Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You got religion in my government!

Alternate title: Trauma from Obama

Spot has been meaning to do a post on Barack Obama’s invitation to Democrats to embrace evangelical Christianity. Well, maybe not embrace exactly, but at least loosen up a little. This has been gnawing at Spotty for a while, but he needed some kind of a catalyst, a harmonic convergence, or a visit from Sarah Dippidy as one of Spot’s pups used to say, to get it going. Well, Spot’s prayers were answered. No, not by God, but by Poputonian at Hullabaloo. You’ll want to read the whole post. It starts this way:
I didn't get the memo from [James] Carville, so I don't know if he warned Democrats to tip-toe around religious issues and instead suggested that more votes could be had by assisting the religious right in their attempts to take over the government. But I wanted to revisit the statement made a few days ago by Barack Obama where he paid lip service to religious conservatives by stating Democrats should embrace the evangelical end of the spirituality spectrum. He crossed a line, in my opinion, when he said this:

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God.'"

An unfortunate formulation indeed. Poputonian goes on to discuss a 1765 monograph by John Adams entitled A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. Adams says:
Since the promulgation of Christianity, the two greatest systems of tyranny that have sprung from this original, are the canon and the feudal law.

Adams develops the theme that religion seeking ascendancy in temporal and well as religious affairs has been a scourge o mankind:
But another event still more calamitous to human liberty, was a wicked confederacy between the two systems of tyranny above described. It seems to have been even stipulated between them, that the temporal grandees should contribute every thing in their power to maintain the ascendancy of the priesthood, and that the spiritual grandees in their turn, should employ their ascendancy over the consciences of the people, in impressing on their minds a blind, implicit obedience to civil magistracy.

If that doesn’t sound like Katie and the Evangelicals to you, boys and girls, you haven’t been paying attention. Adams continues:
It was this great struggle [against ecclesiastical and civil tyranny] that peopled America. It was not religion alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror, of the infernal confederacy before described, that projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America.

Poputonian concludes, in part, this way:
I don't think Democrats should acquiesce on the fundamental principle of religious separation, one of the root causes of the American rebellion . . .

Nor does Spot. And it is here that Spot has to disagree with the guy he supports for the Minnesota state senate seat in District 41, Andrew Borene. In a recent blog post, Andrew
refers with approval to the Obama speech. But the idea that the United States is somehow formed under or beholden to a system of natural law – whatever its source, is antithetical to our entirely positive law constitutional system.

Religion cannot be brought into government without danger to both. This is one area where the Muslims have it absolutely wrong. The tendency of any theologically-based or tinged government is to veer to the extreme. Whether it is the colonist-influenced Likud party in Israel, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the dominance of the Catholic Church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Spain, or the domination of Calvinism in the Netherlands in the seventeenth, and perhaps even the influence of the Church of England during the Victorian era with its “white man’s burden” and ultimately ruinous notions of empire, the effect is always the same.

Religious thinking can and should inform our thinking about the social contract, our own behavior, and our relationship with others. Tinting government with theology however is a recipe for disaster, as John Adams and the rest of the Enlightenment figures who founded this country understood.


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