Sunday, April 19, 2009

Daily Bruin on religion

The campus' official newspaper, The Daily Bruin, had two articles this week about the recently conducted American Religious Identification Survey. Number one is Religion Continues to Thrive in US, and number two is Overly Secular Government is Against Founders’ Intent.

The first article is... okay, considering that it is a college newspaper, and the overall quality is low. The article's main point is that though the American Religious Identification Survey showed decline in religious identification, most of the decline occurred between 1990 and 2001, not between 2001 and 2008. These results suggest that contemporary atheist authors like Richard Dawkins are not the main cause of the trend, since the main change occurred before these books were even written. However, aside from the main point, there are several flaws in the article. In particular, Roy Natian told me himself that he felt misrepresented and quoted out of context.

However, I'm willing to ignore all that so I can do a thorough fisking of the second article.
Religion is under siege in America, when we are in the greatest need of hope that can come only from belief in a higher power.
The unfortunate implication of this statement is that atheists do not have hope, or that it does not matter whether they have hope.
Just in time for Passover and Easter, probably the most significant religious holidays for Jews and Christians, respectively, the cover of Newsweek magazine bears the dolorous title, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”
He makes it sound as if Newsweek is intentionally delivering bad news just in time for a day of celebration. There's a subtle persecution complex going here.
The lead article focuses on the new American Religious Identification Survey, which has shown that the number of unreligious Americans has been steadily increasing since 1990.
This directly contradicts the other Daily Bruin article's point that the increase was not steady. (To be fair, he might just be repeating a claim by Newsweek.)
Though the author of the article – Jon Meacham, who is also the editor of the magazine – first attempts to hide behind his own religion – as many closet seculars do – to convince his Christian audience that he is troubled by the statistics in the survey, it is not difficult to see that he is actually gleeful about it.
"Closet seculars"? It seems the Daily Bruin writer just cannot comprehend the existence of a Christian who believes in separation of church and state. Funny, I thought it was supposed to be the atheists who oversimplify religion.
Like many liberal Americans, [Jon Meacham] repeatedly confuses the idea of separation of church and state with the idea that religion has no place at all in our political system. While insisting that the presence of any religious ideas in government would necessarily “compel or coerce religious belief or observance,” he blinds himself entirely to the pivotal role that faith has in our political system.
I wouldn't say that separation of church and state implies that religion has no place at all in politics. I mean, it would be wrong to discriminate against politicians solely on the grounds of their religion. But a pivotal role? It almost sounds as if he's arguing that because religion is so pivotal in politics, we are justified in compelling religious belief. (At the end of the article, he says he does not support compelling religious belief.)
Contrary to popular belief, there is no reference to “separation of church and state” in the Constitution – it is the invention of people (like the Newsweek author) who want desperately to accommodate the narrow interests of the relatively slight number of non-believers in the country who represent anti-traditionalism – or “progressivism.” According to the Constitution, the only prohibition on government is that it cannot promote the formal “establishment” of a particular religion.
Of course, the Constitution never uses the exact phrase “separation of church and state”. But the main idea is right there in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The separation of church and state is the interpretation of the First Amendment. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of believers who also believe in separation of church and state – their existence is denied by people who want desperately to accommodate the narrow interests of the relatively slight number of conservatives in the country who represent anti-progressivism – or “traditionalism.” (Doesn't it sound horrible when I frame it this way?)
Despite the contention of many liberals that we have always been a secular country – which ignores the omnipresence of religious symbols in our government, such as state seals, currency and the Pledge of Allegiance, to name a few – there is no escaping that America was founded by deeply religious men who envisioned that their society would be based on their Judeo-Christian beliefs.
My understanding is that some of the founding fathers were deists, a few were anti-clerical, and some were quite religious. It's sort of irrelevant, since they obviously didn't intend for the government to establish their religion. These religious symbols, including the mention of God on our currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, were mostly added in during the McCarthy era.
The founders clearly thought that liberty was a blessing from God. After all, the Declaration of Independence tells us that our rights are “endowed by (our) Creator.” Nevertheless, people continue to assert that the U.S. is not a Judeo-Christian nation but rather one that just happens to be home to many Christians and Jews.
The wording of the Declaration of Independence is entirely consistent with Deism, since it only refers to a "Creator". Anyways, the document has no real legal standing.
But in a free and open society, how is order maintained if values are not based on a particular faith or book of faith, which protects us from the moral whims of people and culture? National issues cannot be arbitrated if we accept moral relativism. Atheists will proclaim that they get their values from their hearts, but this view is a subjective kind of morality.
On what basis could you claim that values based on a sacred text are any better than the accumulated "moral whims of people and culture"? Why do we need protecting from these so-called whims? Just because you think you've found a black-and-white method to determine your values doesn't mean it's correct.
Every great question, whether it be abortion, school prayer or even taxation, comes down to the views of the people making the decision. How would they be able to decide these questions if there were no commonly agreed upon standard of right and wrong, as in the Bible?
If only we could go back to the good old days when everybody agreed on everything.
And there is another problem: If people happen to have religious convictions, should they have to choose between politics and their faith – that is, would they either have to ignore their beliefs or stay out of politics?
Two answers: 1) No. It's wrong to exclude people of any religious category from holding office.
2) Yes, if their religious beliefs affect their politics in such a way that they are unelectable. For instance, if you have the religious conviction that abortion should be illegal, and if voters disagree with you, then they are justified in keeping you from being elected.
In the end, we have to remember that the disestablishment of religion is just as dangerous as the establishment thereof. The dangers that secularism poses to a free society are historical and manifold – just think, it was the decline of religion in Western Europe that inspired fascism and led to the extermination of millions of Jews.
Correlating such broad trends such as secularization and fascism is a pretty sketchy argument. Did you ever hear the one about pirates and global warming?
Nobody is arguing for a state-sponsored religion or for one religion to be “compelled” on anyone. Instead, we are only arguing for the preservation of some religious sway in our government that will inform our politics. That should not infuriate nonbelievers, and it would be perfectly reconcilable with the founders’ intentions.
No, it does not infuriate me. Secularism, in the context of politics, does not mean political hostility to religion, it means political indifference to religion. Politicians are entirely allowed to make decisions which are informed by their religion. But this does not make them better politicians. It diminishes their capability to represent the diverse views in the US.


DeralterChemiker said...

Have you submitted your views to the Daily Bruin for publication?

miller said...

Yes, I intend to send in something. But right now, it's way too long. I am currently discussing this with other BASS members.