Monday, July 02, 2007

Theocracy Ahead!

I did not know this (but am not surprised) that there is an organized effort to “Blog Against Theocracy.” One post in particular caught my attention this morning. In it the blogger is concerned that evangelicals are making their way into schools through biblical literacy initiatives and Intelligent Design. One of the blogger’s arguments against evangelicalism in schools is their stated goal of global evangelism. He even quotes from the doctrinal statement of my denomination, the Assemblies of God.

This growing criticism of “theocracy” is an interesting one to me. First of all, I don’t think the, “they evangelize people” argument carries any weight. Any group with serious convictions is trying to gain adherents, and the more they gain, the happier they will be. No doubt, Bloggers Against Theocracy would like more people to hold their views than fewer, and they are actively evangelizing them. As a consequence of their own argument, they should be legislated out of our schools.

On a much more interesting note is the claim that Christians in the public square constitutes a breech of the “separation of the church and state” doctrine. Since there is no such thing in our Constitution, this is a political/philosophical view. What are the presuppositions that lead to this view?

One might be the fact/value distinction which holds that religion is a private value that does not make truth claims about reality, and thus cannot be considered with seriousness in the public square. On the other hand, secularism has a grip on the facts of the world (science, etc.) and is the only serious contender for the public mind. This simple sweeping away of religion has been attacked on several levels, and when we learn what it means to know things and have them correspond with reality, there is nothing that excludes religious knowledge. Science (naturalistically understood) does not have privileged access to the world.

Another presupposition might be that religion – Christianity in particular – has been proven false. But this view would just be naivety and wishful thinking.

Another would be that religion is not open to thought, reflection, or even modification. As a result, a culture “ruled” by religion would be disastrous to open thought and dangerous to dissenters. And since we value an open and thinking society, religion needs to be relegated to the margins. But this again is a mistaken notion of Christianity. No doubt there are a plethora of examples where “fundamentalism” or other forms of Christianity have denied the life of the mind, but they would be the exceptions to the rule, not the rule. For example, the University system so prized by free-thinkers was established by the Church as an institution of innovation. It was Catholic universities that taught the sun was the center of the solar system; medieval universities constantly critiqued and analyzed doctrine and refined theology. One of the reasons we know Thomas Aquinas and not his predecessors was his innovation on their work.

Christianity, where it is allowed to flourish according to its own worldview, is currently less of a threat to free-thought than secularism. After all, who is trying to exclude whom from schools?

I think that when all the reasons for the separation of church and state (as opposed to this short list) are laid on the table, they all fail for good reasons. Religious views have just as much legitimate access to the public as do secularist views.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"On a much more interesting note is the claim that Christians in the public square constitutes a breech of the “separation of the church and state” doctrine. Since there is no such thing in our Constitution, this is a political/philosophical view. What are the presuppositions that lead to this view?"

No one is claiming proselytizing in a public square is a breech of the First Amendment, which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Public square proselytizing, no problem, public school, big difference, problem.

That is what is commonly known as a straw man argument.

Oh and the part about the separation between church and state, which is made to appear so patently false, do tell. How does that very first phrase of the First Amendment leave room for any doubt? There is only a vocal minority clamouring and whinging on about how because it isn't in the text of the Constitution itself, rather, in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, by a technicality is not applicable to the proselytizing of any religion.

A good parallel would be saying that everything in the New Testament is utterly untrue, because there was this other older book, the Old Testament, on which everything else is based...

Phil Steiger said...

anonymous-

Would you like your view to be taught to students in school? I imagine the blogs I linked would as well, and that would make them subject to their own criticism, thus committing logical suicide. No straw man there on my part.

As for the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the "separation of church and state," I think you overstate your point. There clearly is a prohibition of an establishment of religion by the state, which is why it is called the "establishment clause." It is much more debateable as to whether it is a "separation clause," and relatively few have taken it to be that.

Kathi said...

>>No one is claiming proselytizing in a public square is a breech of the First Amendment, which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Public square proselytizing, no problem, public school, big difference, problem.

That is what is commonly known as a straw man argument.<<

Actually, the whole thing falls apart when you consider that the writers of the Constitution sent their kids and grandkids to schools that opened daily with Christian prayer and taught Christian doctrine ~

no Supreme Court challenges, either. No public outrage.

Hmmmmm.... might lead someone to think that we've misunderstood what "separation" means.

Arukiyomi said...

how, if church as defined in Christian terms, means a gathering of believers, can you separate church from state? The only effective way would be to prevent any believers from participating in government.

It is grossly naive to think that committed Christians in public service be it in schools or otherwise will not influence their peers/charges with their Christian viewpoints. In fact, to not do so would be a denial of their very beliefs.

No, come on you secular humanists, out with it. Demand the removal and screening of all religious beliefs at the interview stage and construct your world. ANything less would be hypocrisy or just plain ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Influence does not equate to the indoctrination of students into a particular faith in the classroom, which is the issue that has secularists up in arms. A little off the mark with that arukiyomi

Realitology said...

>>"No doubt there are a plethora of examples where “fundamentalism” or other forms of Christianity have denied the life of the mind, but they would be the exceptions to the rule, not the rule."

Come on, what planet have you been living on? The whole point of religion is that life is a "mystery" and that it takes "faith" (in other words "believing" in something that is obviously not reality).

Religion doesn't want anything to do with science because the more we learn about universe, the more we see how ludicrous the belief in a magic genie controlling the universe is.

>>"For example, the University system so prized by free-thinkers was established by the Church as an institution of innovation."

The catholic church controlled almost everything back then, including most of the commerce and kings of Europe.

You might as well say that the church is responsible for the killing of millions of people around the world by missionaries. Whoops that is true. My bad.

>>"It was Catholic universities that taught the sun was the center of the solar system; medieval universities constantly critiqued and analyzed doctrine and refined theology."

Was this before or after the pope and the inquisition imprisoned Galileo for daring to say that the earth revolved around the sun?

That was in 1642 and the church didn't officially accept that the sun was the center of the solar system until 1983. Yes 1983!

Yep those religious institutions are quite the scientists aren't they?

Come on. If you're going to say this crap at least get your facts straight. Of course I realize that facts don't matter where "faith" is concerned. ;)

Phil Steiger said...

Realitology-

“The whole point of religion is that life is a "mystery" and that it takes "faith" (in other words "believing" in something that is obviously not reality).”

What you bring up about “mystery” is a part of the Christian faith, but far from the “whole point.” The way you cite “mystery” it is a straw-man, and easy enough to dismiss. If the “whole point” is wrapped up in unknowable mystery, then why have the greatest philosophical and scientific minds the world has ever seen been Christians? If you want to make claims about the place of mystery and the mind in the Christian faith, you will want to be far more knowledgeable about Christian theology and philosophy than you appear to be.

“Religion doesn't want anything to do with science because the more we learn about universe, the more we see how ludicrous the belief in a magic genie controlling the universe is.”

Again, this is a little silly when you consider the innumerable committed Christians who are actively engaged in scientific and philosophical pursuit with their minds and eyes wide open. In addition, the very foundations of Western science were laid by leading Medieval and later Christians. The phenomena of the assumption of atheism as a prerequisite for science is a relative new-comer to the field, and has all kinds of holes in it. There is no convincing reason to believe that science is inherently and necessarily methodologically naturalistic.

Something like this train of thought has been taken seriously by Christianity for 2000 years, and it has spurred most of the scientific endeavor in that time:

God is knowable and created a knowable world.
God created humans with the capacity to reason, to investigate, and to know Him and His creation.
Therefore, it is a distinctive and honorable act of our humanity to learn about Him and about creation.

To call the notion of God a “magic genie” is just childish. If what you meant to say was that the more naturalistic scientific information we gather the more improbable the existence of God becomes, then you have said something thoughtful, but still radically incorrect.

As for getting facts straight, you seem to be under the spell of common mythology in your take on Galileo and the Catholic Church. Just a little bit of actual historical work reveals that Galileo was disciplined for political reasons (connected to his science), not for the science of heliocentrism. In fact, the Pope that got him in trouble (Urban VII I think) was a close friend and admirer of Galileo’s and even wrote poetry in praise of his science before he became Pope. Galileo was a stubborn man who would not play political games, and it got him in hot water.

In fact, Galileo did not “discover” heliocentrism—he learned it from his Jesuit teachers in Catholic universities.

When you complain that the Catholic Church “controlled” universities in the Middle Ages, you are guilty of anachronism of the greatest order. You might as well complain that Toyota controls plants that build Toyota cars and trucks. Of course the institution that created the very concept of the University “controlled” it for centuries. Good luck finding a secularist institution responsible for a single serious university between 500 and 1750 ad.

As for the world I live in, it is not the one “controlled” by sophomoric secularism.