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Traditional Judeo-Christian Morality

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I would like to share one of my favorite Scriptures because, with all of the controversies surrounding the so-called “Culture War” over social issues and their effect upon the moral fabric of our society, there is a real need for us to remember the basic Judeo-Christian ethics upon which our country was founded:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. — Matthew 7 (King James Version)

Distinguishing Rules (Ethics) from Conscience (Morality)

The most important among America’s primary founding principles are freedom of religion and the separation of church from state. However, one needn’t be a Christian — or even believe in God — to understand that the profound wisdom in Matthew 7:1-5 is essential to our progress toward the goal of realizing the promise of liberty as it was laid out by the Framers a little over two centuries ago. And as we pursue that goal, we must be careful not to confuse universal truths with religious and other dogma, lest we forget that it is our God-given (or natural) free will that places the onus of seeking truth on human conscience, which is what should allow us to separate church from state without sacrificing our moral clarity.

America’s greatest strength is our diversity, while our pride is our primary weakness. It is this pride that causes us to forget — or in some cases to deliberately ignore — the difference between the laws that are essential to maintaining order in a free, heterogeneous society and the conscience that gives us the forbearance to live harmoniously among the diverse multitudes — or at least the ability to recognize and respect that our right to be who and what we are belongs to all of us, even if we might not all agree on the finer points of the fleeting social conventions of a continuously evolving civilization.

The so called “Christian Right” (may God have mercy upon their poor lost and tormented souls), who appear to be so proud that they believe their own wrath to be virtuous, have been confusing truth with doctrine to the point where they must now engage in the practice of intellectual dishonesty in order to justify the continued politicization of their faith for the purpose of promoting its dogma as the one and only truth. But this dynamic is not exclusive to religious fundamentalists as some secularists also appear to have a difficult time distinguishing ethics from morals. A recent demonstration of this occurred on the April 8, 2005 broadcast of Real Time with Bill Maher, in which former New York governor Mario Cuomo gave the erudite, yet theophobic Mr. Maher a little education in this very subject.

MAHER: If you disagree so much with so many of the rules, why do you need religion at all? I have a lot of trouble understanding why somebody like yourself who is a brilliant man, I have trouble understanding why brilliant people can even be religious. [applause] Quite frankly, I don’t mean that disrespectfully.

CUOMO: [overlapping] Bill—okay. No, Bill, I—

MAHER: [overlapping] But – and it seems like religion is the kind of thing where you either eat the whole wafer or you don’t eat it at all. [laughter] I mean, if you’re going to pick all the raisins out, why buy raisin bread? [laughter] [applause]

CUOMO: Well, I’ll tell you…Well, for the bread, that’s why you buy it. [laughter] [applause] But let me – Bill, let me make that point. Let me make that point again. [laughter] You’re a super – you’re a super-intelligent person.

MAHER: Well, thank you. Finish your thought. [laughter]

CUOMO: I suggest – I suggest to you that what I believe and call religion, you would believe and call it natural law. If you never saw a guy with a beard come down with a tablet, if you never read a book or heard a homily, just as a human being, if you opened your eyes to the reality of your own life and you looked around, you’d have to come to two conclusions, I think. That, number one, you and the rest of the human beings are different from the other animals because you can think, you have consciousness, et cetera. And that there’s a compatibility between you and all those other human beings. There are animals out there you eat for lunch, and there are animals out there that want to eat you for lunch.

And so you would say, look, I ought to get together with these human beings; we have something in common. That’s called, in Hebrew, sedaka, the notion of charity and commonality.

And what would you do with that relationship since nobody was there to instruct you? You’d say, look, the one value I’m sure of is the value of the next breath I draw, the value of my life. And I have this instinct to procreate. And so you’d get together with the other human beings and say, let’s make this life better. The Hebrews call that teekonolom [sp], “let’s repair the universe.” That gives you Christianity. “Love one another as you love yourself, for the love of me,” that’s Jesus. And what do we do? God made the world, didn’t finish it; let’s try to make it better. That’s my religion. That would be yours, as an intelligent man, and I’m sure it is, only you don’t call it religion. You call it raisin bread. [applause]

Tree-lovers, Meet the Forrest

The pursuit of true human freedom is a challenge that requires courage, personal responsibility and charity toward one’s fellow man. And, if we just open our minds to that, the Scriptures in Matthew 7:1-5 reveal universal truths from which we can draw the strength needed for the self-reflection that inspires our endeavor to promote the peace, understanding and tolerance necessary to the viability of our liberty as it applies to the longevity of our civilization.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Whether or not one believes that Christ was the immaculately conceived Son of God who performed miracles and rose from the dead is not relevant to the universal truth that it is not within the purview of humanity to judge its own sins. We are simply not qualified. Even though we are sentient beings, capable of reason and invention, we are ultimately ruled by our passions and prejudices, sometimes barely able to hold onto the the self-evident truth that all people are created equally. Of course all of that begs the question of who or what actually is endowed with the competence to judge our sins, but that’s not the forest, it’s just one of the trees. Suffice it to say that whomever or whatever it is, it is certainly not us.

This is more than sufficient justification for the separation of church from state because the state is run by fallible human beings who measure virtue and sin via the science of public relations, arrogantly presuming themselves to be unequivocal arbiters of conscience as they change, create and enforce laws according to the whims of a bunch of other fallible human beings (some of whom really ought to know better than to expect that deliverance and grace will be forthcoming due to the policies and actions of the earthly institution of government).

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

We are supposed to avoid judging our fellow man because of the universal truth that judgments beget more judgments without producing any results that make a better world. All of that judging is nothing more than a competition in self-righteousness in which hypocrites of every stripe proudly assert that their self-assumed superiority is justification for their wrath that stems from their lack of faith in their fellow man — and sometimes even themselves. Such contests do not make a better life for anybody, especially when they escalate into internecine conflicts like our current “Culture War,” which is unlikely to ever have a real victor — if it ever has a real end.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

But we really cannot help ourselves because none of us are beyond reproach. It is in our nature to examine the sins of our brothers and sisters when we, as mere flesh, often have a difficult time finding the fortitude to look inward and contemplate our own misdeeds. This is yet more evidence of our inadequacy to judge one another’s sins and good reason to err on the side of caution when we are tempted to legislate conscience, which falls within the purview of faith, not governments.

The recognition of religious freedom is what secures and guarantees our right to choose our own way from amongst the almost endless number of paths to the same basic objective truth that if we love God (or nature or life or whatever manifestation of being inspires our faith) and love one another as we do ourselves that everything else will take care of itself and we will have peace — in theory, at least.

Realistically, of course, we are limited in practice by our own nature and mortality, but we do have the quality of faith to help us to seek the wisdom that can help us to distinguish transient social conventions from the unchanging, unalterable truths of conscience so that there is no blurring of the line that is supposed to separate the organizations of mortal humans we elect to protect, serve and bring order to society from the various spiritual institutions, traditions and ceremonies in which we celebrate our faith in the mysterious natural and/or supernatural forces of creation from which we draw our moral clarity.

“Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?”

While we are busily engaged in the practice of evaluating and judging one another’s alleged sins, we comfortably avoid reflecting upon our own the detriment of truth and justice. We do not create an harmonious society by attempting to dictate that other people live by some subjective code of ethics, but rather by seeking the truth and justice in our own actions and deeds.

Courage is the human virtue that inspires our natural need for liberty, while our fear of liberty as it applies to human nature imprisons us and impedes our progress toward the goal of achieving the promise of freedom. And there is much to fear at the prospect of living in a truly free and open society — especially one whose people are so diverse — because a free people must be possessed of the self-discipline to deal with the unavoidable temptations of a free society, not the least of which is the temptation to limit those temptations via the legislation of conscience.

We must be brave and refuse to succumb to fears of our nature because such legislation only serves to defer personal responsibility to the same degree that it curtails liberty without ever actually affecting the availability if the offending temptation. This is the trap in the seemingly simple and well-intended attempts to mandate our morality and it is the source of much of the consternation within the misguided people who believe that social and cultural matters should fall into the purview of the state rather than a higher power.

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. “

This is the universal truth that none of us ever really gets to the point where we become so morally superior that we can effectively judge our fellow man’s sins, even if our pride might sometimes fool us into believing it. True freedom requires that we manifest a great deal of tolerance, which is not so much about the acceptance of differences as it is a matter of having faith in our fellow man’s ability to deal with liberty.

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About Margaret Romao Toigo

  • Bennett Dawson

    Margaret, What an inspiration you are to me. The clarity of your writing, and the focus of your piece encourages me to wark a lot harder on the posts I have planned for BC.

    This in particular stood out as something that should be carved in stone at the base of the Washington Monument.

    “…because a free people must be possessed of the self-discipline to deal with the unavoidable temptations of a free society, not the least of which is the temptation to limit those temptations via the legislation of conscience.”

    Thank you for taking the time to pen this well thought out work.

    Bennett

  • SFC SKI

    Is morality political or cultural?

    I have more to add, but not until I have had a decent sleep and some coffee, lots of food for thought here.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Margaret, I suggest you read other texts like the Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabarata for a detailed study of morality, the causes of evil, and when righteous action in the cause of good is necessary to flush out evil.(Mahatma Gandhi’s commentary on the Gita

    To cite or even call out the judeo-christian viewpoint exclusively is insular, which does not seem to be uncommon on this giant island/city-on-the-hill – this approach is not very indicative of free thought.

  • http://www.taospost.com MDE

    Well done, Margaret.

    Aamon – thanks for the excellent link to Gandhi’s commentary. I did not read any disparaging or discounting comments about other religions in the piece. The author clearly had an audience in mind and was not out to present a thorough ‘history of religions’.

    Mark

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    Thank you, Bennett. Knowing that I have touched just one person is the reason why I keep doing what I do.

    SFC SKI asked, “Is morality political or cultural?”

    It is both and neither, depending upon the context in which it is discussed. My article is mainly about the political aspect of morality as it applies to the legislation of conscience and the separation of church from state.

    Aaman, there are many different paths to the same basic truths and each of us must find our own, which is a large part of the argument against state intervention in matters of conscience.

    I write about what I know and understand, so my perspective is that of an American who has studied traditional Judeo-Christian ethics and the Bible.

    Our capacity for free thought should not be evalutated on the basis of the paths we choose, but rather our ability to choose our own way while respecting that others may choose differently.

  • Bennett Dawson

    Aaman, What I like about this piece is not that it comes from the bible, but that Margaret has distilled some of the principles from the bible and presented their relevance in a non religious fashion.

    I am not at all religious, yet I do have firmly held beliefs about how I should conduct family, business, and relations with my friends and neighbors. As one of many Americans who have no use for organized religion, I welcome any voice that counters the rise of fundamentalist propaganda. The concept of civilization starts with some form of moral foundation. What is right? How can we live together to the benefit of all? What expectations should we have when considering governmental policies?

    If the bible contains some of these principals of morality, I’m fine with that. However, I was raised with Hindu or Buddhist philosophy as the primary answers to these questions. Laws of Karma, and a sense that “all teachings serve their purpose – as paths toward personal spiritual development”.

    That Margaret writes about what she is familiar with is natural. I enjoy reading the well thought out, clear and focused ideas she brings to the table. I would be equally happy to read similar distillations from the Koran, the Jewish bible, or any other source.

  • sydney

    I had an argument with a friend once over the practicalities of separating church from state. Naturally, GWB was at the center of the discussion.

    My friend argued that if elected based on your Christian beliefs, you were free to cite that religion and publicly acknowledge its direct influence on your efforts to shape government policy or legislation.

    In other words, with the abortion issue, a President could say “As a Christian, and one who was elected by the people, I can only in good conscience act in accordance with my religion. As a Christian I cannot support pro-choice doctrine.” (This is not to suggest all Christians are against abortion. I am Christian and am pro-choice)

    To me this is unconstitutional. In this situation the president is not using a transparent logic to govern his decisions, rather he is simply extending his religious doctrine to affect public policy.

    Another situation:

    GWB and Ashcroft etc… talked openly, in the first term, about how they have daily prayer sessions in the oval office. These prayers are Christian, and of Ashcroft’s own composition.

    To me this is a private matter and should not be discussed openly with the media. I think, rather, this is an attempt to merge church and state and to create associations between the white house and Christian doctrine. To me the Christian right in the United States has taken politics to a new low.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Excellent post from Margaret as always.

  • WTF

    Margaret,

    I applaud your work…

    But, what does the term Judeo-Christian actually mean?

    If the Jews did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, and railed against him, which ultimately led to the fulfillment of his anointing. Why do we now call it Judeo-Christianity? The term Judaism is not synonymous with Christianity and visa-versa, has churchianity in an effort to please the PC crowd, deemed it appropriate to co-mingle divergent thought?

    Yes I understand that Jesus was from David’s lineage, and thus he was from the tribe of Judah, thus making him Hebrew and a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which fulfills the prophetic requirements of the messiah. If that is the reason for the hyphenated terminology, it may be correct. But one has to keep in mind, that Jesus was a radical thinker, who challenged the corrupted context of Hebrew religiosity, the traditions of men – who corrupted the original “religion” through amalgamation with Babylonian and Edomite philosophy, cabalism, and a few other digressions from the original, pure Hebrew context.

    It’s rather confusing, and perhaps dropping the hyphenation and sticking with the term Christianity would clarify the terminology. From what I’ve read, the hyphenated term has really only been in use the last 50 to 75 years, and doesn’t really pass the test of theological application. Yet, it has been generalized to mean exactly what you and I have held it to be, that is correct, when after scrutiny, doesn’t necessarily convey exactness.

  • Bennett Dawson

    I think it has to do with circumsision…

    Which reminds me…

    How do you circumsize a whale?

    Send down four skin divers.

  • Duane

    When you quote, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” what do you think the word “judge” means?

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Magellan circumcised the Earth with a 100-foot clipper. Or so I read somewhere.

    Calling North American and European values “Judeo-Christian” is partly an attempt to appeal to both the Jews and the Christians of modern society, in the movement to think of these societies as primarily religious in character, rather than primarily secular.

    In this cultural movement, the goal is for the differing beliefs about Jesus Christ to fade into abstruse and minor points of debate between Christian and Jewish theologians. For Jews and Christians to work together in the day to day management of governance and commerce, as natural allies who share the same key ethical principles.

    The same basic goal, more broadly applied, animates the increasingly popular alternative term “Judeo-Christian-Islamic.”

  • sydney

    Will someone pleae respond to my query a few posts back??? PLEASE.

    It’s been buggin me for along time now and I’d like to hear some opinions. I think, also that its relevant to margaret’s post.

    The dilemna put in my terms can reveal alot about what each of us feels the role of christianity should be in American policy making.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    What question in your earlier comment, Sydney? All I’m seeing there are some statements about differing opinions.

  • sydney

    ya well which side do you take?

    In the first instance about the abortion scenario; does the Christian President allow his religion to dictate his policy shaping with regards to abortion? (ex. It says so in the bible so it will be so while I run the country) or does he have an onus to provide a clear and secular logic.

    In the second scenario: Should Bush and Ashcroft have turned the white house (the highest of public, and secular, offices in the country) into a place of prayer? I have no objections to him saying a personal prayer there, but making it public knowledge that the boys all get together, hold hands, and say Christian prayers in the white house each day, was crossing the line.

    Where do you stand?

  • SFC SKI

    I wanted to stay out of this but I can’t.
    In the first instance, the 3 branches of government will have to make the system of checks and balances work. He can do certain things, executive orders, etc, but in they can all be addressed through the Congress or the Supreme Court. In specific, if Pres. Bush is against abortion, he can express his opinion, but he is still ultimately bound by the law.

    If a personal has a personal belief, but acts against that, is he a hypocrite in this instance?

    IN the second instance, what is the harm of people praying in public? Is prayer mandatory? Were the people who chose not to pray forced to pray, or were they held off to the side and huniliated, or asked to resign?

    As I understand it, many Christians pray together and separately.
    Historically, prayers have been sid in the White House and the press has printed stories about for the last 200+ years, and we still manage to survive.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Your questions are still not very clear, Sydney. What part of the Constitution causes you to feel the way you do?

  • sydney

    In response to SFC ski,

    I understand the whole checks and balances system but I don’t think it works.

    I think in a country founded on the Judeo-Christian doctrine, and which continues today to have a large Christian membership, that a president in this context can push his Christian agenda thru a majority government without having to justify it outside the context of his faith.

    In other words, Abortion might be legitimized in terms of his faith, but not in terms of the objective rationale that secular society demands.

    Secondly, as I said with the prayers, I have no problem with the president praying in the white house. However, when he makes his praying a spectacle by reporting it to the media and alluding to god all the time, he is creating associations between the white house and Christianity.

    In effect, he is intimidating all those non-Christians out there. HE is saying, we (Christians) represent the faith of the governing body of this country. He is saying “god willing” we will implement my (Christian) agenda (for he has fore-grounded his faith and we have no reason to believe that his agenda is not based on his faith). He is creating a dominant discourse of Christian values and morality, and a subordinate discourse for those who don’t subscribe to Christianity.

    In my opinion, his religion should be private and he should leave any allusions to this faith out of the political discourse.

  • Tom French

    What Judeo-christian priciples was this country founded on? Probably any priciple you state is contained in most religions.

    Secondly, Bush can base his decisions on anything he wants, he simply has to answer to the people in the form of a vote. A majority of voters in this country agreed with him, therefore, Bush II.

    Separation of church and state means the church cannot run the country. If we vote in a born again zealot, we should expect no help from the constitution.

  • sydney

    Tom French,

    “Separation of church and state means the church cannot run the country.”

    This is not what separation from church and state means. I was looking for help from someone who knew. Looks like you need some help from me. So I’ll offer what little I have to give…

    If, in America, we could elect a Christian and push through Christian policies and simply say tough luck to all those who don’t believe, then we’d be discriminating against those who want nothing to do with Christianity.

    In a pluralistic society, it is important that, though there is necessarily one dominant view, this view cannot infringe upon the religious beliefs of others in the society.

    I take this to mean, that religious doctrine has no place in the white house and whatever influence it has on parliament’s elected leaders, it should be private. Once you start talking openly about your religion to the media and to the other members of congress, you are in effect intimidating those who don’t share that majority view.

    The Republicans have taken this much, much, further by actually arguing the merits of policy in a faith based context. Imagine if congressman of Arab descent justified his stance on abortion in the context of his religion.

    Abortion issues, etc, are always grounded in Christian rhetoric. Despite this, if you were to take some of these members of the Christian right and ask them what they thought of separating ‘church from state’, they would agree, in principle, with what I am saying. In reality though, they are blind to their hypocrisy because the dominant view is one they subscribe to.

    It’d be interesting to situate one of these republicans in Indonesia for the remainder of their life, and see how comfortable they feel as members of the minority view. They’d be afraid for their fucking lives, and they’d sure as hell demand that there is a clear and thorough separation between church and state.

    A fantasy: Sometimes I wish the extreme Christian right would leave the country and form the homogenous culture that they so badly want. Wouldn’t it be great to see how crazy it got? How similar, in some respects, they are to those Islamic cultures they tend to trash?

    The reality: The Christians in America occupy the positions of power. They fee they have an obligation, to their lord and to us non-believers, to make this country a homogenous Christian hole. Of course they don’t believe they can convert everyone, but at the very least they wont this country and it’s policies to reflect Christian beliefs and values.

    Given historical realities, and demographics, a certain amount of this is to be expected. However, the Christian right has wielded far too much power and made Christian doctrine acceptable in political discourse. More than acceptable, it has made the two synonymous in America.

    Hell, I just noticed I called myself non-Christian a few time in this article, yet I am Christian, was raised as one, and still go to catholic service every second Sunday. Yet I hate my religion when I see it’s current practical application in America…

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    sydney wrote: “…if elected based on your Christian beliefs, you were free to cite that religion and publicly acknowledge its direct influence on your efforts to shape government policy or legislation.”

    The Christian Right must have some pretty savvy PR people as they have somehow managed to convince a good number of people that George W. Bush was re-elected on the basis of his piety and that our last election was some sort of a referendum on “moral values,” when, in fact, the vast majority saw terrorism, the war in Iraq and the economy as the highest priority issues.

    Say what you will about Karl Rove’s conscience — or the lack thereof — but that man is a PR genius who quite effectively managed to get the 4 million fundamentalist voters who stayed home in 2000 to show up in 2004 to vote against same sex marriage and for George W. Bush’s re-election.

    Although they were just enough to push Mr. Bush over the top (and fulfill Mr. Rove’s obligation), they hardly created a “mandate” on their set of “values” issues, seeing as how the 50 million some-odd other people who voted for Mr. Bush were thinking mainly about our foreign and economic policies.

    Now those 4 million people are so filled with a sense of self-importance that they actually believe that the President is free to acknowledge Christianity’s influence on his policies and actions — and secularists have been all too willing to continue to support that notion with their theophobic ranting and raving.

    sydney wrote: “GWB and Ashcroft etc… talked openly, in the first term, about how they have daily prayer sessions in the oval office. These prayers are Christian, and of Ashcroft’s own composition.”

    Yes. So? What’s the big deal with that? Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft are Christians, why shouldn’t they pray? Religious freedom applies to people in government, too.

    sydney wrote: “To me this is a private matter and should not be discussed openly with the media.”

    That’s what Christ said in Matthew 6:5, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

    There is truth and wisdom in that Scripture and the politicians who pander to the fundamentalists should probably take heed before they begin to feel the sting of the backlash, but it is not my place to judge.

    sydney wrote: “I think, rather, this is an attempt to merge church and state and to create associations between the white house and Christian doctrine.”

    Well, that’s been the secularists’ boogeyman ever since the Religious Right hijacked the GOP over the abortion issue back in the 1970s.

    But fear of the spectre of Christian dogma replacing our Constitution is actually helping to erode that wall that is supposed to separate church from state because of the universal truth that judgement beget judgement.

    It is an interesting dynamic in which fundamentalists make their assertions about morals, values and faith as they discuss issues like abortion, prayer in schools, same-sex marriage, 10 commandments displays on courthouses, abstinence-only sex education, the content of television and radio programming etc., all of which are offensive to non-Christians who respond with disparaging remarks about Christianity and religion in general, questioning the intelligence of people of certain faiths and following with Chicken Little rhetoric about the threat of our constitutional representative republic becoming a Christian theocracy.

    The mass confusion and turmoil of the “Culture War” is the result and it isn’t doing any of us any good because it has caused a cultural shift in which matters of conscience are seen as being within the purview of the state, which has actually diluted the power of the churches as arbiters of morality.

    sydney wrote: “To me the Christian right in the United States has taken politics to a new low.”

    It isn’t them, its the politicians who pander to them. The Christian Right are not evil people with plans to take over the country, they are confused and tormented souls who have somehow lost their faith in God.

    That loss of faith has rendered them unable to effectively deal with the temptations of the modern world, so they are now looking to the government for salvation — and the politicians are only too happy to play the role of their new god.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    Duane asked, “When you quote, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,’ what do you think the word ‘judge’ means?”

    It is the act of presuming oneself to be qualified to determine whether or not condemnation is deserved in regard to matters of conscience.

    Why do you ask?

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    sydney wrote: “I understand the whole checks and balances system but I don’t think it works.”

    When did it fail?

    sydney wrote: “…a president in this context can push his Christian agenda thru a majority government without having to justify it outside the context of his faith.”

    Since when? The only real agenda our current President seems to have is the rather unpopular plan to overhaul Social Security. And the Religious Right is feeling pretty shortchanged because of it because those poor misguided people think that the Federal Marriage Amendment — which currently has the proverbial snowball’s chance — should take priority over economic issues. Whether they deserved it or not, the fundamentalists were duped on that one and some of them are beginning to figure that out.

    sydney wrote: “…he is intimidating all those non-Christians out there.”

    Only if non-Christians allow themselves to be intimidated, which is exactly what many of them have been doing. Or do such people actually believe that railing against the Christian Right’s alleged overtaking of America is an effective means of persuasion?

    BTW, non-Christians are not the only people dismayed by the politicization of the Christian faith. Plenty of Christians are getting sick and tired of being associated with that fanatical fringe element’s rather unChristian political machinations.

  • Tom French

    “This is not what separation of church and state means”,writes sydney. He/She then goes on to say,”I take this to mean…(followed by his or her opinion)”

    I feel sorry for people who discount another’s opinion with unkind words, then cite their own opinion as proof.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    Tom French wrote: “What Judeo-Christian principles was this country founded on? Probably any principle you state is contained in most religions.”

    I think you just answered your own question. My point here is about the way that people confuse ethics with morality as if they are one and the same.

    There are rules and then there is conscience and I submit that this country was founded upon Judeo-Christian morality — yes, the Bible does reveal the same basic truths as most other religious texts — even if a good number of the rules are impractical, obsolete and unconstitutional.

    When you strip the dogma away from the universal truths, what’s left is the basis of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    “If we vote in a born again zealot, we should expect no help from the constitution.”

    What? Is our nation’s current bout of theophobia really so bad (we’re to the point of banning Christmas-themed displays that were put up on our city streets for decades with nary a complaint, for crying out loud!) that the secularists ability to reason has sunk to the level of the fundamentalists who frighten them so? Talk about a loss of faith!

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    sydney wrote: “Hell, I just noticed I called myself non-Christian a few time in this article, yet I am Christian, was raised as one, and still go to catholic service every second Sunday. Yet I hate my religion when I see it’s current practical application in America…”

    That is a very telling statement. And you are not, by any means, alone in your sentiments, unless the vast majority of Christians have forgotten the teachings of Christ in order to become fundamentalists.

    The non-Christians have been going on and on about how the Religious Right is taking over America, often coming off as anti-Christian bigots in the process, when it is Christians who should be standing up to the fundamentalists and the politicians who exploit them — or at least praying for God to grant His divine grace upon the fundamentalists so that they might find their way back to live by the truths He sent His Son to Earth to reveal.

  • sydney

    Margaret,

    You make some of your smaller points very well, and I agree with many of them. However, I do think you miss the big picture in terms of the checks and balances. That is to say, that if the checks and balances work so well than why is it that you’re concerned that politicians are pandering to the Christian right? If there is no opportunity for religious doctrine to misinform our policy making than why would it matter that politicians pander?

    The governing party has a lot of power to appoint people to powerful positions and to dictate the political stances of these people in turn. Many politicians make ideological compromises in return for power. I think this is what is going on right now, and this is a process that undermines the checks and balances. The religious right has more power, more representation than it should, and it’s presence is nearly systemic. Moreover, the rhetoric of the right has the power to influence large numbers of less discriminate hearers.

    Religion shouldn’t mix with the public political sphere. We can argue the dangers (or non-dangers), but maybe we should be asking ourselves what good could possibly come of it. Personally, I find it offensive and dangerous. You may disagree, but convince me that it has valid place in an office that represents a pluralist society.

    Anyway I think I am repeating myself, but again I wasn’t saying that GWB and his cronies shouldn’t be praying in the white house, only that they shouldn’t make this a political spectacle which serves their interests. It just shouldn’t be a part of this discourse. What relevance does it have to me, or to a non-Christian? Did Kerry or Clinton constantly allude to their god, or talk about their faith, their religious practices, constantly? No, because its suggestive, and its inappropriate, and it serves no common good.

    Lastly, all this talk about the universal truths inherent in religion being all the same, is misleading. It may be partly true but in a practical sense its all garbage. The church makes practical stances on many controversial issues. Many of these stances I disagree with, though I think the universal truths at the core of Christianity are helpful. What if Islam had a similarly large presence in government and among the American population? Would there be no political, social or cultural ramifications, given the current mix between religion and state affairs?

    So to suggest that religious influence on politics holds no threat is nonsense. Religion is a great divider when it is incorporated into national politics. Just look at how sharply it’s inclusion has divided America.

  • Tom French

    Sydney,

    It seems from your comments that you are upset that the predominant view in the white house is not the same as yours.

    Religion is used in this context as a philosophy. A set of ideas. Why does bush not have the right to use his philosophy in determining the stances he takes on public policy? How would he not do that? That is what he believes. How would he think any different. He is not making a national religion. And he is not persecuting anyone based on their beliefs.

    We can all be upset that Bush doesn’t share our views, but he was voted in, and he now has the right to pray or talk about religion as much as he wants.

  • sydney

    “…or at least praying for God to grant His divine grace upon the fundamentalists so that they might find their way back to live by the truths He sent His Son to Earth to reveal”

    No offense Margaret, put this kind of language is what makes me hate Christian doctrine. I grew up in Canada, and for the most part, Christians there practice privately and don’t feel the need to convert or control the moral direction of the country. This is because Canadians believe fundamentally in some socialist principles. They are very against allowing a dominant ideology to compromise the comfort and identity of the minority. Now, as a half Canadian, I can say, that yes, Canadians are occasionally hypocritical. But this is better than the bold and brash Christian variety in The US.

    In the states, Christianity takes a more bible thumping, morally aggressive form. Christians here tend to say things like “I’ll pray for your lost soul”. When I hear a Christian say something like that I tell them to go fuck themselves. Excuse my language, but there is nothing more self righteous and condescending than to suggest to someone that they need forgiveness from your god.

    So no I don’t pray for anyone’s salvation, I pray for my own and hope that each person achieves their own, from whom ever they seek it.

  • sydney

    I’m not opposed to GWB having political ideas founded or influenced by his Christian ethics. However, if his ideas are based on Christian morality, than there is a problem.

    HE represents a secular state, and many individuals who have varying moralities. Any policy should exclude religious allusions, and should be justified in terms of logical ethical thinking, not blind religious morality.

    We can debate the ethics of his reasoning, but there is no recourse for a non-christian who has to abide laws based on the Christian doctrine, which are predicated on an ill-logical faith.

    For instance, if you say, ” I am Christian. I was voted into power. I pass a law against prostitution, not because I provide ethical reasoning, but because it is written in the bible that it is wrong. The lord has decreed it as such, and as a Christian I am obligated to do everything in my power to make it policy.”

    This is an exaggeratedly blunt way of mixing church and state, but I believe it is happening as such right now, only that it is more subtly executed.

    GWB is saying to the Christian right, “I am your savior, if you vote me in I offer representation of your collective faith, and my policy will reflect this.” Instead he should be representing the Christian members in a more personal way, by providing transparent reasoning, which attempts to legitimize or convince others of its merits. And which allows to Christians to debate amongst each other, that then just creating rhetorical and false divisions in society. As it is now the mob is ruling and non-Christians, or moderate Christians are watching their country swing to the right, a religious right that is threatening to them.

  • Tom French

    You just contradicted yourself. You say that,”we (Canadians… believe in some socialist principles.”

    How is it ok to let socialist ideology guide your decisions but not christian.

    If I was a capitalist, i might get just as upset if socialist views were being pushed on me.

  • sydney

    Socialist principles are legitimized by reasoning. They are not based on FAITH. Canadians don’t expect non-believers to trust that their system of giverning is inherently just, they provide reasoning as such an objective debate is allowed.

    Religions constitutes a set of moralities that are predicated on faith. There is no objective or logical reasoning behnd much of it.

  • Tom French

    Really? so, do unto others as you would have done to you is wrong because it is based on faith and not reason. Thou shalt not murder is faith not reason. Just because something is predicated on faith doesn’t make it wrong.

    You have to take each argument and debate the merits individually, not cast off everything becasue it is based on faith.

    By the way, what are you afraid of? The fundamentalist christians in this country is still very much a small minority.

  • sydney

    I believe the christian right to be the most powerful demographic in America. You may disagree but that is my perspective.

    Ya its true that man of the christian dogmas can be legitimized with logic, others though, can not. Also much of it is open to interpretation, and fundementalist christians take positions with extreme practical implications. The abortion issue for one, stem cell research, etc.. They don’t justfy their stance on these issues with logic, rather they justify it in terms of their morality, their faith.

  • Tom French

    I have to agree that fundamentalists of any religion are dangerous, but i don;t see them as having the power to control america like they have many islamic nations.

    Look at the present backlash right now. And they haven’t even done anything major yet.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Thou shalt not murder is faith not reason.

    Actually no. The individual benefits when it joins into a social group, this is why we form communities, governments and nations. When we work collectively, we benefit collectively. Making sure that we, in our communities, are safe is one of the primary reasons why humans get together. There is a sound logical reason why murder is detrimental to the group, and therefore the acceptance of it detrimental to the individuals within the group.

    The punishment of hell is not the only thing that keeps some of us from being beasts.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    I haven’t commented much on this blog, because I am writing a similar one, but the focus is on vigilantism done in the name of Christianity. Lives have already started being lost in this culture war. It has already turned bloody. I hope to have the blog done late tonight.

    Look at the present backlash right now. And they haven’t even done anything major yet.

    That is what most people think, because most people don’t see much else in the news besides how to elect a Pope and what’s happening in the Michael Jackson trial.

  • sydney

    YEs agreed, what you’ve done is used your ethical imagination to articulate and justify a christian doctrine.

    If I am a aetheist I see your reasoning and liekly support your resoning, if not at least I have a grounds for debating it.

    However, religious representation in state policy can take on more faith based, morality based, manifestations. Again I cite aborition discourse, and the terri shaivo case which was often debated in terms of faith based religious discourse.

  • Tom French

    What horrors have the fundamentalist christians done?

    They can’t do anyhting beacause of the buffering the voice of the middle has on any extreeme views.

  • Bennett Dawson

    Sydney, I think this is a very valid point: Anyway I think I am repeating myself, but again I wasn’t saying that GWB and his cronies shouldn’t be praying in the white house, only that they shouldn’t make this a political spectacle which serves their interests. It just shouldn’t be a part of this discourse.

    I agree that whatever personal faith guides our various public servants, the details of their faith should be kept private. The outcome of their internal debate, the legislation they craft or the positions they take, should stand on its own merit, backed by logical explainations, not linked to religous beliefs.

  • sydney

    Tom,

    I see what you are saying. Your trying to get me to give examples of where the christian right has done harm to our society.

    I don’t want to get into these details. Only to say that I think they have an impact on our society.

    My point is not to prove the damage the religious right has done, but to argue that religion has no place in politics. I feel that you should be proving to me that there is a place for religion in politics, rather than me doing the oppositte.

    I’v explained my reasoning. Now lets here why religion has a place in politics. Don’t just say that it hasn’t done much harm. Instead explain why it should be there at all?

    By the way, I’m not on a crusade against Christians. Afterall, I am one myself. But I dont think my religion should be involved in national politics.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    sydney wrote: “That is to say, that if the checks and balances work so well than why is it that you’re concerned that politicians are pandering to the Christian right?”

    Because it is immoral to exploit frightened and confused people for political gain.

    “If there is no opportunity for religious doctrine to misinform our policy making than why would it matter that politicians pander?”

    Because the politicians are lying in order to exploit those frightened and confused people.

    And those lies have brought us to where we are now, in the midst of a divisive Culture War that fundamentalists have been fooled into believing they can win. The poor Religious Right has fallen victim to the temptations of power at the hands of false prophets who have used them so much and so well that they have begun to view our Constitution as an impediment to their religious freedom.

    I’m not worried about the Constitution being tossed away in favor of the Bible. That is an oversimplification that politicians have used to exploit the fears of non-fundamentalists.

    Meanwhile, the entirety of the American people are being systematically divided against their own best interests, duped into expending their time and energy on social issues that distract all of us from the painful truth that we do not have as much control over our destiny as we like to think we do.

    sydney wrote: “…all this talk about the universal truths inherent in religion being all the same, is misleading.”

    Perhaps that is because it is difficult to separate doctrine from truth, rules from conscience, ethics from morals. There is no quick and dirty formula for making this determination as such transcendence requires a lot of courage and many of us are simply not up to the task.

    But fortunately for all of us, our Founders did have that kind of courage and they drew upon it to create an idea for a system of government in which the people could be truly free. Of course they didn’t finish it within their lifetimes and it is doubtless that it will be finished within any of our lifetimes, but the promise of it lives in each of us who are willing to work toward that goal.

    And we have made progress. The prime examples, of course, are the abolition of slavery, womens’ suffrage and desegregation. Soon, we will reach another milestone — yes, there will be many battles won and lost along the way — in the form of our eventual (and practically inevitable) full recognition of gay rights.

    sydney wrote: “So to suggest that religious influence on politics holds no threat is nonsense. Religion is a great divider when it is incorporated into national politics. Just look at how sharply it’s inclusion has divided America.”

    I think we are in agreement in principle, even if we might have different interpretations of the various factors and events that have lead us to this truth. You’re concerned about how religion affects government policies, I’m concerned about how the exploitation of religion affects people. But that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because contemplating how the division occurred is not really helping us to mend it.

  • sydney

    Yes, Margaret,

    We are very nearly in agreement on all points.

    I think though, that religion does have the power to mix with politics and sway public policy. You identify yourself as a supporter of gay rights. Surely, then you can appreciate how the Christian right has impeded the recognition of gay rights.

    The logic behind the anti-gay movements are almost strictly buried in a religious morality based discourse. People don’t argue that homosexuals are hurting others; they argue that they are going against some natural law, that they are corrupting the (Christian) values of our society. What recourse does a Homosexual have against this sort of illogical reasoning? They don’t subscribe to the same sense of morality, yet they are punished by it’s laws?

    So how can you say that religion doesn’t influence policy?

  • Tom French

    Sydney,

    I thought I had shown that religion has a place in politics. It can’t not have a place in politics. it is a part of the philosophy that each of us has. If he disagrees with abortion, is it because he is a loony fundamentalist or because he is in disagreement with abortion. Your religious views are inseperable from your other ideologies.

    He can’t just say, i don’t agree with abortion because god says it is bad. He still has to debate his stance. And he does. He never said god told me to invade iraq. He gave reasons for his choice. They were bad reasons but at least he gave reasons that were open to debate in congress.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    I do not pray for anyone’s salvation as it is not my place — or anybody else’s for that matter — to determine who needs saving.

    But I do pray for people to find an end to their pain, which is why I pray for the Christian Right to find their way back to Christ (since that is the path they chose).

    It is not about salvation from condemnation, but rather deliverance from the confusion and torment that results from a general lack of faith — and not just the kind of faith that is associated with any particular religion or god.

    Faith is not a religion or a book or even a god, it is a human virtue that exists in all of us to some degree.

    Faith is that part of ourselves that helps us to deal with the trials and tribulations of life (the universe and everything) and when it is compromised by an imbalance of natural human weaknesses like pride and fear, the result is always pain, regardless of what theological constructs we accept or reject.

  • sydney

    Ok, But i get uncomfortable with that sort of loaded religious language. :-)

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org/wp/ Margaret Romao Toigo

    sydney wrote:“You identify yourself as a supporter of gay rights. Surely, then you can appreciate how the Christian right has impeded the recognition of gay rights.”

    I can appreciate how the Christian Right has tried to impede the recognition of gay rights because history has already demonstrated that the Christian Right have lost more battles than they have won in that arena.

    The gay rights movement has progressed at lightening speed, even if there have been a few stumbles along the way. Only 30 years ago — an instant in the context of human history — homosexuality was considered a mental illness and a crime throughout most of the country. And now, not only are all of those archaic anti-gay laws gone, discrimination based on sexual orientation is now illegal in most of America. So, the gay rights movement is progressing very well, regardless of the general inconsistency of human progress.

    Contrast that with how it took over a century for women to get the right to vote and how long it took for the institution of segregation to fall.

    The quest for freedom is not a straight line and as we progress toward reaching that goal we take forward and backward steps, various battles are won and lost and we can only grasp their impact by studying history.

    sydney wrote: “The logic behind the anti-gay movements are almost strictly buried in a religious morality based discourse.”

    And that is why it will ultimately fail. The truth is revealed in logic, not dogma. BTW, it is not religious morality (there really is no such thing because morality is the manifestation of conscience while religions are merely the institutionalization of doctrines usually based upon worship of deities), but rather religious ethics that the anti-gay groups are using to rationalize their prejudice.

    sydney wrote: “People don’t argue that homosexuals are hurting others; they argue that they are going against some natural law, that they are corrupting the (Christian) values of our society. What recourse does a Homosexual have against this sort of illogical reasoning? “

    Well, logic for one thing. Not only the use of logic to combat the untenable assertions of bigots, but also the intellectual logic to refuse to be intimidated by that sort of anti-homosexual propaganda.

    And then there are the people who are trying to break the deadlock in the national conversation by inventing new ideas and arguments instead of rehashing the same old back-and-forth gets-us-nowhere debate in which fundamentalists and other homophobia sufferers use intellectually dishonest arguments in a vain attempt to revise history in efforts to turn back the clock on gay rights (think putting the toothpaste back into the tube) while gay rights advocates keep talking about justice and human and civil rights.

    The essay above is my contribution to this effort. My idea is that, if some people want to look to the Bible for guidance in matters of the state, they should at least understand the difference between the dogma it outlines and truths it reveals.

  • sydney

    wow, your optimism is contagious. I like reading your stuff. :)

  • http://georgepope28@hotmail.com Georgio

    Margaret…Never have I been so impressed with ones writings and views ..I intend to read everyone of your articles…. you are amazing..and the comments and the debates where all done in good taste where one could actually learn from them..I have so much I want to say but I am so overwhelmed that I want to digest your writings further and read the rest of your articles..Thank you…

  • Nancy

    Just putting in my 2 cents to say that I am SO impressed by, and enjoying, the entire blog, which so far has been without name-calling or nastiness (guess those folks aren’t up and online yet ;) This is the best-written, best-discussed, most rational and civil blog I’ve ever read! Way to go, all of you/us; would they were all this way.

  • http://georgepope28@hotmail.com Georgio

    Nancy..I don’t know you but I have seen your comments on other blogs and you are one of my Favorites…I always look forward to what you have to say..

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>”Separation of church and state means the church cannot run the country.”

    This is not what separation from church and state means. I was looking for help from someone who knew. Looks like you need some help from me. So I’ll offer what little I have to give…<<

    Correct, that is not what Separation of Church and State means, but Separation of Church and State isn’t actually what’s expressed in the Constitution. The first amendment actually says “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, which says nothing at all about most of the separation of church and state issues we talk about today and only refers very specifically to the idea of establishing an official religion for the US, which it clearly prohibits. The broader concept of secularizing government isn’t actually in the Constitution and was added later by Supreme Court justices who chose to expand in a very creative way on that small prohibition in the first amenment.

    Dave

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    refers very specifically to the idea of establishing an official religion for the US

    It specificlly states that we cannot establish an official religion. It doesn’t take much creativity on the part of the Justices to understand that endorsing a religion is tantamount to establishing an official one.

  • Nancy

    If we can’t even agree on the actual meaning of “separation of church and state”, no wonder no one can agree on the bigger aspects of the issues. Amazing the nuances of language, where determining the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin can affect so much so radically. God forbid anyone should ever misplace a comma (no pun intended). And thank you, Georgio; that’s very kind of you. Especially when I’m blogging to such a high-level group as this is.

  • http://georgepope28@hotmail.com Georgio

    this high level group spends too much time looking for the misplaced comma Nancy rather than the meaning or tone of the comment

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    It’s been my experience here that ‘tone’ is misinterpreted 90% of the time, anyway.

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