Saturday, May 15, 2010

The following is my reply to a post ( made by my friend Damion. As is usual, I got a little carried away with pontificating, and outran the 4K word limit set for replies, so I decided to post my reply here instead. My apologies if this comes across as a public display of what should be a private discussion, but ah gots to say what ah gots to say, despite whatever length limitations the programmers of Blogspot may deem reasonable. Anyway, here goes.


Speaking of false impressions:

I have to wonder just whom you have in mind when you speak of “the tea-and-crumpets-and-bigotry crowd.” Perhaps it’s the use of the word “tea” that is throwing me. Do you perhaps you mean those anti-intrusionist protestors who commonly refer to themselves as “tea partiers” (or, if you’re a moron, aka Keith Olbermann, “tea-snicker-snicker-baggers”)?

But if that’s so, why does your post begin with a photo of a moron wielding a “God Hates You” sign? Therein, the false impression: so far as I know, there have been no such signs at any of the so-called Tea Party rallies, nor does Franklin Graham aver to such a thing, nor anyone associated with the National Day of Prayer; “God Hates You” is the rallying cry of Fred Phelps and his mindless drones of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Fred Phelps doesn’t attend Tea Party rallies, nor does he buddy up with Franklin Graham; he spends the majority of his waking hours making a pest of himself at the funerals of Marines killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, posting placards like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags”. Are you equating all those (the Tea Partiers, at last count, have grown to a million or more) who scruple at runaway government spending and unread 2000+ page health care bills with a handful (roughly sixty or so, most of whom are members of Phelps's family, the rest from his church congregation) of pseudo-Christian whackjobs who can’t see the inherent contradiction between “For God so loved the world” and “God hates fags”? If so, you would be demonstrating a fallacy of collectivism.

Otherwise, I could point out that you have more in common with Phelps than does the average Tea Partier or anyone associated with the National Day of Prayer. Our Boy Fred earned a law degree in 1962 and for a number of years was a practicing civil rights attorney. I don’t suppose you would argue that all those in search of a law degree are likely pseudo-Christian whackjobs, would you? Should I also mention that on at least 5 occasions he ran for public office? As a Democrat? Or are all Democrats mere whackjobs like Fred?

Virtually everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, has nothing but disdain for Fred and his acolytes, so what does the "God Hates You" photo have to do with the NDOP, other than to taint Franklin Graham & Co. with a collectivist smear? The WBC are a small, obscure, and outrageously extremist outfit who make a mockery not only of Christianity, but free speech itself. Tea Partiers are merely expressing their constitutionally-sanctioned right for peacefully assembly for redress of grievances. The NDOP, likewise, is expressing its constitutionally-sanctioned right to practice their religion; this despite whatever hermeneutics you may attempt in your reference (but not exactly reverence) of Matthew 6. Even Ann Coulter, also possesser of a law degree (who, unlike Phelps, has not been disbarred) and an ardent supporter of the Tea Party movement, has nothing kind to say about Phelps. See:

True, bigotry is an ugly thing. But you seem to forget that bigotry comes in all sizes and flavors. There is, for example, the bigotry of the anti-Christian zealot. You should try harder not to sound like one.

What I find bizarre is your adumbration of what you find bizarre: “Tomorrow we will have public officials preaching piety on public property in the shadow of the seat of state government.” Which prompts the reply: Yeah? So? Anything wrong with preaching? Or piety? Or that it is public? Or in close proximity with a governmental edifice? What, no? Then why whine about it?

And, yes, I mean “whine”. Your next words are telling: “Yes, it is constitutionally protected free speech, but—”

Sorry, but no “buts” are allowed. The Constitution does not automatically shut off at all points you find inconvenient. If the speech is not only free but constitutionally protected, you have no justification whatsoever for bemoaning it, no matter where it takes place, and no matter what motivations you hypothesize are at its foundation. Free speech is the law of the land, not the law of the land at least 100 meters outside of any governmental building, monument, park, and/or other facility except for weekends and holidays, and only with the expressed, written consent of the U.S. Department of Buttinskyness.

And by the way, freedom of religion is also the law of the land, a point all too often missed by our courts. The “longstanding American ideal of keeping the state out of the church” is only that—an ideal. It is not found in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, nor even in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of Religion, on the other hand, is. The notion of the separation of Church and State has far too long been used as an instrument for curtailing religious freedom, due to an overarching, misguided (and errant) interpretation of the Establishment Clause. When the federal government steps in and bans even the recitation of a prayer at a football game (that, of all things, the players don’t kill each other on the field—oh, the looming theocracy!), it’s clear that the constitutional emphasis has gone from freedom of religion to freedom from it—the polar opposite of what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Separation of Church and State comes to us via a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in his later years, long after his presidency, further still from his years as a revolutionary and author of the Declaration of Independence. His emphasis was not that all governmental functions should be devoid of any religious character, but only that the government shouldn’t be in the business of establishing a Church of the United States in the same way that the British had established a Church of England.

His emphasis aside, it is of note that his comments come to us via a letter, and conspicuously NOT from the Declaration of Independence, or the U.S. Constitution, or from any of the legislation he signed into law as president. One would think that had Jefferson been truly of a mind to keep the Church separate from state, he would have had ample opportunity to do so as a matter of American jurisprudence, and would have made some sort of attempt to formalize his ideas into law. Letters are wonderful source materials for understanding the insights and state of mind of important historical figures, but that’s where their usefulness ends; they are not matters of law and thus have no bearing on its interpretation. Nor, for that matter, do they “definitively” settle questions such as whether to hold national days of religious observance.

There is a problem in ascribing to Jefferson the letter-writer the same sort of intellectual authority we ascribe to Jefferson the Founding Father. The former was a private citizen speaking for himself; the latter was a public figure speaking for us all. The private citizen speaks with less authority than the public figure. Saying otherwise is tantamount to saying that because Nicholas Cage won the Academy Award for his performance in “Moonstruck” his recommendation that wolverines make good house pets should be accepted without question.

You have to read past the "but" to get to my objection. I'll restate it here:

"...what possible purpose can such hypocrisy serve other than to create the impression that anyone who does not sign up to the Lausanne Covenant should be considered second-class citizens with less than full access to the participatory political process and privileges of citizenship?"

What purpose does it serve for elected officials to stand up in from of the Capitol and endorse Protestant Christian prayer? Is it somehow helpful to marginalize all other citizens in a display of hypocritical piety?
Perhaps the display of public piety serves the beneficial purpose of making the evangelicals who run the show feel like they have a privileged position of power in government. Is this a laudable goal? Is it somehow helpful to privilege just one religion and one sect to an annual vulgar display of power? If so, how?
Also, I didn't see you address the fundamental theological problem here. Jesus was fairly clear on prayer as a public display of piety, he forbade it in unequivocal terms. How then do Xn's justify it?

Okay, first of all, I truly fail to see how the free practice of free religion "marginalizes" anyone. You are free to practice your religion, which is secularism, and they are free to their religion, which is whatever religion they choose to practice, even if--get this--they are elected officials, because ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE CITIZENS, TOO. No elected official, whatever his office, is required to check his religion at the door. Whining about it is pointless.

Second, these officals are not "endorsing" Protestant Christian prayer. They're PARTICIPATING. Which is what happens when free people are freely allowed to practice free religion.

Third, unless someone participating in the event SAYS something on the order of "Anyone who doesn't sign up to the Lausanne Covent should be considered a second-class citizen with less than full access to the participatory political process and privileges of citizenship", you have no business making the charge that this is the impression they want to create. Unless you're the Amazing Kreskin, you have no idea what their intentions are, because you can't read minds.

Fourth, you read far too much into this "annual display of power". They're not FORCING anyone to participate in the NDOP, nor are they forbidding anyone with a different viewpoint for holding some annual religious event of their own. Why don't you hold some counter-event in protest? Call it the National Day of Godless Shmuckdom. Hell, I might even show up for that, myself. I could always use a good laugh.

Fifth, I didn't address the theological objection because it's irrelevant. Freedom of religion is free. People can practice their religion in whatever way they see fit, and they don't have to worry whether or not someone like yourself feels their theology has been adequately ironed out. Especially since, as I noted in my post, you're hardly an expert on the matter. In matters of Biblical exegesis, if I have to choose between believing you or believing Franklin Graham, I'm gonna have to go with Franklin.

Personally, I think it's a stretch, to say the least, that Christ forbade public prayer. What he said was that we shouldn't be like the hypocrites who pray in public purely to draw attention to themselves (IOW, to point out what fine, pious, holy, special people they were). Fine. But the salient point of Christ's teaching wasn't that public prayer was bad, but that praying in order to draw the attention of the crowd was bad. So public prayer is okay, provided its central focus is in the believer's communion with God, and not to say "Hey, look at me!"

And you can't say that's what the NDOP folks are doing because a) as I said earlier, you ain't no mind reader, and b) more importantly, the NDOP folks don't just pray while the crowd stands around admiring them for being so Godly--they invite the crowd to pray as well.
"No elected official, whatever his office, is required to check his religion at the door."

Of course they are. The disestablishment clause exists solely to prevent government officials from acting so as to favor one church or religion. Moreover, the Oklahoma Bill of Rights II-5 is quite specific on this point.

As to the impression they are creating, I was there. You were not there. I win.
If they were inviting all Oklahomans of faith to participate, you might be able to make the case that they were not trying to marginalize anyone. It was clear enough from the event itself that only evangelicals were welcome. Given that, we have government officials taking time out of their day to stand with a group which excludes those of other faiths.

This is surely legal (unless they used state property to support the rally) but it is just as surely insulting and demeaning to those of other faiths, including non-Xn's, Mormons, and even conscientious Catholics and other Xn's who'd not sign up to that covenant.

If this had happened at a church, of if the organizers didn't go out of their way to create a false impression of official endorsement, I'd not complain. As it is, though, they are clearly trying to take tiny steps towards repealing II-5 and the First Amendment to boot.
"So public prayer is okay, provided its central focus is in the believer's communion with God, and not to say 'Hey, look at me!'"

And now I know for sure you've never attended. Public displays of personal piety are the very essence of the event.
You talk of impressions as if they were brute facts and not arbitrary perceptions. My point remains intact: you're not the Amazing Kreskin; therefore, you have NO IDEA what impression the particpants had as their intent. That you were there and I wasn't is completely pointless--unless you're arguing that attendance to the event renders the onlooker with the ability to read minds.

The disestablishment clause? What part of the establishment clause equates public participation in a religious event with "Congress shall make no laws establishing any religion"? It's a PRAYER MEETING, not a legislative event. And unless the Oklahoma legislature has some sort of authority to override the U.S. Constitution, I fail to see how the Okie Bill of Rights is even germane.

Personally, I'm rather sick of the argument that the practicing of one religion somehow demeans other religions. Nonsense. Freedom of Religion implies that members of one religion must display religious tolerance towards members of other religions, because EVERYONE is free to practice his religion as he sees fit. Christians fall under the subset of "everyone."

Likewise, I'm sick of the accusation that "these people" are out to repeal the First Amendment, etc, ad nauseam. It's alarmistic; it's divisive; it's reactionary; and, most importantly, it's untrue. It's also the same sort of argument a Klansman would use ("these people" being the black ones), or a brownshirter ("these people" being the judische Schweine). Mah goodness me--a mind IS a terrible thing to waste, ain't it?

As for "Public displays of personal piety are the very essence of the event," I've already pointed out more than once that you're no mind-reader and so have NO IDEA what the essence of the event truly is. Even if you were correct that Christ forbade his followers to pray in public (and, to reiterate, you're not), the one with authority to judge them for their alleged misdeed is Yeshua Ha Meshiah the Christ and NOT Damion the Agnostichicagokie. No one's died and crowned you Arbiter of All Things Theologically Consistent.

But, like you say, I wasn't there, so maybe I missed out on the coronation as well.

That's a--I say--that's a JOKE, son!
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