Saturday, April 01, 2006

Neuhaus on Waldman on the Founders and Religion:

Father Neuhaus addresses Stephen Waldman's article which claims that the Founders, though they were theists, were far from "evangelical Christian" types and that many evangelicals of the time (the Baptists) supported the Separation of Church and State. Neuhaus writes:

Well, yes and no....Of course Mr. Waldman and others are right in saying that the founders were not Bible-thumping fundamentalists of sweated born-againism along the lines of their caricature of Falwell and Robertson. The point is that people such as John Adams, Washington, Madison, and even Jefferson simply assumed the solidity of biblical (meaning Judeo-Christian) morality and its pertinence to the public order. Jefferson’s scissors-and-paste job on the teachings of Jesus only underscored what he took to be the self-evident truth of the Christian moral tradition.

To which I reply...Well, yes and no. It's true that the common morality during Founding times was different than it is today. You will hardly find any writings of theirs debating issues like abortion, sexuality, and the like. But they didn't view these things as "self-evident truths." It's important to understand what Jefferson et al. meant when they wrote of "self-evident Truths": They were those things that man could "discover" for himself from the use of his reason and senses. And man had recently discovered that he was born free and equal. Entire segments of traditional life had to be re-ordered to comport with these "new" discoveries. And indeed, things that are just accepted as "normal" according to "Judeo-Christian" morality have to give way to the self-evident Truth than man is by nature free and equal.

As Jefferson wrote:

“[L]aws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

One could argue that many things previously understood as "required" by "Judeo-Christian morality" -- sodomy laws, for instance -- are part of the "regimen of [our] barbarous ancestors."

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