The Bookworm Beat 2-6-15 — the “Fearless Friday” edition and Open Thread

Woman writingObama’s adversarial relationship with Christianity

What did we expect already from yesterday’s Prayer Breakfast? Obama long ago put the world on notice that he’s going full Bulworth (i.e., after six years in office, he intends, finally, to stop lying and speak the truth).

While before Obama just let out peevish little trickles of animosity, anyone paying attention could tell that:

(a) he’s profoundly ignorant about history — not just American history, but any history, including Muslim and Christian history;

(b) he hates Christians and Christianity;

(c) he hates America, no matter that this nation twice elected him as president (with a little help from the IRS, of course); and

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Neo-Paganism is sweeping the First World — and that’s a bad thing *UPDATED*

Human sacrifice discovered in Denmark

Pagan human sacrifice discovered in Denmark bog

Over the past few days, in connection with posts about Islam’s innately violent nature (which I see as being different from the fact that Europeans used violence in Christianity’s name), I’ve come up with a little mantra:

Europeans, who initially were not that far from paganism, brought the sword to Christianity. Christianity, which came from the Jews not the European pagans, did not bring the sword to Europe.  Islam, by contrast, brings its own sword to the game.

I’ve also suggested that Europeans, by abandoning Christianity, are reverting to paganism.  There’s that word again:  “paganism.”  It’s been sounding in my brain like a tocsin.

The more I look at Europe, the more I’m convinced that Europe has returned it its roots.  It is, once again, a pagan continent.  America is running in that direction too, but to the extent our continent was populated by post-pagan people, who destroyed or marginalized the indigenous pagans found here, we are traveling down that same path more slowly.

Before I start running away with this concept, I’d better start defining my terms.  What exactly do I mean by “pagan”?

1.  Pagans are not monotheists nor do they believe in an abstract god.  Instead, pagans are earth worshippers, who see mystical forces behind natural processes and assign gods (plural) to explain those forces.  The gods are not driven by rational or just behavior, but act like humans would if there were no constraints on them.

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An amazing Holocaust story plus thoughts about the Big Bang and the human soul

Allies during WWII Hitler and the Grand MuftiHitler loved Islam.*  If you didn’t know that he loved Islam, you might think that Hitler, with his race-based obsessions, would have been hostile to a religion primarily centered on a Semitic people.  To Hitler, though, Islam was a manly religion that shared his goals:  the eradication of the Jews coupled with world domination.  That abiding respect for Islam as practiced by the world’s Muslims, led him to ally  himself closely with Muslims whenever possible:

As David Motadel writes in “Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,” Muslims fought on both sides in World War II. But only Nazis and Islamists had a political-spiritual romance. Both groups hated Jews, Bolsheviks and liberal democracy. Both sought what Michel Foucault, praising the Iranian Revolution in 1979, would later call the spiritual-political “transfiguration of the world” by “combat.”

 

[snip]

By late 1941, Germany controlled large Muslim populations in southeastern Europe and North Africa. Nazi policy extended the grand schemes of imperial Germany toward madly modern ends. To aid the “liberation struggle of Islam,” the propaganda ministry told journalists to praise “the Islamic world as a cultural factor,” avoid criticism of Islam, and substitute “anti-Jewish” for “anti-Semitic.” In April 1942, Hitler became the first European leader to declare that Islam was “incapable of terrorism.” As usual, it is hard to tell if the Führer set the tone or merely amplified his people’s obsessions.

The above historical fact is important to know because it explains one of the most amazing Holocaust survival stories I’ve ever heard.  My learning the story came about in a peculiar way, too.  I was speaking with a friend about our memories.  His is and always has been excellent, but is failing ever so slightly with age.  Mine has always been idiosyncratic, in that I can remember anything that interests me, but have almost no success with brute force, rote memorization (explaining why I’ve never been able to master a language in a classroom).  This conversation about memory reminded my friend of the story behind his Jewish relatives’ survival in wartime Paris.

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On Cuba, the difference between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy

John F Kennedy and Pope Paul VIWith Obama and the Democrats reveling in having handed Fidel Castro everything in exchange for nothing (except a man who is still a committed Marxist after five years in a communist prison), I got to thinking about Pope Francis’s apparently pivotal role in this whole thing. And that got me thinking about how far we’ve come in history:

John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1960:  “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president . . . how to act. . . .”

Barack Obama, December 17, 2014:  ” His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me. . . .  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis. . . .”

In light of Obama’s dependence on the Pope in making a major and historic foreign policy initiative, a friend of mine asks “If we allow the Pope to help direct foreign policy, does that mean our government is unlawfully promoting and sanctioning a particular religion?”

And of course, when it comes to Kennedy there those little things about Cuba — such as his humiliation with the Bay of Pigs debacle, his administration’s efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro, and Castro’s allegedly reciprocal efforts to try to assassinate Kennedy.

[VIDEOS] Without religious institutions, what guides people in a democracy?

Michaelangelo hands of God and AdamCaped Crusader sent me this really amazing video about the fact that organized religion (of the Judeo-Christian variety) is an essential element of a functioning democracy:

Somehow Dennis Prager’s video about the true meaning of the Third Commandment (and it’s not just that we shouldn’t say “Oh, my God!”) seems like a very appropriate companion piece:

The Bookworm Beat (11/12/14) — The “trigger warning” edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingIf I’ve written this post correctly, it should trigger discomfort in sensitive Leftists.  “Trigger warnings,” for those of you fortunate enough not to move in circles that use them, are warnings at the beginning of any information presentation, be it fact or fiction, written or oral, aural or visual. They tell people with certain sensitivities that the material following the warning might upset them. For example, The Cat In The Hat might be preceded by a trigger warning stating “Trigger Warning: This book contains references to cats, which may be triggering to people suffering from Ailurophobia; references to boys, which may be triggering to people suffering from Misanthropy; references to girls, which may be triggering to people suffering from Misogyny; and references to Things, which may be triggering to people suffering from fear of Things.”

These trigger warnings started amongst the feminists, who manage to hold simultaneously conflicting thoughts, the first being that they are roaring women (and you’d better hear them), and the second that they are such fragile flowers that anything can permanently damage them. I’m not so sure anymore that trigger warnings are just a malicious feminist virus.  Instead, to the extent that trigger warnings are taking over American college campuses, I think that they’re actually part of a fiendish plot that transcends lunatic feminists in Herstory Departments across America.

Think about it: For decades, the Left has carefully controlled the material available to college students. Just when young people’s minds should be in their most receptive, inquiring mode, these youngsters are shut off in an institution that spoon feeds them carefully vetted material pointing to a single world view. As a conservative I met today told me, his grandson, a UC student, proudly boasted that everyone at his college voted Democrat in the last election. That may be an exaggeration, but it’s close enough to the truth to disturb all of us.

The problem for Leftist control freaks is the fact that they only get the students for 4-7 years, and that even during that time there’s the chance that the students, during visits home, or while picking up a random magazine abandoned at a Starbucks might accidentally be exposed to facts or analysis challenging the Leftist paradigm. Even the most zealous Leftist academic can’t police students all the time. Moreover, there’s always the problem that an insufficiently indoctrinated student might be embarrassed at the sheeple-ness of it all (is there no rebellion left amongst the young?) and foment an intellectual revolution.  What’s an academic to do?

What the enterprising academic will do is vaccinate the students so that they develop antibodies that make them permanently resistant to any new information whatsoever. That’s what the “trigger warning” is. It inoculates brains against all ideas but for Leftist ones.  Mention preprogrammed words, phrases, or ideas — e.g., liberty, Founding Fathers, Constitution, decent men, rape fallacy, conservatives, Republicans, etc. — and the students are so sensitized that they instantly, and without any higher brain function, start screaming “It’s a trigger!” after which they fall on the floor in a sobbing heap, inconsolable until someone comes along and whispers in their ears restorative words such as Social Justice, right side of history, racism, sexism, etc.

As long as our young people are not just taught Leftism, but are taught to panic at anything that challenges Leftism, they are unreachable. They have been vaccinated against ideas about individual liberty, constitutionalism, morality, etc. Sad, but true….

But if you’re made of stronger stuff, if you can read ideas that might not mesh with yours, I probably have something to offer you in this little grab bag of links and pictures.

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In Idaho, gay marriage is in direct conflict with religious rights under the First Amendment

(Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto)

(Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto)

Since the first minute gay marriage appeared on the horizon, I’ve steadfastly argued that gay marriage will inevitably create a clash between newly discovered Constitutional rights that the Founders could never have envisioned and core, explicit Constitutional rights, such as the “free exercise” of religion. I developed this idea most fully back in 2009, so I’ll just quote myself:

As you know, one of my main reasons for supporting Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, was because I believe that the move to redefine marriage has the potential to put the State and religious organizations — especially the Catholic church — into a head-on collision.

Liberals, when confronted with this notion, will often argue that, while the Catholic Church objects to abortion, that’s never created a constitutional crisis. What they ignore is the fact that, while the church is not in the business of providing abortions, it is in the business of providing marriages. It also ignores the fact that abortion is a legal right, not a constitutional one, while gay marriage proponents have been framing their issue in the opposite way: they say gay marriage is a constitutional, rather than a mere legal right.

Keep in mind that, for Catholics, marriage isn’t just a white dress, cake, and Mendelssohn’s wedding march. Instead, it’s a sacrament. A basic tenet of the religion is the joining of man and woman before God.  Marriage is one of the sacraments.

So imagine this scenario: Two men go to the local Catholic parish and demand that it marry them. The priest, sympathetic to their love for each other, nevertheless states that he cannot, at a purely religious level, marry them. The men turn around and sue the Church for violating their Constitutional rights. Suddenly, the judicial system is called upon to examine doctrinal issues to determine whether they mesh with Constitutional issues. It’s a scary scenario for anyone who takes seriously the principle that government may not interfere with religious doctrine.

Whenever Leftists have heard my argument, they’ve essentially told me to stop worrying my pretty little head about complex Constitutional issues, because “it will never come to that.”

Well, as I predicted, it has come to that:

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers who oppose gay marriage, own the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene. Early in 2014, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, but the ruling was put on hold while the case was appealed. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the ruling stood and went into effect.

The city of Coeur d’Alene has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, in public accommodations. It does have a religious exemption, but the Hitching Post is a for-profit company, not technically a religious organization, in spite of the Knapp’s deeply held personal beliefs.

[snip]

“On Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married by the Knapps, and the Knapps politely declined. The Knapps now face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.” Note that jail time and the fine is per day, not per offense, The Daily Signal reports.

Most articles I’ve seen have discussed the Knapp’s situation with reference to freedom of speech or Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I believe that these articles rely on too narrow an interpretation of what happened in Idaho.

The Knapp’s situation is not the same as a Christian photographer being asked to take photographs or a Christian baker being asked to bake a cake. I think it’s unconscionable government bullying to force people to participate peripherally in a ritual that offends their religious sensibilities, but the government can (and invariably does) argue that it has the right to do so because the acts at issue are not central to the ritual itself.  To go back to my Catholic Church analogy, the photographer’s and the baker’s situation is similar to a scenario that sees the government insist that priests must drive girls to Planned Parenthood for an abortion.  That the government would force a priest to act in this way is appalling for any number of reasons, but the government still isn’t dictating what the priest can preach or the acts he can or cannot perform as part of his core ministerial duties (e.g., giving the last rites, administering the sacrament, take confession, or conduct a marriage ceremony).

Those who support Coeur d’Alene’s attack on the Knapps are trying to slot the Knapps case into that same metric as the photographer, baker or hypothetical priest-cum-chauffeur.  They contend that, because the Knapps get paid for offering a package deal of religious service and chapel rental, they are running a business, not engaging in matters of faith, making the town’s ordinance relevant and their own ordination irrelevant.

This is artful misdirection.  The real point is that the state is threatening to imprison ministers who are performing a core religious function — marriage — and who refuse to subordinate their doctrine to a state mandate.  The issue isn’t about whether the Knapps get paid for their services or profit from renting their chapel out along with their ministerial functions.  The real issue is that the Knapps are being told that, in their role as ministers, they must engage in acts that are completely antithetical to their religion’s interpretation of God’s word. Put another way, they’re like priests who are being told to perform an actual abortion.

It’s important to add here that the Knapps, like my hypothetical Catholic priest, aren’t crazy people who came up with their religion yesterday, while shopping at the Piggly Wiggly, and included in their brand new faith core doctrines demanding ritual Barbie doll dismemberment, mandatory bestiality, and 100% tithing. The Knapps, like my hypothetical priest, are interpreting Christian religious doctrine as it has been interpreted for 2,000 years. They are interpreting Christian religious doctrine as it existed when the Founders enacted the First Amendment. They are interpreting Christian religious doctrine in a way that meshes with most religion’s core doctrinal points right up until the last 40 years, when a bunch of churches and synagogues ran off into the far reaches Leftist swamp lands.

Under the First Amendment, those faiths that wish to marry same-sex partners should be allowed to do so.  And those churches that hew to traditional religious interpretations about marriage and do not wish to marry same-sex partners, should be left entirely alone — and that’s true whether they perform the marriage ritual for free or on a fee-for-service basis.  The issue isn’t money; it’s faith.

When Queen Elizabeth I of England came to the throne after decades of religious strife, she famously refused to resume religious inquisitions, saying, instead, “I would not open windows into men’s souls.” What’s happening in Coeur d’Alene isn’t just opening a window into men’s souls, it’s interpretation of its own ordinance is a rock thrown directly through that window in an effort to destroy men’s faith entirely.

Atheists make fatuous arguments that don’t debunk God; Christianity is virtuous; and radical Islam is illiberal and monstrous

Why do atheists care if others prayMy sister watched The Unbelievers, a documentary that follows Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss as they try to convert people to atheism, with science as the true faith. That’s all fine. If they want to proselytize to willing listeners, good for them. I have just a few comments, based upon what my sister told me, and what I know generally about Krauss and Dawkins:

1. My sister said that Krauss and Dawkins spoke scathingly of people who believe in transubstantiation (the conversion of the wine and wafer into the blood and body of Christ during the Catholic service).

My response was “Thank God [no pun intended] for the people who believe in transubstantiation or for those who don’t believe in transubstantiation but just believe that Christ died for humankind’s sins.” Since we’re Jewish, and I’m an undifferentiated theist, she was surprised at my vehemence.

I explained that the belief in the body and blood of Christ, combined with the story of Isaac, which forbids human sacrifice, is one of the few delicate strands keeping modern civilization from slipping back into human sacrifice. The desire to shed human blood to propitiate random Gods or to take on the strength of the dead lies very close to the surface.
Don’t believe me? Just witness the way the Islamists are boasting about eating parts of their bodies. Even their beheadings and crucifixions are intended as a sign of their worshiping on the Islamist altar.

2. My sister also told me that Dawkins and Krauss claim that the Greeks and the Romans understood higher mathematics, that fundamentalist Christians destroyed that knowledge during that Middle Ages, that moderately religious Muslims raised it up again during our Middle Ages, and that fundamentalist Islamists are destroying knowledge. From this potted history, Dawkins and Krauss conclude that religion is bad because, when fundamentalists grab hold of it, knowledge vanishes. (Yes, it is hearsay from my sister when I say that Dawkins and Krauss relied on this potted history for their conclusion but I still accept it as true because (a) I’ve heard other atheists make the same argument and (b) my sister has proven reliable on these things. Now, back to how dumb this argument is.)

First, for so-called logical people, the syllogism that (a) fundamentalists destroy knowledge; (b) some religions have fundamentalists; (c) therefore all religion is stupid, is obviously false. Do I need to explain why or can I take a short cut here and assume that you are all with me on this one?

Second, as I explained to my sister, what brought about the Dark Ages wasn’t Christianity, which was small potatoes when the Roman empire (which was the inheritor of some Greek knowledge) collapsed. It was the pagans who destroyed the Empire and, with it, its store of knowledge. It was the Christians, starting with monks sequestered far away in Ireland who began the laborious process of bringing light and knowledge back to the darkness. This process was not a straight line and there were definitely people and nations who perverted Christianity to suit evil ends. Ultimately, thought, it was this Christian journey that led to the Enlightenment, to the end of the slave trade, to the end of child labor, to the beginning of the 40 hour work week, and to most other civilized beliefs we have long taken for granted in the Western world.

As for the Muslims, yes, the Muslim world had preserved some of the Greek and Roman mathematical and scientific knowledge, and as well as the marvelous Indian numbering system that goes under the misnomer of “Arabic numerals.” During laxer periods in medieval Muslim history, some people — mostly Jews or former Jews — relied upon this knowledge to come up with important ideas.

But mostly, no, moderate Muslims were not a Renaissance of discovery and creation. Just as was the case when 19 al Qaeda terrorists used an airplane to destroy the Twin Towers, the medieval Muslim world created nothing. It simply hijacked knowledge from the people it conquered. This isn’t to say that I’m not grateful that those Medieval Muslims, unlike today’s fundamentalist Muslims, chose to salvage, not destroy, books and some limited ideas. I’m just saying that only the uninformed could pretend that they actually had an intellectually dynamic and creative culture.

So, to the extent that Krauss, Dawkins, and other atheists attack religion using a crude, false syllogism and a lot of historical ignorance, I’m neither persuaded nor impressed.

3. Dawkins and Krauss advocate science as a substitute for faith. I firmly believe in science, which I define as things that are proven true through careful observation or reliable experimentation, or everything that can be inferred from observation and experimentation. Nevertheless, science is no substitute for faith and, indeed, becomes just as dangerous as any other fundamentalist faith when people fall into that error.

Simply put, history proves over and over that substituting science for faith results stupid ideas. The most obvious example is the claim that the Big Bang disproves God’s existence. Huh? I currently believe in the Big Bang as the most reasonable theory to prove observable phenomena, but someone has to explain to me how the Big Bang disproves God?

It’s true that the Big Bang arguably challenges the Genesis version of creation. However, some would say that the Genesis version is an allegory, since it tracks the earth’s development, both geological and biological with rather uncanny accuracy, rather than a Bronze Age creation fantasy. Whatever. Whether Genesis is a truth, a fable, or an allegory, it doesn’t mean there is no God.

But why get caught up in origin stories. Let’s talk about the world in which we live. Moreover, let’s talk about my favorite example of elevating a scientific theory to the realm of faith.

Where to begin? Every prediction has proven wrong. Every allegedly new phenomenon is, in fact, same old same old. Despite being wrong again, and again, and again, nothing shakes the believer’s faith in the “science” of climate change.  When a doctrine is infallible, it’s not science; it’s faith.

We can also look at a less contentious subject than climate change to prove how wrong science is.  When it comes to diet, it seems as is everything science has ever taught us is wrong. We were told to give up all fat, eat carbs, and use fake sugar. We promptly become obese and diabetic. It turns out that natural fats in moderate quantities are beneficial, that carbs in excess are bad, and that fake sugar messes with our bodies. It’s Sleeper all over again.

Just the other night, on 60 Minutes, scientists proudly admit that, despite humans living with them for 15,000 years, scientists know next to nothing about dogs. I could even argue that they know less than nothing about dogs.  For years many scientists have claimed that dogs do not know “love,” something every dog owner knows is a manifestly false statement. Only now are scientists catching up to the love our common sense always knew was there.

Over and over again, scientists are forced to concede their ignorance and errors — and yet the true believers consistently assert that anthropogenic climate change is unfalsifiable. It must always be true. If that’s not faith — and one in which Dawkins (or, at least, his foundation) and Krauss (who is not a “climate scientist”) unquestioningly believe (see here, beginning at 13:30), I don’t know what it.

(For those interested, Lord Monckton does a beautiful job of debunking the climate faithful who try to debunk the skeptics.)

Having said all of the above about The Unbelievers, I have to say something nice about two famous atheists, one who is incredibly rude and vulgar (that would be Bill Maher) and the other of whom is polite (Sam Harris).  Both of them stood against Ben Affleck, who desperately tried to argue there’s nothing illiberal about Islam.  Amusingly and expectedly, Affleck supported his position by throwing out the term “racist.”  This is an idiocy that could only come from a Leftist who doesn’t understand that Islam is not a race but is, instead, a religion that can be and is embraced by people all over the world, regardless of race or natural origin.

Thinking about Affleck’s last-ditch argument, I have to say that Leftists are constantly unable to separate ideology and behaviors from skin color.  You know, I think they have a name for people like that.  Wait.  Wait.  It’s coming to me.  Oh, yeah!  Racist.  Affleck’s a racist.

And yes, I loved it when Affleck says “we’re endowed by our forefathers with inalienable rights.”  No wonder the Left is so willing to throw those rights overboard.  They don’t come from a Creator; they come from dead white men.

Anyway, you  have to see the video to appreciate it fully.  Here it is:

I disagree with Harris and Maher on many things, but they are brave and honest about this and deserves kudos. Also, to the extent I’m vaguely religious, I pray constantly for their safety, and hope that they don’t end up like Theo Van Gogh.

Also, since I’ve wandered into the subject of Islam, I’d like to commend to your attention an incredibly solid post explaining why it would be an incredible mistake for America to define itself by fear of radical Islam. Our culture may mot be perfect, but the Islamist culture is monstrous and, for that very reason, fundamentally weak.

Hobby Lobby reveals how public and private spheres have changed in the last few decades

Church rejects Obama as GodBack in the 1980s, when I was a good ol” liberal Democrat (sort of in the Kennedy mold), I kept hearing those Bible Thumpers in the Moral Majority bandy about a word: “Secularist.”

What the heck was that? Nobody I knew (and everyone I knew was a person of the sort-of Left) called him or herself a “secularist.”

What in the world did those zealots mean by labeling me that way and pretending that I’m doing something damaging to them? I understood what was really going on:  Very religious people were abnormal, and then there were the rest of us who were non-religious, or slightly religious in a genteel, non-obtrusive fashion.  The fact that our “religion”  closely paralleled the Democrat Party platform, meaning that laws were informed by our “religious” values was just a coincidence.

We were not foisting anything on them.  If anything, they were the foisters, especially with their stupid pro-Life values.

I’ve obviously come a long way from then, haven’t I?

One of the things that helped me on my journey to rationality was Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief. It was he who explained to me that to hold values in opposition to traditional Christianity is itself a value system.

Bingo! Light bulb moment. As of 1994, I finally understood what the Moral Majority was complaining about. I didn’t yet agree with the values they advanced, but I instantly became much more sympathetic to their complaints about Leftist, secular culture encroaching upon them.

The societal change Carter noted — that the absence of religious values (as opposed to religious doctrine) was taking over the public forum — has only accelerated in recent years. I actually hadn’t thought about it in any specific way until I read Megan McArdle’s very thoughtful post about the Left’s hysteria in response to the Supreme Court’s extremely narrow, common-sensical Hobby Lobby ruling.

For conservatives, even non-religious ones, the ruling’s correctness was a no-brainer:  The holding that government cannot compel people to purchase a product inconsistent with core doctrinal beliefs is true both to the Constitution and to the traditional American ethos of keeping the state out of people’s religion.

But what if the state itself is the people’s religion? McArdle believes that this trend, which sees public space co-opted by non-religious beliefs that have been themselves elevated to absolute “values” explains much of the hysteria, not among the professional Left, but among ordinary DemProgs.  The change in attitude McArdle notes explains both why Leftists cannot appreciate the seriousness of the issue for religious people and why they do not view the Obama administration’s actions as coercive.

I’m quoting McArdle at some length here, because the logic underlying her theory is so tightly constructed, it’s difficult for me to quote her without doing damage to her reasoning.  I urge you, though, to read the whole thing:

I think a few things are going on here. The first is that while the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby, so for them it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts. That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?” That shows in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, where it seems to me that she takes a very narrow view of what role religious groups play in the lives of believers and society as a whole.

The second, and probably more important, problem is that the long compromise worked out between the state and religious groups — do what you want within very broad limits, but don’t expect the state to promote it — is breaking down in the face of a shift in the way we view rights and the role of the government in public life.

To see what I mean, consider an argument I have now heard hundreds of times — on Facebook, in my e-mail, in comment threads here and elsewhere: “Hobby Lobby’s owners have a right to their own religious views, but they don’t have a right to impose them on others.”As I wrote the day the decision came out, the statement itself is laudable, yet it rings strange when it’s applied to this particular circumstance. How is not buying you something equivalent to “imposing” on you?

I think you can understand this, however, as the clash of principles designed for a world of negative rights, in a society that has come to embrace substantial positive rights — as well as a clash between old and new concepts of what is private and what is public.

All of us learned some version of “You have the right to your beliefs, but not to impose them on others” in civics class. It’s a classic negative right. And negative rights are easy to make reciprocal: You have a right to practice your religion without interference, and I have a right not to have your beliefs imposed on me.

This works very well in situations in which most of the other rights granted by society are negative rights, because negative rights don’t clash very often. Oh, sure, you’re going to get arguments about noise ordinances and other nuisance abatements, but unless your religious practices are extreme indeed, the odds that they will substantively violate someone else’s negative rights are pretty slim.

[snip]

Alongside this development, as Yuval Levin has pointed out, we have seen an ongoing shift, particularly on the left, in the balance between what constitutes the private and the public spheres, and who has powers in which sphere. There’s a reductive tendency in modern political discourse to view public versus private as the state versus the individual.

In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control — which is why we still refer to “public” companies as being part of the “private” sector. Again, in the context of largely negative rights, this makes sense. You have individuals on one end and a small state on the other, and in the middle you have a large variety of private voluntary institutions that exert various forms of social and financial coercion, but not governmental coercion — which, unlike other forms of coercion, is ultimately enforced by the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

[snip]

[O]utside of our most intimate relationships, almost everything else is now viewed as public, which is why Brendan Eich’s donation to an anti-gay-marriage group became, in the eyes of many, grounds for firing.

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

Put another way, once upon time, things not directly within the government purview were neutral territory in which I didn’t impose upon or demand from you, and you didn’t impose upon and demand from me.  We might have thought the other excessively moral or immoral, but we danced together in uneasy harmony.

Beginning in the 1980s, though, the Left co-opted the public space, declaring that it was not neutral territory but was, instead, government territory.  Further, because Leftists deny that their belief in non-Christian values is itself a value, they insist that by doing so they’re not infringing on First Amendment rights.  They insist upon this denial even as they promote and guard their own secular faith with all the vehemence of a true religious zealot.

The Obama healthcare mandate reflects the fact that, for the Left, the distinction between your private religious space and all the other public government faith space has morphed again.  Now, as a person of faith, the only space you have that’s yours is within the four walls of your home.  Everything else is within the public purview, meaning that it’s under government control and government values (which are, by definition, statist, hostile to matters of faith, and identical to the Democrat platform).  With this rejiggered view of public and private, the government is not infringing upon your religion if it imposes obligations on you (even obligations that directly contradict your faith) as long as it is not constraining you within your own home.

Put another way, the DemProg interpretation of the First Amendment’s promise that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion boils down to this:  I can’t force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your own daughter (provided she lives in your house), but I am not impinging on your faith if I force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your neighbor’s daughter.   Under this definition, your objection to paying for or performing that abortion on the neighbor’s child constitutes an unreasonable attempt to enforce religious values in the public arena.

Barack Obama, in his own words, on Islam and Christianity

obama-churchBarack Obama self-identifies as a Christian.  He seems, though, to find Christianity troubling.  Meanwhile, although he denies being a Muslim, he obviously finds it an emotionally and aesthetically attractive belief system.  Why do I say this?  Because someone was good enough to assemble a list of his statements about both religions, and to put them side-by-side:

Obama on Islam:

1. “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”

2. “The sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer”

3. “We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country.”

4. “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam.”

5. “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.”

6. “Islam has always been part of America”

7. “we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities”

8. “These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.”

9. “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

10. “I made it clear that America is not – and will never be – at war with Islam.”

11. “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.”

12. “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed”

13. “In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.”

14. “Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

15. “Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality”

16. “The Holy Koran tells us, ‘O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.’”

17. “I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.”

18. “We’ve seen those results in generations of Muslim immigrants – farmers and factory workers, helping to lay the railroads and build our cities, the Muslim innovators who helped build some of our highest skyscrapers and who helped unlock the secrets of our universe.”

19. “That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

20. “I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.”

Obama on Christianity:

1. “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation”

2. “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”

3. “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith?”

4. “Even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages – the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.”

5. “The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.”

6. From Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope: “I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex—nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount.”

7. Obama’s response when asked what his definition of sin is: “Being out of alignment with my values.”

8. “If all it took was someone proclaiming I believe Jesus Christ and that he died for my sins, and that was all there was to it, people wouldn’t have to keep coming to church, would they.”

9. “This is something that I’m sure I’d have serious debates with my fellow Christians about. I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re going to hell.”

10. “I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup.”

11. “I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.”

12. “I’ve said this before, and I know this raises questions in the minds of some evangelicals. I do not believe that my mother, who never formally embraced Christianity as far as I know … I do not believe she went to hell.”

13. “Those opposed to abortion cannot simply invoke God’s will–they have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths.”

14. On his support for civil unions for gay couples: “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount.”

15. “You got into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

16. “In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology”

17. “On Easter or Christmas Day, my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.”

18. “We have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own”

19. “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra— (applause) — as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)”

20. “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

The list doesn’t mean that Obama isn’t a troubled, doubting Christian, or that he’s a closet Muslim.  As Queen Elizabeth I said, it’s not up to us to make windows into men’s souls. But the list of those statements, all of which I remember him making in real-time, strongly indicate that, whatever his actual beliefs, Obama’s affinity (which is different from his faith) seems to hew towards Islam, rather than to the Judeo-Christianity that has for so long underpinned our nation.

Currently, you can find the list here and here.  I found it at American Thinker.

 

“Since there was a Big Bang, there must be a Big Banger”

My approach wasn’t as erudite, but this short lecture much explains the intellectual process I went through to stop being an atheist.  I haven’t yet jumped on board with the Biblical God (although I am deeply fond of the lessons the Old and New Testament hold about justice, morality, and humanity), but I realize that atheism is nothing more than the adult equivalent of a childish resistance to a parent’s authority: