Monday, June 27, 2005

Christians Should Welcome Court Rulings on Commandments

As a Christian and an American, I welcome the two rulings issued by the US Supreme Court today regarding displays of the Ten Commandments on public property. As a New York Times account points out:

In a pair of 5-to-4 rulings, the court said the display of the Ten Commandments in a 22-acre park at the Texas State Capitol was proper, but that the displays of the Commandments in two county courthouses in Kentucky were so overtly religious as to be impermissible.

The rulings, the first by the court in a quarter-century on the emotional issue of the proper place of the Commandments in American life, conveyed the message that disputes over such religious displays must be decided case by case, and that the specific facts are all important.
As a purely spiritual matter, I believe that the display of the Ten Commandments on public property may be:

(1) Contrary to God's will;

(2) Destructive of a positive witness for Christ.

The cause to which every Christian is called to be committed--sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and their power to give new life to all who follow Him--is not something that we are to "farm out" to the government. Each follower of Christ is to embrace this as part of their personal mission.

For we Christians to insist that tax dollars be used in what often is an act of proselytization not only violates constitutional principles, but Biblical ones as well. It smacks of coercion, of using one's status in a community to force our views on others. Scour the Bible from cover to cover and you won't find God ever sanctioning the coercive imposition of our faith on others. In fact, we're called upon to share our faith with compassion, with humility, and with respect for those with whom we differ.

I emphatically disagree with those who feel that these rulings prohibit the free expression of faith in Christ. I'm still saying that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the Ten Commandments are a terrific summary of God's will for the human race.

These rulings, it should be noted, allow for government entities to acknowledge the significance of the Ten Commandments as part of the common heritage of America, as the court apparently felt was true of the display in Texas in favor of which they ruled.

But they disallow the use of public monies and public properties to uphold a specific religious perspective (for example, Jewish or Christian) out of deference to the establishment clause, the provisions of which they deemed violated by the Kentucky displays.

This is why I feel these rulings should be welcomed by Christians. The government entity which today can give preferential treatment to Christians can, quite conceivably, give preference to other religions in the future. Better a society in which all are given equal opportunity for expression than one which sides with a specific religion or sect.

In a free interchange of ideas, devoid of preferential treatment, I am convinced that the Savior Jesus will win people's hearts and wills every time. We Christians don't need coercion to win others to Christ. We have two powerful weapons without governmental endorsement: common sense (because I believe that the Good News of Jesus makes plain sense) and the Holy Spirit (the great, loving persuader of the skeptical).

[For further reading on related topics, you might want to check out:

Trusting What You Can't See

Three Attributes I Hope Always to Be Part of Christians' Sharing of Faith

The Ten Commandments Controversy]

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman, moderate blogger, has linked to this post and provides some other interesting links on the subject.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ann Althouse, law professor at the University of Wisconsin, evaluates Justice O'Connor's reasons for voting against publicly-sanctioned displays of the Ten Commandments in both cases.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has linked to this post. Thanks, Glenn.

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: Elephant in Exile, a site of which I hadn't previously been aware, linked to this post with a really funny comment. Thanks!

HAVE ANOTHER UPDATE: Cafe Oregano, one of the best names for a blog around, also links to this post. Thanks!

ONE MORE: Instafilter has also linked to this piece as part of a general round-up of Supreme Court ruling analyses, reporting, and ranting. Thank you!

HERE'S ANOTHER: Balloon Juice links to this piece and declares, "the sweet and tasty savor of sanity." Just as a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut, I guess a preacher periodically says something that makes sense to people. Thanks for the link!

I CAN'T FORGET CHIP: Chip Taylor links to this piece and adds an interesting observation.

CHECK THIS ONE OUT: Short Attention Span links to this piece amid a really good analytical post on the rulings.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments with respect to policy, but as a matter of constitutional law, these decisions are atrocious (and I'm very confident in saying that I would feel the same way about them if I were an atheist, having been one in an earlier spiritual life).

Read Scalia's dissent (particularly the first section). There is no principled legal basis for the majority's ruling; their sentiments with respect to separation of church and state have taken the place of the law as enacted (which they can't even articulate very well).

Anonymous said...

One could evaluate these decisions with an eye toward: constitutional law, public policy or Christian policy. I will leave the first evaluation to those more qualified, and the second to those more interested. As to the third, Christian policy, I, as a Christian, could not agree more with your statements. I feel the same way, much to the dismay of most fellow believers, on the issue of prayer in the schools. I am against it. The last thing that I want is some public school administrator deciding on a prayer homogenized enough for general audience consumption. Christian witness, and Christian life, rests on Christians doing what they are called to do as individuals and congregations of believers. Insisting on involving the state in this process guarantees about the same result as involving the state in planning your financial well-being. It is a sure recipe for a bad result.

Mark Daniels said...

To Anonymous #1: While I am a lay student of the Constitution, I am by no means an expert on the law. As you rightly indicate, my concerns are more with the policy of the matter and more importantly, what Christians are saying and doing when they insist that public dollars and public spaces be used to promote their faith. I find that disturbing as a Christian.

To Anonymous #2: I completely agree with you.

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed something - the current state of Christian persecution by liberalism in the US today isn't about using state money to fund Christian work.

Its about not using state money to suppress Christianity because its a "majority religion".

Its about using state money to take down existing monuments because they are crosses or related to the old testament.

Its about preventing teachers in their personal time using schoolrooms for bible studies, because the use of an empty room which costs no additional money - is state support of religion.

Check your facts. Christians don't need government to carry out their great commission - but government shouldn't harass the commission to please the ACLU either.

Mark Daniels said...

Anonymous #3: There are certainly people who advocate the measures to which you refer. But that's not the sort of thing upheld by the Court today. And keep in mind that this is not a "liberal" court.

Sean said...

Well, I'm a little troubled by those who say that Christian faith is to be entirely an individual, private matter. That means that we, as Christians, will withdraw from the public sphere: we will send our children to Christian academies and cease to be involved with the public schools; we will cease to serve as public officials or to participate in public debate; we will no longer visit public parks, which will mean that we no longer supply the public presence that keeps public spaces safe and habitable etc. This means the destruction of the public sphere, which will impoverish our fellow citizens, and which is totally incompatible with the command that we be salt and light.

I doubt that Jesus intended that we participate in public life without bringing our religion with us, or that we withdraw from public life, but that seems to be what the author is advocating.

Mark Daniels said...

Sean:
I am troubled by those who say that Christian faith is something that to be kept to oneself. That is why I am an ardent evangelist.

It's also why I seek to discuss my faith in the public square, whether on this blog, in a column I write in a local newspaper, in my community involvements and personal conversations, or my public ministry.

Christian faith is emphatically not a private matter. I am committed to sharing Jesus Christ everywhere I go.

Having said that, I also think that it's unconscionable for public monies or government-owned properties to be used to promote the Gospel. That's not evangelism. That can be a kind of religious imperialism that is contrary to the will of God and antithetical to the call to discipleship under which the Church and all disciples live.

Thank you so much for visiting the site and for leaving your comment.

I hope that I clarified my position here. God bless you!

Sean said...

But, Mark, which is it: should I tell my daughter that God is the most important thing in the world but He will never be mentioned in school or should I withdraw from the public school system and send my daughter to a school where the most important thing in the world can be mentioned? Don't talk about yourself, answer my question.

oregano said...

My understanding of the separation of church and state is that it was the purpose of our founding fathers to keep the President from becoming Pope; that personal faith is personal, not dictated by the government. This does not mean, in my lay historical understanding of the Constitution, that we must abolish all remnants of God from our government.

Mark Daniels said...

Sean:
I'm not entirely certain what your question is.

If you're asking me whether I think that you should send your child to a public school or a Christian one, that is entirely up to you. Our children attended public schools. They sometimes took their lumps for being Christians, not because the school itself was somehow opposed to him, but because of our culture and their peers. (By the way, to me this is no different from what things were like when I was a student in public schools and our teachers led us each day in saying the Lord's Prayer.)

Jesus does warn us that we will be lambs among wolves and it's up to parents to decide when it's time for their little lambs to face their wolfish peers.

Should you tell your daughter that God is the most important Being in the world and that Jesus is her Savior? Yes, you should, whether you send her to a public school where God isn't mentioned or not. In the cases of our two children, now aged twenty-three and twenty, talking about our real-life God in light of their encounters with real-life helped forge extraordinary faith in Christ in both of them.

But if you wish to send your child to a Christian school, that's great too. We have several families in our congregation that are doing that and are having terrific experiences with it.

Our son ultimately went and graduated from a fine Christian college, Asbury. He enjoyed it and thrived.

Our daughter is attending a public university and is enjoying that as well.

Both are committed Christians, a fact that I think is more attributable to the faith my wife and I shared with them than anything else.

By the way, we never told our kids they had to worship, go to Sunday School, or believe. But they always have. Faith is more caught than taught, as the saying goes. More than that, it is given and received, never coerced.

I don't know if I have either understood or answered your question. But I hope you find my response helpful and will tell me if I've not understood you.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark

Ben said...

I, too, disagree with those who, like Roy Moore, see placing the Ten Commandments in courtrooms as some proselytizing act. What good is that really going to do?

At the same time, I have always held that the Founding Fathers made a grave error in not making explicit in the Constitution what was, at the time, the accepted view of things: Specifically, that America is a "Christian" nation. As an earlier commenter stated, the Founders were concerned with preventing the confluence of the state and the "political church" where the clergy became de facto rulers. But the Founders -- though many were not Christians themselves -- had no problem with Christianity being a big part of official government. Days of thanksgiving to God were regularly declared by Congress (including on the very day the text of the First Amendment was passed), mentions of God flowed forth in official government discourse constantly, and schools not only had prayer, but many actually taught from the Bible. Somehow, the Republic not only survived, but thrived and became the most blessed nation the earth has ever known.

Of course the Establishment Clause is a great thing, and having an Official Church of America would be terrible. But since it is impossible to eliminate religion, spirituality, or spiritual worldviews from the public square, I would prefer that the government defer to our nation's Christian heritage while letting everyone worship as they please. Otherwise, we get exactly what we are currently getting: Secularism as the official religion of the state, and all vestiges of religion thrown to the curb.

Sam said...

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have nearly the legal knowledge or background necessary to make insightful comments on the technical aspects of this issue. Your post is very well-thought out and the comments from your readers are also very enlightening.

I agree with the overall principle you've touched upon. I've also had some interesting dialogues with other believers about the degree to which believers should engage in political activism. I guess I've tried to distinguish between government actions that "legislate faith" and government actions that "hinder faith." I know it's a thin line and an unclear one, but I would place this particular issue under the latter. Not having the Ten Commandments prominently displayed in certain government buildings should not keep me from sharing my faith or reaching out to others for Christ. On the other hand, I would be compelled to speak out against any government policy that actively hinders or even persecutes believers in their participation in the Great Commission. I currently serve with Campus Crusade in Russia and see the difficulties that arise when government actively restricts ministry activities and spiritual freedoms. I understand that this distinction can be very fuzzy at times. I appreciate your insights on this story.

By the way, as I read your comments and responses to other readers, I'm very appreciative of your testimony regarding your children and your passion for Jesus Christ. Thanks for intelligently and publicly discussing your faith.

Anonymous said...

Mark, you are missing the point. The ruling is on existing ten commandment monuments and whether they should be taken down (which would cost money). No one is using public money now to build new monuments- it would be to quick to get a court order to stop the expenditure.

Mark Daniels said...

Newest Anonymous Commenter:

No, I don't think that I am missing the point.

The Court has held that in the case of the Texas display, owing to context, a governmental agency is not violating the establishment clause. The intent there does not seem to be promote a particular religious system.

The Court also held that the two Kentucky displays violated the establishment clause. Their intent was to promote a particular faith.

Using money to right a constitutional or legal wrong should not bother us. It's what the government is supposed to do.

Thanks for your comments.

Mark

Mark Daniels said...

Sam:
Thank you for your comments as well.

Yes, any government attempts to quell our ability to share our faith in Christ would be disturbing, as well as being unconstitutional, I think.

Thanks again for dropping by.

Mark

Anonymous said...

I must disagree with your assertion that this court "is not a liberal court". I am not sure on what you base that evidence but most rulings from the past 3 terms have been very liberal (against the death penalty in 3 straight decisions, against individual property rights in Kelo, against the Ten Commandments, against state rights in "Goodrich", redefining "public use and "interstate commerce"--none of these are conservative in the slightest. As Ginsberg said, "federalism is the dog that did not bark this term".

I daresay you would have difficulty demonstrating to me a conservative decision handed down by the court recently. With Justice Kennedy having switched sides, the liberals own this court. The evidence is in their rulings.

As to the decision, it is simply this. A nation that refuses to honor God will not be honored by Him. The supreme court has set their so called "law" above God's law. The government, in the form of the court, is turning its back on its own moral foundations. It is no wonder America is no longer "good". Soon, I predict, she will cease to be "great" (quoting Tocqueville).

Ben said...

What he said.

Ben said...

Jonah Goldberg makes a perfectly valid point:

"I think I have this right. The upshot of Breyer's opinion is that old displays of the 10 Commandments are okay but new ones aren't. I have no problem privileging the old over the new as a matter of principle but, given all the educational functions and whatnot about constitutional displays, isn't the upshot of this that basically it's okay to say this was a religious country but it's unconstitutional to say it still is. Or am I missing something?"

No, he isn't missing anything. In a pinch, certain modern liberals are willing to allow the monuments put in place by our superstitious, simpleton forefathers to remain in place, but only as long as everyone understands that these monuments mean nothing whatsoever.

Mark Daniels said...

I agree that a nation that fails to acknowledge God is courting disaster in this world and in the one to come. That's why I am an active, ardent evangelist for Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth, and the life."

But when governments promote religion, bad things happen. In Europe, Christian "faith" is supported by the government and it has killed faith, by and large. In other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Islam is officially sanctioned to often disastrous ends.

It is not the role of government to promote specific religious faith. That's our job as Christians!

Ben said...

Mark,

It seems to me that you are taking a very exaggerated position here. You are correct that the church in Europe is dead, but this is because the church there is an official state entity, fully supported and controlled by the taxpayers. This is not what I or any of us want. But neither do I want a secularist government that pushes a secularist agenda.

As I noted before, this country thrived for over 175 years with a government that respected and allowed free practice of all faiths, but which deferred in matters great and small to our common Christian heritage. It's hard to argue with that track record of success. These days, we are throwing away our birthright.

Mark Daniels said...

It's also impossible to argue that the government infringes on our right to practice our faith as Christians today. The rulings in the Ten Commandments cases infringe on our religious liberties not in the least.

ScurvyOaks said...

Great post, Mark, and great answers to comments. I find that I disagree with my brothers and sisters on a number of points that relate to the intersection of faith and government. I think it is highly relevant that when the creator and king of the universe condescended to take human form, He did not come as a civil ruler. (And a lot of God's people were even looking forward to a Messiah who would sweep out the Romans and govern Israel.) The Lord's kingdom is now a kingdom of hearts and minds. (He will rule in a different way when he returns, but that's another topic.) With this as the background, I think we're often spending time and energy in the wrong places. Let's spread the Gospel! And let's worry about real free-exercise issues, but not about hair-splitting establishment cases that make little real difference.

Mark Daniels said...

Scurvy Oaks:
Wow! In a few words, you have well summarized what I have struggled to articulate in a mountain of verbosity. Thanks for dropping by and for the comments.

Blessings!
Mark

Ben said...

Mark,

The frustrating thing I am finding in trying to discuss this with you is that you seemingly ignore 90% of what I say and cherry-pick certain statements to respond to. So let me try this one more time:

- I do not agree with those who see putting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms as the Great Commission of our times. It is a fundamentally meaningless exercise that converts no one and does nothing to change society.

- At the same time, neither does having the Ten Commandments in a courtroom deny anyone their rights or do anyone any harm.

- Complete religious neutrality on the part of the government is impossible. Some views are always going to be the norm. For 175 years, this country was a "Christian" nation in that the default position when push came to shove was to favor our Christian heritage. At the same time, there was no official state religion and everyone was able to worship as they pleased. And the nation prospered and was blessed above all others since the time of the Exodus and the conquering of the Promised Land.

- What is going on now is not neutral. It is the continuing effort to replace the country's Christian default with a secularist default. Exhibit A is the way the public schools feed our children revisionist history and immoral filth, and then tell us it's none of our business.

- You say that the Kentucky ruling in no way inhibits the free expression of religion. In a strict sense, you are correct (although looking at what is happening to believers in Europe and in Canada, and given that the American Left wants to follow in those footsteps, storm clouds are definitely on the horizon). But what I am arguing is different. As I said before, the Founders faltered in not enshrining a default to Christianity into the Constitution, even though they saw the wisdom of such a default as self-evident.

- You have utterly failed (by not addressing it) to explain how it is that this country prospered for so long with so many elements of Christianity woven into the state, but now a simple Ten Commandments plaque in a courthouse is going to bring down the Republic. If you can not reconcile your claims with 175 years of history directly repudiating you, then you are not being intellectually honest.

Mark Daniels said...

Ben: Okay, let me "cherry pick" through each of your points:

Point #1: We are agreed.

Point #2: People's rights may be threatened, dependent on the intent of such displays. That is what the Court has held and I think that makes sense.

Point #3: Was America a "Christian" nation at its founding or for 175 years thereafter?

I will agree that the civil religion of America was "Christian" in tone and that Christian affiliation was identified by the majority of people through much of that time. (Although from about 1750 though about 1800, not more than 4% of the American people were Christian in creed or involvement in a church.)

The majority of the Founders were not Christians nor would I say that at a functional level, ours has been a "Christian" nation more than any other nation in the world's history, although the influence of Christian faith with its values of love for neighbor, tolerance, and a commitment to justice and service are clearly evidenced in our country. (I have written extensively about these on this blog, in a series of posts on what de Tocqueville saw as America's "habits of the heart.")

In fact, our religion has been of a more legalistic or Pharisaic brand, not far from the kingdom of God, but certainly not a faith rooted in surrender to the God we know through Jesus Christ, Who graciously saves those who turn from sin and follow Him. Abraham Lincoln well articulated this American (per)version of Christianity when he said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that's my religion." And that is not Christianity.

Furthermore, I surmise that the 175-year period you identify includes shameful times when we allowed for the enslavement of human beings; countenanced savage treatment of people--including children--in sweatshops, factories, and mines; and mistreated the original occupants of this land--or at least those who occupied this land before the rest of our interloping ancestors did. None of these behaviors could be called "Christian," although they were often justified as such.

(The greatness of America, by the way, is that we have always struggled to fulfill our promise as a nation of freedom and opportunity for all people. It's one of the reasons I love America so and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I well remember hearing an admiral speak to an assembly at the high school where I was a student while the Vietnam War raged. "I have never believed," he told us, "in the notion of, 'My country right or wrong.' I believe instead in this: 'My country, when wrong to make it right; when right to keep it right.'")

It may be that "complete religious neutality" is impossible, as you say. But, even if we may well prefer to place Christian persons in political office, finding them more trustworthy and principled, the aim of the American government should be complete religious neutrality.

I believe this not primarily as an American, but as a Christian. The preferential treatment given to at least, the prevailing American caricature of Christian faith through the centuries of our history, has often acted as an immunizing agent, giving people just enough taste of Christianity to innoculate them against the genuine article.

Point #4: "Revisionist history" and "moral filth" are two different things, both equally objectionable.

The phrase "revisionist history" can be defined differently, I suppose. I am concerned about the replacement of facts with fictions as an historian as well as a Christian and a pastor. Certainly, every citizen owes it to themselves, their communities, and countries to know and to remind others of historical facts and to call educators to account when they believe the educators have foisted untruths on their students.

"Moral filth" is also a multifaceted phrase. I surmise that by this you mean the recommendation of morally wrong behaviors. Fighting this is appropriate as well.

I believe that such battles must happen on a case-by-case basis and be waged as Paul and Peter recommend. We are, Paul says, to "speak the truth in love." And Peter tells us to give an account for the hope that is in us "with gentleness."

If in this point, you're saying that the Gospel has enemies who would suppress the truth about Jesus Christ, welcome to the real world. This is the world that we have always faced as believers in Jesus Christ. This is the world which, Paul says, having Christians fighting a spiritual war that above all, requires prayer and dependence on God, not pushing people around politically or judicially.

The other night, I saw Billy Graham being interviewed. He was asked how the world had changed since he was born some eighty-six years ago, just after the close of the First World War. His answer, based not only his own life-experience, but also his study of the Bible, was that the world hasn't changed. He recalled how the world was just then recovering from a massive world war. All the combatants were, by the way, "Christian" nations.

Sin and rebellion against God was a problem then; it remains a problem now.

And so it has always been, since Adam and Eve rebelled by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Back before the great flood recounted in Genesis, God observed that the imagination of human hearts was evil continually. After the flood, God made the same observation.

Our answer to evil and rebellion against God cannot be grabbing hold of governmental or earthly power in order to force or coerce submission to Christ (or our puny personal versions of Christ) from others.

The Kingdom of God is entered voluntarily. It comes as a result of the gentle wooing of God's Holy Spirit in the lives, words, and witness of the Church and of Christians. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment leave no room for grim coercion!

Through the bald use of political power, you may be able to get legislatures, government agencies, and schools to do things you want them to do. But you will not, in the bargain, make anyone a Christian.

As I mentioned somewhere here earlier, when I was a student in the public schools, we said the Lord's Prayer every morning, led by our teachers. But I doubt that 30% of my classmates are Christians today. And I'm sure that it didn't happen because we said the prayer together each day. Nobody is coerced into following Jesus; nobody is persuaded to be Christian simply by the forced rote repetiton of a prayer or subjection to a rock with commandments chiseled into it; people are only loved into God's kingdom by other kingdom-dwellers!

Point #5: I don't know on what basis you put thoughts into the Founders' heads about what should be the default religion of America. Since I don't possess ex post facto ESP, I can't address this assertion. But I don't think that you can either.

Point #6: Many nations and empires have thrived which had no connnection to God whatever. I hope that we will not equate prosperity with blessedness. Jesus was a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief, a man without a home who had no place to lay His head. He was among what the Old Testament called "the anawim," the poor. But His was the most blessed life of all.

America is blessed not because of anything we have done, but because God is good. From those to whom much is given, much is expected by God. And so, I hope that Christians will work devoutly and lovingly to bring about the conversion of America to faith in Jesus Christ. That is our mission.

I hope and pray that our leaders will be Christian women and men whose hearts and wills are open to Christ.

I pray and work for revival every day. It is my passion.

To facilitate that mission, I want government to get out of the religion business. I don't want anyone to have an excuse to reject Jesus Christ. I want them to see Jesus as He is--not an earthly king who pushes his weight around, but as the humble Suffering Servant Who died on a cross and offers a share in His resurrection to all who follow Him.

Religious displays owned by the government which have the purpose of promoting a particular religious perspective are contrary to God's will and destructive of Christ's mission to give people new lives.

I hope that I have dealt with your points, Ben, and that I haven't proven once again, to be a thich-headed respondent.

I can see that you are honestly wrestling with some important issues and I commend you for that.

Whatever disagreements we may have, I hope that we can agree that Jesus Christ is Lord and the only hope for our country or our world.

God bless you!

Mark

Ben said...

Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. We have both said a lot, and it is obvious that we must, to some extent, agree to disagree. As I read what you wrote, I found it in turns inspiring, maddening, confusing, and downright (to me) strange. To some extent, I'm not sure we're even communicating.

I won't address everything you wrote (mainly the issues where we appear to understand one another but simply disagree), but I do want to clarify a couple of points:

- Regarding the Founders, their writings clearly indicate that -- be they Christian or not -- they clearly believed that the survival of democracy depended upon a citizenry of faithful and moral people. George Washington once wrote: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity religion and morality are indispensable supports." Samuel Adams wrote: "The right of the colonist as Christians... may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament." And John Adams, despite his deep skepticism of the details of Christ's divinity, nevertheless wrote: "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity." The point here is not to get into a battle of quotes, but to simply underscore that whatever their personal skepticism, religion was seen as important by the Founders.

- Please do not fall into the trap of arguing that America was not in its past a "Christian" nation based on the more shameful portions of our history. Yes, our nation has failed many times, just as individuals fail regularly. Does sin in and of itself mean that a person is not a Christian? Of course not. The fact is that human history is replete with examples of human brutality, and based on the whole of history, America can be judged -- at any time in its history you want to pick -- as a shining light in the history of mankind, its failings notwithstanding.

- No, one can not completely "equate prosperity with blessedness." And through much of our history, most Americans did not have a bounty of material blessings. Yes, God has blessed America because He is good, but it is simply foolish to say that his blessings have nothing to do with anything we have done. The Bible is replete with so many examples of God blessing or promising to bless individuals and nations who follow Him that I do not even know where to begin.

- Different circumstances call for different actions, and there is certainly a time to "speak the truth in love" and do so "with gentleness." There is also a time to smash tablets, shake dirt off one's shoes, and scream at the top of one's lungs.

- You continue to insist on mischaracterizing my views as being an attempt to impose Christianity on society. This is a straw man which is not supported by what I have actually said. Of course religion should not and can not be imposed on anyone. That is not the issue. The question is this: When competing value systems come into conflict in the public square and a decision must be made, whose values win out? In the past, the public square defaulted to a Christian viewpoint. These days, it defaults to a secularist one. You seem to believe that Christians brought up in the "fire" of a hostile society are purer or more authentic, and it is certainly true that adversity tends to produce sterling faith in some. But it is also true that such adversity unnecessarily culls many, as well. In the past, many parents in this country had the luxury of raising their children in a society that reinforced, not undercut, the values that were taught at home. People still sinned, of course, but many, many kids were sheltered from most of it until they were older. These days, it has become easier than it has been in many decades for a well-meaning parent to "lose" their kids to the culture. The cultural slime pit we have created as a nation is very much linked to our society's attitude toward morals and religion.

In his farewell address in 1796, George Washington said: "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds... reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail, in exclusion of religious principle." As our government and our society throw our religious heritage to the curb, so goes our moral clarity, as well. We were once a nation where President Calvin Coolidge could, without controversy, say: "The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country." We are that nation no longer.

Mark Daniels said...

Ben:
Thank you for taking the time to write all that you have written.

(1) I think you are right in saying that just because sin exists in human beings--as it does in me and as it will in all people and nations until the close of the age--doesn't mean they aren't Christian. I was only arguing against the notion that America has been throughout its history, a paragon of Christian virtue or that suddenly at some 175-year old demarcation point, became a different land.

(2) I don't know that I characterized your position on this matter at all. I was simply addressing what many advocates of Ten Commandment displays and other examples of Christian impositionalism, as I call it, advocate. I was warning against the same and how some of what you addressed in your comments could veer in that direction.

(3) In John Adams, you cite one of the Founders who was undoubtedly a Christian. (There is strong reason to believe, I feel, and in spite of Joseph Ellis' protestations to the contrary, that Washington was also.) And yes, as is true today, our political leaders have used rhetoric that appeals to a quasi-Christian sensibility, but when one takes the corpus of their statements as political figures, it seems that there have been few genuine followers of Christ in the White House, a lack which is reflective of the arm's length Christianity (we call it C & E Faith, for Christmas and Easter) that prevails in America. (By the way, if you Google Mark Roberts and me back in January, we both independently evaluated President Bush's Inaugural Address from the perspective of Christian theology.)

(4) Even Washington's statement is more a tribute to the supposed calming effects on society owing to "civle religion," as opposed to authentic Christianity. As such, it reflects an understanding of Christianity that has more to do with morality and than with a restored relationship with God given by grace to those with faith in Jesus Christ.

Christian faith is only secondarily about morality. The desire and the power to act morally issues from the relationship God establishes with us through Jesus Christ.

But in that particular statement by Washington, he sees the chief virtue of "religion" as being its effects on people's civil conduct. In truth, that's just a short hop, skip, and jump from Marx's scornful derogation of "religion," particularly Christian religion, as an "opiate of the people." But true Christian faith enlivens and awakens.

In any case, I feel that we have sometimes spoken past one another and that perhaps, in time, while we might disagree, we could more clearly understand each other. I hope that you will visit the blog again soon.

May God bless you and yours.

Mark

Ben said...

Mark,

Just let me say in closing that I agree with your interpretation of Washington's statement and think it in all likelihood applies to many other similar statements by early American leaders. But I really have no problem with that because it is better than the likely alternative. Yes, it would be wonderful if we had national leaders who were "true Christians," but barring that, a government of lip-service Christians is better at fostering a society of believers than one that is hostile to Christianity.

At some point, you have to look at outcomes. There never has been and never will be a time when everyone is a "true Christian." But was our society better off 60-70 years ago when "In God We Trust" was being put on our money and the culture was openly accepting of Christianity, or are we better off today? Are Christian parents more or less likely in today's society to successfully transmit their values to their children? Are kids more or less likely these days to be introduced to moral filth that may permanently knock their lives off track? I argue that the society which didn't fuss when someone suggested placing an engraving of the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse is the same society that is more likely to produce a moral environment conducive to raising good people, good citizens, and yes, strong Christians.

If anyone could show me evidence of any society in the history of mankind that has, over a long term, produced a moral, religion-friendly society by embracing secularism in its public institutions, then I would jump in with both feet. As it is, the slide into the moral and cultural abyss that our society is experiencing has coincided exactly with the rejection of our Christian heritage in the public square. I, for one, think it defies believability to claim that the two are not related. I agree that, as you said, "Christian faith is only secondarily about morality." Yet it is inconceivable that a broadly and grossly immoral society will be a strongly Christian one.

There is value, I believe, in having our public officials and public institutions acknowledge a power higher than that of man, and to offer public thanks to God for what we have. The government both leads and is a reflection of the people, and right now our government is telling us as a society that nothing is higher than ourselves. A government "by and for the people" is a wonderful thing, but much less so once it forgets that it was "endowed by its Creator" with its freedoms.

Kate said...

I too am a Christian who welcomes this decision. I think there are those who've commented here that have the idea that this infringes on their right to practice freely their religion. If they can indicate to me the area of the constitution that guarantees one the right to use government funds to erect public displays of their religion, then by all means, I concede. Your right to practice your religion/faith is intact. You can erect as many monuments as you want in your front yard with your own money, talk about your faith, write about it, witness to anybody you like, read about it, etc. I often feel that much of the Christian Right in this country have an almost paranoid attitude. Were they to experience the level of religious persecution that happens in other countries every day, maybe they would have a different mindset.
Speaking of which, I don't think it is the role of government to "honor God". The role of government is to protect order and it's citizens. It is up to the faithful to honor God. The government, to protect all of it's citizens, not just those that are Christians, must take a secular view of these matters. It is not saying that individuals must conform to this view; it is saying that a government building, in which the employees are acting as agents of the government, must be free of the promotion of any religion. Let's say that Christians were the minority in this country and Islam was the majority. How confident would you be that the justice system is unbiased against Christians if there were Muslim creeds and monuments everywhere? This is the "harm" in having any particular religion promoted in a government building. If all of our citizens can't have faith in the justice system or in the government's willingness to protect their rights irregardless of their religion, then our entire democracy (for the people, by the people) collapses. Complete religious neutrality on the part of the government is not only possible, but required. The argument that all of our laws are based on Christian tenets is at once arrogant and naive. Most religions have the same basic moral laws as Christianity (no killing, stealing, lying, etc.) And these are the foundation of our laws. Whether or not our founding fathers were Christians, or most of our citizens in 1775 were Christian, or even if most of our citizens now are Christians (questionable) means nothing. The fact is that the bill of rights, including the first amendment, were included to protect the minority from the majority. I also take exception to the idea that Christians are more moral than non-Christians. The only difference between a Christian and non-Christian is in the fact that he/she is saved by the grace of God alone, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This may be a doctrinal issue, but I don't believe that God's grace in saving you automatically makes you more moral. There have been many ethical and moral people who were not Christians. To believe that Christians alone are moral or fit leaders is again, arrogant and naive.

Mark Daniels said...

Kate:
Thank you for visiting the blog and for your thoughtful comments. You raise some important points for discussion here and elsewhere.

I hope that you'll visit and comment again.

Mark

Miranda said...

While I enjoyed reading your article, I disagree with your entire premise.

Early on, you say, "Scour the Bible from cover to cover and you won't find God ever sanctioning the coercive imposition of our faith on others. In fact, we're called upon to share our faith with compassion, with humility, and with respect for those with whom we differ."

I think it's more than a stretch to say that keeping a statue of Moses in a courthouse lacks compassion. Is it coercive? Only if
people are so weak that they are incapable of viewing something without changing their views immediately. I have a higher opinion of the American people.

"The government entity which today can give preferential treatment to Christians can, quite conceivably, give preference to other religions in the future. Better a society in which all are given equal opportunity for expression than one which sides with a specific religion or sect."

Imagine if you said the same thing about race. "The government entity which today can give preferential treatment to whites can, quite conceivably, give preference to other races in the future. Better a society in which all are given equal opportunity for expression than the one which sides with a specific race."

You would be right in your words, but not in your intended application. Instead of
giving blacks and whites equal opportunity to speak in public, you would make it impossible
for either race to speak.

The solution, Mr. Daniels, is to truly give all religions opportunity, not to take away
from all. Equality is great, but not when it means we're all just equally miserable.

Mark Daniels said...

Miranda:
I can't see that anything is being taken away from anyone with the Court order that some displays must be taken down.

America wins because a governmental institution is getting out of the business of treating a religion preferentially.

Christianity wins because our witness isn't tarred by "being in bed" with the government. The Gospel then is freed to be the Gospel, not an -ism backed by government support. In the whole history of the Church, its most vital growth and vibrancy of life has occurred when it was not the "in" thing. It's when Christians are on the "outs" of power that people find it most compelling. We Christians should be willing, for the sake of Christ and the spread of the Gospel, be willing to renounce such advantages over other religious systems.

Your paragraph about whites and blacks doesn't sound "miserable" to me, but utterly Christian and utterly American. All should be given equal opportunity.

Thank you so much for stopping by.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark

Jim said...

Mark wrote:

In the whole history of the Church, its most vital growth and vibrancy of life has occurred when it was not the "in" thing. It's when Christians are on the "outs" of power that people find it most compelling.

Well yes, growing from a speck is usually easier than growing a majority position. But is it really your position that Christians were better off when they were being fed to the lions than when entire communities in the early American frontier were essentially Christian enclaves?

Sorry, but I disagree with your entire premise. The most dynamic period for Christians occurred right here in this country during the period when many of these religious monuments were placed in public buildings in the first place.

It's one thing to be a willing martyr should that awful path become unavoidable. It is quite another to, as you seem to do, crave martyrdom and persecution as a clarifying faith crucible.

Mark Daniels said...

Jim:
I obviously didn't communicate very well in my last comment. Let me try again.

Only a masochist would court martyrdom or romanticize it and I had no intention of doing that. I wasn't referencing martyrdom at all.

I was advocating Christians' voluntarily eschewing political advantage for the sake of the Gospel.

Can we honestly say that those who are "in utero" Christians, Christians by virtue not of belief in Jesus Christ, but family history, social custom, or royal edict, are as likely to come to faith in Christ as those who see following Jesus as the narrow way of submission, surrender, discipleship, and ultimately, endless hope? These "by custom" Christians are the type that prevail in America today and always have!

What I say is that for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the Gospel in the public mind, for the sake of maintaining our own integrity as humble followers of Christ, and for the sake evangelizing those whose souls are precious to the Savior we follow, we who bear Christ's Name should renounce the use of worldly power as a tool of conquest or proselytization.

To do anything other than rely completely on Christ and His Word is faithless.

If the intent of those who want to use public monies and public property to display the Ten Commandments is to make a statement of faith, they are guilty of the very arrogance which Paul denigrates in First Corinthians 13 and Peter eschews in First Peter 3:15.

Furthermore, they negate whatever message they may desire to give by relying on worldly power to make their point rather than on the Holy Spirit. They show themselves, whether by intent or not, to be utterly opposed to Christ, Pharisees with crosses around their necks.

Now, I'm not sure what historical periods you may be referencing. But, if you're familiar with the works of those who have studied spiritual revivals--I'm most familiar with the works referenced by Tom Phillips, one-time aide to Billy Graham--there have been ups and downs in the spiritual and numerical vitality of Christian churches. The Church has gone, as you say, "from a speck," not just once, but many times. In fact, it's possible for the Church to be composed of millions and yet be a "speck."

This, I fear, is what the Church in the United States often is today, a spiritual speck. (To my shame, I sometimes include myself in this speckiness!) Some of our number have grabbed for political and financial power in order to impose their particular brands of Christianity on others and have, in some ways, gained the world, yet in the bargain, lost their souls.

We will not win America to Christ by arrogantly arrogating to ourselves the power to decree that this is and always has been a Christian nation. Or that using public monies and lands to impose our statements of faith on others, however woven we may deem them to be in the fabric of American history, law, and tradition, is a simple expression of faith in reaction to which those who don't share our faith had better just shut up and accept.

Some people like to ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" (Although a better one might be, "What has Jesus already done for us?") But I can tell you one thing for sure: The One Who told us to render to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's would not tell us to get into bed with Caesar or to use our adulterous liaison with all the idols of worldly power to bully people into an acquiescence to the Decalogue that will still leave them far from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ!

Only Christ has the power to save. The Church ought to get on with the business of sharing Christ with others, not being the neighborhood bully, whether we use the ideologies of the left or the right to play that game.

Jim said...

Can we honestly say that those who are "in utero" Christians, Christians by virtue not of belief in Jesus Christ, but family history, social custom, or royal edict, are as likely to come to faith in Christ as those who see following Jesus as the narrow way of submission, surrender, discipleship, and ultimately, endless hope?

It's a false choice you offer. There is absolutely nothing that prevents "in utero" Christians from developing the sort of faith you described. In fact, it is much more likely that such "in utero" Christians will come to that kind of faith than it is that those who are brought up in secular households will. Why else would God repeatedly instruct, nay demand, in Scripture that we raise our children up in our faith? If one were to follow your position to its logical conclusion, it would be better to throw our kids to the wolves so that they could have a chance to find Jesus later on after they have screwed up their lives.

We who bear Christ's Name should renounce the use of worldly power as a tool of conquest or proselytization.

You're really hung up on that, aren't you? Sorry, I just don't see it. Putting the Ten Commandments in a courthouse is no more threatening to anyone than Jefferson's pronouncement that humans are "endowed by their (large "C") Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Maybe you should organize a campaign to ban the Declaration of Independence.

If the intent of those who want to use public monies and public property to display the Ten Commandments is to make a statement of faith, they are guilty of the very arrogance which Paul denigrates in First Corinthians 13 and Peter eschews in First Peter 3:15.

So if, as was the case with "Roy's Rock," the monument is paid for with private funds, then that's fine? Or if the intent is not "to make a statement of faith?" At any rate, the Kentucky case was not about "Roy's Rock"; the Ten Commandments display in question was part of a larger display on "Foundations of the Law." It certainly had a less proselytizing function than, for instance, the opening prayer every day in Congress.

Some of our number have grabbed for political and financial power in order to impose their particular brands of Christianity on others and have, in some ways, gained the world, yet in the bargain, lost their souls.

A little judgmental, aren't we? As I recall, we are strictly forbidden to speculate as to whose souls are lost or not.

Jesus came to earth as the Living Son of God with a specific mission to accomplish. His life is an example to us in many ways, but an aberration in many others. (Should none of us be married or have kids in order to be like Jesus?) His mission was not political, and He lived his earthly life during a time of political tyranny anyway, so he did not spend any time on politics. But for us, especially living as we do in a democracy, we have certain responsibilities to fulfill. Democracies make their own rules, and our society and our laws are a reflection of that. Why should Christians shrink from that responsibility? (And yes, I know you ran for Congress.) To the extent that our religious beliefs inform our political and cultural opinions, why should we not proclaim and fight for those beliefs?

Governance is all about the "imposition of beliefs" -- the only question is whose beliefs are being imposed on whom. Was it wrong for the abolitionists to "impose" their view that slavery was a sin in the eyes of God on those Southern Christians who said slavery was Biblical? Was it bad form for Rev. Martin Luther King to "impose" his religion on America by quoting from the Bible every ten seconds in his fight for civil rights? Should those who oppose capital punishment or abortion as a matter of religious faith stop trying to "impose" their beliefs on society as a whole? Indeed, to condemn the sort of Christian "imposition" that you do is to condemn much of the foundation of this nation.

In fact, your argument would not be nearly so outlandish if it were not for the fact that it so completely is at odds with everything this nation was about for most of its history. I would greatly encourage you read Justice Scalia's excellent dissent in the Kentucky case (http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/27jun20051200/www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/04pdf/03-1693.pdf -- beginning on page 45) where he explains the historical folly of what you are arguing. Whatever the majority used as the basis for their ruling, it was certainly not the Constitution or the history and traditions of the United States. Frankly, your position is a path that leads to... Canada (http://www.westernstandard.ca/website/index.cfm?page=article&article_id=825).

Mark Daniels said...

Jim:
Once again, judging from your response, I seem to have done a poor job in conveying my ideas. Addressing each of your paragraphs:

Point #1:
The supposedly logical conclusion to which you claim to take my argument is neither logical or a conclusion. My point, as I suspect you know, is that the imposition of specific religious or world views does not and has never resulted in the true embrace of faith in Christ on anybody's part.

My two adult children are ardent followers of Jesus Christ. My wife and I taught them about Jesus and sought to live authentically for Him. I began praying that they, their potential spouses, and possible children would be followers of Christ from the moment I learned that my wife was expecting them.

But the cause of winning them to Christ also called us to never force them to worship or Sunday School or church activities after they'd gone past the earliest years of childhood and could fend for themselves for a few hours. Interestingly, they never expressed any desire not to worship, not to pray, or not to live for Christ.

I hasten to add that Bible-reading and family prayer times were regular parts of our children's lives always. So, were opportunities to serve meals to the poor with members of our church.

But, had any governmental agency dared to impose faith on them, including Christian faith, I would have been riled to anger and I should think that any Christian and any American would react similarly.

Point #2:
Yes, I am hung up on that point, and it is inconceivable to me that any follower of Jesus Christ wouldn't be.

I agree with the Court that "intent" is the key question when it comes to putting the Ten Commandments on public property.

The Declaration of Independence was a political document penned by a functional atheist, employing Enlightenment categories of thought that would be acceptable to Christians. The Declaration made a political statement, employing some theological terms. It's part of the common heritage of all Americans. The Ten Commandments, by the lights of the Court, may fall into the category of "common heritage" as well. That's why they didn't altogether ban its appearance on public property. But, they said, if proselytization is its intent, public monies or public properties may not be so used. This seems utterly consonant with our traditions and principles as Americans and completely laudable for us as Christians.

Point #3:
By Roy's Rock,I take it that you're referring to the Ten Commandment monument in Alabama. I do object to some of these displays simply as a citizen. But more than that, above all, I object to them as a Christian, for reasons I've already stated repeatedly.

Point #4:
Perhaps I was a bit judgmental there. But I will say that the activities of some of our number have the decided appearance of very un-Christian triumphalism and it's disturbing. I believe that those of the Religious Left and Religious Right have done incalculable damage to the cause of Christ in the world.

I didn't say that Christians should refrain from political involvement--or marriage or having children. I myself ran in the Republican primary for the Ohio House of Representatives myself last year. I am a conservative Republican.

I believe that Christians have a moral responsibility to be involved with public affairs. And I believe that part of that responsibility includes the responsibility to refuse to arrogantly force our views down others' throats. Rather, we're to patiently and lovingly work toward the creation of consensus that will harm only those of evil intent, to forge policies that reflect our common moral understandings.

So long as our ability to practice our faith in Christ is not abridged, we can cheerfully live with our neighbor, irrespective of his or her religion and even as we seek to win him or her to Christ.

My original point was and is, pure and simple, was that the two Ten Commandment rulings, rendered by a classically conservative court--if not one that is "conservative" by the lights of today's big govermment neo-conservatism--secure Christians' freedom of religion and those who may disagree with us. And that is a good thing.

Mark Daniels said...

Jim:
By the way, thanks for taking the time to read this blog and for leaving your thoughtful comments.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels

Jim said...

This court is in no way, shape, or form conservative, unless you think it is "conservative" for a majority of the Supreme Court justices to rely on foreign legal precedent and regularly eschew American legal precedent in a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to creating law by judicial fiat.

I'm not sure if you have done a "poor job" of conveying your thoughts or not, but you do seem to be suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance on these issues -- I'm not sure you have thought through all the consequences of what you are advocating. This statement, for instance, is simply mind-boggling:

I believe that Christians have a moral responsibility to be involved with public affairs. And I believe that part of that responsibility includes the responsibility to refuse to arrogantly force our views down others' throats. Rather, we're to patiently and lovingly work toward the creation of consensus that will harm only those of evil intent, to forge policies that reflect our common moral understandings.

Let's say you are in Congress and a bill comes before the House that will ban federal money for certain programs that have been found to indirectly fund abortions (some sort of loophole in the Hyde Amendment -- work with me here). Do you vote in favor of it, or not? Either way, you are "arrogantly forcing your views down others' throats." And how, pray tell, do you divine who "those of evil intent" are? Are you not making value judgments to do that? Are those judgments not greatly informed by your religious beliefs? Ditto for any public affairs issue you can name. But guess what -- That's what democracy does. The only way to avoid this is to advocate anarchy. And what "common moral understandings" do you think even exist? And is it not equally wrong to "impose" your views on "those of evil intent?" I could go on, but I mean, gee-whiz.

You have also failed to accurately reflect my views in your responses. Part of this, I believe (and yes, I know you are busy) is that you evidently aren't reading everything I (or anyone else, for that matter) writes. This is evidenced by the fact that I mentioned being aware of your run for political office, but you told me about it as if you didn't realize I already knew that.

Again, "imposition" is an awfully big word. This is not an inquisition and no one is being forced to believe anything. You have failed to demonstrate how posting the Ten Commandments (especially in the context that was at issue in the Kentucky case) imposes anything on anyone. Furthermore, you failed to even address the questions I posed to you concerning other, widely accepted instances where religion has been used to justify certain policy decisions with far more reach than a simple Ten Commandments posting.

As for Jefferson, as Justice Scalia pointed out, he is famous for being consistently inconsistent regarding religion and seemed, despite (or perhaps because of) his brilliance, to have a difficult time deciding what he really thought. It is indeed strange to hear perhaps the world's best-known deist time and time again implore God for guidance in the affairs of our young nation.

Back to the Supreme Court, this whole idea of "intent" is simply bizarre, as well as being completely divorced from our legal traditions on this subject. As Scalia points out, the majority waffles between using "intent" of an action and the effect the action might have on some hypothetical "objective observer" as it suits the majority's argument at the time. The effective consequence of an "intent" test would seem to be that the Ten Commandments can only be posted in courthouses located in those areas of the country where few people actually believe in God (e.g., San Francisco). But in Alabama, where most people still actually go to church, it's forbidden. The court would not actually say anything that asinine, of course, but that's where their argument naturally leads.

Mark Daniels said...

Jim:
First of all, you're right, I wrote that last comment on the fly in the midst of doing other things. And, you're also right that I totally missed your referencing my run for the Ohio General Assembly.

So, I see that the obvious misimpression of my views you have stem from that.

Let's pretend that I'm in Congress or a state legislature, spinning off of your suggested scenario.

I would vote against abortion funding. Why? Because I believe that, except in those instances when a mother's life is in danger and perhaps, other fearfull exceptional situations, it ought not to happen.

And why is that? Because I believe that a life is being taken. Now, certainly I believe that as a Christian. But I also believe that the whole society can agree that the taking of a life is wrong and that if it can't, we still have an obligation to fight for the inclusion of sanctions against killing in the law of our country.

So, I certainly wouldn't banish Christian ethics from the sensibilities of public servants, which I think is what you may have thought I was advocating.

But I would banish the use of political power for the purpose of Christian proselytizing.

I hope that distinction is clear.

Jim said...

O.K., good. (And we agree on abortion, by the way, although I can not personally imagine what other exception I would make other than the "life of the mother" one.)

So we agree that Christians have an obligation to pursue laws which promote life, justice, and other Godly goals. I think we can also agree that Christians may often disagree about the best way to obtain those things, and sorting those things out is perfectly normal and what the political process is for.

As for the Ten Commandments, etc., your opposition there stems from the fact that you see it as state-sponsored Christian proselytizing. I do not. I am, as a general proposition, against true state-sponsored Christian proselytizing, but that's not really what the Ten Commandments and similar controversies are all about. The people who place such things in public places are not trying to "bring people to Jesus;" they are making a statement about the heritage of our nation and culture and, in most cases, the prevailing basic belief system (not religious per se, but more ethical) of the local area. They are acknowledging a higher power, a higher moral authority, a higher purpose beyond our own man-made laws. As Scalia points out in detail, this is the same thing that has been done in this country since its inception.

In the case of the Ten Commandments, the "Christian proselytizing" argument is especially specious given that the Ten Commandments are considered to be divinely given by all three "Great Religions." Together, the adherents of these religions represent 98% of the U.S. population, which is about as close to consensus as you are going to get on anything. How can one display possibly proselytize for three -- or even two -- religions at once?

What the court has done is make an arbitrary and capricious distinction that has no basis in law or logic. Scalia correctly states that the different decisions in the Texas and Kentucky cases simply make no sense when viewed together, nor do they make any sense when compared to precedent. It's O.K. to have a Ten Commandments monument outside a public building, but not inside? Nonsense. Scalia surmises that the court is splitting hairs so carefully because most of the justices would love to sandblast the Ten Commandments off their own court building, but they must moderate their views in order for the Supreme Court to maintain any moral authority among a majority of the public. There is a "p" word which describes such conduct and it is not "principle": It's "politics." And when justices begin acting like politicians, you get Roe vs. Wade and other judicial atrocities.

This is a slippery slope we do not want to be on. As one of the previous posters pointed out, America has prospered throughout most of its history with all sorts of Judeo-Christian influences woven into the public framework, and we have done a reasonably good job of accommodating minority religious views. But if we complete the Judeo-Christian purge now ongoing, secularism will become the "national religion," and I can promise you that the secular left will not be as kind once they have the reins (read that Mark Steyn column on what is going on in Canada if you don't believe me).

So from both a patriotic and a jurisprudential standpoint, no, I can not in any way, shape, or form celebrate these rulings.

Mark Daniels said...

Given the narrow majorities (5 to 4) in each of the two cases, I have a feeling that these discussions will be going on for some time to come.

Thank you for your involvement in this discussion.

As to other potential exceptions for abortion, I guess I take the position taken most memorably to me by Dan Quayle. That is, I would allow for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest, this being one of those situations where compassion might pull us in different directions.

Thanks again and God bless you.

Miranda said...

It's not the paragraph that is wrong. It is the application.
You would acheive equality by
silencing people of all religions,
rather than letting them all speak.

If we had solved our civil rights
problems in the same way, instead of letting black children attend public school, we would keep children of all races out of school entirely.

All SHOULD have equal opportunity,
but we should not make all equal
by taking opportunity away from all. Let us all speak. Do not
pretend that there is neutrality
in atheism.

Mark Daniels said...

Miranda:
I would silence no one and the Court has silenced no one.

All I'm saying is that public monies and public properties are not to be used to promote specific religious views. Allowing that threatens the freedom of speech and religious liberties of all because, as I've said before, the government agency which this week can promote Judaism or Christianity can next week do the same thing for Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Mormonism, whatever. The government should give no preferential treatment to any religion.

Of course, all should be able to practice and share their faith with others. I share my faith in Christ all the time and am grateful to live in a nation where we have the freedom to do that. That freedom remains intact in the face of these rulings.

Thanks for dropping by the blog.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark