Jay Reding.com

The Myth Of American Theocracy

The American Prospect has an interesting review of books purporting to expose the imminent arrival of “theocracy” to America. Peter Steinfels takes a look at some of the arguments for this theory and finds them lacking:

But the idea, increasingly voiced by left-of-center activists and intellectuals, that religion is the driving force of the administration’s policies and the leading threat to American democracy is exaggerated and misplaced. Phillips, Rudin, and Goldberg themselves regularly stick qualifying phrases into their declarations of alarm. They know that fanaticism and nuttiness, including downright dangerous nuttiness, can be found all over the place in a religious and political landscape as vast and diverse as America’s. And they know better than to equate hardcore religious-right leaders and organizations, let alone the still smaller kernel of literal theocrats, with evangelical Americans in general, who constitute between 30 percent and 40 percent of the population and who have swung massively into the Republican camp in the last three decades.

The task, in other words, is not simply to shine light on faith-based anti-democratic currents but to map context, patterns, proportions, and trends, tracing not only real connections but also deep differences between what’s marginal and what’s central. This task, in the end, they fail to accomplish.

The “theocrat” slur is a particularly dumb one, and it’s being driven by the anti-religious bigotry of the secular left more than anything else. What passes for “theocracy” these days has been commonplace throughout American history, and yet America has never fallen into “theocratic” rule. Steinfels is quite right to point out that 30-40% of the American electorate consists of evangelical Christians — if the Democrats want to alienate all those voters, they’re going to have virtually no chance of ever winning an election in this country.

Steinfels also points out the larger theoretical problem with the anti-“theocrat” bandwagon:

Exaggeration and inaccuracy also matter because they decrease any chance of mobilizing the opposition to the country’s current course, as these writers ardently desire. They draw bold and broad lines between empiricism, science, tolerance, rationality, and democracy, on the one hand, and faith, theology, revelation, persecution, irrationality, and authoritarianism, on the other; and they assign whatever they like or dislike to one side of the divide or the other. This dualism disregards rational dimensions of faith and theology (as well as faith dimensions of science and rationality) and neglects the historical reality that the modern world of empiricism, science, and Enlightenment reason has produced its own irrational nightmares. Treating the moral questions that agitate conservative Christians as obviously settled beyond all reasoned argument does not just target theocrats. It sprays bullets widely into the ranks of moderate evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and even many centrist and liberal believers.

He’s exactly right on that. As much as the secular left hates the idea, religious experience has always been a major element in American life. The rhetoric of the left alienates not only Christian fundamentalists, but the evangelicals who make up a significant portion of the mainstream of American society. For all its allusions to the supremacy of logic and rationality, it really is based in the most naked bigotry. It rudely and arrogantly treats all people of faith as being stupid for believing in something beyond the sphere of human perception.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t groups that misuse religion — but the rise of secular fundamentalism alienates all those people of faith from making rational stands against the misuse of religion in the public sphere. It polarizes everyone into either defending or rejecting religion itself rather than having a substantive conversation about the place of religion in society. This causes problems, even for those who might share many of the same convictions as the anti-“theocracy” crowd:

At the end of her book, calling for a movement to oppose the theocrats, Goldberg runs up all the old banners of the war between secularism and religion, pitting “freedom and Enlightenment” against “stale constricting dogmas” and “holy books.” Reading those words, I question not only whether I — and a lot of people like me — belong in her ranks, but also whether she, or Kevin Phillips, or even my friend Jim Rudin, really want us.

It would seem that secular fundamentalism is no less arrogant, no less dogmatic, and no less immune to reason than its Christian counterpart.

14 responses to “The Myth Of American Theocracy”

  1. Justin says:

    There’s no such thing as “secular fundamentalism”, since “secularism” has no scripture. Although we do have some guiding texts, such as the Constitution of the United States of America.

    Public secularism is how a society of religious pluralism survives, and it’s astounding that a law student would have to be told that.

    The reason that evangelicals are equated with fundamentalism is because the terms are synonymous. That’s not an anti-Christian slur; that’s the honest truth, as related to me completely openly and unabashedly by evangelical figures themselves. The evangelicals say that they’re fundamentalists who want our government to govern according to the precepts of Christianity. Your post doesn’t speak to that basic point, it just asserts that evangelicals are lying or something when they tell me that.

    My personal position is that faith and reason are incompatible, mutually exclusive, and you lay out exactly the case for my position in your post:

    “It rudely and arrogantly treats all people of faith as being stupid for believing in something beyond the sphere of human perception.”

    Believing in something that you have no reason to believe is unreasonable, by definition. You excoriate the left for it regularly, but religion gets a pass from you. Religious people are not stupid, they’re simply involved in two thought processes simultaneously – a presumably rational process for living in the real world, and an irrational thought process where they believe untestable things about unverifiable entities for no reason whatsoever. If it’s beyond the human sphere of perception, how could one possibly arrive at any true conclusions about it?

    Some religious people believe that those untestable, unverifiable made-up conclusions are something that the rest of us have to live by, too, and that’s what secularists like myself oppose, from the foundation of this country’s constitution.

    “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t groups that misuse religion — but the rise of secular fundamentalism alienates all those people of faith from making rational stands against the misuse of religion in the public sphere. It polarizes everyone into either defending or rejecting religion itself rather than having a substantive conversation about the place of religion in society.”

    If religious moderates refuse to rise up against the fundamentalists in their midst, the fault is not imtemperate rhetoric from the victims of religion, but moderate cowardice. If moderates would rather give tacit approval to their theocractic religious peers than join with people who worship differently or not at all, then they’re not really moderates or reasonable at all.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    There’s no such thing as “secular fundamentalism”, since “secularism” has no scripture. Although we do have some guiding texts, such as the Constitution of the United States of America.

    Odd then how the Constitution specifically enshrines the right to free exercise of religion in the First Amendment.

    Public secularism is how a society of religious pluralism survives, and it’s astounding that a law student would have to be told that.

    Except that isn’t at all true. There’s nothing that demands that government be expressly secular — in fact, that’s never been the case in the United States, and nowhere in the Constitution does it say that government must be absolutely secular. In fact, the Founders went out of the way to preserve religious liberties in this country.

    The reason that evangelicals are equated with fundamentalism is because the terms are synonymous.

    No, they’re not. The term “Christian Fundamentalist” has a very specific meaning. (There’s a good background article on this here.) Fundamentalists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists.

    The evangelicals say that they’re fundamentalists who want our government to govern according to the precepts of Christianity.

    Except why is that a problem? Is there something so innately wrong about a government that governs according to the fundamentals of Christian philosophy that it is intolerable to all non-Christians. Note here that we’re not talking about a government that mandates everyone by Christian, but applies Christian values to the state. If anything even remotely Christian is completely unacceptable, then the whole foundation of our society has to go, since the Enlightenment principle of innate rights are rooted in the theories of the Christian John Locke.

    My personal position is that faith and reason are incompatible, mutually exclusive…

    Which isn’t a view that you’ll find much support for…

    Believing in something that you have no reason to believe is unreasonable, by definition.

    Except there are plenty of things which science not only does not know, but cannot answer. For instance, science can only theorize about what, if anything, existed prior to the Big Bang. Our very system of physics is predicated on the assumption that neither matter nor energy can be created, yet no one has any clue about how the universe could have popped into existence. Yes, cosmologists have theories, and we know roughly when the universe began, but we cannot measure anything before that because our entire system of measurement didn’t exist. What existed 21 billion years ago is completely unknown to science, and may be completely beyond the scope of our ability to perceive.

    Religious people are not stupid, they’re simply involved in two thought processes simultaneously – a presumably rational process for living in the real world, and an irrational thought process where they believe untestable things about unverifiable entities for no reason whatsoever. If it’s beyond the human sphere of perception, how could one possibly arrive at any true conclusions about it?

    Which assumes that there’s absolutely no rational basis for faith, which isn’t really true. In fact, one can make the case that because human brains are hardwired for religious experience, faith is something that’s innate to the human condition.

    Some religious people believe that those untestable, unverifiable made-up conclusions are something that the rest of us have to live by, too, and that’s what secularists like myself oppose, from the foundation of this country’s constitution.

    Let’s take an example of that. The doctrine of human rights is predicated on the assumption that all human beings have intrinsic worth in some way. That’s a completely untestable theory. A purely utilitarian scheme would have no compunction against murdering someone if it served the greater good. You can’t have a doctrine of human rights without recognizing something that makes all humans worthy of protection.

    Without that doctrine, it’s pointless and stupid to even talk about human rights, as the whole thing becomes a completely arbitrary construction. In that case, why the hell should we care about “justice” or “injustice” at all? After all, those ultimately depend on a universal doctrine of innate human rights which is completely untestable, unverifiable, and totally unscientific. Yet it’s rather hard to argue that things would be better if the concept were abolished.

    If religious moderates refuse to rise up against the fundamentalists in their midst, the fault is not imtemperate rhetoric from the victims of religion, but moderate cowardice. If moderates would rather give tacit approval to their theocractic religious peers than join with people who worship differently or not at all, then they’re not really moderates or reasonable at all.

    Except what you’ve done is just said that all religious belief is irrational, and should be removed from the public sphere in any way. Which is exactly the sort of thing I would call “secular fundamentalism”…

  3. Justin says:

    “Odd then how the Constitution specifically enshrines the right to free exercise of religion in the First Amendment.”

    Nothing odd about it, since secularists aren’t opposed to people exercising their religion freely. They’re merely opposed to religious coercion, which the constitution also forbids.

    “There’s nothing that demands that government be expressly secular — in fact, that’s never been the case in the United States, and nowhere in the Constitution does it say that government must be absolutely secular. In fact, the Founders went out of the way to preserve religious liberties in this country.”

    Again, you’re misconstruing my meaning. The government is secular, as expressly stated by the first amendment, because only under a secular government can the freedom of religion be preserved for all.

    “Is there something so innately wrong about a government that governs according to the fundamentals of Christian philosophy that it is intolerable to all non-Christians.”

    Definately. Prohibitions against homosexuality or other kinds of sexual conduct? Prohibitions against contraceptives? Prohibitions against interracial marriage? Prohibitions against dancing, for pete’s sake? I’m sure you have some kind of half-assed “Christian” philosophy that allows you to do all those things, if you wanted, but the Christians who want the government to be Christian consider those things against God’s will.

    And even if that’s not what we’re talking about, you must not go to church much to assume that “Christian philsophy” is some universally-understood, universally-agreed-upon set of principles that literally every Christian is going to agree on. The over 4,000 individual Christian denominations in this country alone seems like pretty compelling evidence that there’s no one view of “Christian philosophy” that is universal. So exactly whose Christian principles do you expect the government to follow?

    “Note here that we’re not talking about a government that mandates everyone by Christian, but applies Christian values to the state. ”

    Unless there’s a compelling secular interest for whatever those principles are, those are exactly the same thing. It hardly matters if the government expects me to be a Christian if it’s mandated that I must live exactly like one.

    “If anything even remotely Christian is completely unacceptable, then the whole foundation of our society has to go, since the Enlightenment principle of innate rights are rooted in the theories of the Christian John Locke.”

    Keep thwomping that strawman. Nobody’s suggested that everything Christians produce is anathema, no matter how much you misrepresent me that way. But the simple fact is, Christianity has a number of proscriptions and precepts that are justified only theologically, and by no recognizable secular purpose. Not working on Sunday, for instance.

    “Except there are plenty of things which science not only does not know, but cannot answer.”

    Yes. The reasonable response to those things is to say “I don’t know the answer yet”, not to simply make up the answer that suits you best and defend it with ignorance.

    “What existed 21 billion years ago is completely unknown to science, and may be completely beyond the scope of our ability to perceive.”

    …so? You believe that, from a position of ignorance about what events if any happened 21 billion years ago, it’s appropriate to assert that you know something called a “God” exists, and that he wrote a book called the Bible?

    You’re really going to tell me that’s something I should find “reasonable”? If you wanted to prove that Christians aren’t unreasonable, you’re not exactly on the right track.

    “In fact, one can make the case that because human brains are hardwired for religious experience, faith is something that’s innate to the human condition.”

    Using the same evidence, one could make the much more likely case that, because brains are hardwired for faith, the gods we have faith in exist only in our minds.

    “The doctrine of human rights is predicated on the assumption that all human beings have intrinsic worth in some way. That’s a completely untestable theory.”

    Sure. But that need not be the only basis for a desire to uphold human rights. Simple practicality provides such a basis, along the lines of Rawls’ “Veil of ignorance.” Other bases can be found, as well. We need hardly invoke superstition to explain why it’s a good idea to enact a society that upholds individual rights instead of trampling them.

    “A purely utilitarian scheme would have no compunction against murdering someone if it served the greater good. ”

    Or, say, executing them? Or torturing them? Oh, excuse me. The euphamism of the day is “alternative interrogation techniques.”

    For all your talk of Christians holding the high ground in regards to a basis for upholding individual human rights, the prevalence of support among Christians for the death penalty and the president’s torture legislation amply demonstrates it’s all just talk.

    “In that case, why the hell should we care about “justice” or “injustice” at all?”

    People want them. I want them. It’s obvious that societies that provide them are stable; societies that don’t are typically not. (Not for long, anyway.) I want to live in a stable society, for my own self-interest. On purely utililitarian grounds, why is that an insufficient basis to preserve human rights? Surely the idea of a group of persons working for mutual self-interest isn’t something you doubt can work, right? Isn’t that the basis of the free market?

    “Except what you’ve done is just said that all religious belief is irrational, and should be removed from the public sphere in any way.”

    Ease up on that strawman, friend. They don’t last long when you abuse them like that!

    Religious belief is irrational, and I have a right not to be governed by it. But why would I have a problem with people being religious? I’m not taking a stand against Manger scenes or the Ten Commandments, except where the money for those things is expected to come out of my pocket. People have a right to believe whatever they want, even unreasonable religious superstitions.

    But they don’t have a right to force them on others. I have a right to buy contraception from people who want to sell it to me, even over the objections of Christians. If that’s something that you can agree with, then you’re a secularist like me. Yes, you can be a secularist and a Christian. Many, many are.

  4. Erica says:

    Let’s summarize:

    1) Since science doesn’t have all the answers, and you really know very little science, you’re going to just start making things up.

    2) Unless you’re a solopsist or totally ignorant of the theory of evolution, it’s not that difficult to see how morality can exist without a god. 4 billion years of evolution is probably a sufficient enforcer.

    3) We’re not hardwired for a god, we’re hardwired to extract patterns from our environment. Some patterns, however, only make sense when we don’t have all the information. Given a lack of information about meteorology, it isn’t silly to hypothesize that dancing brings rain.

    Are theists ever going to come up with any new arguments? BTW – I’d be ok with our government based on Christian values as long as the United Methodist Church on Garfield Street in Wisconsin Rapids was the church we consulted for those values and the lay leader of that church was elected the arbitor of Christian values for America. My father is a very good man and a devout Christian, and he’s never done a bad thing in his life – he would make a very good moral arbitor for America.

  5. Haggs says:

    I don’t know. I’m a liberal Christian and I worry that some Christians on the far right are trying to turn this country into a theocracy. It’s not because of any anti-religion feelings on my part, because I’m not anti-religion, but because I see those people trying to push their personal beliefs on the entire country.

    For example: It’s fine, though discriminatory, if some people believe that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry. But should those people have the right to turn that belief into law? That’s forcing their beliefs on others and one of the reasons that a lot of Americans, including many Christians, are worried that this country is turning into a theocracy.

  6. zzx375 says:

    Guess I am slow, but how exactly do you arrive at ‘morality’ with the notion of God?

  7. Erica says:

    Very interesting question, ZZ, and one I’ve thought about quite a bit. In a god system, are things right because god knows they are right or because god says they are right?

  8. Jay Reding says:

    The government is secular, as expressly stated by the first amendment, because only under a secular government can the freedom of religion be preserved for all.

    Is that truly the case? Could there be a religiously-oriented state that nevertheless provides equal rights for those of other faiths, or none at all? I’m not at all sure that I buy the concept that a state must be absolutely secular to be free. Ecumenical perhaps, but not necessarily secular.

    Definately. Prohibitions against homosexuality or other kinds of sexual conduct? Prohibitions against contraceptives? Prohibitions against interracial marriage? Prohibitions against dancing, for pete’s sake? I’m sure you have some kind of half-assed “Christian” philosophy that allows you to do all those things, if you wanted, but the Christians who want the government to be Christian consider those things against God’s will.

    I doubt those are mainstream views. As a Catholic, I have no problems with either dancing (other than being bad at it) or interracial marriage. I personally disagree with the church on contraception, and most Protestant denominations do as well. Furthermore, there’s nothing that says that Catholics must ban the use of contraceptives for everyone else. I support freedom of conscience for pharmacists, but most Catholics don’t care if the Lutheran couple across the street has a big Box O’ Rubbers in their drawer.

    As for gay marriage, there’s more than enough justification in the fact that one shouldn’t make sweeping societal changes without the people voting on it without having to delve into religious objections.

    And since when is Catholicism “half-assed” anyway?

    Nobody’s suggested that everything Christians produce is anathema, no matter how much you misrepresent me that way. But the simple fact is, Christianity has a number of proscriptions and precepts that are justified only theologically, and by no recognizable secular purpose. Not working on Sunday, for instance.

    Except again, there isn’t a movement to ban people from working on Sundays — in general, each local government decides whether or not they wish to pass Blue Laws or not, and I can think of only a handful of towns that still have them to any significant degree.

    Yes. The reasonable response to those things is to say “I don’t know the answer yet”, not to simply make up the answer that suits you best and defend it with ignorance.

    The problem is that there are questions that science cannot answer. Science can tell us exactly how we evolved, when the universe was born, etc., but there’s a whole realm of metaphysical questions that science cannot provide good – or any – answers to.

    …so? You believe that, from a position of ignorance about what events if any happened 21 billion years ago, it’s appropriate to assert that you know something called a “God” exists, and that he wrote a book called the Bible?

    No, I believe that the existence of sentient life and the very universe itself requires a chain of independently infinitely improbable coincidence that the fact that they did happen through little more than random chance is nearly impossible. Had there not been minute differences in the temperature of the Big Bang, our universe would be a cloud of undifferentiated light gasses and radiation. Had the mass of a proton been slightly larger or slightly smaller, matter as we know it would never have formed.

    Chalking all of that up to mere coincidence seems to be as bold a statement as saying that there was some reason for it all.

    Using the same evidence, one could make the much more likely case that, because brains are hardwired for faith, the gods we have faith in exist only in our minds.

    And if it is, so what? Then religion still has a purpose, and its still a net benefit to human functioning.

    Sure. But that need not be the only basis for a desire to uphold human rights. Simple practicality provides such a basis, along the lines of Rawls’ “Veil of ignorance.” Other bases can be found, as well. We need hardly invoke superstition to explain why it’s a good idea to enact a society that upholds individual rights instead of trampling them.

    Rawls created an intriguing thought experiment, but that’s all that it is. We don’t live behind a “veil of ignorance”, and justifying human rights on such an assumption is quite flimsy. Furthermore, practicality would sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs of the many – in that case we can say that we have a practical need for oil, and the ability to take it, so why shouldn’t we kill everyone in the Middle East to take it? There has to be something intrinsic about human life that creates a doctrine of human rights, otherwise civil government is ultimately meaningless and the only constant is the ability to exercise power.

    For all your talk of Christians holding the high ground in regards to a basis for upholding individual human rights, the prevalence of support among Christians for the death penalty and the president’s torture legislation amply demonstrates it’s all just talk.

    I follow the doctrine that when people commit acts of that level of barbarity, they disavow themselves of their very humanity. However, I fully admit that isn’t a belief that’s at all justified by Christianity.

    People want them. I want them. It’s obvious that societies that provide them are stable; societies that don’t are typically not. (Not for long, anyway.) I want to live in a stable society, for my own self-interest. On purely utililitarian grounds, why is that an insufficient basis to preserve human rights? Surely the idea of a group of persons working for mutual self-interest isn’t something you doubt can work, right? Isn’t that the basis of the free market?

    Except all of that is based on the idea that there’s some kind of innate human rights that makes it wrong to kill someone and take all their stuff. If all we are happen to be means to an end, then society really doesn’t make sense — pure utility is probably better served by an enlightened dictatorship than it is by a democratic society.

    Religious belief is irrational, and I have a right not to be governed by it. But why would I have a problem with people being religious? I’m not taking a stand against Manger scenes or the Ten Commandments, except where the money for those things is expected to come out of my pocket. People have a right to believe whatever they want, even unreasonable religious superstitions.

    But they don’t have a right to force them on others. I have a right to buy contraception from people who want to sell it to me, even over the objections of Christians. If that’s something that you can agree with, then you’re a secularist like me. Yes, you can be a secularist and a Christian. Many, many are.

    I believe that this country was founded on a system of Judeo-Christian values, and those values have always been a part of this country’s fabric of society. Personally, I don’t care if you buy a package of Trojans every day. I do care if a pharmicist is forced by the state to go against his or her beliefs in selling them to you. (In fact, I also support the right of Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis to not take fares who are carrying alcohol on the same principle.)

    I believe that religion is an important part of society and religious people are more likely than not to be more considerate of the benefit of society as a whole. I believe that the doctrine of the strict separation of church and state is wrong — the government should not take the place of religion, but nor should they drive it away. If one is horrendously offended by the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, my instinct is not to change the Pledge, but to tell the person objecting to unknot their knickers…

    Very interesting question, ZZ, and one I’ve thought about quite a bit. In a god system, are things right because god knows they are right or because god says they are right?

    In general, it’s both. If one assumes an omniscient God, then God knows what is right, and what He (or She, I suppose) says is right is, in fact, right.

    And since I’ve been looking for an excuse to link to this, here’s a much funnier theological discussion:

    http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/spoofs_satire/god_or_no_god.php

  9. Justin says:

    “Could there be a religiously-oriented state that nevertheless provides equal rights for those of other faiths, or none at all?”

    How could it? There would be one very prominent right that the state could not provide for other religions – the right to be the state’s official religion.

    Obviously a secular state – that is, a state where all laws are justified by practical secular purpose and not because of their inclusion in a religion’s holy writ – is the only way to preserve equality for a religiously plural society.

    “Ecumenical perhaps, but not necessarily secular.”

    Not everybody believes in God, Jay. Simply putting all the theistic faiths on the same level is hardly being egalitarian.

    “I doubt those are mainstream views. As a Catholic, I have no problems with either dancing (other than being bad at it) or interracial marriage.”

    Well, that’s great, but who says it’s going to be the Catholic faith that gets to be in charge?

    “I personally disagree with the church on contraception, and most Protestant denominations do as well. ”

    Well, how nice for you. The Pope thinks it’s an affront to God and God’s purpose for sex to use contraception. So when the lawmakers address the question of contraception, and they’ve decided that the Catholic faith is going to provide the basis for our nations laws, whether you’re Catholic or not, whose opinion on the issue do you think they’re going to give more weight?

    It’s astounding to me that you don’t yet see what I’m getting at. You may very well disagree with the position of your church on a host of issues. Keeping the government secular is how you’re allowed to do that. What’s hard to see about that?

    “I support freedom of conscience for pharmacists”

    Well, incidentally, I do too; that freedom is called “tendering your resignation.” Nobody forced anybody to become a pharmacist at gunpoint, but once they decided voluntarily to do that they took on a responsibility to provide the health care that people need, the same as any doctor.

    “And since when is Catholicism “half-assed” anyway?”

    Well, I’d say that any movement completely dependant on the words of one man being held to be inerrant is pretty half-assed, but if you’ll read more closely above you’ll see it was your philisophy I held to be half-assed.

    I was actually wrong. Since you provided absolutely no rationale for why you get to disagree with the inerrant Pope on whether or not it’s a sin to pop the Pill, I’d have to amend my statement and describe your philosophy as “no-assed.”

    “Except again, there isn’t a movement to ban people from working on Sundays — in general, each local government decides whether or not they wish to pass Blue Laws or not, and I can think of only a handful of towns that still have them to any significant degree.”

    Still have them. As in, they used to have them.

    Proves my point exactly.

    “The problem is that there are questions that science cannot answer.”

    No questions that are relevant to the practicalities of day-to-day government. We hardly need to plumb the meaning of human existence or some bullshit to determine a trade policy, or rename a post office, or do the thousand other tasks we ask of government. Only that our government respond intelligently to the facts as they can be understood.

    “Had the mass of a proton been slightly larger or slightly smaller, matter as we know it would never have formed.”

    Sigh. Sophmore philosophy at best. There’s no evidence that the mass of the proton is at all variable, and significant evidence that most of the so-called “fundamental constants” of the universe are actually just derivative values.

    And so what? The cup does not take the shape of the water. To say that “if things were different, life as we know it would not exist” is not a very significant statement. Life might exist not as we know it, or not at all. Or perhaps the only kind of universe that can exist is the one exactly like the one we live in now. Who knows?

    But what the hell does any of that have to do with government? The last people I want involved with man’s search for meaning are politicians.

    “Then religion still has a purpose, and its still a net benefit to human functioning.”

    That’s hardly a proven assertion, and recent evidence indicates otherwise. Religion is what it is, and again, this is a strawman – nobody’s advocating the elimination of religion. But if we understand that religion is merely a human endeavor, a human creation, an all-too-human response to a universe that is difficult or impossible to understand at times, what possible usefulness could that have to the practical decisions of government? Why should we govern based on something you’re willing to believe is just make-believe?

    “Furthermore, practicality would sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs of the many”

    Which we already do, very often. Rawls’ thought experiment, though, is designed to force you into the position of potentially being one of the few, and thus limiting the extent to which you’re willing to write checks for the many that the few have to cash.

    “Except all of that is based on the idea that there’s some kind of innate human rights that makes it wrong to kill someone and take all their stuff.”

    There need be no “innate human right” to want to do that, merely the recognition that I myself would really hate it if someone killed me and took all my stuff, thus, I do what seems best to prevent that from happening. Even taking advantage of others’ desires to not be killed themselves to help me.

    Again, it’s astounding to have to convince a free-market capitalist that there’s a benefit to people working together for common purpose. It’s a natural response, and we see it all over the natural world in almost every species. Why would humans be different?

    “I believe that this country was founded on a system of Judeo-Christian values”

    I’ve been through the Constitution and I don’t see a single value I remember from the Bible. Where the Bible says “Thou shalt have no other gods but me”, the Constitution grants freedom from coercion on religion. Where the Bible says God is the appointer of kings, the Constitution says that the people shall elect their own leaders. Where the Bible says thou shalt not covet thy neighbors possessions, the free market says thou shalt keep up with the Joneses.

    I hear over and over again that “this country was founded on a system of Judeo-Christian values”, but I don’t recognize a single one of our country’s values – participatory government, freedom of conscience, privacy, and equal protection under the law from anywhere in the Bible. The values of this country are the Enlightenment values, the values of men and women who rejected the intellectual tyranny that the Christian Church had inflicted on Western civilization.

    “I do care if a pharmicist is forced by the state to go against his or her beliefs in selling them to you.”

    Well, this is off-topic, but again, I feel that when someone accepts a contract of employment, they can either fulfuill the terms of that contract or withdraw from it. Pharmacists are employed to dispense perscriptions written by doctors. If they have a problem with doing that they’re perfectly free to seek a new career.

    “I believe that religion is an important part of society and religious people are more likely than not to be more considerate of the benefit of society as a whole.”

    The fact that religious people are more likely to be incarcerated than atheists and the nonreligious indicates to me that this is not necessarily the case. Religion doesn’t make people better than they already are.

  10. Erica says:

    I think Justin gave you a very good reply, so this is slightly off topic.

    Surely every person, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender, has the same right to walk into a pharmacy and obtain a prescription that was filled out by a licenced healthcare professional, assuming that they can pay for it and assuming that there is no medical reason why they should not. I thought we were past the time when one could deny service to a group of people based purely on one’s personal beliefs.

    Can a pharmacist refuse to give a mentally ill patient his anti-psychotic medication because she is a Scientologist? Can a Christian Scientist refuse to fill any and all prescriptions because he thinks modern medicine is wrong?

  11. Erica says:

    Can we assume an omniscient god in Christian mythology? I don’t believe we can, based on what the Bible says. It specifically says in the Bible that God waits for people to do things like make up their minds, indicating that God does not actually know the outcome and acts in real time. How do we actually know what God thinks is right? There are many people who claim to know, but how do we know they are telling the truth or are actually in contact with the Christian God? The only reason we have to think that the Bible is the Word of God is because the Bible says it is the Word of God. With no outside source to confirm the Bible as the Word of God, how can we trust it? Perhaps honey bees have religion but their close relatives, the parasitic wasps, do not. Honey bees must recognize that they have an intrinsic worth bestowed upon them by a deity, and this is why they cooperate.

  12. Erica says:

    Sorry, delete the second copy of that.

  13. Justin says:

    Why would we assume God is omniscient? Christians don’t even act like God is omnicient, they’re always praying for God to change his mind, etc.

    The Bible certainly doesn’t support an omniscient God.

  14. […] the post and comments at this link. “The Myth Of American Theocracy” by Jay Reding, a fellow who used to debate Lyz and who’s blog is linked to her site […]