Friday, June 30, 2006

Watch Frank Zappa Wipe the Floor with John Lofton:

I'm glad to see Ed Brayton pick up on this video of John Lofton making a fool of himself with the help of the late great Frank Zappa. My favorite moment is when Zappa tells Lofton to kiss his ass.
The God of the Civil Religion, an Amorphous, not necessarily a Biblical Deity:

It's important to note, whether countering the claims of the likes of Roy Moore that the God of the civil religion, that is the God to whom the Founders made their public supplications, was a vague, generic and undefined God. And the Founders thought it was absolutely necessary to not define God's attributes too specifically or indentify him as the God of the Bible.

The Founders specifically drew a connection between indentifying God's attributes too specifically and denying the rights of those whose religion denied those specific attributes of God. The Founders faced a dilemma: They posited a conception of individual rights which were both universal and antecedent to majority rule. Moreover, they needed to refute prior claims of right such as Divine Right of Kings which explicitly invoked God to justify such claims. The Founders thus needed to tie their notion of rights to God to make such individual rights unalienable.

Yet, invoking God as the source of political claims had long led to terrible persecution itself (indeed, it was the source of religious persecution which they were trying to solve). If it is claimed that God X grants rights, the Founders feared political forces would deny rights to those who didn't believe God X. But such rights, the Founders believed, applied to everyone regardless of what they believed.

Take for instance, Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom which begins "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...." That natural rights document like all of the other natural rights documents and public supplications to the God of the Founding era invokes a generic monotheistic God as the guarantor of natural rights. Jefferson later explains exactly why such a God was not indentified as the Christian God:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

James Madison, who successfully fought for the Bill's passage in Virginia, corroborates Jefferson's account and endorses Jefferson's argument in his Detached Memoranda:

In the course of the opposition to the bill in the House of Delegates, which was warm & strenuous from some of the minority, an experiment was made on the reverence entertained for the name & sactity of the Saviour, by proposing to insert the words "Jesus Christ" after the words "our lord" in the preamble, the object of which, would have been, to imply a restriction of the liberty defined in the Bill, to those professing his religion only. The amendment was discussed, and rejected by a vote of agst (See letter of J. M. to Mr Jefferson dated ) The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

I note all of this because Christian Nationalists are fond of claiming that rights come from God. But they mean rights come from their fundamentalist Christian God and men thus only have the right to do what this God permits in the Bible. This fundamentally misunderstands our Founding principles. But it does contain a half-truth: Our Founders did argue that natural rights come from God. Here is the way one Roy Moore supporter put it in this comment section on World Magazine's blog.

Roy Moore teaches, compellingly, that the founders of America worked from the premise that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. A just government must recognize and protect those rights precisely because they derive from a higher authority whom every human authority is accountable to. When American governments (state and federal) refuse to acknowledge God, they abandon their rationale for identifying and protecting those rights.

Yet, as we have seen, these same Founders never identified God as the God of the Bible or the God that revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, but rather as an amorphous "Nature's God." Indeed, our freethinking, Theistic Rationalist Founders either disbelieved or strongly doubted that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses.

If Roy Moore had simply slapped a ten ton monument of the Declaration of Independence or any one of the Founding Era's natural rights documents with their references to a generic, rights granting Creator, I don't think there would have been a problem (I certainly wouldn't have a problem with that).

By defining, in a public supplication, our rights granting God as the God who revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, Roy Moore betrayed our Founding Fathers who never did the same.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Should we go to war in Darfur?

Watching Ronan and Mia Farrow on the view yesterday, they think the answer is yes. Though, as good liberals, of course they don't want unilateral US action, but rather a coalition of forces conducted under the auspices of the UN.

I think there was a humanitarian case for invading Iraq; however, there are many other nations, like Sudan, where the human rights violations are as bad or worse than what the Iraqi people suffered under Hussein.

Based on the Farrow's testimony (which I believe to be accurate) it's really horrible there, a sad testament to man's inhumanity to fellow man.

I might be persuaded that the UN or the US should invade Sudan to put an end to this horror. Some questions though: (Remembering Somalia) can force effectively tackle this problem? What happens after we invade? Will we have to occupy like in Iraq? Would we have the same problems occupying Sudan (which has plenty of Islamofascists) as we are presently having in Iraq?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Grandpop was right!

My long since departed maternal grandfather could have bought riverfront property in Yardley, PA for a fraction of its present value back in the day. But he remembered the flood of 1955 (which had occurred fairly recently) and didn't want to risk it. And for a long time, it seemed like a foolish decision.

That area hadn't seen a flood like that in years -- since 1955. Until 2004 that is. And then it happened again in 2005. And now it's happened again in 2006.

As for me, I'm okay. Even though I have a Yardley mailing address, technically I live in Lower Makefield, and we are not on the river (thank God).

And there's also all of the other historic towns along the Delaware like Washington's Crossing and New Hope which are also now hit for the third time in two years with terrible floods.

Remind me not to buy riverfront property in my neck of the woods.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Theistic Rationalist Thesis:

Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. thesis from Claremont Graduate University entitled The Political Theology of the American Founding came in the mail the other day. I'm reading it very slowly, savoring parts of it (I am also teaching 12 credits this summer, plus doing corporate training. Hey, I thought college professors were supposed to get the summers off!).

The thesis was completed in 2004. It's nice to see how much of my independent research I've done on this blog over the past two years confirms Frazer's thesis and vice versa. The Thesis, by the way, (found in this article) is briefly this: While there may have been a few strict Deists (meaning those who believed in a non-interventionist God, categorically rejected all revelation in favor reason, etc.) and more than a few orthodox Christians among the Founders, the key Founders -- those most responsible for the ideas upon which we declared independence and constructed the Constitution (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, G. Morris, and a few others) -- were neither, but rather somewhere in between. And while they may not have believed in the exact same things on religion, these key Founders were by in large agreed on certain basic tenets, which tenets put them outside both the "strict Deist" and "orthodox Christian" boxes.

His research also contributes a new term to the discourse. While this belief system has been recognized and given different names by various scholars and the Founders themselves, most of those terms are in some way inadequate, so Frazer suggests a new term: "Theistic Rationalist." (Some of the terms used to describe this system have been liberal Christianity, Warm-Deism, Christian-Deism, Unitarianism. Before I read Frazer's thesis I used the term "Deistic-Unitarian.")

One of the confusing things about Founding times and public utterances on religion is understanding the historical context. They were coming out of and still living in a time where unenlightened practices still existed deeply entrenched in our nation's traditions; yet, they declared independence and constructed the Constitution drawing predominately on enlightenment principles, which were relatively novel and still controversial in many social circles. And thus a conflict existed between their liberal ideals and their illiberal practices. The anecdote that perfectly highlights the context is that one key tenet of theistic rationalism is that Jesus was not God, but rather a great moral teacher. Yet, some states still imposed religious tests forbidding one from holding office if one explicitly denied the Trinity! Jefferson and Adams sometimes viciously attacked the Trinity. But most of those references are drawn from their personal letters and if made public probably would have ruined their public reputations. Thomas Paine wore his unorthodoxy on his sleeve and was publicly ruined for it. In one of Ben Franklin's letters to a prominent orthodox Christian, he denies the Trinity, but must do so politely (and then ask that the contents of the letter remain secret) else his public reputation be ruined.

Yet, these Founders also thought such historical context to be absolutely tyrannical and violative of the natural rights of conscience. And they hoped that by founding America on the light of reason, theological Unitarianism would eventually displace Trinitarianism. Though it didn't happen exactly as Jefferson so predicted, we did see Unitarian Congregations, for instance John Adams's, start to replace the formerly Puritan Congregations during the Founding era.

When these key Founders publicly spoke, they parsed their words very carefully as not to offend the orthodox Christian sentiments of the public, but also not contradict their theistic rationalist beliefs.

One drawback then, to this whole issue is, because of the context, many Founders -- for instance Washington, Madison, and others -- didn't leave "beyond a shadow of a doubt" evidence as to what they really believed (the smoking gun quotations that can be readily provided for the likes of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin).

You do have to do a bit of putting pieces together and even reading between the lines with some of these Founders. Frazer draws on the work of some Straussians. Though Frazer doesn't make the controversial huge leaps that some of the Straussians do (like Hobbes and Locke were secret Atheists; or that Locke secretly tried to destroy revealed Christianity with his coded arguments). Just little ones.

For instance, one of the tenets of theistic rationalism is that it denies eternal damnation and believes that basically all religions, Christian and non-Christian, are valid ways to God. Certainly Adams and Jefferson, in their letters, explicitly assert this.

What about Washington? One piece of evidence Frazer draws from is Washington's Farewell Address (which the Christian Nation crowd, viewing it from a different perspective, often cites to prove Washington a Christian, when Washington never says anything about Christianity or the Bible, but rather generically references the term "religion"). Washington asserts in the 1796 address, "let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion." (This quotation, the Christian Nation crowd then said means "It's impossible to govern without God and the Bible." And that loaded paraphrased interpretation then got passed around by David Barton and William Federer as though Washington actually said it.)

The part of the Address that Frazer focuses on is Washington's assertion that "[w]ith slight shades of difference, you have the same religion." Now, even though the overwhelming majority of the populace were members of some Christian Church, Washington does not 1) specifically identify "religion" with "Christianity" and 2) though a minority, plenty of non-Christians -- Deist, Unitarians, Jews and others -- also existed in the population as well. And a reasonable textual reading of this line would seem to include them as well (indeed, other than invoking the notion of a warm-intervening Providence, Washington almost never spoke in exclusivist terms on religious matters).

Frazer provides much more than that (for instance, Washington once identified the notion of "God" with the Cherokee's "Great Spirit"). However, when you are dealing with someone who held his religion card as close to him as Washington did, you inevitably have to parse worse and put some pieces of the puzzle together (as long as one does so in a reasonable manner).

Another fact Frazer draws on to prove Washington was a theological Unitarian with Universalist beliefs was Washington's intimate involvement with the Freemasons. Contrary to the claims of the "Christian Nation" crowd, Washington was intimately not nominally associated with the Freemasons (he himself was a Master Mason) and often referred to God in Free-Masonic terms, as the "Great Architect of the Universe."

And the Freemasons, in their official tenets, are theologically Unitarian (they don't believe Jesus was God), and Universalistic in their belief that more or less all religions are valid ways to God. In short, there is a major inconsistency between the inclusive tenets of Freemasonry and the exclusive tenets of orthodox Christianity.

But as I said, Frazer offers much more than this on Washington and the others. One of the drawbacks though is because of the context of the time -- the hold that orthodox Christianity had over many social institutions -- there will always be *some* grounds for doubts on Washington, Madison and a few others, given the lack of *smoking gun* evidence on some exact beliefs which were very controversial for the time (indeed, they were termed "infidel principles" by the orthodox Christians, and it was well known that many if not most of the elite and educated Virginia Anglicans/Episcopalians, like Jefferson, Madison and Washington, privately held to such "infidel principles").

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bird Wilson on our Founding Fathers:

Who was Bird Wilson? Born in 1777, he was a leading Episcopalian minister of the post-Founding era and was in fact, the son of Founder James Wilson. Shortly after George Washington's death, there was an attempt to deify the Father of our country (and the other Founding Fathers), by turning him into an orthodox Christian.

Parson Mason Locke Weems led the way in arguing that George Washington was a devout believer. But the problem, though, was that Weems notoriously made things up out of whole cloth (like, "I can't tell I lie, I cut down that Cherry Tree.")

And those who knew better, like Bird Wilson, immediately starting contesting what they saw as historical revisionism. While he wasn't one of Washington's ministers, he knew Washington's ministers personally. In fact, one of those men, Bishop White had been Washington's pastor and was also Bird Wilson's godfather and ordained Wilson as an Episcopalian minister. Wilson in turn wrote White's biography.

Also, keep in mind, as James Wilson's son, Bird Wilson knew Washington and the other Founders personally (he grew up with them).

In October 1831, Wilson devoted an entire sermon on the general matter of our Founders' religious beliefs, specifically George Washington's. Wilson noted "among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."

He went on to say "the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] _not a one had professed a belief in Christianity_" (Remsberg, p. 120, emphasis added). [Note: Though Till acts as if he is quoting Rev. Wilson directly, it seems he is quoting John E. Remsburg paraphrasing Wilson's sermon. See the primary source, Remsburg's book.]

[The closest Wilson comes to making a mistake is with John Q. Adams, who was born and raised a Unitarian like his father, but sometime during college converted to a more of a Trinitarian Calvinistic form of Christianity. Yet, JQ Adams throughout the rest of his life seemed to vacillate between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism, and I'm pretty sure died a Unitarian.]

Wilson further said in that sermon, "Washington was a man of valor and wisdom. He was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian."

Indeed, those who claim that everyone knew Washington was a Christian until the revisionists came along are themselves revisionists. From the beginning, the exact nature of Washington's personal beliefs engendered disputes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bush's Private Property Executive Order:

This is interesting. I think it means that the Bush administration is stating that the federal government will not take property according to the guidelines set forth in Kelo, but rather will opt for a more restrictive view (indeed a more constitutional view) of what is a permissible taking under the 5th Amendment.

Good for Bush (for once). This is exactly how another branch of government should react when the Court refuses to properly recognize an individual right under the Constitution -- by explicitly promising that they won't violate that right.
Hunter Madsen Stops By:

Who is he? The author of the nefarious secret gay playbook, After the Ball. See these past two posts. He left a comment here. He wrote:

I came across your blog's comments on AFTER THE BALL -- a book that I co-authored with the late Marshall Kirk many years ago -- and had to smile; or perhaps it was a wince.

Idiots on the religious right have been treating us like the Elders of Zion ever since the book first came out, which is, as you say, preposterous. While the book was widely read (and, in most cases, excoriated) by gay activists when it was first published, in 1989, and while a great many of its techniques have obviously been employed by activists since then, I see no evidence that the book itself serves as any kind of reference for the movement today.

The book was prescient, perhaps, but to claim that its ideas pulled the movement down its current path is like pretending that the beams of a car's headlights "pull" the car along. We observed many notorious things in AFTER THE BALL, but our work seems to have had little actual influence. To keep insisting that it did is yet another sign, as if we needed any more, that agitators on the right, while professing their commitment to truth, lack fundamental intellectual integrity.

- Hunter Madsen

A question I would ask Mr. Madsen: Are you seeing any royalties from all of those folks on the religious right who seem to be the main present purchasers of your book? Or are they all buying used copies, and in that case, because of the first sale doctrine in copyright law, you wouldn't see any royalties?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

American Destiny and Providentialism:

I saw a representative from American Destiny on the Hannity and Colmes show and he seemed to endorse the "Christian Nation" thesis which I have spent so much time debunking that I thought I'd further look into their website.

I thought I might find David Barton's oft-repeated phony quotations. But to their credit, they aren't featured on the site (although there are many links to Wallbuilders site of historical hackery, and articles written by hack-in-chief, David Barton).

The site also prominently features quotations from among others, Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin, and in doing so, I think, illustrates a big problem for its ideological mission. If the site simply wants to demonstrate that virtually all of the key historical figures -- early Presidents, Founding Fathers and whatnot -- publicly invoked "God" or some kind of overriding Providence, I have no quibble. The history record is beyond dispute in that regard.

But many of these men were the furthest thing from orthodox Christians and believed in a system that at best could be described as "cafeteria Christianity" and at worst not Christian at all, but theological heresy.

And keeping the heterodox beliefs of so many of the key Founders in mind, we do see some misleading if not outright false assertions, like for instance, "that of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all but two or three were Christians." Usually this claim is made in regard to the 55 men who attended the constitutional convention. And it was first put forth by the late M.E. Bradford. What Bradford did was look to those who professed open Deism and belonged to no Christian Church and put them into the "Deist" box. And he found only about three of them. The remaining 52 were at least nominally associated with some Christian Church. But the problem with this categorization method is that many of those "Christian" men, especially those Virginia Anglicans, were exactly like Jefferson, members of their Christian Churches, but tending towards deism and Unitarianism in their personal theological beliefs (what Dr. Gregg Frazer terms Theistic Rationalism).

In short, the 52 out of 55 or 56 singers of the Declaration and Framers of the Constitution include men like Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Morris, Wilson, Monroe, and many others, who belonged to Christian Churches but privately possessed beliefs which were described as "infidel principles" by the orthodox Christians of the day. Indeed, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin comprised a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration, with Jefferson as its author, and these men held textbook cases of "infidel principles." All three were theological Unitarians, with Jefferson and Adams militantly so, sometimes viciously criticizing the Trinity as "a metaphysical insanity" so incomprehensible that it wrecks the mind (Jefferson's description), and an "awful blasphemy" that "has stupified the Christian World" (Adams's description).

The fellow from American Destiny commented along the lines that whereas the Founders disagreed on specific theological matters, they were agreed on certain general principles. I agree. But when we include the radically unorthodox theological beliefs of men like Jefferson, Adams, and Madison into the "general principles" of which all founders agreed, we are left with simple generic Providentialism as our Lowest Common Denominator.

And indeed, in the quotations section of American Destiny, most of those offered simply prove this point, that there is an undefined overriding, generic Providence that is in charge of all things, never speaking in Scriptural, Revealed or Trinitarian language. For instance, one by James Madison:

"No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of events and the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States...And to the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land."

Source: James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 ( Published by Authority of Congress,1899),Vol.I,p.561. March 4,1815.

Even the quotations American Destiny offers which, on their surface, seem to prove more -- that there was a "Christian consensus" of generality so to speak -- turn out to be plucked from context in a misleading manner. Take for instance, this quotation by John Adams (who, as we know was, a Unitarian Congregant, a militant anti-Trinitarian, a disbeliever in eternal damnation and many other key tenets of orthodox Christianity):

"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were...the general principles of Christianity...I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature."

Source: John Adams, Works, Vol. X, pp. 45-46, to Thomas Jefferson on June 28,1813.

But they don't show you the rest of the letter where Adams goes on to say:

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.

Finding "general principles of Christianity" in the teachings of Enlightenment philosophers, like Locke, Newton, Hume? Perhaps. But also in the works of French philosophes, Rousseau, and Voltaire?

Somehow I don't think this is what American Destiny or Wallbuilders have in mind when they talk about the "Christian principles" which undergird our Founding.
The Mental Health Profession and Social Norms (Does Masturbation Cause Insanity?):

The issue of homosexuality and mental disorders is once again timely because of the recent discovery that the military still classifies homosexuality as such, while all of the professional organizations no longer do.

A representative from one of the professional organizations wrote a letter of reprimand to the military for its faulty science. On this matter, the mental health industry is right; homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Yet, as I noted in this past post, the profession is still abusing its position of authority and wrongly trying to "medicalize" social norms which are issues of public morality, not public health.

Indeed, those who believe that the mental health profession was the epitome of good science and until things got politicized in the 60s and 70s are laughably, sadly and utterly mistaken. See this article from WorldNutDaily on the matter which spreads the myth that homosexuality was "delisted" from the DSM for political, not scientific reasons. No. Homosexuality was first put on the DSM some time in the 50s for political reasons. Since there was no good scientific reason for it to remain on the list, it was properly delisted in 1973.

We must keep in mind that mental disorders are health, not moral issues. Mental disorders are at their heart socially neutral conditions, akin to having high cholesterol or diabetes. Plenty of people, through no fault of their own, struggle and live with things like depression, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, bipolar, and this says nothing, absolutely nothing about their moral character. Indeed, such disorders are granted bona fide civil rights status under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state and local disabilities legislation. And indeed some of the greatest figures in history from Lincoln to Madison, to Jefferson and many others had these mental disorders.

But anyway, let me reveal some of the original mischief of the psychiatric profession. In finding out how bad their behavior was (you'll see how bad in a second), I was tempted to endorse the Thomas Szasz/Michel Foucault theory that mental disorders simply do not exist, they are just a pathetic attempt to medicalize social issues.

But rather, through my own personal experience and knowledge, I've concluded that mental disorders do indeed exist, but that they have nothing properly to do with social norms, that these conditions are purely health issues, and having such is akin to having, again a physical impairment. Classic disorders including things like depression and anxiety. And the psychiatric profession can treat such effectively. However, when they get into the business of morality and medicalizing social issues, they invariably go wrong.

While issues like right and wrong, ethics and sin have been around practically forever, issues of "mental disorders" are of relatively recent formulation, beginning sometime in the 19th Century. As Ronald Hamowy notes in this absolutely must read article cataloguing the abuses of the mental health profession since day one, the profession has always struggled with the problem of attempting to medicalize some type of conventional morality, with some of the most embarrassing results.

How absurd and embarrassing? I kid you not, the same folks who first argued that homosexuality was a mental disorder also believed that masturbation causes insanity. There's much more. Read the article.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Gay-Related Incident?

Clayton Cramer and Southern Appeal have noted this incident which is being touted as an example of pro-gay intolerance, with a young child as the victim. The problem is, at least according to this website, that the incident in question had nothing to do with gay issues whatsoever. Just a shameless misrepresentation and exploitation of a playground fight by anti-gay forces, apparently.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for linking to my last post on the anti-gay firing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Firing over Anti-Gay Remarks:

Over at Volokh and elsewhere they are discussing this story about a doctrinaire Catholic who was fired from his public service job in Maryland for saying some arguably bigoted things about gays. Of course, I'm troubled anytime a public official is fired simply for speech.

But, I think this case fits perfectly into what I've argued recently about gay rights: We already have an existing set of laws, regulations and norms of civil behavior regarding how we treat people from various social groups. All gays are asking for is the same treatment. Now, these norms may, alas, be abused to inhibit liberty and free speech (and we should fight against that). But, there is no good reason why gays shouldn't be included at this place at the table.

And again, we see the racial analogy being invoked in an inappropriate manner. This analogy is abused by both sides in the debate, when the gay side argues: "Homosexuality is just like race, therefore make us into a civil rights category." Or when the anti-gay side argues, "you can't compare homosexuality to race, therefore sexual orientation isn't a valid social group or civil rights category."

Again, we DO NOT live in a world where race and race only is the only "civil rights" or "social group" category against which one can be bigoted. So sexual orientation need not make any kind of near perfect analogy to race in order to be a valid social group or merit bona fide civil rights status.

Consider, whatever one thinks of the "chosen" aspect of sexual orientation, religion is entirely a matter of choice, far more so than one's sexual orientation. Does anti-religious bigotry exist? What if a public official said, "I think Catholics are religious deviates. They engage, or they think they engage, in ritual cannibalism. That's nuts."

Would this be tolerated by a public official? I don't think so. I can almost guarantee you Maryland's governor would have fired a public official who made these remarks.

Now, on the other hand, public officials should be, as a matter of law, free to speak their mind about their consciences. But lets leave aside the legal matter and explore this solely as a social matter or norm. Traditionally minded folks should be able to have their religious convictions and not be thought of as bigots. And all of us should be able to constructively and in a civil manner criticize the various social groups, perhaps for certain behavioral or cultural problems that we do see in many groups who are bona fide civil rights categories, and not be thought of as "prejudiced."

And that's where the hard part begins. When does one cross the line from constructive criticism into bigotry? I don't have an easy answer. Perhaps bigotry is like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity: I know it when I see it.

Let's focus more on anti-religious bigotry. Those of us who are religious freethinkers should be able to constructively criticize what we think are the irrationalities of various religions and not be charged as being "bigots." Similarly, the traditional religious thinkers ought to be able to criticize the doctrines and dogmas of one another without being tarred with the bigotry label.

For instance, what if you are an evangelical Protestants who really does believe that one has to accept Jesus only and be "born-again" in order to make it into Heaven. Now, Catholics explicitly reject this dogma. Catholics must reject Catholic dogma in order to be saved according to this sentiment. If such a Catholic becomes "born-again" and believes in the doctrine, what are the chances of him or her sticking around the Catholic Church? In short, (and I know not all evangelicals think this way; but it certainly seems to me to be logical, given the premises of Protestant fundamentalism) Catholics go to Hell when they die.

Does believing this make fundamentalist Christians into anti-Catholic bigots? No. And there is a civil way to hold this position.

But, (you knew a but! was coming) what if then the evangelical starts calling the Pope the Anti-Christ and the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon? Then, I think, we've crossed the line from devoutly held religious convictions into anti-Catholic bigotry.

Religious folks, even though they have a legal (and social) right to their longstanding, devoutly held beliefs, cannot then use those convictions as a shield against a charge of, or an excuse for bigotry. Believing that Catholics qua Catholics aren't saved or that all voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are sinful is not in and of itself bigoted. But those legitimate convictions should not be able then to be used as a "shield" against a charge of bigotry. For example...Statement: "The Pope is the Anti-Christ and homosexuals are disease spreading perverts who want to recruit your children." Response: "This smells like anti-Catholic and anti-gay bigotry to me." Counterresponse: "But this is just my religious convictions."

No. There is a way to explain and assert these devoutly held religious convictions without engaging in rank bigotry. Where the line is crossed from convictions to bigotry is a hard one to draw. And that's why we have to debate the issue and think hard (William F. Buckley wrote an entire book about this matter as it applies to anti-Semitism, which lost him some friends).

Finally, if I could point to one example (and there are many more) of an evangelical who believes that all voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are wrong, but doesn't, in my opinion, have an anti-gay bone in his body, I'd use Joe Carter. His ex-wife is lesbian and he is still very close to her. Perhaps that's why he doesn't gay bash with his rhetoric. I wish more would follow his example.
More Ephebophilia non-Chic:

Ah, the good old days of old fashion, pre-1960s sexual morality coming back to haunt us:

Girls as young as 12 and boys aged 14 could be allowed to enter into common law marriages in Colorado following a controversial court ruling.

The decision by a state appeals court overturned a lower court's decision that a girl, now 18, was too young to marry at 15.

Although the three-judge panel stopped short of setting a minimum age for common law unions, it noted that Colorado recognises English common law, which states such marriages are legal for girls at 12 and boys at 14. Precedent dating back to the 19th century was cited in the case.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Six Degrees of Rowe's Music...:

From Kansas to the Rolling Stones. Remember that game from Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon where one could name any actor and trace him to a movie with Kevin Bacon in six steps.

Well I thought of tracing some of my favorite musicians/bands. Instead of acting in a movie together, the rule would be playing in a band together. And I noticed I could, within about five degrees or so, trace some of my favorite players who play in a variety of different albeit somewhat related styles (the related aspect being, some type of focus on rock instrumental or musical proficiency -- "musicians music" if you will). We could go from Kansas to the Dixie Dregs to Mahavishnu Orchestra to Jeff Beck. And once I traced Kansas to Jeff Beck...Hell, I could connect them to the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and others.

So let me do my six degrees from Kansas to the Rolling Stones, keeping in mind that these are some of my favorite musicians. I will use YouTube Clips to document all of this.

So here goes. 1) Kansas played with Steve Morse. Forgive the cheesy 80s song, but this is the only clip YouTube had demonstrating Kansas with Steve Morse. (This is a cool clip of Carry on Wayward Son from their DVD, much better than the previous clip.) 2) Steve Morse, in his band the Dixie Dregs, currently plays with violinist Jerry Goodman. Here is a clip of Goodman, Morse, et al. playing in the Dixie Dregs. 3) Jerry Goodman was the violinist with the Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring guitarist John McLaughlin and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Here is a clip of Goodman, Hammer and McLaughlin playing in Mahavishnu. 4) Jan Hammer played in Jeff Beck's group in the 70s for a number of years. Here is a clip of Hammer and Beck playing Beck's classic (written by Hammer) Blue Wind (and I must say that Hammer's keytar is cool as hell). 5) In the 60s Jeff Beck's group included Ron Wood (and Rod Stewart). Here is a clip from that era. 6) And of course, Ron Wood plays with the Rolling Stones. Here is a Stone's clip.

So there you go from Kansas to the Rolling Stones in Six Degrees.

But that's not the end of the story. I could have gone in other directions as well. I could have also noted that Jeff Beck played with Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds (a clip). And Page of course played with Led Zeppelin (a clip).

But it doesn't stop there. Jeff Beck also played with Roger Waters on Waters's Amused to Death. And Waters of course played in Pink Floyd. So that's from Kansas to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd within six degrees. Given that Jeff Beck has played with so many folks, just getting from Kansas to Jeff Beck pretty much opens up the music world of famous legend musicians; I'm not sure if I could do all of them within six degrees; but we could then go on to The Who, Clapton, who played with George Harrison and the Beatles and on and on.

The Six Degrees theory is REAL!
Excuse for light blogging:

Sorry, I've just discovered how to search YouTube for rare clips like this, this, this, this, and this. I could spend all day doing this.

Update: Now this is when Genesis were cool.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

More on Gay Rights v. Liberty:

Let me strengthen Kuznicki's overall point in his post that the problem or the clash between "gay rights" and liberty isn't about gay rights per se, but an already existing system of laws and policies that inhibit liberty. And it's only when gays or "sexual orientation" ask for some sort of equal recognition in this already existing system of laws and regulations that religious conservatives cry their liberty is being threatened.

The problem is their liberty has already been threatened since 1964. And they seem content with the system, except when people argue that "sexual orientation" be recognized as an antidiscrimination category in this system that recognizes other categories, like age and disability, which haven't seen nearly the mistreatment that sexual orientation has. [Note: For those of you who argue for gay rights don't you dare let the other side stop the comparison at "race" and note that gays haven't suffered what blacks have. Gays have suffered far more than most categories already protected on "the list." Never forget that we don't live a world where race is the only bona fide civil rights category.]

Cass Sunstein has some useful and apt comments on the matter. From the New York Times article:

For Professor Sunstein, same-sex marriage does not raise qualitatively new issues so much as intensify existing tensions "between antidiscrimination norms and deeply held religious convictions."

As I suggested in my last post, let's ignore the overused race analogy completely. Instead of focusing on religion, this time let's focus on gender. Gender is relevant because homosexuality is in many ways a subsidiary gender issue and clearly, traditional religious convictions, while they may not speak to race, (as most religious conservatives now argue), they do most certainly do speak to gender roles.

A while back, before I had a blog, I posed this question to Eugene Volokh, which he subsequently answered on his blog (yes, I am "the reader" to whom he refers):

Say an employer/business owner -- who happens to be an Orthodox Christian -- interviews a prospective female employee for a job opening. During the interview she let's it be known that she is a married mother with young children and is planning on putting them into day care if she gets the job. The employer does not give her the job because, according to his religious convictions, he thinks that such a mother should be at home raising her children.

Would this violate Title VII's prohibition on gender discrimination (under the disparate treatment theory)? At first, it seems like an easy answer -- an easy yes. But I think it all depends on how narrowly the statute is interpreted. He could argue he wasn't discriminating against her on the basis of gender per se -- perhaps he ended up hiring a woman who wasn't in such a position -- perhaps one whose children were grown up. . . .

He answers:

Under Title VII, the easy answer is in fact the correct one: This is sex discrimination, because the employer is treating a woman with children differently than how he would treat a man with children (I assume that this is what he's doing, given the fact pattern). Courts have considered this general issue, under the rubric of "sex-plus" discrimination -- i.e., the discrimination is based on sex plus some other factor -- in contexts very similar to those that the reader asks about (I think they generally involved discrimination against married women, so the "plus" was marital status, but some might have in fact involved discrimination against women with children), and found that such practices were discriminatory.

And this, I think, is the only sensible interpretation of the statute. True, the employer isn't refusing to hire all women; but much discrimination is discrimination based on a prohibited factor plus something else. An employer who says "I'll hire any white/male/non-Jewish candidate who passes my minimum criteria, but I'll only hire a black/female/Jewish candidate only if the candidate's credentials are stellar" is discriminating based on race/sex/religion (or national origin) plus something else; yet that's quintessential employment discrimination, and the very sort of thing that the text of Title VII prohibits, and that Title VII was meant to prohibit.

[There's more.]

So there you go, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and almost all state and local antidiscrimination codes protect gender, and this certainly restricts traditionally minded folks from acting on their conviction that men are natural heads of households and a woman's primary place is in the home raising children. This religious conviction about gender roles and employment seems to me to be as serious as the conservative Christian conviction on homosexuality, no? And given the number of women in the population and now in the workplace, and the relatively small number of self identifying gays and bisexuals, gender as a civil rights category, has been, since 1964 a far greater threat to the liberty of acting on traditionally minded religious convictions than sexual orientation would be. So why the selective outrage? Why aren't the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America demanding the repeal of "gender" from all antidiscrimination codes?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Robby George's Beef with Pete Singer:

What might surprise you about this article is not that George and Singer have their differences, but that, until now, the two were cordially fond of one another. Though, Singer may have done something to sour their personal relationship. I think George, as much of a nice fellow he seems to be in person, is a bit of a religious fanatic...well, more than bit (though he dresses his religiosity up in the neutral-universalistic language of the Thomistic natural law). But at the same time, I find Pete Singer and Cornell West (two other of Princeton's public intellectuals), just as extreme on the other side of various issues. Princeton needs more Robby George's to balance out the extreme leftyism that dominates colleges and universities.

What's interesting, as the article notes, is the way that George tries to get involved in team-teaching with these leftists with whom he disagrees. George has initiated the idea of team teaching with both Singer and West. (And has team taught with other lesser well known leftist public intellectuals.)

As a libertarian I don't particularly like right-wing religiously or Thomistically conservative dogma being thrown in my face (did NOT have much of that in college and grad. school). But I also don't like having neo-Marxist radical lefty dogma being thrown in my face either (had lots of that in higher education).

If I were President of these Universities, I'd make all of these lefties team teach with a Robby George for balance.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Rightwing Postmodern Prose:

The following is a blogcast I recorded as a follow up to Sandefur's excellent post on postmodern prose that we see, surprisingly, coming from conservative thinkers as opposed to the leftist deconstructionists who have made using a lot of big words and compound sentences which ultimately say nothing into an artform.

Here is part I, and here is part II.

Friday, June 09, 2006

What Would the Founders Do about God?

My Dad and I saw Richard Brookhiser speak at the Barnes & Nobles at the Princeton Market Faire (just up the road from where I teach). And I finally got Brookhiser's book which he autographed.

Brookhiser is definitely one of the fairest reporters on the Founding. He acted as "press secretary" for the Founders who were hiding away at an undisclosed location.

A number of questions on religion came up, one of which was asked by me. I asked why did Washington systematically refuse to take communion at his church? Brookhiser honestly answered that no one really knows why, all we can do is speculate.

He did note, correctly, that Washington kept his "religious card" closely guarded, that he went out of his way to take the specific details of his religious beliefs to his grave. We do know that Washington believed in a warm-intervening Providence whose Hand helped America win the Revolution. Beyond that we can only speculate as to what Washington, in private, really believed.

Brookhiser noted that perhaps it was because Washington knew he was so well respected and important an historical figure, that prudence dictated he didn't dare endorse a particular version of God that would alienate any meaningful sector of the troops he commanded, the other Founders he led, or the population at large he governed. In other words, when Washington invoked God, he was a, forgive the phrase, "uniter, not a divider."

And this is something else Brookhiser noted (and which I've discovered in my research), when Washington and the other key Founder Presidents invoked God, they did so as consensus builders. They drew a lowest-common-denominator which could unite the mixed bag of religious views among the Founders and the population at large. And in doing so, they established the so called "civil religion" of America.

The Founders believed that America was a nation "Under God." However, contrary to the claims of the Christian Nationalists, the civil religion is not a lowest-common-denominator form of "Christianity" or even "Judeo-Christianity." The term "Judeo-Christian" is useful in some respect, but can be abused or invoked as an anachronism. The term didn't exist during the Founding era and today is often used as a way for Christian conservatives to try to build common ground with religiously and socially conservative Jews.

But one thing is for sure, our Founders when they invoked God, weren't trying to build a lowest-common-denominator between Christians and Jews. Were that true, America would have been founded on the Old Testament, and not the New. Although the Founders believed that Jews were entitled to their full unalienable rights of conscience, few (any?) of the Founders were Jews themselves and Jews otherwise represented a very small percentage of the population.

[Check out my post on Justice Scalia's opinion in the Ten Commandments case. Scalia explores these very same consensus building "lowest-common-denominator" issues of the civil religion. And for a while he proceeds quite on track. But then he derails when he absurdly concludes that the Old Testament to which Jews, Muslims, and Christians all believe was indeed the lowest common denominator! Scalia needs to argue this in order to include the Ten Commandments in the civil religion. Yet, clearly they aren't. As Kip Esquire comically notes, "I have never once in my life met someone who introduced himself as a 'practicing Judeo-Christian,' or as a 'practicing Bible-of-the-God-of-Abraham Monotheist'[]."]

So what is the lowest-common-denominator of the civil religion? It's not between the different Christian sects, between Judaism and Christianity, or between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In fact it's not a civil religion based on revelation only. But rather between reason and revelation. If I could put forth three different boxes of religious views of the few hundred men who made up the "Founding Fathers" they would be orthodox Christian, Deist, and Theistic Rationalist. Note, this third box which may be the most important box of all, has been given many names. "Theistic Rationalist" is a term coined by one Dr. Gregg Frazer, professor at the Master's College. That system of belief has been called, "liberal Christianity," "warm Deism," "Christian-Deism," "Unitarianism," I've called it "deistic-Unitarian." Whatever label is proper, it was the creed of the Key Founders, the ones most responsible for positing the principles upon which America declared independence and constructed the Constitution. It is not "Deist" because such a system posits a warm intervening Providence. And it is not "Christian" because such a system is theologically Unitarian, not Trinitarian.

Certainly, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Franklin, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, and likely Washington, (and some others) would fall within this theological box. So when these "Theistic Rationalist" Presidents (the first 5) made their public supplications to God, they had to at once not contradict their own personal beliefs or the beliefs of the many orthodox Christians in the population. Briefly, the theistic rationalists were theological Unitarians who believed in a warm-intervening Providence, but disbelieved in eternal damnation, believed in some, but not the inerrancy of Scripture, disbelieved many of the miracles and prophesies recorded in the Bible which seemed to contradict the laws of nature and science, and they elevated man's reason over revelation as the ultimate evaluator of Truth.

And so they drew a lowest-common-denominator between this belief system and orthodox Christianity. And that lowest-common-denominator is as follows: There is an intervening Providence who takes an interest in man's affairs, grants men rights, and will reward good and punish evil. That is the theological solid ground which founds our public order. But beyond those few and simple details, few if anything can be added. We cannot say, for instance, that this God gave us the Ten Commandments, because that is part of scripture of which the theistic rationalists were highly dubious. And this is where the Christian Right today are absolutely operating outside of the tradition of our early Founding Father Presidents. They were purposefully vague and gave few details as to whom God really was so as to be inclusive as possible.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Theoretical Solution to Maggie Gallagher's Problem:

Maggie Gallagher has argued that one big problem with gay marriage in particular and the gay rights movement in general is that, if successful those with religious views holding homosexual acts to be sinful will be treated like bigots, much in the same way that those people who believe interracial relations are immoral are rightly written off as bigots.

Here is what I propose: Instead of race as the proper analogy, let's use religion, in particular how those of religion A deal with those of religion B. Let's state, right off the bat, that holding religious convictions that voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are immoral doesn't make one a bigot. Let's give longstanding devoutly held religious convictions the benefit of the doubt.

One's belief that voluntarily chosen homosexual acts are wrong, should be viewed similar to one's belief that voluntarily flouting Kosher norms, or eating pork is wrong. We don't consider a Jew who believes it's wrong to violate Kosher to be bigoted against those who don't follow the Kosher diet. Similarly, we don't consider Muslims who believe it's wrong to eat pork to be bigoted against pork-eaters.

However, in a liberal pluralistic society, we do expect these devoutly held religious convictions to be consigned to the realm of individual private conviction and not written into public policy. And that, it seems to me, is the compromise: If you believe homosexual acts are wrong based on devoutly held religious convictions, you are not a bigot and those beliefs deserve respect as private convictions. But they are not a respectable basis for public policy any more than we would accept writing Kosher or Sharia into law without further public reason.

Eugene Volokh had a great post a little while back comparing homosexuality to Hinduism, noting that Hindus, by their very nature, break Jewish and Christian religious commands just as practicing homosexuals do. Yet, we have no problem fully accepting Hindus qua Hindus at our public place at the table (even if, orthodox Christians believe Hindus, like everyone else, ultimately need to convert).

One could argue that the Judeo-Christian prohibitions on homosexual conduct are far more serious than those of diet restrictions. After all, the Old Testament commands stoning to death of homosexuals (but not for those who violate diet rituals; although the term "abomination" is applied to both violations of the dietary law as well as homosexual acts). But, practicing something like Hinduism or Hari Krishna is dealt with every bit as severely in the Old Testament as homosexual relations. As Volokh notes, practicing Hinduism violates at least three of the Ten Commandments. And, elsewhere in the Old Testament, the immediate imposition of the death penalty is demanded for those who would encourage the worship of false Gods.

Gay rights thus can be viewed as a logical extension of our Founding liberal democratic principles. The doctrine of individual rights and hence the resulting pluralism, was first posited as a solution for religious disputes. People differed as to how far tolerance should extend. Some wanted only the Protestant Christian sects. Some were willing to extend tolerance to everyone but Catholics and Atheists. Some were willing to tolerate Catholics, but not Atheists. But our key Founders -- Jefferson, Madison, et al. -- the ones who formulated the natural rights doctrines which found our nation, believed that religious rights universally applied to all religions, even the Pagan and Infidel, in Jefferson's words, those who would worship no Gods or twenty Gods. Sure Jefferson, et al. ultimately tied natural rights to God. But Jefferson's "Nature's God" grants men an unalienable right to do not just what the God of the Bible forbids (openly worship false Gods) but for which the Biblical God demands the death penalty. Such an understanding of Nature's God, I believe, could also grant rights to homosexuals qua homosexuals.

The bottom line is, if we can grant rights to other religions like Hindus and not feel as though this violates our orthodox religious convictions, we can likewise grant rights to homosexuals. And, in turn, we can at the same time respect individuals' devoutly held convictions that homosexual acts are immoral, that holding such doesn't make one a bigot, as long as those convictions stay in the realm of private conscience, much like a Jew's religious duty to eat Kosher exists solely within the realm of private conviction and not as public policy. Remember, in illiberal Islam, where they draw no distinction between Church and State, they do write their dietary restrictions into public law (as well as, of course, Biblical prohibitions on homosexual sex and worshipping false Gods).

The liberal democratic West does things differently.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Blogcast on Bird Wilson:

I'm also experimenting with MySpace because they allow you to upload videos for free. See for instance, this short video I recorded on Bird Wilson, a founding era preacher and his views on the religious faith of the key Founding Fathers.

I know you have to join MySpace in order to view the video (right?). Joining is free and easy enough.

Later, I'll post a more detailed written essay on Wilson. Also, I mention Bishop White who was one of Washington's pastors. I neglected to mention that White was Chaplain of the Continental Congress and Washington's pastor when the national capital was in Philadelphia. White and Wilson were two of the many Founding era figures who knew Washington quite well and publicly countered the revisionism that soon began to emerge after Washington's death that he was a pious Christian, when in reality, they knew he wasn't, or at least, there was no credible evidence that he was.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rockin' Out:

Even though blogger (or at least the free version I use) doesn't allow for uploading videos, Wordpress does. So over at Positive Liberty, Jason posted a video of me improvising, which I can now link to, captured on my webcam. It's nothing special, just how I blow off steam. Real improvising is an art form. And I wish I were a lot better. (I'm just an ant among giants like Steve Morse, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, Carl Verheyen, etc.) However, the cool thing about blues and rock is that you don't necessarily have to be great to be able to play cool hot licks that sound decent.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Robert Reed: The Most Pedantic Man Ever to Walk the Face of the Earth:

This is one of my favorite posts. It's too good to be lost in the scroll. It's about Robert Reed, old fashion gay conservative, Shakespearean actor, and the apotheosis of the wise "TV Dad" and how the inane scripts of the Brady Bunch nearly drove him to madness. Many of you have read this. If you haven't, check it out.
The Gay Species:

Just to remind you that if you aren't reading the blog of one D. Stephen Heersink, you should.

His latest four posts -- on Manliness vs. Feminism, on Conservatism vs. Fundamentalism, on his personal experiences living in San Francisco as AIDS emerged, and on Aristotle/the natural law -- are must reads.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ephebophilia Urban Myth Take 11:

I have tackled this urban myth a number of times. Some of it stems from Mary Eberstadt’s incredibly flawed thesis in her article for the Weekly Standard, "Pedophilia Chic."

Here we see (who else) Joseph Farah from WorldNetDaily indulging in the error.

Therefore, I have a solution. Let's bring back the old-fashioned idea of banning any kind of sexual exploitation of young people by rethinking our lowered age-of-consent laws.


One more slide down the slippery slope of moral relativism and the bizarre world where right is wrong, black is white, up is down and left is right.

What world is Mr. Farah living in? What old-fashion idea? Is he talking about the South in the 1950s where Jerry Lewis, Loretta Lynn, and countless non-celebrities were involved in legal marriages where one party was an adult male, the other a 13-year-old girl? Or is he referring to the common law, which set the age of consent at 10?

In reality, there has been an upward drift of age of consent laws in this modern, post-1960s sexually liberated world.

Currently, I'm researching whether there have been any lowered age of consent laws in the last 50 years or so. Note: I'm sure there are examples of lowering the same-sex age of consent laws to be equal to that of opposite sex relations. I'm looking for an example of a state lowering their general age of consent laws.