December 28, 2004

Posner on Religion and Public Policy

See here, and his response to comments here.  Some highlights:

  1. "I do not think we would do better to have a government run by academics, which is the implicit model of government held by political philosophers, law professors, and the like. Would we really have done better over the last half century with Presidents Stevenson, Humphrey, a second-term Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis? And haven't the universities, in their overwhelmingly liberal orientation (in most fields relating to public policy), forgotten John Stuart Mill's dictum that ideas become flabby and stale when they are not exposed to vigorous challenge?"
  2. "What is true about the United States is that certain issues agitate our legal system for religious reasons, such as abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, pornography, prayer in the public schools, public recognition of the Ten Commandments, financial support of parochial schools (as by means of a voucher system), the teaching of evolution. Yet as a result of the Supreme Court's rather heavy-handed enforcement of the Constitution, most of these issues when they get into court as so often they do are resolved as they would be by the ordinary political processes in more secular nations. The startling result is that the most salient difference, so far as the intersection of religion and public policy is concerned, between the United States and the more secular nations is that many of them have established churches! (Hume favored established churches because he thought they would deaden religion belief. He was right, at least in the Western European context.)"
  3. "When a brilliant philosopher like Rawls gets down to the policy level and talks about abortion and campaign financing and the like, you recognize a perfectly conventional liberal and you begin to wonder whether his philosophy isn't just elaborate window dressing for standard left liberalism."

Posted by Old Benjamin at 02:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

November 26, 2004

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted' for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d dy of October, A.D. 1789.

(signed) G. Washington

Posted by Old Benjamin at 12:42 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

Economics and Religion

Tyler Cohen has a very interesting post on those two topics.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 07:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

Christianity in America

Sam Huntington writing in the WSJ:

Although the Supreme Court did not address the question directly, Mr. Newdow got it right: Atheists are "outsiders" in the American community. Americans are one of the most religious people in the world, particularly compared with the peoples of other highly industrialized democracies. But they nonetheless tolerate and respect the rights of atheists and nonbelievers. Unbelievers do not have to recite the pledge, or engage in any religiously tainted practice of which they disapprove. They also, however, do not have the right to impose their atheism on all those Americans whose beliefs now and historically have defined America as a religious nation.

* * *

Americans have always been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The 17th-century settlers founded their communities in America in large part for religious reasons. Eighteenth-century Americans saw their Revolution in religious and largely biblical terms. The Revolution reflected their "covenant with God" and was a war between "God's elect" and the British "Antichrist." Jefferson, Paine and other deists and nonbelievers felt it necessary to invoke religion to justify the Revolution. The Declaration of Independence appealed to "Nature's God," the "Creator," "the Supreme Judge of the World," and "divine Providence" for approval, legitimacy and protection.

The Constitution includes no such references. Yet its framers firmly believed that the republican government they were creating could last only if it was rooted in morality and religion. "A Republic can only be supported by pure religion or austere morals," John Adams said. Washington agreed: "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles." Fifty years after the Constitution was adopted, Tocqueville reported that all Americans held religion "to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

The words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution, and some people cite the absence of religious language in the Constitution and the provisions of the First Amendment as evidence that America is fundamentally secular. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the end of the 18th century, religious establishments existed throughout Europe and in several American states. Control of the church was a key element of state power, and the established church, in turn, provided legitimacy to the state. The framers of the Constitution prohibited an established national church in order to limit the power of government and to protect and strengthen religion. The purpose of "separation of church and state," as William McLoughlin has said, was not to establish freedom from religion but to establish freedom for religion. As a result, Americans have been unique among peoples in the diversity of sects, denominations and religious movements to which they have given birth, almost all embodying some form of Protestantism. When substantial numbers of Catholic immigrants arrived, it was eventually possible to accept Catholicism as one more denomination within the broad framework of Christianity. The proportion of the population who were "religious adherents," that is church members, increased fairly steadily through most of American history.

* * *

But if increases in non-Christian membership haven't diluted Christianity in America, hasn't it been supplanted over time by a culture that is pervasively irreligious, if not antireligious? These terms describe segments of American intellectual, academic and media elites, but not the bulk of the American people. American religiosity could be high by absolute measures and high relative to that of comparable societies, yet the secularization thesis would still be valid if the commitment of Americans to religion declined over time. Little or no evidence exists of such a decline. The one significant shift that does appear to have occurred is a drop in the 1960s and '70s in the religious commitment of Catholics. This shift, however, brought Catholic attitudes on religion more into congruence with those of Protestants.

Over the course of American history, fluctuations did occur in levels of American religious commitment and religious involvement. There has not, however, been an overall downward trend in American religiosity. At the start of the 21st century, Americans are no less committed, and are quite possibly more committed, to their religious beliefs and their Christian identity than at any time in their history.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 09:20 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Religion of Peace

Irshad Manji, who apparently likes to call herself the Muslim Refusenik, has an op-ed on Opinion Journal imploring Muslims to address what she calls Islam's "intellectual lethargy":

Consider one high-profile argument that defends "authentic" Islam as a religion of peace. According to this argument, since God advised Prophet Mohammed in good times and bad, the Koran's tough verses merely reflect the bad times Mohammed faced in his 25 or so years of spreading Islam. Mohammed began by proselytizing in Mecca, where slaves, widows, orphans and the working poor latched on to his unconventional message of mercy. God knows, these outcasts needed a dose of mercy in the economically stratified and morally decadent money capital of Arabia. At first, then, the Koran's revelations emphasized compassion.

But within no time the business establishment of Mecca grew threatened--and threatening. Mohammed and his flock pulled up stakes and moved to Medina in order to protect themselves. That, goes the argument, is when the Koran's message of compassion turns to retribution. In Medina, some residents welcomed the Muslim influx, and others decidedly didn't. Among those who didn't were Medina's prominent Jewish tribes, which colluded with Mecca's pagans to assassinate Mohammed and annihilate Islam's converts. The reason they failed is that God instructed Mohammed to strike preemptively. (Evidently, the pre-emptive doctrine didn't begin with President Bush.)

This, the argument continues, is where all the vitriol in the Koran comes from. However, the argument persists, retribution isn't the spirit with which Muslims started out. They resorted to it for the purpose of self-preservation, and only temporarily. The older, "authentic" message of Islam is the one on which Mohammed launched his mission.

How emotionally comforting. While I would love to believe this account of things, the more I read and reflect, the less sense it makes. For starters, it's not clear which verses came to Mohammed when. The Koran appears to be organized by size of verse--from longer to shorter-- and not by chronology of revelation. How can anyone isolate the "earlier" passages, let alone read into them the "authentic" message of the Koran? Muslims have to own up to the fact that the Koran's message is all over the map. Compassion and contempt exist side by side, as they do in every sacred book.

I applaud Ms. Manji, but am still waiting to hear more of this from more prominent Muslim leaders.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 10:33 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 06, 2004

Fallaci Rips Europe. Again.

Stay out of her way:

ROME - A new book by controversial journalist Oriana Fallaci that hit bookstores here Monday accuses Europe of having sold its soul to what she describes as an Islamic invasion.

Entitled "The Strength of Reason," ("La Forza della Ragione" in Italian), the book also accuses the Roman Catholic Church of being too weak before the Muslim world.

"Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam. And Italy is an outpost of that province, a stronghold of that colony," the book says. "In each of our cities lies a second city: a Muslim city, a city run by the Quran. A stage in the Islamic expansionism."

The book comes more than two years after the Italian writer's best-selling essay "The Rage and The Pride" drew accusations Fallaci was inciting hatred against Muslims.

A group in France unsuccessfully sought to stop distribution of the book, while two other associations have requested that it carry a warning.

* * *

Describing Europe as "Eurabia" — a mix of Europe and Arabia — the Italian writer said the continent "has sold itself and sells itself to the enemy like a prostitute."

Written in the blunt style that is Fallaci's trademark, the 278-page book claims the Catholic Church keeps silent even when its symbols are offended by Muslims and before such practices as polygamy and torture.

The current invasion, Fallaci writes, is not carried out only by the "terrorists who blow up themselves along with skyscrapers or buses" but also by "the immigrants who settle in our home, and who, with no respect for our laws, impose their ideas, their customs, their God." (Via Little Green Footballs.)

Roger Simon has more:

Whew! See what I mean about this woman needing a bodyguard. Actually, sometimes I think we Americans are the inadvertent enablers of this feckless European behavior. The Euros can go on their merry way, trying to ignore the situation or thrashing around for some temporary solution, while Sharia eats the Enlightenment alive, because they know Big Daddy America is still there (ironic that--the New World in the parental role). Consciously and unconsciously they think we will rescue them in the end, so they are free to act out like rebellious adolescents.

I think he's right. And some think we should withdraw our troops from Europe for precisely this reason.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 02:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack