Klaus Nordby Michael Smith: “American government must be either atheistic or a theocracy.”
That is a false alternative. To insist on the total separation of State and religion does not make that State “atheistic”. It just means that religious ideas play NO part in how that State operates.
Michael Smith I meant it to be a false alternative to illustrate the fallacy being proposed that religion or religious ideas can be separated by a “wall” from government. Government consists of politics, political trends follow culture, and religion is part of culture – something like 76% of Americans identify as Christian, so how does a government represent its people if it doesn’t acknowledge that reality?
As a philosophical matter, I agree with Jefferson that the state should not take a position on a religion. That is my interpretation of the First Amendment – but as a practical matter, the best our government can do is to be agnostic. It seems that there is a perception that religious tenets in government are an inherently bad idea – I’m not sure that is always the case.
James Stevens Valliant If you agree that the state should refrain from any official recognition of God or religious ideas, then we are in total agreement, politically speaking. The government must belong to all of us, including atheists. And the wider culture certainly and inevitably does influence politics. Now, I do regard distinctly religious ideas as pernicious, and I would privately work to convince you of this fact. If you mean that an idea like “thou shall not murder” has had a positive influence on the law, I agree. But that idea also has a purely worldly justification (and even a pagan one) — and thus it avoids violating the First Amendment. Trying to enforce the commandment against graven images, for example, would not.
Michael Smith I don’t believe I ever stated that. The reality is that the recognition of the Christian God is in our founding, else there would have been no reason to use the phrases “in the Year of our Lord” in the Constitution or “Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration. One may make the case that the phrase in the Constitution was simply the use of an idiom common to the times but to assume that men as intelligent and thoughtful as those who contemplated the very explicit and directed wording of the Constitution would not recognize the significance of those six words seems implausible.
Gentlemen: I happened on this debate as I share Christopher Buckley andSurse Pierpoint as Facebook friends – my apologies for dropping in uninvited. It is clear that we share different views on the subject and have arrived at the various perspectives from reasoned, yet differing angles. I find the points stimulating but I can tell it is quite unlikely any of the intellectual combatants will be swayed. For that reason, I choose to thank you for the opportunity to trade ideas in a civil exchange and withdraw.
I bid you good night.