Jay Reding.com

Sullivan’s “Christianist” Bogeyman

Andrew Sullivan tries to defend his sloppy neologism of “Christianist” and in so doing demonstrates his inability to understand the difference between Christianity and Islam. As Sullivan states:

I’m struck by how my neologism still offends so many. The term “Islamist” was coined to describe political regimes or political movements that have the source of their legitimacy in the Muslim God. It wa[s] coined in part to exclude secularized Muslims from their politicized counterparts.

All of that is true, but still sloppy. “Islamism” is a term used to describe radical Islam which holds that shar’ia is the only acceptable basis of law. There’s a huge and massive difference in what Sullivan is saying and what Islamism actually is. It’s that difference which shows why Sullivan’s argument is so sloppy. Sullivan further argues:

My use of the term Christianist similarly and simply describes those who believe that the source of any political system should be Christian revelation, rather than the secular principles of the Enlightenment and the American constitution. A reader recently described my use of “Christianist” as a

“misguided term for people who believe in universal justice and standards that come from a universal source.”

Well, yes, that is my definition. In the reader’s case, the universal source is the Bible. For Muslims, however, it is the Koran. And, of course, since both insist on the universal quality of their revelation, they are mutually incompatible, and democratic politics becomes impossible. Furthermore, since revelation of this kind is indeed the source of politics for Islamists and Christianists, I see no essential political difference between the two. The counterpoint to both is secular constitutional democracy, premised on a non-denominational achievement of individual freedom. When that freedom collides with religious truth, an Islamist or a Christianist has few qualms in squelching freedom. I differ. That’s the core of our “culture war”. There is no freedom I would not grant a Christianist or Islamist in the exercize of his religious faith; but there are plenty of freedoms that he would seek to deny me in the simple living of my life.

Sullivan forgets that the “secular” traditions of the Enlightenment don’t exist as he would have them. Our nation was expressly founded upon Judeo-Christian values. The Enlightenment philosophies of John Locke are all over Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Locke’s political philosophies were based on Christian ethics.

For instance, why does the Bill of Rights exist? The Bill of Rights does not grant any rights to anyone. They are assumed to be inherent and beyond the reach of government to destroy. From whence do those rights come? From God. If Sullivan wants to argue that it is inappropriate for a political movement to have the source of its legitimacy coming from God, then he’s got a deeper issue with American democracy itself. Jefferson wrote that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” So, was Jefferson a “Christianist” then? By Sullivan’s logic, he must have been.

The reason why American democracy has been so uniquely successful is because of that concept of negative liberty. There are things to which the state calls upon for legitimacy, one of which is the consent of the people, and the reason why the consent of the people is required is because the people are all imbued with God-given political rights which no state can take away. Absent that, the entire doctrine of American democracy loses its philosophical base.

Furthermore, Sullivan wants to argue that the Bible is the only source of universal revelation. For Muslims, the Qu’ran is the direct word of Allah and direct revelation. It must be strictly and absolutely followed. Not all Christians believe the same, only true Fundamentalists do. Certainly Roman Catholics don’t hold that view, nor necessarily do mainline Evangelical groups. Sullivan’s argument would only be right if his self-described “Christianist” “theocons” advocated replacing the laws of this country with Biblical laws. Yet they don’t — most “theocons” tend also to treat the Constitution with a level of respect that is significantly greater than those on the left who see it as a malleable document that can be used to shape social policy. In fact, that makes sense: someone who believes in the sanctity of Scripture is going to take our founding principles as sacrosanct as well.

What is the difference between “religious truth” and “moral reasoning” then? Is opposition to gay marriage expressly based on Biblical exhortations or the fact that politicized homosexuality has only existed in society for a few decades, and many homosexual groups wish to radically alter our culture in a way that threatens traditional values? Sullivan doesn’t want to seem to press into those issues. Likewise for abortion — can only “theocons” argue for the sanctity of human life? Sullivan utterly dismisses the very subtle argumentation in Ramesh Ponnuru’s (unfortunately titled) Party of Death and instead constructs a straw-man argument that he bashes over and over again.

The fact is that there is a manifest difference in fundamental theology between Islam and Christianity that no honest observer of the two can deny. Muhammad was expressly and openly a conqueror. He brought Islam to the Arabian Peninsula by the sword, and the Qu’ran is filled with military imagery. In contrast, Jesus was an ascetic and a pacifist. Sullivan wants to argue that Christianity has been far more bloody than Islam – which ignores the fact that the spread of radical Islam is the single greatest international problem that exists today, and has destabilized nearly every area it has touched. At the same time, the spread of Christianity throughout Asia and Africa has been peaceful, even beneficial. When Catholics are persecuted by the Chinese, you don’t see Catholics detonating car bombs in Beijing. Yet right now, Islam kills more people than any other faith, including their own. What we are seeing in the Middle East right now is less a clash of civilization than it is a Muslim civil war between Sunni and Shi’ite, even between radical Salafist Sunni and moderate Sunni.

Sullivan argues that there is “no freedom” that he would not grant a Muslim in the exercise of their faith — yet back when Sullivan’s ire was focused on the true enemy, he routinely decried the abuses done in the name of Islam. The fact remains that shar’ia and democracy cannot coincide. Any group that treats shar’ia as the only valid system of law cannot reconcile itself with a doctrine that treats all human beings as equals in the eye of God. Sullivan seems to want to equate Christianity and Islam as being equal in terms of their political philosophy — which ignores the respective theologies of the two. Christianity is expressly an apolitical religion, while Islam is expressly political in nature. The comparison Sullivan wants to make hold true to the nature of either Christianity or Islam.

Sullivan is not a dumb person, not by any stretch of the term. However, this line of logic continues to be sloppy. The neologism of “Christianist” is a convenient shorthand for a straw-man argument that Sullivan likes to raise again and again to bludgeon those who do not share his particular social views. It’s an easy way to dismiss arguments rather than engage them, and his constant use of terms like “theocon” remain infantile and utterly beneath someone who used to be one of America’s brightest public intellectuals. A true believer in the conservatism of doubt would be much less sloppy in applying a term that ignores the philosophical foundations upon which this country was founded.

35 responses to “Sullivan’s “Christianist” Bogeyman”

  1. Erica says:

    Congratulations on missing Sullivan’s point for the hundreth time.

    Our nation was expressly founded upon Judeo-Christian values.

    Oh, really? Which ones were those, exactly?

    See, I open the Bible, and it says “I am the LORD thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me.” A wholesale rejection of religious pluralism. On the other hand, when I look at the First Amendment, I see that it embraces religious pluralism.

    The Bible says “Thou shalt not covet.” Capitalism says “keep up with the Joneses”. Advertising is clearly anti-Biblical, being as it is designed to stimulate covetousness, yet, America allows it. The Bible says “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, yet Wicca is a recognized, protected religion just like any other. The Bible says “I do not suffer a woman to teach”, yet women are employed in schools and churches – even as pastors and leaders – throughout the nation. The Bible makes it clear that two different crops in the same field is an “abomination”, the same words used to describe eating shellfish and having gay sex, but the USDA advocates this very form of agriculture that so displeases the LORD.

    I look through the Bible and I don’t see a single mention of a nation electing its leaders; rather, I see kings who were raised to that position by divine fiat. Maybe you’ve forgotten, but we’ve fought several wars against that very philosophy of divine right of rule.

    It’s really nice and cute to say that “America was founded on Judeo-Christian values”, but there’s not a lick of truth in it. Rather, America was founded on progressive values that repudiated the Christian political tradition of convergence of church and state that had so ruled Europe for a millenium.

    Maybe they just don’t teach history to law students, or something? How could a political science major be so ignorant about the very political history of the nation in which he lives?

    Yet they don’t — most “theocons” tend also to treat the Constitution with a level of respect that is significantly greater than those on the left who see it as a malleable document that can be used to shape social policy.

    In the light of the conservative Congress voting to suspend habeas corpus for a certain class of criminal, that’s a hilarious lie.

    Sullivan wants to argue that Christianity has been far more bloody than Islam

    Really? Where?

    No, seriously. Point it out. Any statement of his where he believes that Christianity has been more bloody than Islam. I dare you.

    Honestly, Jay – for one who just criticized Sullivan for grappling with straw-men, you’ve done a great job of whalloping an Andrew-Sullivan-shaped one. Are your arms tired, yet? Hopefully you’re not too wiped out from finals to actually sit down and address what he’s actually saying.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    Erica, it helps if you actually read the argument being made…

    The principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence are taken almost verbatim from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Locke himself was a Christian, and based his concept of natural rights on Christian theology. (As did Hobbes before him.)

    But if you were paying attention in the slightest, you would have caught onto that.

    No, seriously. Point it out. Any statement of his where he believes that Christianity has been more bloody than Islam. I dare you.

    Here’s a hint, for the second time: try reading something before making an ass of yourself. Sullivan stated:

    History suggests that both have been deployed in the service of terrifying dictatorships, mass murder and religious war. In some ways, Christianity’s record in this is actually worse than Islam’s. (Emphasis mine.)

    Apparently understanding arguments just isn’t your forte…

  3. Erica says:

    Erica, it helps if you actually read the argument being made…

    Gosh, funny that I was able to quote your argument and reply to your verbatim statements, all the while not being able to read, apparently. How the hell am I even typing this, since the written word is apparently a mystery to me?

    You’re kidding yourself if you think you’ve put forth some kind of intellectual mystery here. Your meaning is completely plain, which is why I was able to demolish your entire argument in about three easy steps. Now that we’re done with the witty banter and your infantile ad hominem, do you think you could bestir yourself to address my points?

    The principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence are taken almost verbatim from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Locke himself was a Christian, and based his concept of natural rights on Christian theology. (As did Hobbes before him.)

    Hey, that’s great. Unfortunately, just because Locke was Christian doesn’t mean that Christianity is responsible for America. Try again, please.

    Also, and it’s astounding and shameful that a lawyer-to-be has to be reminded of this – the Declaration of Independance is not a document with force of law in America. It’s nothing more than a missive. It was basically an 18th century press release.

    It’s the Constitution that forms the basis of our government, and you might have noticed – if you’d actually ever read it – that it doesn’t mention your God even one single time; at it certainly contains no principles even arguably derived from the Christian Bible.

    Apparently understanding arguments just isn’t your forte…

    And apparently answering questions isn’t yours. I asked you to, and I quote myself:

    Point it out. Any statement of his where he believes that Christianity has been more bloody than Islam.

    Now, can you show me where it says “more bloody” in the portion of Sullivan’s remarks you quoted?

    No? Of course you can’t. “Worse” is not a synonym for “bloody”, not even in the context of his remarks. Especially not in the context of his remarks, and his other remarks on his blog (which you should try reading sometime, instead of just quote mining.) To suggest that Sullivan believes that Christianists are bloodier than Islamistsis to betray a staggering ignorance of his on-the-record remarks on the subject. But that would be par for the course for you, wouldn’t it? Criticizing writing that you haven’t even read?

    The simple truth is that Sullivan’s Christianists are no boogymen; they’re real people whose real actions Sullivan documents nearly every day. I see that you had absolutely no rebuttal to that, which is why you give absolutely no indication that Sullivan has documented the Christianist phenomena for several years nowhere in your so-called “rebuttal.”

    Deal with the arguments, Jay. I’d say that ridiculous misrepresentations are beneath you, but then, you are trying to be a lawyer, after all…

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Erica,

    Don’t get all high and mighty – you still can’t even be bothered to understand the argument at hand. In fact, I already dealt with your objection, and if you’d bothered to actually read what was written, you’d have seen it. It’s eight paragraphs down.

    And please, how dumb do you think people are. Sullivan expressly mentioned “mass murder” and “religious war” as being worse under Christianity. Your attempts to argue that Sullivan isn’t arguing what anyone with a modicum of intelligence can clearly read would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

    Your arguments are an insult to your own intelligence. You’re not impressing anyone, you’re just making a fool of yourself, and an especially vitriolic one at that.

  5. Erica says:

    And please, how dumb do you think people are.

    Unlike you, not so dumb that they won’t read Sullivan’s column and your remarks side-by-side. In doing so, of course, we see that your criticsms are completely off the mark.

    Sullivan expressly mentioned “mass murder” and “religious war” as being worse under Christianity.

    An absolute distortion. Too fatigued from finals to read, apparently? Sullivan isn’t saying that Christianity is bloodier than Islam; he’s repeatedly stated the opposite many times. If you actually read his post, you’ll see that the only thing that he’s saying is that Christianity’s record of being “deployed in the service of terrifying dictatorships” is worse than Islam’s.

    And of course that’s true – Christianity is twice as old as Islam! It’s had twice as long to be misused.

    Like I said, grapple with the argument. Repeating distortions of Sullivan’s remarks doesn’t, and neither does “paragraph 8” as far as I can tell – maybe you have a private definition of the number 8?

    As for anticipating arguments, Sullivan anticipated yours. (No surprise, he’s much smarter than you.)

    If I’m right, the offense is mainly taken by Christians who simply refuse to see their faith as equally valid as Islam. They are offended that a Christian could even be equated with a Muslim. Which means, I believe, that they have not begun to understand the meaning of toleration at the core of Christianity, let alone the central insight of liberal constitutionalism. Hence our political and religious crisis.

    Indeed.

  6. Janek says:

    Ooooh, emotions are flying high. Are you two engaged or something ;-)

    J.

  7. Jay Reding says:

    Ooooh, emotions are flying high. Are you two engaged or something ;-)

    Please, don’t insult one of my commenters like that!

    Erica’s a former classmate of mine, and I suffer her foolishness only because I know that she’s actually far less obnoxious and quite a bit smarter than she comes off as being…

  8. Erica says:

    The funny thing is – I know Jay is actually a lot less obnoxious and quite a bit smarter than he comes off as being. For instance, I’m sure he’s capable of addressing points substantively instead of simply dismissing them with name-calling, he just chooses not to do that.

  9. zzx375 says:

    “You say to-may-toe, I say to-mah-toe”

    Among other things Sullivan states:

    If I’m right, the offense is mainly taken by Christians who simply refuse to see their faith as equally valid as Islam. They are offended that a Christian could even be equated with a Muslim. Which means, I believe, that they have not begun to understand the meaning of toleration at the core of Christianity, let alone the central insight of liberal constitutionalism. Hence our political and religious crisis.

    Sullivan’s remark above shows a relativist approach this topic, with the “their faith, your faith” interpretation. This popular approach to religion today is a bit like me saying that my flavor of ice cream or my preferences in pizza toppings are better than anyone else’s posting here. And in those two examples I would be correct since I would be speaking about subjective truth or my personal preferences in ice cream and pizza topping (what’s true for me). The Christians to whom Sullivan refers do not view Christianity in the same fashion as they view ice cream or pizza toppings(personal preference) but as something that is either true or false, something that is objectively true.

    To illustrate, take a look at some of the major truth claims to which proponents of Islam and Christianity hold. Christians state that God had a son, and that his son was Jesus. Muslims state that God did not have a son, and that Jesus was only a prophet, a man. These statements are either true or false. They contradict one another so that we can say that at best they’re both wrong because in no way can they both be true at the same time.

    Sullivan’s next remark says to me that he has not thought this all of the way through. Sullivan is treating Islam and Christianity like ice cream (it’s personal preference, so my flavor can’t really be superior to yours) when speculating on the reason for Christians to be offended, but then he goes on to talk about toleration at the core of Christianity. If Christianity is simply a personal preference, how can it simultaneously have objective principles like an objective code of tolerance? Further, I submit that Sullivan has fallen into another pothole regarding the popular definition of the word tolerance. If Sullivan means (I don’t see him stating outright) by toleration that we accept all points of view as valid, then he should accept as valid a point of view that would say he is wrong about Christian toleration. Our culture has allowed the notion of tolerance to become confused with the ideas of agreement or disagreement towards points of view. Day to day, we don’t tolerate those who agree with our position, but it is those who disagree with our position that we tolerate. There was a time when disagreement was common in the market place of ideas and there was a free exchange that occurred. Today, accusing someone of being “intolerant” is merely a quick way of silencing them, especially when it is a contrary opinion.

  10. Seth says:

    For instance, why does the Bill of Rights exist? The Bill of Rights does not grant any rights to anyone. They are assumed to be inherent and beyond the reach of government to destroy. From whence do those rights come? From God

    I’m not at all sure that the enumerated rights provision came from God. Nor am I sure that God says you aren’t allowed to have a jury trial at $19.99, but twenty bucks and over…

    The Enlightenment philosophies of John Locke are all over Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Locke’s political philosophies were based on Christian ethics.

    It’s interesting that you bring Locke and Hobbes into the discussion, as they were some of the first to argue that the right to rule does not come from divine powers. Also it’s interesting that the state of nature for both Locke and Hobbes is decidedly devoid of God.

    The point is that yes, Judeo-Christian values influenced the founding, but that only goes so far. I’m surprised you’ve never wondered why a guy that was supposedly as devout as Locke envisions an original state without the mention of God.

  11. Erica says:

    They contradict one another so that we can say that at best they’re both wrong because in no way can they both be true at the same time.

    Well, no.

    The best we can say is that we don’t know which is true, it may not even be knowable which is true, and we should allow people to defer to their own private conclusions on the matter rather than have the government act like one or another of those statements is true.

    That’s Sullivan’s point, and what Jay doesn’t seem to get – Christianity isn’t known to be true. God isn’t known to exist. And those who would try to govern from absolute certainty in the Bible rather than pragmatic doubt are the Christianists. Sullivan documents that these people exist and are politically active. Jay sticks his fingers in his ears and says he’s not listening, because the existence of such people runs contrary to his faith.

    Not his faith in God, but his faith-based support for all things Bush, I mean.

    And still, Jay hasn’t said exactly what values instrumental to the concept of our nation come from the Bible. (Maybe he hasn’t read it?)

  12. Seth says:

    I’m surprised you’ve never wondered why a guy that was supposedly as devout as Locke envisions an original state without the mention of God.

    Wait. No I’m not. Sorry.

  13. zzx375 says:

    Erica,

    Two sets of obviously contradictory claims don’t require addtional information to be able to state that they cannot both be true at the same time.

    You don’t have to know whether God or Jesus exist to be able to see that Islam and Christianity have contradictory truth claims regarding them and can therefore state both sets of truth claims cannot be simultaneously true.

    Maybe this will hel:

    A box sitting on your desk contains something but we don’t know what it is. A says “It’s an arachnid” , but B says “No, its an insect”. Under no circumstances can both be correct about what is in the box and we can make that statement without any more information. Both could be wrong but both cannot be right.

  14. Jay Reding says:

    It’s interesting that you bring Locke and Hobbes into the discussion, as they were some of the first to argue that the right to rule does not come from divine powers. Also it’s interesting that the state of nature for both Locke and Hobbes is decidedly devoid of God.

    The point is that yes, Judeo-Christian values influenced the founding, but that only goes so far. I’m surprised you’ve never wondered why a guy that was supposedly as devout as Locke envisions an original state without the mention of God.

    I suggest you read Locke before making that argument. As Locke himself wrote:

    To this strange doctrine, viz. That in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the law of nature, I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that selflove will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. I easily grant, that civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniencies of the state of nature… (Emphasis mine)

    Yup, he never mentions God, not even when he goes right out and states that government was appointed directly by God.

  15. Seth says:

    At no point did I say there was no mention of God. Let me restate what I said, and I’ll help you out a little:

    Also it’s interesting that the state of nature for both Locke and Hobbes is decidedly devoid of God.

    And:

    …Locke envisions an original state without the mention of God.

    I suggest you actually read things before you lecture people about reading carefully.

    When we can get you to consider a more advanced question, we can start talking about why God would need to fix the nature he created–Why would an omnipotent God need to invent something that doesn’t exist in nature to correct a problem in the very nature he created?
    Then we can talk about how the government Locke’s God creates is there to solve the problem of the original state: that we’re going to kill each other. And yet Locke envisions more from government–which man realizes through reason.
    We might even get into a discussion about the circumstances under which Locke was writing and whether he had any political pressures to write certain things, but I think that’s pretty far in the future for you.

    You might want to think about things past a couple bland college lectures before you think you’re an authority on the subject.

  16. Seth says:

    If you’re still having trouble, contrast Locke’s original state with that found in the Old Testament. In Genesis, there is God. Then God creates everything and people, and then it is just Adam and God hanging out. For Locke, there are a bunch of people running around beating the crap out of each other, and then God comes around and gives them government.

    The Old Testament goes from Paradise to the Fall, but Locke’s world goes the other way, from chaos to prosperity. In the Old Testament the people start happy and end in pain. For Locke, people start in fear and end in enlightenment.

    The structure of the narrative in Locke is precisely the oppostie of that found in the Old Testament. Locke’s God is a seemingly imperfect God who created nature and then had to fix it with government. How does one account for the tension?

  17. Erica says:

    Two sets of obviously contradictory claims don’t require addtional information to be able to state that they cannot both be true at the same time.

    No they don’t, which is why I didn’t question that contention. (What is it with people not being able to read on Jayreding.com? Something wrong with the typeface?)

    Like I said, when faced with two mutually contradictory but equally-unsubstantiated claims, the proper conclusion isn’t “one or the other must be true; I pick this one”; it’s “we have no idea which is true.”

    The proper response to the mutually contradictory, unverifiable claims of Christianity and Islam is not to pretend that one or the other is definately true; it’s to allow individuals to come to their own private decision, not legislate like you know the truth and everybody else is wrong. In regards to unverifiable claims, the government should remain neutral – secular. That was the plan that the Founders had and it’s how religious pluralism functions in a free society. A government that embraces every tenant of one faith cannot truly be inclusive of any others. It’s simply not possible. Secular government is how religious plurality survives.

    Still waiting for someone to tell me exactly what “Judeo-Christian principles” supposedly founded our country. Individual liberty and conscience? Not found in the Bible. Religious pluralism? Definately not in the Bible. Democracy? Not in the Bible. Free enterprise? Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple and said that it was easier to thread a rope through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.

    The founding of the United States was a marked, progressive repudiation of 1000 years of Christian geopolitics.

  18. zzx375 says:

    My reading skills get me by and I am sure that your do as well when you want to exerise them.

    Whether or not God exists has nothing to do whether or not two claims about God are contradictory in what they state.

    The best we can say is that we don’t know which is true, it may not even be knowable which is true

    I can say that the claims are contradictory. The claims. I am not talking about wheter or not God exists, that is another thread somewhere. Substantiation of two set of claims has absolutely nothing to do with seeing that they contradict one another.

    …not legislate like you know the truth and everybody else is wrong What am I legislating and where in these posts have I done that? Know the truth? I haven’t made any truth claims, but you have. Everyboy else is wrong? I never wrote that. What a poor strawman.

    I get it now. You are demonstrating the progressive flavor of tolerance. Uncle, uncle, please stop….. :-)

  19. Jay Reding says:

    Um, no Locke was quite clear in his views. To say that his philosophy was “devoid of” or that he “never mentioned” God is completely and utterly untrue. Locke’s state of nature is based on the Christian doctrine of original sin – because mankind is fallen, they’re corrupt, and civil government is the institution which God has allowed to remedy the fallen state of man.

    When we can get you to consider a more advanced question, we can start talking about why God would need to fix the nature he created–Why would an omnipotent God need to invent something that doesn’t exist in nature to correct a problem in the very nature he created?

    For one, your premise is wrong. Locke is a natural rights philosopher. Reason exists in nature because God gave us all the ability to reason – it’s the founding principle of the Christian Enlightenment. It’s been the basis for almost all Christian political theory since at least the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. (And even before.)

    Then we can talk about how the government Locke’s God creates is there to solve the problem of the original state: that we’re going to kill each other. And yet Locke envisions more from government–which man realizes through reason.

    Again, reason is a gift from God.

    We might even get into a discussion about the circumstances under which Locke was writing and whether he had any political pressures to write certain things, but I think that’s pretty far in the future for you.

    Again, don’t try to pretend you have even the slightest idea of what the hell you’re talking about. Locke wrote the Second Treatise after his exile to Holland. He was writing in defense of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the Two Treatises were published a year afterwards. He happened to have been on the winning side of that conflict, and unless you can share some actual evidence for your arguments, I’ll just assume you’re as full of it as always.

    The structure of the narrative in Locke is precisely the oppostie of that found in the Old Testament. Locke’s God is a seemingly imperfect God who created nature and then had to fix it with government. How does one account for the tension?

    No, He isn’t. Have you ever read the Second Treatise in your life? The imperfections in nature aren’t a result of God screwing up, they’re the result of human free will and original sin. Christian theology has always taught that man is in a fallen state and can only be redeemed by works (Catholicism) or faith (Protestantism, at least in general).

    Sorry, but your arguments betray a fundamental and fatal ignorance. They’re not even close to valid to anyone who is even remotely familiar with the literature.

  20. Will says:

    If indeed this country was founded on Christian principles, one would expect to see a reference to Jesus Christ in the founding documents, no?

    The way I see it — and forgive me for the heresy — God is bigger than Jesus. It would be accurate to say that implicit in our nation’s founding was a belief in God, but that does not necessarily mean a belief in a particular God, i.e., Jesus. Especially when the First Amendment explicitly sets forth a Constitutional basis for religious pluralism.

    Frankly, I think the “Christian foundation” idea is nothing more than a canard. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, primarily rejected the veracity of the Gospels and wrote his own version of the Jesus story, which was based less on Jesus’s divinity and more on the common sense rationality of Jesus’s message. Most of the founders were deists.

    In sum: God was important to founding fathers; Jesus not so much.

  21. Erica says:

    ZZx – honestly, you need to be reading closer. I’ve made absolutely none of the contentions you’re putting in my mouth to rebut. And I’m not saying that you said any of that – I’m talking about Jay’s position and the positions of Christianists.

    Are you familiar with the term “grappling with strawmen”? (Oh, I guess you must be, because you just falsely accused me of it.) Because that’s what you’re doing.

    Jay – when are you going to address my arguments?

  22. Seth says:

    1.) For a second time, I’m not saying God is not mentioned in Locke’s writings. I’m saying God is not mentioned in Locke’s state of nature. Get that through your head because there’s a big difference. You show me one point in any of Locke’s writings where God appears in the original state. Just one.

    2.) You didn’t address the issue of why God would need to create a fix for the very nature of humans that he had created.

    3.) Reason is a gift from God, but if we’re agreeing that our laws come from reason then we’re agreeing we weren’t founded completely in Judeo-Christian morality.

    4.) You are an idiot of the fist degree. Locke wrote most of the Second Treatise before the exile. At the prompting of the Earl of Shaftsbury, a prominent member of the party that became the Whigs. Shaftsbury was implicated in the assassination attempt on James II, which is why Locke fled to the Netherlands and William of Orange. William of Orange is the guy, you’ll recall, who led the Glorious Revolution, with a main reason being his Protestant faith and the fact that James had persecuted them in favor of the Catholics. So, really, the guy that says Locke isn’t under any pressure at this point to publish something William would like (during the Jacobite rebellions) and that had been influenced by political and religious pressure is just a fool.

    But you are claiming that a man in political exile would have no political pressure on his writings. That is mind-numbingly stupid.

    5.)

    Sorry, but your arguments betray a fundamental and fatal ignorance. They’re not even close to valid to anyone who is even remotely familiar with the literature.

    .

    And here, folks, is where we find out that Jay just likes to drop names of books without reading them. In fact, Leo Strauss, who I would guess Jay would call “remotely familiar with the literature,” takes a position more extreme than mine, as do many of his followers. Strauss argues that a close reading of Locke reveals that Locke’s nature is a departure from Christian teachings–for precisely the reasons I stated above. Strauss even argues that Locke’s statements about God are just there to cloak what amount to anti-Christian views. You might read Natural Right and History or Persecution and the Art of Writing some time.

    Look. I can take the fact that you have no clue what you are talking about 99.5% of the time. I can take the fact that you like to insult people’s intellect because you don’t agree with them. But seriously, if you are going to walk around being this ignorant, at least don’t be such an asshole. You’ve said I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, that I’m full of it as always, implied that I’ve never read Locke, that my arguments are ignorant and (my favorite) that they are “not even close to valid to anyone who is even remotely familiar with the literature” in a post where I was making the same argument as a father of the modern American conservative movement and which were made in a book that is standard reading for any modern political philosophy course.

    Does it hurt more when you get spanked on your own blog?

  23. Erica says:

    Good post, Seth. I suspect you’ll find your posting privs disappearing rather quickly.

  24. Seth says:

    Erica–
    Agreed. And most likely my posting privs will be revoked under the flag that I was the one to start insulting Jay. The only insult I gave first was to state that I really wasn’t surprised that Jay hadn’t read Locke as closely as Strauss (and every other responsible scholar in the past 100 years). My point about Jay’s sloppiness have been validated in Jay’s subsequent posts.

    I’ve also noticed Jay shying away from every rational argument you make–arguments that usually go to the heart of his and hit him straight on the head.

    I’m not surprised.

    These people say things. Then they are hit in the face with facts showing the opposite. Then they just scream louder while repeating their original argument. It’s unfortunately a symptom of modern conservatism–the lawmakers, philosophers, think-tank gurus and law school students are literally unable to see objective facts.

    It’s a wonder we only picked up 31 seats.

  25. zzx375 says:

    And Erica:

    I really hope that you will read this and read it closely.

    I quoted a section toward the end of Sullivan’s remarks in the link above, not what Jay wrote and directed my comments to that Sullivan section. When your posts appeared quoting from what I had written it was clear ot me that those responses weren’t directed towards Jay’s remarks. And you did quote from my posts or do I need to pull all of those together for you in one spot? How about a little honesty on this point?

    Now let me take aim at what Jay wrote (not all of it): Jay uses the term sloppy twice to characterize aspects of what Sullivan wrote. Lazy might be a better term to apply in that Sullivan characterizes Christianity and Islam as the same, but he apparently hasn’t taken the time dig just a little into each and it appears to me that Jay hasn’t done that either.

    The major truth claims of Christianity and Islam clearly delineate these two, as I pointed out in my original post above. Whether or not God, Allah, Jesus, Moses, exist, ever existed, or whether their existence could be proven does not matter in this case. What matters is what the two religions state are contradictory with one another so they cannot be the same.

    Sullivan’s broad brush treatment is akin to saying that aspirin and arsenic are both the same since they come in tablet form or to put it into your area of expertise, a common housefly and a mosquito are the same since they both have wings, same number of legs, a thorax, etc.

    Details matter.

  26. Erica says:

    What matters is what the two religions state are contradictory with one another so they cannot be the same.

    No, they cannot both be true. Structurally, they’re definitely the same in regards to how they both claim sole ownership of transcendent truths.

    All Sullivan is saying is that a movement exists in both Islam and Christianity that would subsume personal faith to religious doctrine, and use that towards political ends. That’s a true statement. There’s nothing broad-brush about what Sullivan is saying unless you completely ignore his context, which is pretty easy to do if the only part of his post you’re reading is Jay’s quote-mines.

  27. zzx375 says:

    iNo, they cannot both be true. Structurally, they’re definitely the same in regards to how they both claim sole ownership of transcendent truths.

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to convey here. Structurally – what their respective organization charts look like? Which transcedent truths did you have in mind? Sullivan never told us which transcendant truths he had in mind in the post at his blog. How does he (and you) know that Islam and Christianity have the same set of trancendant truths in mind? Or is there only one set of trancendant truths?
    Again, details matter.

  28. Erica says:

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to convey here.

    I thought it was perfectly clear. One one side, you have Christianity: “We’re the ones with the true words of God; our religion has all the truths and all others have none.” And on another, you have Islam: “No, we’re the ones with the true words of God; our religion has all the truths and all others have none.”

    See? Mutually contradictory; exactly the same.

    How does he (and you) know that Islam and Christianity have the same set of trancendant truths in mind?

    I didn’t say that they did. That they both claim sole ownership of transcendent truth is what makes them the same. Are they identical? Yes in some respects (like, panty-sniffing moralism), no in others (different panties they want to sniff.) I appreciate that this is a nuanced position that you probably aren’t able to get your head around, hence your almost hilarious misrepresentation of my post.

    In this case, the details really don’t matter.

  29. Jay Reding says:

    1.) Your argument remains pointless. Locke’s entire argument is that God created civil government to remedy the inconveniences of the state of nature. That’s His position.

    2.) It’s called free will. This is basic Sunday school stuff here. God didn’t foul up the state of nature, we did. Remember a story involving snakes, apples, and a garden. You’ll find the answer there.

    3.) Another false syllogism. Our laws come from reason, which is given to us as a gift from God. That’s the basis of the Christian Enlightenment, which was the intellectual tradition that the Founders drew upon in creating our government. There’s no discontinuity there unless you start with the absolutely false pretense that Judeo-Christian values and reason can’t coexist.

    4.)

    You are an idiot of the fist degree.

    And you’re being an asshole.

    Locke wrote most of the Second Treatise before the exile. At the prompting of the Earl of Shaftsbury, a prominent member of the party that became the Whigs. Shaftsbury was implicated in the assassination attempt on James II, which is why Locke fled to the Netherlands and William of Orange. William of Orange is the guy, you’ll recall, who led the Glorious Revolution, with a main reason being his Protestant faith and the fact that James had persecuted them in favor of the Catholics. So, really, the guy that says Locke isn’t under any pressure at this point to publish something William would like (during the Jacobite rebellions) and that had been influenced by political and religious pressure is just a fool.

    No, he wasn’t. And no credible historians I’ve ever read have suggested such a thing either. For one, Locke never published the Treatises until much later (1698). Secondly, Locke was always an ally of Shaftesbury and was on William of Orange’s side in the Glorious Revolution from the beginning. What argument is it that Locke would have been pressured politically to publish something that William would like when they already agreed on the issues, and Locke didn’t publish anything until long after the crisis had passed?

    Don’t try to come in here and pretend you have even the slightest fucking clue. All you bring is your snotty attitude and your preening psuedo-intellectual sneering. You still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

    5.)

    And here, folks, is where we find out that Jay just likes to drop names of books without reading them. In fact, Leo Strauss, who I would guess Jay would call “remotely familiar with the literature,” takes a position more extreme than mine, as do many of his followers. Strauss argues that a close reading of Locke reveals that Locke’s nature is a departure from Christian teachings–for precisely the reasons I stated above. Strauss even argues that Locke’s statements about God are just there to cloak what amount to anti-Christian views. You might read Natural Right and History or Persecution and the Art of Writing some time.

    Look. I can take the fact that you have no clue what you are talking about 99.5% of the time. I can take the fact that you like to insult people’s intellect because you don’t agree with them. But seriously, if you are going to walk around being this ignorant, at least don’t be such an asshole. You’ve said I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, that I’m full of it as always, implied that I’ve never read Locke, that my arguments are ignorant and (my favorite) that they are “not even close to valid to anyone who is even remotely familiar with the literature” in a post where I was making the same argument as a father of the modern American conservative movement and which were made in a book that is standard reading for any modern political philosophy course.

    For one, Leo Strauss is not the “father of the American conservative movement.” He’s a relatively obscure philosopher whose philosophies sometimes dovetail with conservative principles and sometimes do not.

    Second, Strauss’ reading of Locke is completely wrong. There’s no evidence that Locke was a devotee of Hobbesianism in the way that Strauss said he was, and not even most Straussians followed him on that. In fact, even Strauss himself said that he was stretching the literature (in What is Political Philosophy).

    Furthermore, even if all that’s true your argument is still wrong. If Locke really wasn’t advocating a system of Judeo-Christian morals, the Founders certainly thought he was, as Hamilton explicitly rejected the Hobbesian view that Strauss argued Locke was secretly advocating (Leo Strauss and the American Founding, Thomas G. West, The Review of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 1, Special Issue on the Thought of Leo Strauss. (Winter, 1991), pp. 157-172, 169.) Jefferson himself wrote that moral law was not a function of the ego as Strauss argued.

    I’m not going to ban you? Why should I? You’re making such an ass of yourself that you only end up hurting your own arguments.

  30. Erica says:

    Ah, so Christians have an explanation for reason, therefore the Enlightenment principles are Judeo-Christian in origin.

    That’s the caliber of argumentation I’ve come to expect from Jay, I guess – who still hasn’t said exactly what Judeo-Christian principles we’re supposed to be based on. Of course, basing a government on reason is precisely anathema to the Bible, which states:

    “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. ” Anti-intellectualism is the only “Judeo-Christian” value represented in America today, the value that fundamentalists embrace so tightly.

  31. Jay Reding says:

    Ah, so Christians have an explanation for reason, therefore the Enlightenment principles are Judeo-Christian in origin.

    Have you ever heard of the concept of “natural law?” That’s where the values of the Enlightenment, and specifically the values of the Founders come from. The Declaration of Independence is based on natural law, as is the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is prefaced on the concept of negative liberty, which argues that the state cannot take away rights with which the citizenry is naturally endowed.

    You can’t get to the Constitution without natural law, and natural law was a product of Christian thinkers like Aquinas and More.

    Of course, basing a government on reason is precisely anathema to the Bible, which states:

    “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. ”

    No, that’s not at all what the message there was saying. Where in that passage does it say that governments cannot be based upon reason? It says “That your faith…” The passage you cited has absolutely nothing to do with civil government, and is a complete non-sequitur. To argue that it’s somehow radical that faith is based on belief and not reason is hardly a strong argument.

    The mistake that radical atheists make is in arguing that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Centuries of political thought have examined that question and found that to be untrue.

    It’s all about the radical atheists burning need for self-superiority. The only way in which that philosophy can at all be true is if there’s nothing beyond human reason – which is a supremely arrogant assertion that truth can be boiled down to Cartesian mathematical certainty. And who possess the truth, why of course it happens to be the atheists! Convenient, but intellectual infantile.

    Anti-intellectualism is the only “Judeo-Christian” value represented in America today, the value that fundamentalists embrace so tightly.

    The true anti-intellectuals are the ones who reject the centuries of collected wisdom which have produced the very state that gives those atheists the freedom to spread their slanders.

    There are true fundamentalists out there, people who do truly believe that the Bible is the only legitimate source of wisdom. But what you and Sullivan do is equate anyone who says something you don’t like with that very, very, small group. It’s the hallmark of the bigot, and it’s why such arguments are based on bad faith rather than any reason, nuance, or understanding.

  32. Seth says:

    1.) Still waiting for one mention of God in Locke’s nature. But if you are admitting that “Locke’s entire argument is that God created civil government to remedy the inconveniences of the state of nature” and if you are arguing that Locke’s God created the state of nature, then the question remains: Why did Locke’s God have to fix his creation?

    2.) I’m glad you went to Sunday School. Problem is, we’re not having a debate about Sunday School, we’re talking about John Locke. Here’s what Locke had to say in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

    Liberty belongs not to the will. Whether man’s will be free or no? If I mistake not, the question itself is altogether improper; and it is as insignificant to ask whether man’s will be free, as to ask whether his sleep be swift, or his virtue square: liberty being as little applicable to the will.

    As freedom consists in a power of acting or not acting, a man in respect of willing cannot be free. The reason whereof is very manifest. For, it being unavoidable that the action depending on his will should exist or not exist, he cannot avoid willing the existence or non-existence of that action; it is absolutely necessary that he will the one or the other. So that, in respect of the act of willing, a man in such a case is not free, nor is any being, as far I can comprehend beings above me, capable of such a freedom of will that it can forbear to will. (Emphasis added)

    So while I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, I’m making arguments about John Locke, who never mentions “a story involving snakes, apples, and a garden,” so unless you’d like to make an argument involving Locke’s text, we’ll just agree you really haven’t read Locke enough to know anything of what you’re talking about.

    3.) The point, as I raised quite some time ago, is that the Judeo-Christian values only go so far. Then reason takes over. Unless you’re making the argument that God picked twenty American dollars as the standard for which a jury trial was preserved and anything else would have violated Judeo-Christian ethics.

    4.)

    For one, Locke never published the Treatises until much later (1698).

    Well, to interpret history, first you have to get things right. Because by 1698 you mean 1690. [***Sidenote: this is about the third time you’ve told me I don’t have “the slightest fucking clue” or that I “don’t know what the hell [I’m] talking about” while getting facts blatantly wrong. I don’t come here because I like reading your crap, I come because you can’t get simple things right while lecturing everyone about how stupid they are.]

    5.)

    For one, Leo Strauss is not the father of the American conservative movement.

    Which is fine because I specifically called him “a father of the modern American conservative movement.”

    Actually, Strauss is usually mentioned at the top of the list of people who founded neoconservatism. Kristol names Strauss as a major influence. Scholars like Allan Bloom were very close. His students included names like Wolfowitz and Shulsky. Harvey Mansfield considers himself a Straussian, and his students include Andrew Sullivan, Elliott Abrams, Alan Keyes, and Bill Kristol. Either way, you call him “a relatively obscure philosopher” and then cite an article in a publication that did a “Special Issue on the Thought of Leo Strauss” literally five sentences later . Do you try to look this stupid?

    And I’ve not endorsed Strauss. In fact, I explicitly said that he “takes a position more extreme than mine.” I’m just trying to point out that there is some tension between Locke’s nature and the Old Testament’s nature–which is generally accepted across the board. I wouldn’t begin to think you could enter a discussion about why that would be.

    Again, does it hurt more to get spanked on your own blog?

  33. Seth says:

    1.) Still waiting for one mention of God in Locke’s nature. But if you are admitting that “Locke’s entire argument is that God created civil government to remedy the inconveniences of the state of nature” and if you are arguing that Locke’s God created the state of nature, then the question remains: Why did Locke’s God have to fix his creation?

    2.) I’m glad you went to Sunday School. Problem is, we’re not having a debate about Sunday School, we’re talking about John Locke. Here’s what Locke had to say in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

    Liberty belongs not to the will. Whether man’s will be free or no? If I mistake not, the question itself is altogether improper; and it is as insignificant to ask whether man’s will be free, as to ask whether his sleep be swift, or his virtue square: liberty being as little applicable to the will.

    And

    As freedom consists in a power of acting or not acting, a man in respect of willing cannot be free. The reason whereof is very manifest. For, it being unavoidable that the action depending on his will should exist or not exist, he cannot avoid willing the existence or non-existence of that action; it is absolutely necessary that he will the one or the other. So that, in respect of the act of willing, a man in such a case is not free, nor is any being, as far I can comprehend beings above me, capable of such a freedom of will that it can forbear to will. (Emphasis added)

    So while I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, I’m making arguments about John Locke, who never mentions “a story involving snakes, apples, and a garden,” so unless you’d like to make an argument involving Locke’s text, we’ll just agree you really haven’t read Locke enough to know anything of what you’re talking about.

    3.) The point, as I raised quite some time ago, is that the Judeo-Christian values only go so far. Then reason takes over. Unless you’re making the argument that God picked twenty American dollars as the standard for which a jury trial was preserved and anything else would have violated Judeo-Christian ethics.

    4.)

    For one, Locke never published the Treatises until much later (1698).

    Well, to interpret history, first you have to get things right. Because by 1698 you mean 1690. [***Sidenote: this is about the third time you’ve told me I don’t have “the slightest fucking clue” or that I “don’t know what the hell [I’m] talking about” while getting facts blatantly wrong. I don’t come here because I like reading your crap, I come because you can’t get simple things right while lecturing everyone about how stupid they are.]

    5.)

    For one, Leo Strauss is not the father of the American conservative movement.

    Which is fine because I specifically called him “a father of the modern American conservative movement.”

    Actually, Strauss is usually mentioned at the top of the list of people who founded neoconservatism. Kristol names Strauss as a major influence. Scholars like Allan Bloom were very close. His students included names like Wolfowitz and Shulsky. Harvey Mansfield considers himself a Straussian, and his students include Andrew Sullivan, Elliott Abrams, Alan Keyes, and Bill Kristol. Either way, you call him “a relatively obscure philosopher” and then cite an article in a publication that did a “Special Issue on the Thought of Leo Strauss” literally five sentences later . Do you try to look this stupid?

    And I’ve not endorsed Strauss. In fact, I explicitly said that he “takes a position more extreme than mine.” I’m just trying to point out that there is some tension between Locke’s nature and the Old Testament’s nature–which is generally accepted across the board. I wouldn’t begin to think you could enter a discussion about why that would be.

    Again, does it hurt more to get spanked on your own blog?

  34. Seth says:

    Sorry for the duplicate.

  35. Erica says:

    That’s where the values of the Enlightenment, and specifically the values of the Founders come from.

    Well, no. That’s where some people claim they come from. Since “nature’s God” or whatever doesn’t exist, obviously our rights come from another source. The biggest problem with your argument is, despite your assertions of a universal “natural law”, nobody has ever exactly agreed on what those laws are.

    You can’t get to the Constitution without natural law

    Of course you can. The Constitution was written by lawyers, philosophers, and statesmen – not copied down from “nature” by prophets or whatever. You’re simply assuming, rather than proving, divine origin of the Constitution. Of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Constitution was handed down from On High or cribbed from “natural law” – naturally, because that’s not how it happened.

    The mistake that radical atheists make is in arguing that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Centuries of political thought have examined that question and found that to be untrue.

    So they say, but their arguments have only ever convinced those with a desperate need to reconcile faith and reason. They’re irreconcilable – it’s unreasonable to believe in spite of evidence, which is exactly what faith is.

    The true anti-intellectuals are the ones who reject the centuries of collected wisdom which have produced the very state that gives those atheists the freedom to spread their slanders.

    So now it’s false accusations of “spreading slanders”, is it? Just the top-caliber argumentation we’ve all come to expect at Jayreding.com.

    The simple fact of the matter is, for all you like to swing Locke around, he’s not the only architect of the Enlightenment. And for all you like to laud “Judeo-Christian values”, the values of the Enlightenment and the progressive principles of the USA were created in stark contrast to the millennium of Christianist social-political domination of Europe.

    But what you and Sullivan do is equate anyone who says something you don’t like with that very, very, small group.

    Anyone, huh? Can you show me where I’ve used “Christianist” to refer to (for instance) PETA, or Democratic Underground?

    No? Of course not. “Christianist” isn’t the broad catch-all you make it out to be. It’s a narrowly-defined word that refers to a very specific group – the so-called Christians who would suborn public, secular institutions to their private interpretation of their faith – and has never, ever been used by Sullivan or myself to refer to anyone else.

    And that’s a fact. Your idea that we’re using the term as some kind of catch-all is a slander.

    Respond to the arguments, Jay. And answer the question, already – exactly which of these foundational values you keep referring to are “Judeo-Christian”? Be sure to cite your Biblical support.