload images from your computer.

Here are two taken from last week at the Beach at Seaside Park, New Jersey where my parents have a house.

What is out of the ordinary about this pic?

Hint: It has something to do with what Superman is holding.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Guy gets fired for writing dumb article:

J. Matt Barber was fired by Allstate apparently for writing this pathetically stupid article on homosexuality. His firing raises lots of interesting issues.

First off, were I in charge I wouldn't have fired him, or disciplined him in any way. He wrote the article on his own time and as long as it didn't interfere with work, I think it is unfair for this private corporation to interfere with what the guy does in his off hours. And were this a government job, the firing would be illegal, on Free Speech grounds.

But we take our Free Speech rights against the government, not against private corporations. Corporations, under the doctrine of employment-at-will, may fire an employee for speech with which the corporation disagrees as well as for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Unless of course, the complainant can tie the firing to one of the many exceptions carved out against employment at will, most notably, discrimination. But, as my students and most ordinary people have a hard time appreciating, something isn't "illegal discrimination" if it appears merely to be unfair or irrational. Rather the discrimination must relate to one of the "protected categories," and those are few and limited in number. At the federal level we have, "race, color, ethnic origin, gender, religion, pregnancy, age and disability." More at the state and local level. But if your claim isn't on the list (for instance, they fired me because I refused to cut my long hair) then you can be fired or otherwise discriminated against for it under the doctrine of employment-at-will.

So this guy is arguing "religious discrimination." Is that right? They didn't say, "you are a Christian or a Catholic or a whatever, therefore you are fired." Presumably, the firm knew he was a devout Christian for many years and had no problem with him...until that is, he wrote this pathetically stupid article on his own time.

As Mr. Barber notes: "I explained to Allstate that the article was a reflection of my personal Christian beliefs, and that I had every right to both write it and to have it published...."

Does he have a case under current law? Well, given that this is a private corporation, the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause is not at issue. However, Title VII does forbid private entities from engaging in religious discrimination and also does impose a burden to accommodate religious beliefs or practices. The EEOC's website says, "Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer." But also that, "An employer is not required to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and practices if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employers' legitimate business interests."

That's case right there. I'm not sure how it should or would come out under current law. On the one hand stating or writing something along the lines of "my religious beliefs tell me that all voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are immoral" clearly is an expression of a religious belief that one would think companies have a duty to accommodate under Title VII. But this guy's article goes far beyond that citing, you got it, Paul Cameron's phony, debunked social science:

As a result of the concerted effort by liberals to mask the devastating effects of the gay lifestyle, many people are shocked to learn that the average life expectancy of a homosexual male is only about 45 years old -- 30 years younger than that of a heterosexual male.

And many fundamentalist Christian dupes of Paul Cameron are even more "shocked" to learn that they are peddling a phony statistic.

The guy is also guilty of making extremely stupid arguments. Was it his Christianity or his stupidity that got him fired?:

For one to believe that homosexual behavior, the act of sodomy in particular, follows the biological order of things, one must ignore the fact that sodomy violates natural law -- you know... wrong plumbing...square hole/round peg. The whole thing really is a testament to man's creativity. Give us something good, and we'll bend over backwards to twist it into something else.

I wonder if this guy, like 90% of other heterosexuals has oral sex with his wife, which in every way violates the "wrong plumbing" norm that he is trying to put forth. Or if not, then why isn't he railing against that which is far more common than what homosexuals do?

Without delving into the overly descriptive mechanics, suffice it to say that, scientifically speaking, the sexual act was designed for procreation -- nothing more, nothing less... I know, not very romantic, but we're talking science here. Further, the design behind the human digestive system was solely and entirely intended for digestion, not for makeshift sexual activity -- there's not a sex organ in the mix. The notion that the act of sodomy is a natural, biological event simply does not square with biological reality. It may be PC but it sure ain't BC.

Well, if "sexual act[s are] designed for procreation -- nothing more, nothing less," that would require him to railing against contraception, even between good married Christian couples -- again, something practiced far more widely than homosexuality -- and every bit as "un-BC."

What's also interesting about this case is the way it sheds light on "civil rights" laws. Gays often get accused of unfairly making an analogy to blacks. In fact, in the offending article, that's exactly what Mr. Barber says:

[W]hat is homosexuality? Is it a status -- a state of being -- a word that typifies one's membership in a suspect, minority class no different than Black or Female? Let's consider... To be Black or Female, one need only be Black or Female. Membership in either class is contingent upon nothing. It's a state of being, which represents entirely neutral qualities (i.e., skin color and/or gender). On the other hand, homosexuality is contingent upon something... behavior -- a person's actions -- choices made -- their "sexual preference." It's the end result of choosing to define one's identity based upon with whom, and how one elects to have sex.

But the WND article quotes David Gibbs, of The Christian Law Association, the attorney representing Barber in the Title VII claim:

Gibbs compared the situation to that of racial discrimination.

"Just like Allstate can't go in and say, 'We've discovered your ethnicity and we're going to fire you,' I don't believe Allstate should be able to go in and say, 'We've discovered your anti-homosexuality viewpoint and we're going to fire you.'"

This reminds me of a point made by Steve Miller in his classic article about discrimination:

David Boaz...has highlighted the issue of consistency about different protected classes. "Conservatives say gays shouldn't be protected, but blacks should, because being gay is something you choose, unlike your race," he writes. "But their reasoning is doubly wrong in that case: Most of us believe you DON'T choose your sexual orientation; but you DO choose your religion, which category conservatives want to protect." In fact, religious rightists, especially those who are "born again," stress that their brand of faith is something freely chosen. And, of course, many choose to adopt a faith different from their upbringing, while others abandon faith entirely.

Some conservative African-Americans, most notably General Colin Powell, claim that gays don't deserve protections because you can hide your sexual orientation, but not your race. While that's true enough, you can also hide your religious beliefs, yet no "anti gay rights" conservative to date has been willing to abandon hypocrisy and say that civil rights protections also should not extend to religion.

In fact, a growing number of civil rights cases before the federal courts focus on claims of workplace discrimination against fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews. Many of these involve the plaintiffs' claim that requiring them to work on certain religious holidays amounts to discrimination, even though all employees are expected to work on those days (talk about demanding special rights!).

Let me also note that while First Amendment and Article VI of the Constitution reflect a norm of government neutrality towards religion, as with Free Speech (which right we have against government, not private employing entities), the rationale for government religious neutrality does not easily extend to the private sector. Indeed, while the First Amendment has been with us since the beginning, it wasn't until 1964 with Title VII that private entities were forbidden from discriminating on the basis of religion.

Even if one accepts that private entities should be neutral on the basis of race, why should private entities be neutral on the basis of religion, which by nature involves controversial beliefs? Religious rightists like Mr. Barber argue vociferously that private entities should be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If so, then why not religion?

For instance, it's often argued that "Christian" owners should be able to refuse to rent their property to gay couples or hire them in their businesses. Let's put the shoe on the other foot -- there are a lot of gay property and business owners as well. Why then shouldn't a gay property owner or business owner be able to categorically refuse to rent to or hire orthodox Christians who hold views on homosexuality which he finds repugnant? If the gay person did this, he would be violating Title VII as well as many state and local laws. Such discrimination against gay people, however, is legal at the federal level and under most state and local anti-discrimination codes.

I'm not going to say anything about this lamentable decision that hasn't already been by others.

I didn't vote for either Bush or Kerry. Hopefully the silver-lining of the Bush administrating will be picking Justices that will move the Court in a more libertarian direction. We can hope. As Andrew Sullivan says:

It seems to me that the most inspired pick for the Supreme Court would be a thoroughgoing economic and social libertarian. The freedom-loving part of the Republican coalition has already been alienated in so many ways by this administration. A libertarian SCOTUS pick would go some way to winning them back.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

First Things on Deism:

I don't often endorse articles by First Things, but this one by Avery Cardinal Dulles is interesting and quite good. I'm doing some research on the Deism of the Founding Era. I might want to write/publish something on it, or if not expect it to be one of the continuing themes of this blog because there is confusion on both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, the claim from the secular left that "just about all the Founders were Deists, and believed in a remote Watchmaker God who didn't intervene" is wrong. But so too is the claim by David Barton et al., and believed by millions of fundamentalists that only a handful of Founders were Deists, the rest inspired fundamentalist Christians like themselves who wanted to "found" the US as a "Christian Nation," in a public sense.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. The article details the evolution of Deism which was a product of Enlightenment thinking. And as such, early Enlightenment thinkers were responsible for Deism's genesis. For instance, while Locke and Newtown weren't Deists in the strict sense, they paved the way for it by putting the focus on man's Reason and away from Revelation. It's true that there were earlier "rationalist" in Christendom, like Aquinas. But whereas Aquinas used Reason to strengthen Revelation and Church Dogma, Locke and Newton used Reason to break with the traditional dogmas of the day -- most notably the Trinity -- and clearly made Revelation subservient to Reason.

From the article:

Shortly after its invention by Lord Herbert, deism received indirect support from the physics of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704). The physical world, according to Newton, was explicable in terms of "insurmountable and uniform natural laws" that could be discovered by observation and formulated mathematically. By mastering these laws human reason could explain cosmic events that had previously been ascribed to divine intervention. The beauty and variety of the system, Newton believed, was irrefutable evidence that it had been designed and produced by an intelligent and powerful Creator. Close though he was to deism, Newton differed from the strict deists insofar as he invoked God as a special physical cause to keep the planets in stable orbits. He believed in biblical prophecies, but rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation as irrational.

Newton's close friend John Locke, though not a deist, supplied an epistemological grounding for deism more plausible than the innatism of Lord Herbert. Beginning with human experience of the external world, he accepted a version of the argument from causality that demonstrated, as he thought, the existence of God as the uncaused Necessary Being, eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing. Locke also believed in Christian revelation on the ground of biblical prophecies and miracles. But he held that reason should be the ultimate judge of all truth and that the firmness of our assent to any proposition should not exceed the strength of the evidence that we could produce in its favor. It followed that revealed truths, which rested on indirect proofs from reports in Scripture and tradition, were less certain than things known directly by reason. He rejected certain Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, which in his judgment failed to meet the test of rational coherence....

From Locke's system it was but a small step to deism. In 1696 his disciple John Toland published the book Christianity not Mysterious, in which he attributed the mysteries of Christianity to pagan conceptions and the machinations of priestcraft. In 1730 another disciple, Matthew Tindal, published the book Christianity as Old as Creation, in which he sought to demonstrate that all rational creatures have access to "a law of nature or reason, absolutely perfect, eternal, and unchangeable; and that the design of the gospel was not to add to, or take from this law," but only to rescue humankind from superstition. Tindal's work, more radical than Toland's, came be used as a kind of Bible of deism. Both Toland and Tindal were Christian deists; they accepted revelation but maintained that it was nothing more than a republication of the religion of pure reason. Reason alone, they believed, could establish the fundamental truths necessary for salvation.

The article goes on to mention -- something many don't understand -- that there were different kinds of deism: The more radical versions of deism that posited a strictly non-interventionist God, and softer versions that believed in an intervening Providence.

Three forms of deism may be distinguished, at least schematically. The first, most friendly to faith, admitted two channels of truth: reason, which gave access to the essential and necessary truths, and revelation, which communicated certain supplementary truths, useful but not essential for salvation. According to the second version, revelation was an aid to reason, but it could do no more than confirm or clarify truths accessible to reason alone. The most radical form held that reason was the sole font of truth and that revelation was nonexistent.

Our founders -- the ones we would call "Deists" -- were comprised of all three but probably mainly the second kind of Deism. He even uses the term "Christian Deist" for those founders who were members of Christian Churches but had deistic tendencies. (How we label such founders is a matter of controversy among scholars. Do we call a member of a Christian Church, who may believe in an intervening Providence, but nonetheless rejects much of his Church's or orthodox Christianity's dogma which he regards as "irrational," and puts his faith in Man's Reason, a Christian, Deist, (small u) unitarian, theistic-rationalist, deistic-unitarian, Christian-deist?)

He also weighs in on the categorizing the Founders, always interesting and controversial.

The deist outlook also gained a foothold in the American colonies, where it became popular among the rich and well-born about the time of the Revolution. Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, the theological leanings of some twenty have been identified. Three have been characterized as deists: Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island. Two others, John Adams of Massachusetts and George Wythe of Virginia, are described as liberal Christians strongly influenced by deism. Four, including Jefferson's friend Benjamin Rush, were liberals not inclined toward deism. About eleven were definitely orthodox believers. Samuel Huntington, Philip Livingston, and John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University, were prominent in this last group.

Among the founders of the American republic who were not signers of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, James Madison, and George Mason were religious liberals leaning toward deism. Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton were generally orthodox Christians opposed to deism.

I knew Adams (Samuel not John) and Henry to be orthodox Christians, but I thought Hamilton was like Washington, a nominal Christian with deist leanings.
Burr on homosexuality's biological origins:

Chandler Burr is probably the best advocate for the notion that homosexuality is a biological, structural trait that is clearly not a choice.

The above link provides lots of interesting information. It gives another extremely useful analogy to homosexuality: left-handedness. The analogy however, shouldn't be overused, given that left-handedness in no way implies sexual behavior and homosexuality does. The analogy is most useful in demonstrating the unchosen and "built-in" (structural) aspect of homosexuality. In other words, saying something along the lines of (as the religious right commonly does) "every time a homosexual chooses to have sex, he is making voluntary, conscious choice, thus homosexuality is a chosen phenomenon" may be technically true but makes about as much sense as "every time a left-handed baseball player chooses to bat left-handed instead of right-handed, he is making a voluntary, conscious choice, thus left-handedness is a chosen phenomenon."

As the Burr article demonstrates, the parallels between the two orientations are striking. If homosexuality is a "behavioral" phenomenon, then so too is left-handedness. In terms of identical twins, left-handedness, like homosexuality has high concordance rates, and unlike with eye-color or hair-color, identical twins often have different types of handedness. In fact, as Burr notes:

But -- surprise -- with sexual orientation, both twins share the trait homosexuality more often than they do left-handedness -- yet no one would claim this is evidence that left-handedness is a "chosen alternative lifestyle" because left-handedness isn't seen as a moral issue -- any more.

We've often been told that "there is no gay gene" because a "smoking gun" gene has yet to be identified. But guess what, no "left-handed gene" has been identified either. And there is no more evidence of a "left-handed gene" than a gay gene.

Here's another thing most people don't understand: We don't need to discover the genes to know that you don't "choose" your sexual orientation any more than we need to find eye-color genes to know you don't "choose" your eye color. We're closing in on the genes that make us heterosexual or homosexual. Geneticists, using the clinician's research, have begun to look for the underlying biological determinants of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality. In ten, twenty, or thirty years, we'll probably have figured it out. We've got the basics already. In early 2005 in the highly-respected biomedical journal Human Genetics, the team of Dr. Brian Mustanski of the University of Illinois at Chicago identified three chromosomal regions linked to sexual orientation in men: 7q36, 8p12, and 10q26....No one questions that blue eyes occur more frequently in Caucasians than in Asians, but we don't know this by finding the genes for eye color; we know it by clinical observation of the distribution of eye color in people all over the world. No one questions that about 7.8% of all human beings are left-handed, but we don't get that information from genes -- in fact, as of yet, we have no idea where the genes for handedness are -- we get it, again, from clinical observation. We don't need to find the genes for sexual orientation to know that people don't "choose" to be heterosexual any more than we need to find genes for handedness to know that people don't "choose" to be right-handed. Among scientists, this is as obvious as the sky being blue.

A couple of comments. I think that the "choice" matter of homosexuality can be overplayed by both sides. Homosexuality isn't the only other thing, like left-handedness, that can be reduced to "this isn't a choice but part of my make-up." See this article by Virginia Postrel.

For instance, if we discovered that pedophilia or the desire of men to sexually dominate women had similar biological or evolutionary groundings in human nature, that wouldn't make them any less wrong.

Ultimately, the same thing that justifies homosexuality is the same thing that justifies left-handedness. And that is this: Clearly there is nothing "wrong" with the underlying behavior. Rather, a southpaw can use his left-hand to do good things (like petting his dog with his left hand) or bad things (like beating his children with his left hand) or indifferent things (like playing guitar left-handed). Similarly, one can have moral, immoral, or morally neutral homosexual sex.

And given that there is nothing wrong with the underlying behavior, we might expect to see people who don't have the primary orientation participating in the behaviors nonetheless, if they so desire. Here is where the analogy may begin fall apart a little because just about everyone is ambidextrous to *some* extent (for instance, I -- a righty -- am typing this post with both hands), but it's doubtful that everyone is bisexual to *some* extent. I believe that a lot of folks probably do have pure homosexual or heterosexual orientations.

But, on the other hand, I don't believe that the 97% of society that self-identifies itself as "heterosexual" has a "pure" heterosexual orientation. Cross-cultural studies indicate that a shockingly high rate of any given society's heterosexual population has the ability to enjoy homosexual acts to *some* extent (Maybe 1/3?). But again, this shouldn't surprise. An equally high number of right-handed folks probably have the ability to "learn" how to function lefty (like the right-handed batter who switch hits) with *some* degree of skill. But we also understand that the underlying right-handed orientation doesn't change there. And we further understand "real" ambidextrous folks to be those who are equally skilled and comfortable, right-handed as left-handed, not those folks who are primarily right-handed but have the ability to function as lefties to *some* extent. And I've argued on this blog that bisexuals should likewise be understood in this way.

I think the "choice" issue is also relevant in this respect: Given that homosexuality, like left-handedness is unchosen, and given that there is nothing wrong with either the underlying left-handed or homosexual behaviors per se, society then therefore has a duty to accommodate homosexuals as we do southpaws.

Imagine a baseball game where the "rule" was everyone had to play right-handed. Let's say a few righties liked to switch-hit (I'm not much of a sports fan; they do this to confuse the pitcher?) and they'd have to give that up; not much of a sacrifice on their part, right? Similarly if society says, "heterosexual behavior only," then those heterosexuals who might like to engage in homosexual acts for release might have to make a small sacrifice. Pure heteros would be giving nothing up. But the "righty only" rule obviously dramatically and unfairly impacts the left-handed player. So too does a "hetero only" rule unfairly burden homosexuals.

Thanks to Steve Miller's CultureWatch for the link and the discussion on my post about gays, civil rights laws and the analogies to blacks or Jews.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Non-racial ethnic discrimination:

Yesterday in the context of discussing sexual orientation discrimination, I wrote:

I have also seen it erroneously argued that because gays are not economically impoverished, they are thereby disqualified from any minority status....But even if gays are more affluent than straights (which if you've seen the neighborhoods in which gays disproportionately congregate, they appear to be), so too are Jews more affluent and better educated than Gentiles. And a similar point can be made regarding Asians to Caucasians. So do we then conclude that Jews and Asians are thereby forbidden from any bona-fide civil rights protection on the basis of their religion/ethnicity/race?


Homosexuals historically may not have been treated as badly as the blacks, but could argue that they've gotten it every bit as bad if not worse than women, the pregnant, the aged, the disabled, and most non-racial ethnic groups which are all protected.

So what about all of those non-racial ethnic minorities? Here is a story detailing one such claim brought by Frenchmen. Yes, individuals of French ethnic origin suing because they were discriminated against on the basis of their Frenchness (that's not a word, is it?). Being French is a protected civil rights category.

Do gays have to prove that they've been treated as badly as the blacks in America in order to be qualified for civil rights protection? Or just the French?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Jews are a better analogy to Gays:

Than blacks. I agree with Andrew Sullivan. Let us remember that when we are dealing with analogies we can always distinguish in some way or another between what we are comparing; that's why we call them analogies, not duplicates. And although there certainly are similarities between blacks and gays, comparing the two in the context of a pro-gay argument often can be rhetorically ineffective. What blacks have been through in America is so unique that they can meaningfully distinguish themselves from any group that tries to make a comparison.

A few points:

Simply making an argument for sexual orientation "civil rights" anti-discrimination protection, does not, by itself equate with comparing blacks to gays because "race" is not the only category to receive such protection. If we lived in a world where race and only race were a civil rights category, then that criticism would be apt. But that's not the world we live in. Instead it's not only race that is protected, but also color, ethnicity, gender, pregnancy, religion, age and disability, at the federal level, and many more categories at the state and local levels.

The relevant question is, as Richard Posner puts it,

[G]iven Title VII and cognate laws, is there any reason to exclude homosexuals from a protected category that already includes not only racial, religious, and ethnic groups but also women, the physically and mentally handicapped, all workers aged 40 and older, and in some cases, even young healthy male WASPS? Is there less, or less harmful, or less irrational discrimination against homosexuals than against the members of any of these other groups? The answer is no.

Sex and Reason, p. 323

Also if we are going to say that homosexuals may never analogize their circumstance to blacks in any way, then we must also say that none of these other groups may either. Homosexuals historically may not have been treated as badly as the blacks, but could argue that they've gotten it every bit as bad if not worse than women, the pregnant, the aged, the disabled, and most non-racial ethnic groups which are all protected.

I have also seen it erroneously argued that because gays are not economically impoverished, they are thereby disqualified from any minority status. To repeat, this is an utterly flawed notion. First, whether gays are economically impoverished is a matter of dispute. I tend to disagree with Prof. Badgett's thesis to which I linked. But even if gays are more affluent than straights (which if you've seen the neighborhoods in which gays disproportionately congregate, they appear to be), so too are Jews more affluent and better educated than Gentiles. And a similar point can be made regarding Asians to Caucasians. So do we then conclude that Jews and Asians are thereby forbidden from any bona-fide civil rights protection on the basis of their religion/ethnicity/race?

Ironically, this notion that religious right posits -- that gays aren't real minorities because they aren't economically impoverished -- has strong leftist overtones. It was Mary Francis Berry who once infamously said, "Civil rights laws were not passed to protect the rights of white men and do not apply to them." Therefore "race" cannot mean "white" and "gender" cannot mean male (even though those terms are written in the statutes in such a "blind" manner) because whites and males are economically "privileged."

The conservative/libertarian view on the other hand thinks discrimination should be forbidden regardless of the economic status of the "group" in which a discriminated-against person is a member. If it's wrong to discriminate on the basis of race, then it's wrong to discriminate against whites and Asians, regardless that these "groups" are better off economically than blacks and Hispanics. Ditto with "males" and gender.

And that's because the conservative-libertarian view on this matter tends to be more individualistic as opposed to collectivistic. Sure whites and Asians as groups may be better off. But such discrimination occurs on an individual basis. And many whites and Asians who may be discriminated against are anything but economically privileged. The same thing can be said of gays.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Who is Roy Masters?

Kelly Hollowell's article discussing an email which explained to her "the actual mechanism behind intelligent design [-- t]hat is the mechanism by which God created the universe, our world and all biological life within it" and the evidence of this mechanism through physics -- reminded me of Roy Masters and his book "Finding God in Physics." I wouldn't be surprised if Hollowell's anonymous emailer was a follower of Masters. The reviews on Amazon indicate that Masters's book is not serious science any more than Intelligent Design in biology is serious science.

On another note, Roy Masters is quite an interesting character apart from all this. I've listened to and been amused by his radio show many times. His teachings are a mixture of Judeo-Christian fundamentalism, Eastern-New Age philosophy, Freudian psychology with the fundamentalist element coming out dominant. He sounds, at times, like a Protestant fundamentalist. But they regard him as a heretic and a cult leader. For instance, he denies the Trinity and teaches reliance on a New-Agey meditation exercise which Masters dubs "Judeo-Christian" meditation as essential for salvation.

Although he is fairly articulate, moderately well-read and a good "conversationalist" who enjoys to dialogue, he eschews the principles of logical debate, and instead relies on (what I would term, but he wouldn't) a "sub-Nietzchean assertiveness." "I'm right and you're wrong and know you are wrong, period." He's also full of himself and claims that anyone debating him will lose to his "will to power" (again, a term that he wouldn't use) and feel like they've just been hit by "a ton of bricks." He also can be quite rude and insulting to his followers and callers.

He attempts to attract religious fundamentalists as followers. And I've heard a number of them call him claiming to be "born-again" and "saved" only to have Masters reply "no you are not." He claims that one must have overcome his or her emotional problems in order to be saved and that it has taken him 50 or so years to "save his wife." He would reply to his callers, "you wouldn't be calling me with your problems if you were saved." Masters also claims that he doesn't sin (as I have heard him). Compare that with what he says here.

The absurd "I am without sin" quote attributed to me, and repeated endlessly by the media, to the best of my knowledge originally came from US magazine. As you can imagine, trying to describe the process of being "born again" to the average reporter is truly a dangerous prospect, especially if one's reputation will depend on that reporter's understanding of Christian mystery. I was so outraged by the seemingly intentional betrayal in that story that I sued US magazine. My case was so strong that the famous trial lawyer Melvin Belli took it on contingency. US eventually paid me in an, out-of-court settlement. But the damage that one article did to the Foundation of Human Understanding has been incalculable, because many Christians have believed it, and some have quoted it to others, who, however well-intentioned, spread this untruth to still others. Of course, only Jesus is without sin. To say otherwise is to deny the whole purpose of His coming into a sinful world in need of redemption. Thus, the Bible states that anyone who says he's without sin is a liar.

What Masters doesn't say here is that, while he may have sinned early on in life while he was still finding his way, he believes that he has achieved a point in his life where he doesn't sin anymore, hence his claiming that he doesn't sin, not that he is without sin.

Masters, in his hubris, claims to be a martial arts expert who, in his younger years, and still now in his 70s wouldn't hesitate to give someone a "knuckle-sandwich."

His son David had an extremely messy divorce from his wife that involved allegations of physical abuse from both Roy and David. In particular Roy got into a physical fight with his two granddaughters! It began when he accused them of being demon-possessed. He does claim, in his defense, that he was acting in self-defense. He said something along the lines of (forgive me I don't have a primary source from which to quote -- this is from memory), "when your grandchild is coming at you, you can't just stay there like a wimp and do nothing." So he slapped them down.

Masters has an interest in conservative media. His group owns the Talk Radio Network. Early on, he tried to break big with a "conservative journal," New Dimensions magazine, but when that started to hit it big, the religious right successfully quashed it, claiming that "The Washington Times, Insight (Unification Church), World Monitor (Christian Science), are not the only quality conservative publications owned by the cults." Some fundamentalists in the media don't regard him as dangerous; he is friendly with at least one of them, WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah, whom he knew from when both lived near one another in Oregon.

So are there any prominent figures who are followers of Masters? Yes. Michael Savage, who is part of Masters's Talk Radio Network. The "Reverend" Jesse Lee Peterson may be a follower of Masters, or if not he is one of his "Christian" allies. WorldNetDaily's Bob Just is a follower.

Most interestingly, Matt Drudge is a follower (Masters brags about this here and claims John Wayne to have been a follower as well.) It was even rumored that Drudge turned to Roy Masters and his meditation exercise in an attempt to become "ex-gay."
My blog translated into "Jive":

I can't believe what I found while doing a google. Check this out.
Why we outlaw polygamy:

Looking for evidence to distinguish polygamous unions from homosexual ones. Here it is.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Bruce Lee was only Human:

Someone emailed me a response to this old post that I wrote on Ultimate Fighting.

Sorry but I just had to respond to your ridiculous comment about Bruce Lee being taken out in seconds by UFC champs if he was to fight these days!

If you know anything about Bruce Lee, you'll realise that he was SUPER-HUMAN, yes in the leagues of Freud and Einstein. His speed would out fox ANY human on the planet, Ive seen plenty of fighters knock a jiu jitsu fighter completely senseless in UFC anyway. Saying martial arts is nothing like the Bruce Lee films is probably correct, although nothing faster will ever be seen on film again (that hasnt been speeded up). Ive seen footage of Bruce in real action and one virtually unseeable blow to a guys stomach rendered him sick for days.

Bruce would kill ANYONE head to head....if he were alive of course, and had he chose a different path in life be it nuclear science or ten pin bowling he would have been the best at it!

If Bruce Lee were truly superhuman he wouldn't have died at 32. This person aptly demonstrates the need that humans have for mythology and supernatural worship, turning merely human things into the superhuman.

If Bruce Lee in his prime were to fight, no-holds-barred, Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell, I'd bet my home mortgage, not only that Couture and Liddell would win, but do so within less than 5 minutes (probably less than one minute).

First off all, strength is more important than speed. It's important to have both; but if you have more than an average level of both, an abundance of size and mass is a superior tool. This is why we segregate fighters into weight classes. If you've ever seen the lean muscle on a 140-150 lb boxer, you'd know that they are stronger than normal folks. And if you've seen the likes of Muhammad Ali move in the ring, you'd know that he and heavyweights like him are not short on speed. Both types of boxers are stronger and faster than normal people. But heavyweights have an abundance of mass and strength, lighter boxers, speed. So why do we need weight classes then? Is it to protect the "stronger" heavier boxers from the "faster" lightweights? I don't think so.

So Bruce Lee's "speed" is not the be-all and end-all of fighting. Arguably the fact that he was lighter and weaker than the heavyweights (technically they are light-heavyweights), like Liddell and Couture is a big factor against Lee right there.

I don't doubt he had power with his hands. You can watch TV shows today and see black-belt strikers break wood and brick with their bare hands. But when they get in the MMA ring, in the absence of serious cross-training in grappling, they get taken to the ground and beaten within minutes if not seconds. And that's because when a striker breaks wood or brick he always has a clear, unmoving target. This is not the same as facing a weaving and bobbing fighter, especially a lighting fast 200 plus pound Olympic Champion wrestler shooting at you.

As far as the claim: "Ive seen plenty of fighters knock a jiu jitsu fighter completely senseless in UFC anyway." I've seen just about all of the early UFCs and many of the later ones and rarely if ever did a striker beat a jujitsu expert or a champion wrestler until *the event* which I will explain below. If a striker -- especially one not trained on the ground -- could take out a champion grappler before things got to the ground, this was the rare, lucky exception to the observable pattern of the grappler taking the striker to the ground and beating him quickly.

The turning event in the UFC was when kick-boxer Maurice Smith beat Champion Wrestler Mark Coleman (both heavyweights, but Coleman was larger and stronger, Smith was quicker). And he did so by learning Jujitsu and learning how to survive on the ground. Coleman's major weakness was stamina. He was used to grounding and pounding his opponents into a very quick victory. Coleman, predictably got Smith to the ground right away. Smith held him off on the ground, using the defensive jujitsu guard (literally defending yourself while lying on your back) until Coleman ran out of steam, and then Smith beat him with strikes. Shortly thereafter, everyone cross-trained. And no matter what a UFC member's background -- boxing, karate -- they all learned serious ground skills (jujitsu and wrestling) if they wanted to compete. The wrestlers also learn how to defend against jujitsu and vice-versa.

I don't doubt that Bruce Lee had the talent to become a serious light-weight champion of the UFC, but that would be only if he were to, like everyone else, cross train and seriously learn the ground. He'd have to study for a few years (at least a year) with the Gracies and the NCAA College Wrestling coaches first, though.

Perhaps Lee did know the ground quite well; I haven't seen all of his movies but I have seen him perform a few submission holds. But one thing is for sure, if he were to fight with what he knew in his prime, Randy Couture would have him on the ground within seconds. And then all of Lee's stand-up striking wouldn't mean jack.
Blogroll is back!

As you can see, the blogroll is back. I linked to, among others, those who I knew off the top of my head blogroll me. I know there are others and I will get to you soon.

If you do blogroll me and you want me to return the favor, simply email me and I will do so.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

God, Evolution, and Intervention:

Outstanding post by Eugene Volokh on the Evolution-ID battle. Evolution, according to Volokh has no say on whether God exists and should be compatible with the notion that He does. Now, evolution might not be compatible with certain views about God and Creation. For instance: Young Earth Creation. Volokh discussed in his post a March 2001 Gallup News Service survey which reported that 45 percent of Americans agree with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so...." Now that's sad because it seems to me that science has definitely refuted this (Unless of course God created man in the past 10,000 years in his present form with evidence, a fossil record going back millions of years, of evolution. But then we'd have to ask why is God "planting" evidence which belies the Biblical interpretation that one is arguing for?).

But what about the other two statements in the survey?

...while 37 percent preferred a blended belief that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," and...12 percent accepted the standard scientific theory that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process."

It seems to me that either statement in no way contradicts good science. There is no scientific evidence, pro or con, that God did or did not guide the process of evolution. That takes us outside the realm of "science" and into the realm of "faith."

Permit me to get a little philosophical. I'm going to try to take our Founders' view on God and Science and attempt to see how they might view this controversy today.

Our deistic-unitarian Founders (and by this I mean, not all of our Founders, but those most captured by the zeitgeist of "rationalism," arguably the majority of the most prominent Founders: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, and others) believed both in God and Man's Reason, but viewed Reason or Science (as opposed to Revelation) as ultimate arbiter of the Truth (and for this, some modern scholars have dubbed them "Theistic rationalists").

Although these men existed before Darwin, they probably would have accepted Darwin, because as men of science, they accepted what was considered to be the best science. But when I say "Darwin" I mean that they would be like those "37 percent [who] preferred a blended belief that 'Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,'" who are both Darwinists and theists, or "theistic evolutionists." Now it's possible that some would scrap their belief in God entirely because, as Volokh notes, "The more science explains processes that were once thought to be divinely or supernaturally operated (the movement of the planets, the spread of disease), the more likely it is, I think, that people will be skeptical of other claims of divine or supernaturally operated processes; that's not a logical mandate, but it is a psychological effect." But I'll assume that unless science contradicts a belief that the Founders' held, they'd hold onto it. Since science doesn't disprove God, our Founders would retain that belief. (Although I might be on weak ground insofar it could be argued that our Founders believed God to be a scientific reality, one of those "Self-Evident Truths" that Reason discovers. And that we have since discovered that science offers no "proof" in favor or against God.)

And our deist-unitarian Founders believed in an "interventionist" God. That's why I don't call them just "Deists," because you always get the reply: "But the Founders talked about a God who intervened; therefore...." Therefore what? That they weren't Deists, that they were orthodox Trinitarian Christians? The fact is many if not most of the men who understood themselves to be "Deists" at the time of our Founding, like Ben Franklin, believed in an interventionist God. As far as I understand, it wasn't until we got to the later stages of the Enlightenment that the Deists started believing more uniformly in a God who didn't at all intervene.

But here is the interesting thing: According to our Founders' beliefs, yes God intervened, but He didn't perform "miracles," if by "miracles" we mean acting in a way that breaks the laws of science and nature. He didn't part the Red Sea, turn Lot's wife to Salt, Walk on Water, or Turn Water into Wine, etc.

So when God did intervene, it must have occurred in a way consistent with the laws of science. Hence that would make God into a cosmic "dice-thrower" who could intervene by manipulating probabilities. For instance, remember in "Pulp Fiction" when Jules and Vincent were shot multiple times at point blank range and all of the bullets missed. What are the chances of that occurring? Jules thought it to be Divine Providence, while Vincent thought it to be a freak occurrence. (An aside: D. James Kennedy relays a similar story that supposedly happened to Washington while fighting the war where his coat revealed multiple bullet holes but, *miraculously* none hit Washington's body. Given Kennedy's track record of pushing phony history, I'll need more evidence before I believe in that one.)

Or take the last Baseball playoffs between Boston and New York where again, "miraculously", Boston, one game short of losing, came back 0-3 and won 4-straight. What were the odds of that occurring? It never occurred before.

God could be throwing the Evolutionary dice as well.

Now I'm not here to argue that God takes an *interest* in baseball games (who knows?), but if there is a God and if He does intervene, this is how He does it. I think our Founders and Darwinists would both be able to believe in this.
The Problem with Iraq:

I write this post with the assumption that liberating Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and spreading liberal democracy to that illiberal nation was a just thing to do.

However, my problem -- or I think *the* problem -- with the war is this: The populace is willing to stand for two types of wars.

1) A war that is not only "just" in its cause, but so grave an issue that we are willing to sacrifice so many men, perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions to fight it. The Civil War, The Revolutionary War, World War II were wars of the past that qualified. World War I, The Korean War and Vietnam exacted far more deaths and casualties than what we are facing now -- but even those wars I don't think qualify. We may have been willing to march off to war for WWI and Korea then, but Vietnam was the turning point in viewing war differently. Fighting those who would invade or perform acts of terrorism on US Soil certainly would qualify. Although Afghanistan won't exact those heavy casualties, insofar as we fought the Taliban who were in part responsible for 9-11 might place that war in this category. Certainly if Aliens from outer space were to invade the Earth tomorrow and attempt to enslave or exterminate us, that type of War would qualify.

And if the cause is so grave, then we would fight this war with such a level of desperation that we would send more than enough men and would do practically whatever it took to win as soon as possible. Look at what we did in World War II with Tokyo and Dresden, and then Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

2) A war, again where the cause is just -- like fighting down a bully who unjustly invaded its neighbor or protecting a religious or ethnic group from genocidal oppressors -- but where we can literally bomb the bad guys into submission with a statistically insignificant number of casualties on our side, like the first Iraq war or The Balkins.

And obviously we are not going to fight such a war with the level of intensity that we would fight wars in category number 1. We may consider fire-bombing the next Hitler, but we aren't going to fire-bomb Darfur like we did Dresden.

The problem is that today's Iraq War fits into category number 2 and the casualties that we are suffering are more than statistically insignificant. Can we handle them? Sure. But to the American populace, spreading democracy to illiberal lands and playing guardian to a bunch of warring tribal factions isn't worth the lives of our men. Our aid, our fire power? Perhaps. But lives? No.

So we either find a way to get things under control or we get out. And when we get out, we do so with a warning that, although we'd like you to have a well-functioning liberal democracy and we in good faith tried to make that happen, you can choose whatever form of government you'd like. But if you become an Islamofascist state and try to develop Nukes or host terrorists, we'll be back with our bombs next time. And we won't stay to help clean up.
Batman Begins:

Saw it; yes, Batman has redeemed himself from the last movie, which was a lamentable abortion.

A couple of thoughts. First off, the movie is being touted as a "prequel" to the earlier ones. I don't that's an accurate description. I think the movie is really a "reboot." It does not have "continuity" with the earlier movies (which is good, because after that 4th movie, it would be best to make a clean break).

For instance, the first Batman movie (Burton, Keaton, Nicholson) also dealt, at least briefly, with Batman's origins. And this movie differed in some important ways from the first. In the first, Jack Nicholson's pre-Joker character is the one who kills Bruce Wayne's parents. In Batman Begins, like in the comic books, it's "Joe Chill," a petty thief, who does it. Also, expect to see the Joker character "retold" in the next movie (differently than Nicholson's). And expect the Joker not to die in that one.

The earlier Batman series was heavy on "eye-candy." Tim Burton did a good job of balancing the "movie-effects" for Gotham City, with a Frank Miller inspired dark-Batman.

By the time we got to Val Kilmer/ George Clooney, they were still putting a decent effort into bringing us "eye-candy," but the rest of what they did was so abominable, it really didn't matter.

This movie did a complete 180 from the last Batman movie. Very dark, gritty, true to Batman's Miller inspired comic character (the "Batmobile" was right out of The Dark Knight Returns). But the movie also was a little short on the special effects. I think they could have done a little better job, with all of the new movie technology, in creating a Gotham Skyline that "out did" what Burton did in the first Batman movie.

But it's clear that this movie wanted to bring more substance that stylistic glitz. I'd imagine that the budget was fairly modest for a big-blockbuster movie.

Some suggestions for the next movie. Do what Sin City did. Pick out a Frank Miller Batman comic, shoot it right from the book, page for page, panel for panel, and don't change nuthin'. Coming soon, any time now, Frank Miller and Jim Lee are going to "re-tell" Dick Grayson's becoming Robin. Ordinarily, I wouldn't suggest introducing "Robin" which might provide an opportunity to slip into the "campy" Batman TV show direction, as did the previous two Batman movies. However, if they strictly stick to what Miller puts into that series, it will work. Here's what the series is going to be about in Miller's own words: "This is Dick Grayson's initiation and he's dealing with a very stern teacher. Batman is a hard teacher - unforgiving. Brutal."

Update: Oops. Forgot. The next Batman movie is going to be about The Joker, so it would make more sense to keep the Robin story for the 3rd (Gasp! Just like they did in the last run). If they are going to do a page-for-page, panel-for-panel remake of a Joker comic (and one that tells his origin to boot), then obviously they would have to do Alan Moore's and Brian Bolland's classic, The Killing Joke.