Theocracy Watch IV: Liberty Defiled

The Fourth of July occurs during this week, the United States of America’s Independence Day. On this day we remember the ideals America was born to uphold, the ideals that generations of patriots have fought and died for: liberty of speech, liberty of belief, and eternal freedom from every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Sadly, there are still some ungrateful people who reject these wonderful blessings, and live in this land and take advantage of the freedom it offers while plotting how best to overthrow its ideals and turn it into a cold-hearted land of theocracy. Witness the following story, which came to my attention via The Greenbelt:

It seems that a Christian church in Memphis, Tennessee, has erected a distorted, Christianized version of the Statue of Liberty. Rather than a tablet with the inscription “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI”, the date of America’s birth, this version’s tablet bears the Roman numerals I through X, standing for the Ten Commandments. Instead of Lady Liberty’s original seven-pointed crown, representing the seven seas and seven continents, this one wears a crown bearing the name “JEHOVAH”. And instead of the flame of liberty, this version carries a cross. And this vile mockery is huge: 72 feet tall, about half as tall as the real thing. Its backers say it represents “America belonging to God”.

This, to my mind, is far worse than burning the American flag, which the religious right in Congress again recently tried to ban. Burning the flag expresses rejection of America’s ideals, but defiling the Statue of Liberty in this way expresses a desire to twist those ideals, to turn America into a distorted and monstrous perversion of what it was originally founded as. Rather than a land of freedom, its shores gleaming bright with promise to refugees of all backgrounds and beliefs, the Christian right wants to remake America in their own narrow and hateful image, into a place where one religion, one church reigns supreme and rules over the state, and all others are second-class citizens at best. Better would it be for America to vanish from the earth entirely than for the promises of liberty built into it at its inception to become so terribly subverted. In her statue, the true Lady Liberty is crushing the chains of oppression under her feet, but the makers of this statue evidently desire to shackle her in those very same chains.

Of course, while the religious right inveighs against flag burning, they have not spoken a word against this desecration. Their political tactics inevitably revolve around motivating their followers by getting them worked up into an irrational froth of emotion about some trivial issue; but in this case the issue at hand actually reflects their own beliefs. Though most of them are more subtle about saying so, they too want to turn the United States into a right-wing Christian theocracy. They too want to tear the torch of welcome from Liberty’s hands and replace it with a cross. They too want new immigrants to see, rising over our borders, not the light of hope but that terrible iron symbol of bloodshed and intolerance that John Adams himself called an “engine of grief”.

As always, I should make clear the basis of my objection. Although I love my country, I cannot consider this statue a literal desecration, since as an atheist I have no sacred symbols in the religious sense. What truly angers me is not the statue itself, but the beliefs and ideals behind that statue: the malignant desire to see religion and state fused, a perpetually recurring desire of the ignorant which our founding fathers built guarantees against into the Constitution precisely because they were so painfully familiar with its inevitable consequences. This statue stands for that evil idea and so I oppose it, just as I oppose the Bible and Christianity not because I believe there is an actual god with whom I disagree, but because I disagree with the actions carried out by humans who claim to be acting in that god’s name.

Nor am I calling for this statue or others like it to be banned, no matter how offensive it is. America’s very ideals which I love convince me that I cannot do that. However, I can and do deplore the historical ignorance, ungratitude and disrespect for those ideals that would motivate a citizen of the United States to create something like this. Anyone who calls themself an American and who played a part in the making of this idol of slavery should be ashamed.

Fortunately, the true Lady Liberty stands unbowed by such cheap and transparent imitations. No matter how the partisans of theocracy try to obscure and distort them until they are unrecognizable, the ideals of America only shine out all the more clearly from Liberty’s torch, calling true patriots and lovers of freedom to action. We have always defended her against all enemies, and we will defend her still. Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus”, which is engraved on her pedestal, is a piece of verse far more beautiful and moving than anything in the Bible, perpetually reminding us why she was created and for what:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Philip Thomas

    I am not a US citizen, so maybe I’m being culturally naive, but the phrase “freedom of expression” comes to mind (I also don’t understand the fuss about flag burning). This church has come up with an original idea about how to spread its message using well known imagery. I think there are far worse things going on in this world than that!

  • SpeirM

    …the malignant desire to see religion and state fused…”

    In their minds it already is. Fundamentalists in this country find themselves in a quandary. They actually hold to two religions. One of those is Americanism. The other is Christianity. But that poses a problem, because “No man can serve two masters….” The solution is simple: convince yourself that the two are really one and the same. Or, at least, that they are integral to one another. Of course, they don’t think it through that way. It’s just that if their beliefs are going to be internally consistent, Americanism and Christianity must naturally gravitate toward one another until they eventually meet and merge.

  • TheLastChance

    I am not a US citizen, so maybe I’m being culturally naive, but the phrase “freedom of expression” comes to mind (I also don’t understand the fuss about flag burning). This church has come up with an original idea about how to spread its message using well known imagery. I think there are far worse things going on in this world than that!

    In my mind, they do have the right to do that. It is just the fact that they are trying to spread a falsehood as fact that sickens me: That America is a Christain nation. They have a right to erect the statue, it’s the meaning behind it that we oppose. It’s similar to flag burning, they have a right to destroy the flag, we have a right to oppose the antiamericanism that flag burning symbolises.

  • Philip Thomas

    TheLastChance, fair enough- and I would oppose that meaning behind it too!(but perhaps the remedy is to find equally ingenious means of artistic expression on our side of the argument) As for flag burning, I seem to recall that there are Americans who wish to remove the right to destroy the flag- even going so far as to propose an Amendment to the Constitution for that purpose! Ludicrous, if you ask me.

    Slightly off-topic, my father suggests the seperation of Church and State mandated by your constitution was only intended to apply to the federal government : i.e the States could have an established church if they wished (and indeed some did at the time). I imagine that loophole has been closed now.

  • SpeirM

    “Slightly off-topic, my father suggests the seperation of Church and State mandated by your constitution was only intended to apply to the federal government : i.e the States could have an established church if they wished (and indeed some did at the time). I imagine that loophole has been closed now.”

    It has been by Court decisions. The reason is clear. The Constitution only directly places this prohibition on the federal govenment. But by what reasoning should a state be able to mandate or endorse a religion if the federal government can’t? Any such rationale would have a double edge that could then be used to support the federal goverment’s right to do it.

    But, in the end, even the Fundamentalist types who make the argument are being transparently disingenuous. They know they’d have no assurance that their religion–or their brand of their religion–would be the one the state endorses. They, too, would find themselves in jeopardy. Only a relative few would actually benefit. And even they would have problems when they, as religionists are wont to do, decide that the official church has gone astray and try to break away to form new churches that hold to “the True Faith.”

  • Philip Thomas

    Are the powers and rights of the federal government identical to those of the States?

    Its good its been closed anyway. My father was discussing a historical curiosity not an article of faith, and he is by no means a fundamentalist.

  • SpeirM

    “My father was discussing a historical curiosity not an article of faith, and he is by no means a fundamentalist.”

    I took that pretty much for granted. It’s just that the Evangelicals/Fundamentalists make an issue of this. They’re either being disingenuous or they haven’t thought it through well enough to realize it could come back to haunt them.

  • Tommykey

    Not to rain on your parade, but immigration had nothing to do with the creation of the Statue of Liberty. It was a gift from France to the United States. Emma Lazarus wrote her poem as part of same effort to raise money for the base of the statue or something like that. The Statue became associated with immigration because to the immigrants who passed by it on their way to Ellis Island, it appeared as if it had been built for the purpose of greeting them. In 1903, friends of the late Emma Lazarus petitioned to have a small plaque on which “The New Colossus” was inscribed put inside the base of the statue. Years later, when immigrants and their descendants visited the statue and saw the poem, it contributed to the statue being associated with immigration.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    Whilst I am utterly against any linking of church and state, there is an argument that having an established religion can actually reduce the influence of the religion within the said state – witness the decline into irrelevance of the Church of England.

    My point is that maybe these people should think a little harder about what they are wishing for, lest they get it and it backfires on them.

  • Alex Weaver

    As for flag burning, I seem to recall that there are Americans who wish to remove the right to destroy the flag- even going so far as to propose an Amendment to the Constitution for that purpose! Ludicrous, if you ask me.

    I agree, and would note that despite anomalies like Senator Feinstein’s embarrassing co-sponsorship of the flag burning amendment that it’s mostly the same people who support the ideas for which this new statue is intended to stand.

    Whilst I am utterly against any linking of church and state, there is an argument that having an established religion can actually reduce the influence of the religion within the said state – witness the decline into irrelevance of the Church of England.

    Having an established religion which is not totalitarian in nature can have that effect. Compare England to Iran, and consider that the Christianity advocated by the wingnuts is more akin to the Islam advocated by the religious leaders of Iran.

  • andrea

    No matter if the SoL was originally “intended” not to mean immigration, it does now. It’s just like how a cross wasn’t any thing to be proud of and then the Christians took it as their symbol, ignoring the lamb and the fish in favor of it. What I find bemusing is that those who would try to shanghai the SoL for their own religious purposes are also those who are likely to be the most rabidly anti-immigration(legal or otherwise) in the US. Where’s the Christian charity? I guess “love thy neighbor” is only good when that “neighbor” doesn’t bother you for any help.

  • Shawn Smith

    Are the powers and rights of the Federal Government identical to those of the states?

    <off-topic>

    Absolutely not. Article 1, Section 8, Clauses 1-18 describe what powers and rights the national government (legislature) has. The 10th Amendment (mostly ignored nowadays, to our great disservice, in my opinion) states that anything not explicitly granted as a power of the national government or prohibited by the Constitution is reserved to the state or local governments. The 14th Amendment, the “necessary and proper” clause, and the interstate commerce clause have been used to extend national power down to what used to be local matters. The most egregious use of that power has been its involvement with “drug trafficking,” in my opinion.

    For instance, murder and theft are not national crimes, but state crimes, and each state decides for itself how to handle those crimes. Some states have the death penalty for murder, others don’t, and I doubt any two states treat theft exactly the same way. Zoning decisions are made at local levels (usually county or city / township levels.) If Roe v. Wade is overturned, each state will have its own abortion laws. Some will outlaw it outright, some will permit it in many more cases, and perhaps even provide state funds to perform abortions. Most money for education comes from local (state or county or city) taxes.

    </off-topic>

  • Philip Thomas

    Thanks Shawn- so it isn’t absurd to think religious provision could have been left to the States, and that the clause in the Constitution seperating State and Church was designed to keep the Federal Government out of an area the States were meant to operate in.

    Of course, I’m just being contrarian, I know the judges interpreted it differently.

  • http://gayspecies.blogspot.com The Gay Species

    What makes the “revised” Statue far more repugnant than flag-destruction is not that it expresses dissent, a right guaranteed by the symbol, but that it defaces the symbol to represent ideals antithetical to the original. It is not proving the ideal by fulfillment of its promises by its erection, it is making a new claim, a new ideal, which is contrary and repugnant to the original. Instead of desecration, the new symbols proposes to sacralize the secular, to make it an overtly religious symbol, in opposition to the original Statue’s promse to bar establishment of religion.

    Should government ban this behavior? Of course not, no more than it should ban flag-burning. But, while dissenters’ destruction of the flag is paradoxically demonstrating the principles for which the symbol stands, the “revisionist” Statue argues against those very principles. It advocates a theocracy in a nation that bars establishment of religion. That’s a very different type of dissent, even a repudiation of the ideals for which the original stands. But the erectors have rights, too! Whether others would in their “vision,” is anyone’s guess. That they envision such a state of affairs, like the vision of the Klu Klux Klan, opposite our present one, is one most of us hope never becomes actualized.

  • Philip Thomas

    The Statue advocates a theocracy?? I think you read too much into the symbolism. It is merely presenting a Christian twist on a popular theme. The ideals for which the Statue stands are Lberty and Justice, and I really don’t see that an artistic expression of this kind violates either. Having overtly religous symbols on private property does not violate the seperation of church and state.

    It would be just as valid if it had Allah instead of Jehovah, a Crescent for the Cross, and the holy script of the Qu’ran for the numbers I-X, of course.

    Flag burning is of course destruction of property, which is protected by the Constitution. Unless you are burning your own flag, in which case its fair enough.

  • SpeirM

    “Having overtly religous symbols on private property does not violate the seperation of church and state.”

    And I don’t think anyone here has said they shouldn’t have that right. But the “America belonging to God” sentiment is a clear indication that these people don’t want church and state separate. It’s that sentiment that causes us some concern.

  • andrea

    The backers of the statue said that the statue represents “American belonging to God” as Adam as quoted. What can that mean *except* the desire for a theocracy? If they used a generic statue, there would be no quibble. But they chose what they did and what they said. The SoL belongs to everyone, not just some sects of Christians. IMO, and please pardon the coarseness of the following, it’s the attempt of one church to act like a dog and try to piss on the statue so it’s only “their” territory. Can you imagine the reaction if American Muslims or Jews tried to do the same thing?

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, Andrea, my reaction would be the same, as it would also be to an attempt to use the statue to promote atheism by similar methods.

    America belonging to God can be interpreted in many many different ways. After all, I think America belongs to God for the simple reason that he made it, and I in no way desire a theocracy.

    Insofar as the statue or commentary on it was intended to reduce or eliminate seperation of church and state, I deplore its sentiment, naturally.

  • andrea

    Philip, you say that “America belonging to God” can be interpreted in “many, many ways”. I’m of the opinion that isn’t true. Could you give an example that wouldn’t cause one to think that the speaker didn’t mean they wanted a theocracy? I’m curious on how that might be done since I’m having trouble constructing such a thing even with my trusty dictionary:)

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I guess I’d better give you more than one example, since I did say “many many”..

    1) America belongs to God because God created the Universe. This has no implications at all about the form of government required.
    2) America belongs to God because God redeemed the American people through the sacrifce of his only Son. This also has very little implication for the government
    3) America belongs to God because it is God’s chosen land. While you might think this implies theocracy, it need not: see Israel, which is a democracy despite many of its inhabitants believing it to be God’s chosen land.
    4) America belongs to God because his servants have conquered it in His name. This doesn’t imply theocracy either: replace God with Allah and you have a description of what most Muslims think about most of the countries in the Middle East, but they are not theocracies.
    5)America belongs to God because he will judge its people at the end of time. This also has no significant implications for the form of governement.

    Am I making any sense here? (to andrea, but also to the wider audience).

    Actually, while we’re about it, could you give the chain of reasoning which leads from “America belongs to God” to “America must be ruled by the Church”?

  • SpeirM

    Philip, my guess is that you don’t have much experience with people of this mindset.

    Here’s the church’s website: http://www.worldovercomers.org/

    There’s one for the statue itself: http://www.worldovercomers.org/statue/home.htm

    From the latter’s The Purpose page:

    “3. To reveal to the world that the GOD OF THE BIBLE has always been the God of America; to exhibit the faith of America’s founding fathers.(Psalms 33:12)”

    “11. To redefine the Statue of Liberty to include SPIRITUAL LIBERTY that precedes complete liberation for our lives. (Romans 8:21)”

    “12. To promote, protect, and/or restore the TEN COMMANDMENTS (or laws of God) back into public consciousness and in open display.(Exodus 20:3-17; Exodus 32:15-16)”

    “14. To promote godly values and restore America’s Biblical JUDEO-CHRISTIAN foundation. (Romans 1:16)”

    “15. To reconnect CHRISTIANITY WITH PATRIOTISM. (Acts 10:35)”

  • Philip Thomas

    Thanks SpeirM, its clear from their website on the statue that they are against seperation of church and state (above all in their claim that the seperation of church of state never appears in the constiution!). As I already said, I deplore such an intent.

    So the question is how to fight that intent. As I indicated above, possibly developing our own images and symbols to combat theirs is a more fruitful approach…

  • SpeirM

    I wouldn’t want to repeat this church’s mistake and coopt a national symbol for anti-Christian purposes. While I certainly don’t believe the Founders meant for church and state to be found in bed together, they also didn’t intend that they be flaming enemies.

    But maybe I don’t quite see what you have in mind. Elaborate?

  • dhagrow

    As I indicated above, possibly developing our own images and symbols to combat theirs is a more fruitful approach…

    Like maybe…the Statue of Liberty? Or maybe Buddy Jesus:).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    It’s true that the First Amendment of the Constitution, which mandates separation of church and state, originally applied only to the federal government and not the states. Incredibly, for some time after the Bill of Rights was ratified, several U.S. states actually had their own official, established state churches which all citizens were compelled to pay taxes to support. (I discuss this in the Ebon Musings essay “The Wall“.) The founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, were vehemently opposed to this, however, and strongly spoke out against it, which no doubt contributed to the disestablishments that occurred one by one after 1776. The last state church to be officially disestablished, ending its legal relationship with the state, was Massachusetts in 1833.

    However, things are different today. Most importantly, we now have the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War and which makes the guarantees of Bill of Rights binding on the states just as they are on the federal government. Today, it would be a violation of the Constitution for a state to attempt to bring back an establishment of religion.

  • SpeirM

    There are multiple beliefs systems within a country, within a state, within a county, a city, and a school district. Consequently, it would be impossible for any level of formal government within anything like a democracy to mandate or even endorse a single religion for all within it’s jurisdiction. The only entity “atomic” enough to do that is the individual.

  • Alex Weaver

    Incidentally, it occurs to me that flag burning in some cases could actually be construed as a patriotic, pro-American gesture, though I somewhat doubt that this is what those who have engaged in it intended. The flag codes, as I recall, specify that the flag should be treated with dignity and when no longer fit for display should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. A patriotic but independent-minded individual might consider burning the flag to be a patriotic gesture, symbolically destroying the flag in a dignified way by burning rather than allowing it to continue being “soiled” by those currently in power, and do so publicly in order to convey this message. Such a person might consider this to be in what I assume was the same spirit as the burning of the U.S.S. Philadelphia in 1803 (for some reason, a specific motive for this action is not given in any source I have consulted, and it is unclear whether it was a tactical or symbolic consideration).

  • Philip Thomas

    I didn’t mean we should use anti-Christian symbols. After all, I am a Christian! I meant we should use symbols and art that promote the seperation of Church and State: the Statue of Liberty itself might be suitable, or a rendition of the scene in the Gospels: Render unto Caeasar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is Gods.

    Ebon, thankyou for that info, the Fourteenth Amendment seems a solid reason.
    SpeirM, while I agree that that should be the arrangement, it is possible for it not to be-here in England we have the C of E, for example.

  • SpeirM

    “SpeirM, while I agree that that should be the arrangement, it is possible for it not to be-here in England we have the C of E, for example.”

    Yes, I regretted my wording as soon as I posted. Let me revise and say that for a government to impose or endorse a religion runs counter to the spirit of democracy.

  • Archi Medez

    replace God with Allah and you have a description of what most Muslims think about most of the countries in the Middle East, but they are not theocracies.

    –posted by Philip

    Behaviourally and ideologically, the Muslim countries in the ME (i.e., all except Israel) are theocracies. All Muslim-majority countries are de facto theocracies as far as I’m concerned because they are all (57 OIC countries) signatories to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (which recognizes the preeminence of sharia law) and the general populations act as though they are running theocracies (e.g., penalties up to and including death for apostates, blasphemers, adulterers and fornicators, homosexuals; no penalties for those who commit ‘honour’ killings, etc.). Indeed, the west (especially Europe but also North America, Australia) has pockets of Islamic theocracies or partial theocracies wherever there are large homogenous communities.

    Note: It is irrelevant whether Saudi Arabia calls itself a monarchy, or Iraq and Afghanistan are called “democracies.” On the ground, they aren’t; they’re ruled by sharia, religous police, clerics, tribalist Islamist warlords, and by 1400 years of tradition that is enshrined in the behaviour and thoughts of the ordinary citizens.

  • Archi Medez

    Error: “large homogenous communities” should say “large homogenous Muslim communities”

    “adulterers and fornicators” should say “adulterers and some types of fornicators”

    Note that moderate Muslims in these countries and communities are, whether they like it or not, subject to whatever the hard-liners want (e.g., a moderate Muslim who does not accept the death penalty for blasphemy/unIslamic expressions is still subject to someone else in the community imposing that view).

  • SpeirM

    I hope you’re not going to quibble over what “theocracy” should mean, Philip. Call it a hagiocracy or something. The bottom line is that it’s religion dictating to government. That’s what’s dangerous.

  • Philip Thomas

    I won’t quibble, clearly Archi Medez knows a great deal more about Islam and Middle Eastern politics than I do, and if he says they are theocracies I beleive him. Of course, a country may combine several forms of government- Libya is both a dictatorship and a theocracy, for example.

    I read that the Baathist regimes (Saddam’s Iraq and Syria) were more secularist- is that true?

  • Alex Weaver

    As I understand it, Saddam Hussein had a habit of “wrapping himself” in Islam much as Bush and co have a habit of “wrapping themselves in the flag” but was in practice a primarily secular dictator who repressed Islamic extremism under his regime because he considered it a threat to his power.

  • Archi Medez

    Alex,

    I agree with your comments about Saddam. He was secular in many respects, but he was also a Sunni Muslim (though by no means devout). As Philip notes, the Baathists are secular, but I will add that they are more than just secular. They combine secular and Arabic-Islamic aspects, which is not unusual in the ME. (I wouldn’t say they are secularist, which would imply that they promote secularism per se).

    Saddam repressed Shia extremism, but in some cases he fostered, and even funded, Sunni extremism.

    Saddam (an Arab) has fancied himself after Saladin, the (Kurdish) Muslim war hero who defeated the Crusaders, as well as Stalin. Reportedly, he’s been reading a lot of Qur’an since he’s been in custody.

  • SpeirM

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that tyrants have used religion as a tool in times past. But why is it such an effective one? Even if it can be shown that atrocities have sometimes been committed because a religion has been misapplied rather than because of what the more benign versions of that religion teach, the religious mindset is still a problem. That’s because it makes claims on absolute truth and worse, absolute knowledge. Christianity and Islam are revelatory religions. Their wisdom supposedly comes from above. Consequently, their teachings don’t have to be run through the sieve of reason. Indeed, such considerations are often discouraged. Even when they aren’t, the revelation itself is to be taken as the foundation upon which the empirical structure is to be built. That much, at least, cannot be called into question–at least not in any way that might allow for the real possibility that it could be fundamentally wrong.

  • Padishah

    Behaviourally and ideologically, the Muslim countries in the ME (i.e., all except Israel) are theocracies. All Muslim-majority countries are de facto theocracies

    Many perhaps, but by no means all. Syria and Pakistan are secular dictatorships, and Turkey has state secularity rigorously enforced by the military. That these countries recognise sharia as superceding human rights indicates little as human rights don’t matter to these government anyway. Lebanon is hardly a proper theocracy either, I believe homosexuality is legal there. One must be careful to distinguish between a true Theocracy, in which power lies with the clerics, and a dictatorship where the government (normally the army) merely does whatever is convenient. They differ quite significantly in outlook and behaviour, look at Saudi Arabia and Iran for instance.

  • SpeirM

    “That these countries recognise sharia as superceding human rights indicates little as human rights don’t matter to these government anyway.”

    It indicates that sharia is more important to them than human rights, because they implement the one and ignore the other. And I do have to wonder just what role the religion has played in this inadequate concern for human rights. Is it just coincidence that the problem is particularly acute in Muslim countries?

  • Padishah

    The examples I have listed do not implement Sharia. The religion has played relatively little role – most middle eastern countries are military dictatorships, which generally care little for human rights be they in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia etc. Military dictatorships also tend to correspond fairly well to poor underdeveoloped countries with a huge disparity of wealth in the population…

  • Philip Thomas

    I am prepared to allow for the real possibility I might be fundamentally wrong, in religion as in all things. I imagine there are proponents of any given position who do not make such an allowance, including some atheists.

    Of course, I am aided in this matter by the fact that I have been fundamentally wrong in the past.

  • SpeirM

    “I am prepared to allow for the real possibility I might be fundamentally wrong, in religion as in all things.”

    Well, Philip, I don’t mean to be rude, but your defenses of Christianity here have left me unconvinced of that. Just because you snip away some of the more outlandish of its historical teachings means little. You’ve still got a death grip on the Resurrection, which is about as unbelievable as the parting of the Red Sea and the world being created in six days. And then when you’re asked why, you come back with things like, “It seems sensible to me.” All your other words boil down to just about that.

    No doubt it does seem sensible to you. But you’ve given no reason that leaves me doing anything but scratching my head. There’s nothing in all you’ve said that leads me away from the suspicion that, while you may believe because you find it sensible, you also find it sensible primarily because you believe.

    “I imagine there are proponents of any given position who do not make such an allowance, including some atheists.”

    Undoubtedly. And some hold to right conclusions after having arrived at them by other avenues than critical examination. I can show you any number of atheist websites that have such a vitriolic tone that I’m led to conclude they’re driven more by emotion than by reason. It’s obviously deeply and vitally and personally important to these people that religion be false. I really doubt some of them would believe if God came down and introduced himself. Still, in lieu of that kind of occurrence, we have to rely on what evidence there is. And the evidence for Christianity is just not compelling except to those for whom it is deeply and vitally and personally important that it be.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I continue to research the history of 1st century Palestine. If my research indicates the Resurrection didn’t happen, I will abandon my beleif in the Resurrection. Until then, you may mock my dogmatic inflexibility and circular logic…

  • SpeirM

    No, Philip, what you need to look for is convincing evidence that the Resurrection *did* happen. That a man rose from the dead is an outlandish proposition. It is not the default position. We don’t assume it happened until there’s overwhelming evidence that the general case–that is, that dead men stay dead–doesn’t hold.

    And I’m not mocking you. (It’s hard for me to understand how you read that into my words.) That’s the cheap way out. Like I said, offense isn’t my goal. On the other hand, there are times when frankness is called for.

  • Philip Thomas

    If I decided to investigate the issue of Global Warming more thoroughly, by reading into the various scientific papers and opinions, I would start from an assumption that there is Global Warming: because this is the general picture I have gathered. Someone else, who had gathered a different general picture, might start from the assumption that there isn’t any Global Warming. It is all a matteer of starting points.

    Sorry, perhaps ‘mock’ was harsh.

  • SpeirM

    “It is all a matteer of starting points.”

    But one can’t be arbitrary in selecting a starting point. Like I said, when men die they stay dead. The basic assumption is always that when people die they’re not going to get up again. In every context except one, even Christians think this way. Why that one exception? I find no good reason to make that exception.

    Yes, you’re entitled to start wherever you like, but the question is, why do you start where you do? I’ve given the reason I start where I do: I’ve never seen the dead come back to life. No one I know ever has. Consequently, I see a rule; and I find no reason to make exceptions to it. Indeed, I find it counter to both experience and reason to do so. It seems such a hard and fast rule that for me to make such an exception the evidence would have to be obliteratingly overwhelming. It would have to be convincing enough to completely overturn my experience and the experience of everyone I’ve known that the dead don’t rise and, indeed, that there’s no known mechanism for such an occurence.

    Where is that evidence, Philip?

  • Philip Thomas

    For nearly 2000 years, generation after generation of human beings has beleived that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Some of them were eyewitnesses. Many of them made every effort to check the veracity of the claim. They include my father, many of my friends, and a considerable scholarly community. Indeed this is the one clearly attested incident showing the dead do rise. And as I have difficulty believing everyone you’ve known was not a Christian, I find your statement a little sweeping.

  • andrea

    Thanks for the list, Philip. Well, to answer your question about the chain or reasoning that leads from “America belongs to God” to “America must be ruled by the Church”, “belonging” signifies, at least sometimes, that one owns something. Therefore, “America belongs to God” says “God owns America” which would also mean that God’s laws must rule America or what would the purpose be in “owning” it. And seeing that the people who are so very sure that God tells them what to do exactly, they wish to force those laws on everyone, see the current gay-marriage debate, solely based on narrow interpretations of religious “morality” laws.

    As for your reasons, I think that they are a little specious and intentionally naïve. 1. is very vague. Any religion could declare then that America was created by their particular deity. Again, what do you think would happen if anyone of any other religion than Christianity would say this? 2. If you believe that God sacrificed his Son, then don’t you also have to believe in all of his laws too? And aren’t you compelled to bring the “word” to everyone? Seeing that it’s often brought on the sword, and God evidently has no problem with this, it’s seems to be a valid method. 3. Israel is a democracy on paper. However, the most “orthodox” get benefits above and beyond the “average” Jew and way beyond the average Israeli of other descent. 4. Conquering in God’s/Jesus’ name? Not exactly a Christian thing to do and it’s more than evident that the writers of the Constitution didn’t think this valid, seeing that they did not simply write “for laws, see Bible”. 5. This is the same as 2. If you are to believe that God will judge, then you must believe that the laws must be followed and since Christians aren’t supposed to hang out with non-believers, they must declare a theocracy (defined as “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided”)

    If the dead do rise, and bunches supposedly did after the Cruxifiction, then why do we have no independent records?

    and on flag-burning, did the rest of you see the lovely “flag” cake that Bush got for his birthday? I suppose that mangleing a flag witha knif and eating isn’t disrespectful?

  • Padishah

    Israel is a democracy on paper. However, the most “orthodox” get benefits above and beyond the “average” Jew and way beyond the average Israeli of other descent.

    Could you elaborate a little on this please?

    Independant records: Tacitus, Synoptic Gospels, John, Epistles, Acts…unless you mean non-Christian, in which case obviously anyone who does witness the resurrection is likely to convert…

  • Philip Thomas

    1)I was taking God as meaning any deity which combined personal relevance to beleivers with the creation of the Universe: in this sence Allah or Yahweh would be relevant to. Since Muslims and Jews [i] do [/i] beleive that their God owns America because he made itr, I’d have to say that what would happen if a non-christian believed that their God owned America because they made it would be “not a lot”.

    2) The sacrifice means we should obey God’s laws. But here I would distinguish between what we should do and what the governemtn should force us to do by coercion.

    4)?? Conquering in God’s name does not lead to legal codes identical to the Bible, even where the God concerned is a Christian God. For example, the Crusader States of the Middle Ages did not have “for laws, see bible” in their law codes.

    5) See 2, as you said. In any case Christians are meant to hang out with non-believers. This is known as the missionary principle. There’s not much point in spreading the word to those who already know it.

    By the way, I now accept that the statue’s creators are aiming at a theocracy and I apologise for being so blockheaded about this earlier.

    he report of the dead (apart from Jesus) rising after the Crucifixion rests on a single verse in Matthew which probably shouldn’t be taken literally and is anyway likely spurious. The resurrection of Jesus occurs in all four Gospels and the letters of St.Paul. An independent source testifying to the resurrection of Jesus would be very interesting, because it would mean someone beleived in the resurrection and yet did not become a Christian.

  • SpeirM

    “For nearly 2000 years, generation after generation of human beings has beleived that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Some of them were eyewitnesses. Many of them made every effort to check the veracity of the claim. They include my father, many of my friends, and a considerable scholarly community.”

    So, basically, you believe it because other people have believed it? People have believed, and have been willing to die for all kinds of weird things, many of which you would find laughable.

    “Indeed this is the one clearly attested incident showing the dead do rise.”

    No, it doesn’t show anything of the kind. Again, the dead don’t rise. That’s the rule. Thousands-years-old documents don’t change the rule. You still have to demonstrate why they’re to be trusted, contrary to the rule. Similarly with those who have come before. Why did they believe it? What was their evidence? A long tradition means little in the way of evidence. There are other religions with longer traditions. Do you believe everything they teach?

    “And as I have difficulty believing everyone you’ve known was not a Christian, I find your statement a little sweeping.”

    The many Christians I’ve known believe in the Resurrection of Jesus as much as you do. My point was that they’ve never seen a resurrection either. The rule is the same for them as it is for me: the dead don’t rise. It just doesn’t happen. And yet, they make the same exception for Jesus as you do. Why the special pleading?

  • Philip Thomas

    No, the rule is the dead do rise. It does happen. Jesus is the primary case.

    I have a feeling we have hit the brick wall here.

  • SpeirM

    ‘If you are to believe that God will judge, then you must believe that the laws must be followed and since Christians aren’t supposed to hang out with non-believers, they must declare a theocracy (defined as “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided”)’

    Just a quibble, mut most of the Christians I’ve known haven’t been standoffish.

    But I agree with your point. (I’m talking about Evangelicals here, Philip.) I’ve frequently had Christians insist they’re not for theocracy. In fact, they get a little heated when the allegation is made. And yet, they want to enact laws that align with their religion. You don’t have to look very deep to find that they oppose abortion, for instance, because their religion opposes it. That’s why they want it outlawed. No matter how you slice it, that’s an attempt to impose religion on the populace at large by dictating to government.

    It’s a little like Pope Gelasius’ dictinction between “auctoritas” and “potestas.” It made a show of separating church and state while putting church in the superior position. The Church was “auctoritas.” It would be the arbiter of right and wrong. It would then be incumbent on the emperor (“potestas”) to enforce this morality. (It rarely worked out quite that way. During the Middle Ages the state used the church as much as the church did the state.)

  • SpeirM

    “No, the rule is the dead do rise. It does happen. Jesus is the primary case.

    I have a feeling we have hit the brick wall here.”

    Or a brick something. But, let’s let it go. Once again I’ve managed to drag you off-topic.

  • Philip Thomas

    I want laws to be made about abortion because it involves the killing of human beings, which is something I think the law has to deal with.

    I do not want laws to be made about sexual relations between consenting adults, because that is something I think the law should not deal with.

    Of course, my religion intimately shapes my worldview, but I do not think everything the Catholic Church says is a sin should be illegal.

    Of course, I am not an Evangelical, so my example is not very helpful.

  • andrea

    We indeed may have reached a brick wall here, but… You, and many other theists seem to be willing to ignore parts of the Bible and other holy books when they are inconvenient. Why is this verse not to be taken literally or believed at all? There is only one mention of rendering to Caesar so is that also to be ignored when convenient, or maybe since there is only one mention of “loving thy neighbor” that should be ignored or not taken “literally”? This seems a slippery slope, no matter how much one wants to claim with “context” and historical contemporaries. And it certainly would be interesting to find a independent source that reported any of the miracles in the Bible. However, that’s never happened.

    And speir, most Chrsitians I know aren’t stand-offish either but the Bible does tell them to be so, the whole yoked oxen thing.

  • SpeirM

    “I want laws to be made about abortion because it involves the killing of human beings, which is something I think the law has to deal with.”

    I respect that opinion. And, conversely, it could also be suggested that people’s sense of right and wrong sometimes dictates to their religion, too, instead of the other way around. (In fact, I suspect that the moral systems in religion usually arise that way. It’s just that they then manifest themselves through religion. The religion perpetuates old mores, even after those outside have outgrown them. Slavery and polygamy are the stereotypical examples…. But I’m losing the topic again.)

  • Philip Thomas

    Andrea, I judge parts of the bible not to have literal interpretations. That this is true of at least some of the bible only the most fundamentalist Christians would deny.

    In this case, if the dead had risen from many tombs around Jerusalem and flocked into the city, it would probably have been remembered enough to form part of the other Gospel narratives, not to mention other sources. Since it doesn’t, it follows that it probably didn’t happen.

    Love your neighbour is attested in the Old Testament and in all four Gospels (I think). In any case, even that isn’t entirely literal (it doesn’t just mean you should love the bloke next door!).

    There is a continuum between affirming the entire bible to be literally true through saying there is truth to be found in all of it, through saying that a great deal of it is basically myth, right the way to saying that no statement or collection of truth in the Bible contains any truth whatsoever. One could describe this as a slippery slope- but freethinkers should not be frightened of those.

  • SpeirM

    “And speir, most Chrsitians I know aren’t stand-offish either but the Bible does tell them to be so, the whole yoked oxen thing.”

    That verse (II Corinth. 6:14) is often used in preaching again business associations and marriage with unbelievers. However, it could easily be used to justify what you’re talking about, especially in light of the fact that verse 17 references Isaiah 52:11, which could even more easily be taken that way.

    It occurs to me that Paul says this in Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

    So, while he says to do good to all men, he does seem to be preferring Christians.

    (What is this, anyway? A couple of atheists debating Christian theology? Sheesh!)

  • Archi Medez

    Padishah | July 6, 2006, 8:50 pm

    As I said, and you even quoted me, they are “behaviourally and ideologically” Islamic theocracies. I am aware of the distinction you are making, which is why I clearly stated “behaviourally and ideologically”. Also, there is probably no such thing as a pure theocracy. All of the countries you listed implement some form of sharia; it is mixed in with so-called secular laws.

    You state: “The examples I have listed do not implement Sharia”

    Actually, they (Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey) all do, ideologically and behaviourally at minimum, and that’s all I was saying. I didn’t say these were officially 100% sharia theocracies. But of those which you list, Turkey is the least, and Pakistan the most, rigorous in its implementation of sharia. (No country implements full sharia, though Saudi Arabia comes close). Those societies all implement partial sharia, officially and unofficially.

    The idea that sharia is not secular is a misconception, based on the assumption that ‘sharia’ and ‘secular’ are mutually exclusive categories. (This assumption, combined with the fact that the reality involves a mixture and overlap between them, leads to endless problems in comunication). Much of sharia is secular. Also, within Muslim cultures, “secular” means something quite different than what non-Muslim westerners consider secular.

    You state: “That these countries recognise sharia as superceding human rights indicates little as human rights don’t matter to these government anyway.”

    Actually, it indicates quite a lot. These are Muslim-dominated cultures whose core is the Koran. They do not permit freedom of expression (viz Islam—and that’s a key test) and do not protect freedom of conscience (viz Islam—and that’s another key test). Where do you think the (over millenium-old) lack of respect for human rights comes from? And why do they choose the Cairo Declaration over the Universal Declaration? (Note that the Cairo Declaration specifically supercedes the Universal Declaration).

  • SpeirM

    I don’t pretend to know the subject like Archi and Padishah seem to, so I can hardly come out as an expert. But I can say something that might contribute. I lived in Turkey for a little over a year. Being an American in military service, I was allowed freedoms most Turks didn’t have. I could see well enough that they lived under much stricter laws than we do. That’s probably not germane.

    What might be was a nasty tendency of Turkish police in some quarters to arrest Christians, even though the Turkish Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. When that happened, a lawyer would point out that inconvenient fact and the Christian would be released. From what I heard, this could happen over and over again. Now, maybe the harassment was just because these police didn’t like religion in general. I don’t think that would be the way to bet. (I never heard of them arresting Muslims for their beliefs.) It seemed evident enough to me that Islam, officially or unofficially, intends to keep its stranglehold on the people there.

  • Archi Medez

    SpeirM,

    I’m no expert, but what you say about Turkey is consistent with what I’ve read.

    We need to take into account how a culture actually implements its standards, on the ground. In Pakistan, people who are charged with blasphemy are not infrequently killed by Muslims who take the law into their own hands or else respond to the orders of a cleric. Also, even though some countries’ governments don’t officially recognize clerical rule, Muslims living in those countries often still follow clerical rule.

  • Archi Medez

    …I should add that the official penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan differs depending on which type of blasphemy occurred. If it involved insulting *Mohammad, the penalty is death. Other forms of blasphemy receive prison sentences anywhere from a few years to life imprisonment. (As far as many of the fire-brand clerics and vigilantes are concerned, any form of blasphemy warrants the death penalty).

  • Padishah

    SperiM, police harassment is very commonplace where police are undisciplined, and happens even in the developed world. When people are in positions of power inevitably some will exert their prejudices.

    Archi: Its true that Sharia is implemented in Pakistan by local tribal leaders and clerics, but the national government is secular – indeed when the national government/military becomes aware of a case they have been known to overturn tribal interferences. Rather as the US is secular yet various states have passed laws prejudicial to homosexuals (differing ages of consent, sodomy laws etc).

    They do not permit freedom of expression (viz Islam—and that’s a key test) and do not protect freedom of conscience (viz Islam—and that’s another key test). Where do you think the (over millenium-old) lack of respect for human rights comes from?

    China doesn’t give a damn about human rights either. Nor do most countries in Africa. Nor military dictatorships anywhere else in genera (there is little Islam in South America for instance, though most of those have been overthrown now). I cannot think of any military dictatorship in recent times which allowed freedom of conscience or expression. Respect for human rights as a general rule is limited to certain highly developed westernised democracies – the USA, EU, Commonwealth and (for the past 50 years) Japan. South Korea and Singapore are very advanced, rich, educated and secular but they don’t care about human rights – they are more just developed versions of China. There are plenty of non-fundamentalist muslims around the west, in the US for instance. Islam is not the problem here.

  • Padishah

    PS: yes I know you said they are theocracies ‘behvaiourally and ideologically’ – the gulf states and Afghanistan maybe, but not Pakistan or the ones closer to Europe by any means.

  • Philip Thomas

    The Turkey thing interests me from another angle. Here in Europe Turkey has been hovering in the wings for EU admission for a while. Things like that don’t help its case. Broadly speaking, I’m in favour of Turkish admission, provided it meets the appropriate democratic and human rights criteria. It sends a message of inclusion to the Islamic world. And I sometimes think those who oppose it are more against Islam than against human rights abuses. Still its a complex issue…

  • Padishah

    There is a potentially serious problem with Turkeys admission (beyond poverty, and the fact that it would drain massive quantities of wealth): Turkey is only a secular state because whenever the population elects an overtly religious leader the military removes him. How would it look if they had another coup once they joined the EU?

  • Philip Thomas

    The appropriate democratic criteria would of course include not being susceptible to military coups. I suppose if one actually happened they would be expelled. It would look pretty bad.

    Still, there might not be a coup. The Islamists would not want to get expelled from the EU and definitely trigger a coup, so they might not abolish democracy.

    Ireland was poor. Eastern Europe was poor. The population of Turkey is young and educated and will be a much needed boost for our economy in the long term.

  • Padishah

    Then you have the problem of persuading the army, which sees itself as the guardian of Attaturk’s secular legacy, to allow an elected Islamic government. And even after which…you now have the problem of Islam heavily influencing state policy. Apart from the unfortunate domestic consequences, this would likely draw Turkey to the Middle-Eastern bloc to the south, and away from the European bloc. Arguably the only reason we are on such good terms is the military safeguard.

    Turkey is also a lot bigger and much poorer than Eastern Europe. It may well be fixable though.

  • SpeirM

    “SperiM, police harassment is very commonplace where police are undisciplined, and happens even in the developed world. When people are in positions of power inevitably some will exert their prejudices.”

    Well, sure. Like I said, “officially or unofficially.” That’s why it’s necessary not only for a government to have a policy of neutrality in religious matters, it must also have positive safeguards to ensure it functions so.

  • Philip Thomas

    I don’t think the army would hold a coup just because the government is Islamic, despite their past record. So long as the Islamists didn’t leave the EU, the reorientation is not much of a problem.

    On the “Theocracy Watch” topic- ebon and the Turkish army are both watching for signs of religous interference in politics. Would ebon feel better if the US army could be relied upon to violently overthrow any overtly Christian US government?

  • Archi Medez

    China doesn’t give a damn about human rights either. Nor do most countries in Africa. Nor military dictatorships anywhere else in genera (there is little Islam in South America for instance

    Islam too was founded as a military dictatorship. It wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without being a military organization. It would have remained just another one of the 360+ tribal religions in Arabia had it not conquered them all. All that is added to this military dictatorship is a bit of superstition, but basically mainstream Islam, and certainly Islam founded by Mohammad and his companions, was a military dictatorship (or organized criminal group, whichever term you prefer—the important point being rule by force/threat). Abul Kasem has described how Islam was founded upon terrorism, plunder, and slave trade.

    Just because there are non-Islamic dictatorships doesn’t mean that the dictatorships in Muslim-majority countries do not have an Islamic basis and origin. These are Islamic societies.

    Sharia is implemented in Pakistan by local tribal leaders and clerics, but the national government is secular

    No, the penalties for blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, etc., are all officially on the books in Pakistan. Yes, the tribal clerics also implement a form of partial sharia (mixed with tribal non-Islamic traditions), but so does the so-called secular government. Like I said, using terms like “secular” versus “theocratic” can be very confusing because, if we ignore the deity behind the curtain (or the person controlling the sock-puppet “Allah”), it is all just autocratic laws, rules, government, punishments, etc. designed to control people. The Mohammad personality cult aspect of Islam is similar in many respects to the “secular” Stalin and Mao.

  • Archi Medez

    I should add that Pakistan is one of the worst offenders with regard to persecution of religious minorities. The Christians and Hindus, as well as the Ahmadis (an unorthodox Muslim sect) there, are persecuted by Muslim fundamentalists.

    There are plenty of non-fundamentalist muslims around the west, in the US for instance. Islam is not the problem here.

    -Padishah

    Re: In the west…of course there are moderates (I would guess about 60%). But the moderates don’t run the show. The traditionalist hard-liners run the show; these are the heads of the Islamic schools, Islamic organizations, and the clerics. About 35% of Canadian Muslims and about 40% of British Muslims want some form of sharia to be implemented in those respective countries. 58% of British Muslims wanted the Danish Mohammad cartoonists to be criminally prosecuted and punished.

    What we need are polls that ask a variety of key questions regarding support for various aspects of sharia (punishment of apostates, blasphemers, adulterers, homosexuals; views on honor killing, etc). This will give us a reasonable estimate of how many moderates there are.

  • andrea

    thanks for the answers Philip. As for the “slippery slope”, I wasn’t thinking of freethinkers so much as with Christians. There have been full schisms because of this inablity to decide what is “true” in the Bible. For a deity that is supposedly all truth and all love, your God certainly allows for a lot of misery by allowing this confusion. Not that it doesn’t happen in all religions:)

  • SpeirM

    This thread’s getting a little long in the tooth, but I just saw this item in the Washington Post:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/18/AR2006071801336_pf.html


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