Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Roy Moore Abuses James Madison:

As expected. Roy Moore invokes James Madison and his Memorial and Remonstrance in order to further his crusade to mix religion and government. How ironic this is given that Madison was the one Founder, even more than Jefferson, who believed in a "perfect separation" between Church and State.

Moore invokes Madison to assert "that liberty of conscience is a central principle of the Christian faith." A couple things need to be said. First, Madison wasn't a Christian, but a Theistic Rationalist. Second, Madison did indeed believe that liberty (and equality) of conscience was an unalienable natural right, universally possessed by all men regardless of their religious beliefs. But this wasn't because of his Christian faith, rather such was an Enlightenment "natural law/natural rights" teaching, discovered by "man's reason." Third, (the kernel of Truth in Moore's distortion), Madison's Remonstrance does indeed argue Christianity (properly understood) is consistent with its ideas. Moreover, Madison had many orthodox Christians -- particularly Baptists -- on his side in his battle. The Memorial and Remonstrance was written, in part, to argue for establishing religious liberty and separating church and state in a way in which both Enlightenment rationalists and (mainly dissident) evangelical Christians could agree.

However, 1) there is nothing I see in the explicit text of the Bible which says "liberty of conscience is a central principle of the Christian faith." Indeed, for some thousand and several hundred years after the Bible was written this idea was totally unknown to Christendom, even as there are many passages in the Bible which specify that God -- as a jealous deity -- demands the worship of no other God but He. 2) More importantly, Moore's Christianity and his belief in its "proper" relationship to government arguably is not the type of Christianity compatible with Madison's Remonstrance, which demands something like a strict separation of church and state. The language states "Religion is wholly exempt from [civil society's] cognizance." Phillip Munoz's masterful article on the subject (and keep in mind Munoz argues for the ultra-conservative position that the Establishment Clause shouldn't be incorporated) notes that in McCreary, the Supreme Court case holding the public display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, "Madisonian non-cognizance likely would have reached the same results as Justice Souter's" majority opinion.

Don't get me wrong. Liberty of conscience does indeed have Christian roots. Roger Williams, himself fanatically orthodox, advanced such a notion before the Enlightenment thinkers and in fact influenced the Baptists with whom Jefferson and Madison were aligned. But Williams advanced a very novel understanding of "religion and government," one not at all apparent from the Bible's text. Indeed, his contemporary John Winthrop, of Puritan Massachusetts infamy, didn't "see" liberty of conscience in the Bible's text (neither did John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, or any other Protestant or Catholic thinker until Williams hit the scene). And Williams tied his notion of liberty of conscience to government that was secular in its essential functions. He coined the phrase (or something similar to it) "Separation of Church and State." And was one of the first rulers in Christendom who "de-incorporated" the Ten Commandments from the civil law, drawing a distinction between the "two tables" -- arguing the first tablet [including the first four commands] had nothing properly to do with the civil law! Compare that to Roy Moore who believes the Ten Commandments form the basis of our civil law. Moreover, Moore constantly cites thinkers like Blackstone and others who argued that the common law incorporates Christianity -- the exact opposite of which Williams, Jefferson, and Madison believed!

No, Roy Moore's Christianity and vision of religion and governments much better fit with Williams's enemies -- the Puritans who banished him from Massachusetts for daring to question their notion of a "Christian Commonwealth" -- and the enemies of Jefferson and Madison -- the ones who wanted to maintain Christian Establishments in Virginia.

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