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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Response to Justin Vacula's Comments

Justin Vacula took some time to comment on THIS posting, so I wanted to take a few minutes to respond in kind.  Note that I'm not making a habit of defending what I write, no matter how articulated the opposing point of view may be.  I am not prone to giving anyone a soapbox to promote their intellectual wares either.  However I enjoy Justin's writing and I'm thrilled that he takes the time to read the virtual crap I write.  While I don't agree with everything Justin writes, I greatly respect his well articulated perspectives.

Anyway, on to the stuff.  I've pasted Justin's comments, word for word, below; my comments are noted in [blue bracketed] text.


I'm not sure what you mean when you note "atheism as another belief system" because, as you note, there are no supernatural beliefs. Atheism, properly defined, means lack of belief in any gods. Anyway...[Justin, your logic is flawed because "belief" as a word doesn't exclusively imply "supernatural" as a concept.  I can "believe" many different things that have nothing to do with a supernatural intervention.  For example I can believe that it will rain tomorrow...does that mean I am implying that God is going to make it rain?  No. ]  

I'm not sure what "non-religious extremists" are either. [They are individuals who "believe" that they have a right to strip out references to the belief systems of others from our culture, for example.] This idea of "people who are intent on taking any mention of religion and belief out of our culture" appears to be a strawman of the popular position which I and most atheists advocate called secularism in which we want religion to be kept separate from the government, not to have "any mention" removed. There is a crucial difference here. 

The founding fathers didn't want religion removed from society, but rather removed from government. The constitution is quite clear, as you mention, to not note that we are a Christian nation. The constitution's mentions of religion are noting that it be kept separate, too. 

You note: " If the intent of our founders was to have a society devoid of religious references, they would have said so in this first phrase of the first amendment." This isn't necessarily [I love it when the word "necessarily" is used in arguments.  But so I digress...] the case (and, again, they didn't want a society devoid of religious references) because there are many things they did not want that were not mentioned in certain places are anywhere.  [There are billions of things, potentially, that were not mentioned.  The point still stands though because it is reasonable to imply, as the Founding Fathers were by and large individuals who had a belief in the supernatural.  Note I am not falsely some do...that they were all traditional Christians, as that was not the case.  What I am claiming though is the reasonable idea that they did not want to exclude something from society that they themselves thought important...namely a belief in "god". ]

The establishment clause does not entail, simply as it were written, that we are a secular society, but rather the words and intent of the founding fathers say this... from my 9/11 speech:
 "Another issue that is important for many atheists, although it should be important for every American citizen, is the separation of church and state. Many have false impressions of what this phrase, tracing back to Thomas Jefferson in his address to the Danbury Baptists, actually means. Separation of church and state does not only mean, in legal terms, that the government is barred from declaring an official state religion, but rather means that the government should be completely neutral in matters of religion; government should not favor religion over non-religion or favor one religion over another religion. Separation of church and state is important because, in the eyes of the government, all religious beliefs or lack thereof are viewed as equal.

[I don't disagree with you, to a point.  The phrase  "completely neutral" doesn't mean "completely against" either.  What's more, there is no reference to "non-belief" in the Constitution, only a reference to religion.]

Some Muslims and Christians, and perhaps others, unjustly believe that the United States is a 'Christian nation.' The unsubstantiated belief of the United States as a Christian nation fuels the myth of the 'war with Islam' and it would not be much of a stretch to say that this belief is a threat to national security.  [I agree.  The United States is not a "Christian" nation.  But I will argue that the nation is one of belief systems...even belief systems that don't entail supernatural beliefs.]

While the majority of people in the United States may be Christians, this does make the United States a 'Christian nation' any more than a majority of Caucasians would make the United States a 'white nation.' One simply needs to read the Treaty of Tripoli, a document unanimously ratified by the United States Congress and signed by president John Adams, to realize that the United States, as the document itself says, “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”  [But "not founded on the Christian religion" doesn't mean "not founded on any belief system"; if you want to argue that "not Christian" means "not religious at all" then your logic is flawed, as excluding "Christian" simply excludes one possible belief system.  I could argue, for example, that Protestant Christians of the day (and even to this day) don't consider Catholics to be "Christian".]

Separation of church and state, whether people realize it or not, is what guarantees freedom of and freedom from religion – and this falsifies the notion that the United States is a 'Christian nation' that is at war with Islam. [I agree.] We best not fan the flames of what are seen to be religious wars, misrepresent the secular character of our nation, or distort history.  It is also the case, because of the idea of the United States as a 'Christian nation,' that non-Christians are viewed as somehow being un-American or even worse, enemies of America trying to destroy the foundations of the county which some believe to be “Christian principles.” [See the anti-Catholic rhetoric spewed against John F. Kennedy during the Presidential election of 1960 as an example of how very narrow definition of "Christian" can be in the United States.] The United States, as the Treaty of Tripoli suggests, is not founded on the Christian religion. America, rather, was founded on principles of freedom, liberty, and Enlightenment values.  [While I don't disagree with your general argument here, you are hanging far too much on a treaty that was signed in 1797.  In point of fact the United States has codified into treaty and/or law many things. ]

Further, the 'creator' mentioned in the Declaration of Independence -- which is not a founding document such as the United States Constitution and has no legal standing -- is properly understood as a deistic god, one which created the universe but has no concerned for human affairs. Mentions of 'natural rights' in the documents of the founding fathers are not, as some religious individuals think, references to a Christian or any specific god. Many of our founding fathers were either deistic or non-religious.  [Agreed.  But it's worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, all had some kind of belief system, even if it was not codified into a specific religion.  Are you aware of any of the Founding Fathers who were declared Atheists?  I don't think so...see HERE...specifically the sentence "None of the Founding Fathers were atheists."  Interestingly enough, this same citation makes good use of the Treaty of Tripoli as well.]

John Adams, in “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” wrote that the original states were “founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in the favor of the rights of mankind.”

No matter what the founding fathers believed, their intentions was clear; they wanted a separation of church and state and made sure to make no references to God in the United States Constitution, but rather references to religion in the constitution -- that there should be no religious test for public office and that no law should be made respecting an establishment of religion -- separate religion from the government."

["No religious test" doesn't mean excluding religious references in culture.  A belief in the supernatural was important to the individuals who founded this nation, and it continues to be important to the vast majority of those who live here today.  My bottom line premise is that extremists who attempt to strip away any reference to "god" from governance or culture are no better than others who attempt to ram their version of "god" down our collective throats.    In point of fact I have no time for either group.]


J Curtis said...

Pity that nobody commented on this. You seem to have put at least a little work into this and you raise some good points along with some that I don't agree with.

I'll try to address them shortly

Stephen Albert said...

JD...pity not required, as it's all for my own entertainment anyway. Glad you liked it though.

- Steve