Little-Known Bible Verses: Let God Plead His Own Cause

It’s indisputable that Christianity is the dominant religion in America, and there are those who’d like to keep it that way. Right-wing legal groups like the Liberty Counsel and the Thomas More Law Center exist solely to maintain Christian superiority, arguing in court that Christian believers should be afforded more rights and privileges than everyone else. But the Bible itself ridicules this effort as unnecessary, as we can see from a little-known Bible verse. (HT: Better than Esdras, a fascinating little blog that first made me aware of this passage.)

In the Old Testament book of Judges, the Israelites repeatedly go astray and wind up defeated and enslaved by their enemies, until they cry out to God and he raises up a hero to deliver them. Judges chapter 6 repeats this pattern with Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon is visited by an angel who instructs him to destroy his father’s altar to the pagan Canaanite god Baal. He does it secretly, by night, but gets found out anyway:

When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down… And after they had made search and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” (6:28-31)

Rare for the Bible, this passage makes a persuasive and well-reasoned argument. If Baal is a god, especially the kind of actively involved god who’s performing miracles and answering the prayers of his followers, he should be able to defend his own interests. He shouldn’t need humans to serve as his agents, enforcing what they believe to be his will and punishing people who go against his decrees. And if Baal never intervenes directly and it’s only his believers who are ever seen to act on his behalf, wouldn’t we be justified in concluding that Baal probably doesn’t exist?

As I said, a good argument. But doesn’t it apply every bit as well to Yahweh? Why do right-wing Christians rise up in outrage when church-state defenders force Christian crosses or Ten Commandments monuments to be removed from public land, why do they react with fury when store greeters say “Happy Holidays” or museums display blasphemous artworks? If God is real, and if he cares about these things, surely he’ll contend for himself.

Why does the religious right feel they need to act as God’s agents in the world, forcing everyone to live by what they assume the divine law to be? It seemingly betrays more than a hint of insecurity. Atheists and other non-Christians routinely get threats of hellfire from Christian proselytizers, who promise that God will judge them as they deserve in the next life. But if they really believe that, why are they so concerned with reinforcing social penalties for religious dissent in this one?

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.

  • Fargus

    I was just having this talk with some friends yesterday, as a matter of fact. While I understand on a theoretical level the drive to “save” people and bring them to the belief that you think “saved” you, I don’t at all understand why they feel the need to demand legislation and social conformity with what they purport to be God’s wishes. God gave people free will, right?

    It gets all the more murky when combined with the hoary old tropes that God’s plan is indecipherable to us mere mortals, and that God’s mind is unknowable. If God’s mind is unknowable, and His plan is infinitely complex, how can those who say they’re defending His wishes really know that they’re His wishes? How can they know that God has wishes in the sense that humans do, if God’s mind is so unknowable?

  • L.Long

    Fargus beat me to it. This is one of my main arguments against these types of people.
    But they do have a counter argument in that the buyBull and the islamic schite pile both say to kill the unbeliever, so they ignore the statements above, assuming they were bright enough to have read them, because the newer well stated sections say – kill! which is more fun for many.
    And the ‘kill unbelievers’ is simple straight forward and does not require knowing g0ds will, or thinking about what ‘contends’ means.

  • http://personman.com Danny

    The Bible makes another argument against the existence of Baal in 1 Kings 18:

    26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

    Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

    27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

    There are some good lines there for quoting to Christians about the existence of Yahweh.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    I had pretty much the same thought as you did. “Let Baal contend for himself” is a variation on “What does God need with a starship?”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.

    This is essentially my view on blasphemy laws. I think the laws themselves are harmless, given the condition that they should allow no third party filings. Any god who feels he has been blasphemed is welcome to show up in person to file charges and give testimony.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    As the quote says ” Blasphemy is a victimless crime”

  • Michael

    Reginald’s answer suits me fine…It would be a good test. After all, if blasphemy is defamation or an intentional infliction of emotional distress (on God, not sundry followers) how do they have standing to sue?

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    So far, the believers haven’t shown up here to defend themselves, but here’s what I think they might say…

    We know we’re right, because we read the Bible, and, unlike the 38,000 other Christian sects, we know exactly what God demands. We don’t want to see the rest of you burn in hellfire for eternity, so we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that, by trying to impose our standards of conduct on the rest of you.

    Kind of like how there are laws the require the use of seatbelts, or laws that discourage smoking — Those Who Know Better imposing their rules of conduct on everyone (which I agree with, in those cases).

    The problem for us hellbound freethinkers, of course, is that we think the religious are, at best, ignorant and deluded fools, and we are quite certain that their rules of conduct aren’t going to be of any benefit to us (or to them, for that matter).

    It is also terribly convenient for the Christians that the more success they have in imposing their Bible-based rules of conduct on the rest of us, the more they can consolidate their earthly power in the legislatures, courts, and commerce.

  • Fargus

    Peter: I’d disagree with you a bit on seatbelt laws and smoking laws. Re: seatbelts, it’s not hard to see a chain of thinking that says in order for driving to be safe, people need to be insured in case they cause harm to another; in order for insurance to be affordable, we need to minimize the potential medical liability in an accident by imposing safety requirements. Re: smoking, the problem is more people who don’t choose to smoke being affected by smoking. I know you say you agree with these restrictions, but I just wanted to point out that they don’t map one-to-one onto situations like this.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    To this one:

    “Why do right-wing Christians rise up in outrage when church-state defenders force Christian crosses or Ten Commandments monuments to be removed from public land, why do they react with fury when store greeters say “Happy Holidays” or museums display blasphemous artworks? If God is real, and if he cares about these things, surely he’ll contend for himself.”

    I think a lot of Christians — not just right-wingers — get angry more because it seems like an attack on them than on God. Some of them geuninely can’t see why those religious symbols are a problem for atheists or other religions, and some of them see the issue but then question why the solution to that is to push them out entirely. If you feel excluded by them being there — even if they were there historically — why then is the solution to exclude them in favour of your “secular” view? Why does secular have to mean “get religion out of everything”?

    As for laws, many of them advocate for them because they think that that really is the right thing to do. They aren’t directly imposing God but are imposing their morality, which they get from God. And as Sarah’s recent post demonstrates, we all try to impose our morality through laws, rightly or wrongly.

    So, in a lot of cases, it isn’t defending God directly at all. In some cases, it may well be, but in a lot of cases it isn’t.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “HT: Better than Esdras, ”

    So, it’s “Good”, then? Is it like “Porcelain”?

    (Obscure joke, there. I wonder if anyone will get it).

  • Fargus

    But it’s explicitly not an attack on them, or at least not on their religion (insofar as it’s an attack on them, it’s only for having the temerity to raise their religion up above everything else in the public square). It’s simply removing the special place that many Christians feel they deserve.

    Why can’t people like you see that removing the Ten Commandments from the public square does not equal endorsement of some amorphous “secular” view, and not just non-endorsement of all religious views? The victim schtick got old a long time ago.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Verbose Stoic #10: Why does secular have to mean “get religion out of everything”?

    It doesn’t and it never has. It means “get religion off government funding and off government property.”

  • Leum

    Verbose Stoic #10: Why does secular have to mean “get religion out of everything”?

    It doesn’t and it never has. It means “get religion off government funding and off government property.”

    To continue Reginald’s comment, it doesn’t even mean getting rid of religious symbols on government property. The courts have long accepted that the alternative to getting rid of all religious symbols is radical inclusion of every religion in the community. You can display your nativity scene, but only if you’re willing to put up a menorah, for example.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    I noticed this same thing when I was going through the Book of Judges a while back. In addition to the contradictions between religious stories and science, questionable content in holy books, and so on, one of the more obvious source of doubt about religion (for me) is that criticisms members of one religion use against other religions often apply just as much to their own religion. Plus, the arguments used in favor of one religion are so vague that they can also be used by members of all religions.

    @Verbose Stoic (comment #10): Related to what Reginald Selkirk and Leum wrote, in order to have equal rights, everyone has to be able to express their beliefs, put up signs, etc. instead of only members of one group. There are people who get upset that others are putting up signs on Christmas, even though Christians put up signs during other people’s religious holidays.

  • Jeff

    @Fargus: If God’s mind is unknowable, and His plan is infinitely complex, how can those who say they’re defending His wishes really know that they’re His wishes?

    Because, coincidentally, God always wants the same things they do.

  • MS Quixote

    So far, the believers haven’t shown up here to defend themselves

    This one agrees with the post. As long as we’re piling on with verses, though, here’s another from Acts 5:

    Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Why does the religious right feel they need to act as God’s agents in the world, forcing everyone to live by what they assume the divine law to be? It seemingly betrays more than a hint of insecurity.

    The same applies to militant Muslims who kill people for blasphemy or for supporting the repeal of blasphemy laws, like the Pakistani governor who was recently murdered by one of his own bodyguards. Surely, if Allah was really angry, he could just have made the governor spontaneously combust as a sign of his wrath and his displeasure with blasphemy.

  • gamba

    “Why does the religious right feel they need to act as God’s agents in the world, forcing everyone to live by what they assume the divine Law to be? It seemingly betrays more than a hint of insecurity.”

    Well, TommyKey.
    I had a similar thought. My sister promised to pay for an examination i’am going to write this June. During this new year festival i had a debate with her husband (a Deacon in the church) and i was quoting the bible against his points in the presence of muslim visitors. He felt embarrassed. Last week i recieved this text message from my sister:
    “….i cant pay for the exams cos my money is GOD given….aint a natural helper but in obedience to GOD”

    But it’s cool cos i have my own savings.

  • Eurekus

    It’s obvious in their vehemency as being God’s ‘agents’, they’re showing a lack of faith. That same lack of faith is showing our reason is getting to them. Eventually, through this reason, their faith will be devastated.
    I guess we need to continually plug away at the ludicrosity of faith in general. Another good post to achieve this Ebon, well done.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    I think everyone has read in what I actually believe from what I said, despite my referring it to being about other people and, in fact, positing two actually contradictory beliefs [grin].

    As I said, some people genuinely don’t see why those religious symbols being there is in any way a problem. To them, it simply looks like you’retrying to remove religious symbols because they’re religious, which is in fact what you’re actually doing. You’re just doing it in service to another principle that they don’t get. Thus, they see it as an attack on them, and defend themselves. Not God, themselves.

    Others get the point. But then they look at some of the cases and wonder “Well, if having, say, an opening prayer or a religious symbol excludes atheists, does the goal of taking out all religious symbols out exclude us? They claim to be secular, and we don’t. And so we have to follow all the secular ideology and only keep nice, secular symbols, because they don’t want to get rid of all symbols, just religious ones. Hmmmm. So should we feel excluded now?” Most cases won’t be of these, but if, say, you replaced the Ten Commandments with a statement from a non-religious philosopher or took down a religious symbol that had been adopted for a different purpose than religion just because it started religious (that cross thing discussed here) or if you take down something that was part of the history of a place because it was religious and on public property I think people could rightly be concerned.

    So, again, it comes down to them defending themselves, not God.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    You mean them defending their special and undeserved place in society that is elevated above others who don’t believe as they do?

  • http://www.orderingdisorder.com Dan

    Your post title is misleading; you titled it “Let God Plead His Own Cause”, but that is not what the verse says. Joash was questioning Baal’s existence, and the only way to get that disproved would be for Baal to disprove it himself, as Joash stated: “if he is a god, let him contend for himself.”

    All this means is that arguments regarding God’s existence are pointless. The only way for such arguments to be resolved would be for God to answer the question himself.

    I agree that many Christians are excessively enraged by various events like a statue of the Ten Commandments getting taken down, and that if it were particularly important to God, he’d do something about it. However, it’s not particularly fair for non-Christians to insist that these sorts of monuments be taken down in the name of equality. It’s not equality, it’s simply reversing the imbalance.

    Furthermore, this verse does not say, “if he is a god, let him plead his own cause.” This verse has no bearing on whether Christians should attempt to bring their religion to others. (To be clear, I do not believe that should be done forcefully, nor under threat of hellfire and damnation.)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    However, it’s not particularly fair for non-Christians to insist that these sorts of monuments be taken down in the name of equality. It’s not equality, it’s simply reversing the imbalance.

    False dichotomy. In a secular society the tension is not between the adherents of any one faith vs atheists, it is about the promotion of one faith over the myriad of possible others in society as well as the non religious. Removing monuments levels the field in the only practicable way that is fair to all.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Joash was questioning Baal’s existence, and the only way to get that disproved would be for Baal to disprove it himself, as Joash stated: “if he is a god, let him contend for himself.”

    Ah, no. He was taunting them, saying that if Baal is real then he should be able to do something about what has happened.

    All this means is that arguments regarding God’s existence are pointless.

    Ah no. He was using it as a bludgeon against the gathering crowd. “Let Baal come down here and do something about it,” is basically what he was saying there.

    However, it’s not particularly fair for non-Christians to insist that these sorts of monuments be taken down in the name of equality. It’s not equality, it’s simply reversing the imbalance.

    Ah no. It’s not reversing the balance, unless by that you mean that it’s reversing the unfairly elevated position that Xians have and bringing them back down to equal footing with everyone else.

    Furthermore, this verse does not say, “if he is a god, let him plead his own cause.” This verse has no bearing on whether Christians should attempt to bring their religion to others.

    Didn’t you just get done telling us that you think this verse means that arguments for god’s existence are pointless? Now, you’re claiming that Xians should engage in pointless arguments?

  • fester60613

    I too often wonder why a purportedly almighty “god” seems to be so frail. It/he seems to be offended by almost anything not promulgated by its/his self-appointed guardians of truth and morality. What reasonable individual would worship such a pitifully impotent being? I’ve been blaspheming for 35 years or so and no bolt of lightning has struck me down, no church I’ve entered has fallen and crushed my damned and tortured self into pulp. Seriously – what a pathetic excuse for an almighty being.

  • http://www.orderingdisorder.com Dan

    Ah, no. He was taunting them, saying that if Baal is real then he should be able to do something about what has happened.

    Eh… That’s what I said. Joash was telling Baal’s followers, “if your god exists, let him come down and defend himself.” The implication was clear: Joash did not believe Baal existed. In other words, he was questioning Baal’s existence, the same way you here are questioning God’s existence. He knew that the only way Baal’s existence could be proven was for Baal to show up himself, and he knew that Baal did not exist.

    I simply drew the logical conclusion: the only way the question of God’s existence can be unquestionably resolved would be for God himself to show up. Thus, all arguments regarding God’s existence are pointless.

    I’m not really sure why you’re disagreeing with me. Do you think there’s some other way to settle the argument regarding God’s existence?

    False dichotomy. In a secular society the tension is not between the adherents of any one faith vs atheists, it is about the promotion of one faith over the myriad of possible others in society as well as the non religious. Removing monuments levels the field in the only practicable way that is fair to all.

    I don’t think you really got my point. It is not fair to remove monuments merely because they happen to be Christian monuments; to do so is to pretend this country does not have a Christian heritage. To do so is monumentally unfair (no pun intended).

    It is childish to insist that we pretend this country has no religious background in the name of “fairness”.

    There is room in this country for beliefs of all sorts. I would not object to monuments from any religion, or non-religion, being erected at government buildings around the country.

    At any rate, it’s not a false dichotomy, regardless of the implications of the monument. There really *are* only two choices: either the monument stays, or it is taken down. I was merely pointing out that taking it down is no more fair than leaving it up.

    I’ve been blaspheming for 35 years or so and no bolt of lightning has struck me down, no church I’ve entered has fallen and crushed my damned and tortured self into pulp.

    I’m not sure why you would expect those things to happen. The scriptures don’t indicate that.

    Didn’t you just get done telling us that you think this verse means that arguments for god’s existence are pointless? Now, you’re claiming that Xians should engage in pointless arguments?

    I didn’t say anything about Christians engaging in pointless arguments. I do not believe Christian conversion efforts should consist of arguing with an atheist until he changes his mind. That sort of thing is unproductive.

  • Fargus

    Dan,

    Sure, there’s a Christian heritage for a lot of the country. For a lot of the country there’s not. The thing about the monuments to Christianity on public property, though, is that it constitutes an implicit state endorsement of Christianity, and that’s the objectionable part. If some dude wants to put up a monument to the Ten Commandments on his own lawn, fine. If he wants to put it up on the courthouse lawn, we’re gonna have to have words.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I’m not really sure why you’re disagreeing with me.

    Maybe you weren’t making the point that I thought you were. Would you agree that this line of reasoning can be turned around on the Xian as Ebon has pointed out?

    I don’t think you really got my point. It is not fair to remove monuments merely because they happen to be Christian monuments; to do so is to pretend this country does not have a Christian heritage. To do so is monumentally unfair (no pun intended).

    No, it’s not unfair. It is unfair to have the monument up in the first place as it unequally privileges the Xian over all others in a secular state where everyone is supposed to be equal in the eyes of government and the law. Removing Xian monuments from public spaces is correcting an inequality and making all equal before government and the law.

    I would not object to monuments from any religion, or non-religion, being erected at government buildings around the country.

    I do object, and for a very good reason. Someone will invariably be left out and be left with second-class citizen status. The only fair thing is for government to be out of the display of religious icons business altogether.

    I didn’t say anything about Christians engaging in pointless arguments.

    But, you do feel they are pointless as per your own words, do you not?

  • http://www.orderingdisorder.com Dan

    Would you agree that this line of reasoning can be turned around on the Xian as Ebon has pointed out?

    Certainly. I fully agree that the only way the question “Does God exist?” could be settled in an objective fashion would be for God to show up in person. I do not believe arguments about the existence of God are productive in any way, and as such I do not participate in them except to point out that they are pointless.

    But, you do feel they are pointless as per your own words, do you not?

    Pointless arguments are pointless, obviously. But asking people if I can share a message with them, and continuing to teach them if they show they are interested, is hardly pointless. You might think it’s *worthless*, but it’s not pointless. Engaging in pointless arguments is entirely different from sharing the gospel with willing people.

    Someone will invariably be left out and be left with second-class citizen status.

    Well, I guess you atheists are more easily offended than me. I do not see how a statue of the Ten Commandments makes anyone a second-class citizen. The thing is, *somebody* is going to be offended, no matter what happens; some would consider taking down the statue as a statement saying “atheism is the only fair viewpoint”. I am unaware of any provision of the Constitution which mandates such a viewpoint, and it is arrogant of atheists to force the government to take that viewpoint.

    In reality, a statue has absolutely zero effect on how the law is enforced, regardless of whether it is a statue of Moses or Muhammad or Abraham Lincoln or a tortoise; all laws apply equally to all citizens, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I do not agree that a statue inherently implies an endorsement. Most of the time, a statue is just a statue.

    You claim the statue “unfairly privileges” Christians, but can you provide a single example of how the statue has affected even a single judgement for or against anyone? What demonstrable privilege does it confer on Christians, or what demonstrable harm does it do to atheists? Unless you can show some real evidence, I have no choice but to conclude that you have no real reason other than anti-Christian (or anti-religious) prejudice to want the statue taken down.

    In reality, nobody sees a statue of the Ten Commandments and decides that because the statue is there they must give preferential treatment to people who believe the story behind the statue. If any such prejudice exists in a person, they had that prejudice long before they ever saw the statue, and taking down the statue will not change that.

    You may as well complain that a jury could not objectively make decisions about you unless it is made up of all atheists, or that a judge could not be impartial unless he is atheist, because (you might say) only an atheist would treat another atheist fairly… But down that road be dragons.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    In reality, nobody sees a statue of the Ten Commandments and decides that because the statue is there they must give preferential treatment to people who believe the story behind the statue.

    I think this is probably true, but beside the point. I’m not American so I’m commenting as an outsider but it appears to me that if your constitution prevents the establishment of one religion over another then religious symbols on government property undermines that and should be avoided.
    As an aside the British do not have a written constitution and we do have an established religion, Anglicanism, which is represented by the “Lords Spiritual” in the House of Lords. Despite that, or maybe because of that our political discourse is much less religious than the constitutionally secular U.S

  • Hazuki

    The entire public symbols thing is idiotic. Yes, men are idolators at heart, but isn’t the entire point of Christianity that Jesus’s example is in your heart? Funny too how the school prayer crowd forgets the verse where Jesus Himself tells people not to pray in public, too. Sometimes I think there are no worse Christians than Christians.

    Or is it the perceived “persecution” they’re getting off on? Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake? Brownie points for a ticket into heaven? Ugh. I can’t believe I ever brought into this crap.

  • http://www.orderingdisorder.com Dan

    Steve, the Consitution only prohibits an official state religion. It does not prohibit a religious statue from being put up on government property. This is merely a squabble over whether people view a random statue as if it were an official declaration that THIS IS THE STATE RELIGION. Only people who have already lost touch with reality would see a single statue and immediately assume the government has named it as the official state religion.

    Given our first amendment rights – the freedom to exercise our religion (listed first!), and the freedom of speech – the government should not care one way or the other unless a religion interferes with the government’s responsibility to enforce the law and provide safety for its citizens. A statue impedes neither.

    Hazuki, building a statue isn’t idolatry unless you worship the statue itself. Nobody is doing that. As for Jesus supposedly telling people that they should not pray in public, well, you apparently haven’t read the whole chapter.

    One of the biggest problems many of the Jews had at that time was that they weren’t practicing their religion for the sake of being faithful, they were practicing their religion so that others could see them practicing it. Jesus taught that people who do that already have their reward (being seen by people), and that they should be obedient without the intention of others seeing them be obedient. Often this means doing things privately. Matthew 6 makes this abundantly clear.

    More importantly, Jesus did not say “never pray in public”; if that were his intent, then he would not have immediately turned around and prayed in public with them! Even more telling is the fact that the prayer he gives uses first person plural, not first person singular; if his intention were to tell people that they should only ever pray in their closets, he would have used first person singular (though, as I pointed out, if he meant “never in public” he wouldn’t have prayed with them in public himself).

    If it were important to never pray in public, Jesus would have made that clear to the men he had chosen to establish the church after his death and resurrection. Instead, we see the apostles repeatedly praying in public. See Acts 4:31, Acts 6:6, Acts 12:12, Acts 16:25, Acts 20:36, Acts 21:5 for examples.

    As for persecution, Christ did not say “blessed are those who think they are persecuted.” I’m quite sure God can tell the difference between a persecution complex (“I take offense and therefore you must be persecuting me”) and actual persecution (e.g. getting driven out of a city your religious group built from almost nothing, merely because the people in the neighboring town don’t like your religious beliefs).

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Well, I guess you atheists are more easily offended than me.

    It’s not about being offended, it’s about upholding the Constitution.

    I do not see how a statue of the Ten Commandments makes anyone a second-class citizen.

    Because it preferences people who believe a certain way over all other citizens.

    The thing is, *somebody* is going to be offended, no matter what happens; some would consider taking down the statue as a statement saying “atheism is the only fair viewpoint”.

    Which doesn’t make it so. What it’s saying is that secularism is the only fair viewpoint, and remember secularism is not the same as atheism.

    I am unaware of any provision of the Constitution which mandates such a viewpoint, and it is arrogant of atheists to force the government to take that viewpoint.

    Try article VI or the First Amendment.

    You claim the statue “unfairly privileges” Christians, but can you provide a single example of how the statue has affected even a single judgement for or against anyone?

    It unfairly privileges any group that gets such treatment from the government. The government is in effect saying that they value such thoughts and beliefs over all others. Take a look at First Amendment case law for examples. Check cases where the Lemon Test is used. Look up Roy Moore and some of his quotes and judgements. Having specific iconography from one religion displayed prominently in our courthouses and public spaces damages the right that all of us should have to believe or not believe as we wish.

    Steve, the Consitution only prohibits an official state religion. It does not prohibit a religious statue from being put up on government property.

    Actually, that’s incorrect as we can see from the Lemon Test and case law surrounding it.

    This is merely a squabble over whether people view a random statue as if it were an official declaration that THIS IS THE STATE RELIGION.

    Except it’s not really a “random statue” is it? C’mon, let’s not be disingenuous.

    Only people who have already lost touch with reality would see a single statue and immediately assume the government has named it as the official state religion.

    It shows a preference for one religion over all others or over none.

    Given our first amendment rights – the freedom to exercise our religion (listed first!), and the freedom of speech – the government should not care one way or the other unless a religion interferes with the government’s responsibility to enforce the law and provide safety for its citizens. A statue impedes neither.

    You’re painting this as a case of the government not being allowed to impose on the free speech of citizens, but it’s not the case here. In this case, the government is the one speaking, and it’s speaking by putting up specific religious iconography.

  • http://www.orderingdisorder.com Dan

    It’s not about being offended, it’s about upholding the Constitution.

    Upholding the constitution? Hah! I’ll simply quote my church leaders, because they said this better than I could:

    Those who oppose all references to God in our public life have set themselves the task of rooting out historical facts and ceremonial tributes and symbols so ingrained in our national consciousness that their elimination could only be interpreted as an official act of hostility toward religion. Our constitutional law forbids that.

    (Emphasis added.)

    What it’s saying is that secularism is the only fair viewpoint, and remember secularism is not the same as atheism.

    By definition, secularism “rejects all forms of religious faith and worship”, at least when it comes to social and political policy.

    By your logic, a religious person cannot fairly judge a non-religious person, which is absurd. In reality, the fact that a judge or jurist is Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or atheist, has no bearing on whether his or her judgments will be fair. It would be equally absurd to claim that an atheist cannot fairly judge a Christian.

    So, I am left with just one conclusion: clearly you think only 14% of the population of this country is capable of making fair judgements. (76% are Christian, the other 10% are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc., according to a 2008 Census Bureau survey.) Surely you don’t really seek to exclude 86% of the population from holding public office, do you?

    Try article VI or the First Amendment.

    Article VI is irrelevant to this discussion, unless you think the mere presence of a statue somehow constitutes a religious test for the purposes of qualification for public office. If that’s your contention, you’re going to have to show some evidence. A court decision is not evidence; courts have been known to make mistakes. You need to show that the presence of the statue would inevitably result in public officials being required to adhere to a particular religion.

    As for the first amendment, all the first amendment says is that the government cannot select an official state religion, it does not say that the government cannot say or do anything that directly references God. For example, printing “In God We Trust” on our currency does not violate the first amendment. If you think a single statue constitutes official endorsement of a particular religion, you’re going to have to show some evidence. A court decision is not evidence; courts have been known to make mistakes. You need to show that the presence of the statue would inevitably result in an official endorsement of a particular religion.

    It unfairly privileges any group that gets such treatment from the government.

    I’ll (again) ask for actual evidence that anyone has been treated differently in court as a direct result of a religiously-themed statue being placed in front of a courthouse.

    The Lemon Test applies to legislation concerning religion, it does not apply to statues or other art. I do not agree with the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, nor the decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in part because they incorrectly applied the Lemon Test to a non-legislative issue.

    Except it’s not really a “random statue” is it? C’mon, let’s not be disingenuous.

    I was speaking of statues in general, and choosing a random statue from that set. I fail to see how that’s disingenuous.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Dan,

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/03/30/atheists-discriminated-against-in-child-custody-cases.htm

    But yeah, we’re just being “easily offended”. Wanker.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Those who oppose all references to God in our public life have set themselves the task of rooting out historical facts and ceremonial tributes and symbols so ingrained in our national consciousness that their elimination could only be interpreted as an official act of hostility toward religion. Our constitutional law forbids that.

    No, it doesn’t. It’s a misreading of the Constitution to assert that their religious feelings are enshrined in it to be upheld over all others.

    By definition, secularism “rejects all forms of religious faith and worship”, at least when it comes to social and political policy.

    Well, kinda, yeah. What it means is that one should reject all forms of religious faith and worship in setting policies, governing, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    By your logic, a religious person cannot fairly judge a non-religious person, which is absurd.

    It would be absurd if anyone was actually saying that, but it’s a strawman.

    In reality, the fact that a judge or jurist is Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or atheist, has no bearing on whether his or her judgments will be fair.

    A) That’s not necessarily true as I’ve already pointed out. Some jurists will believe that they have the right to impose their religious views on others.
    B) In a secular government it is supposed to be true and should be true. That’s what secularism strives for – that no one should impose their religious views on others and that judgements will be fair regardless of the religious or philosophical leanings of any parties involved.

    So, I am left with just one conclusion: clearly you think only 14% of the population of this country is capable of making fair judgements. (76% are Christian, the other 10% are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc., according to a 2008 Census Bureau survey.) Surely you don’t really seek to exclude 86% of the population from holding public office, do you?

    Are you familiar with the term GIGO? Because you made a bad assumption about what secularism means, you came to this similarly bad conclusion.

    Article VI is irrelevant to this discussion, unless you think the mere presence of a statue somehow constitutes a religious test for the purposes of qualification for public office.

    You’re moving the goal posts from the original question that I answered. Article VI does matter because it clearly denotes that religion should not be a factor in our government.

    As for the first amendment, all the first amendment says is that the government cannot select an official state religion, it does not say that the government cannot say or do anything that directly references God.

    Actually, it says that government will not make laws, “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We understand that terminology to prohibit government from unnecessarily entangling itself in religion. The only way to do that is to be secular and be completely unconcerned with religion.

    For example, printing “In God We Trust” on our currency does not violate the first amendment.

    Yeah, actually it does IMO, because the government is establishing religion over non-religion.

    If you think a single statue constitutes official endorsement of a particular religion, you’re going to have to show some evidence. A court decision is not evidence; courts have been known to make mistakes.

    Because you wouldn’t care if it was a copy of Sharia Law, correct? Court history is actually evidence for the attitudes of our country and what the law is currently interpretted to mean. Either way, we have tests for this sort of thing, like the Lemon test that I previously linked. We can also ask ourselves some pretty simple questions, like how would I feel if it was some other religion’s holy symbols being portrayed instead of mine? How is it treated by the public? Why is the government putting up specific sectarian references in a public space that is to be used by people that are not of that sectarian leaning? Are you really going to contend that we should all just shut up and let you and your religious cohorts put up all your religious symbols because to not let you do so would be unfair?

    You need to show that the presence of the statue would inevitably result in an official endorsement of a particular religion.

    It does. Unless one can put up a similar statue for everyone’s different religious view so that no one is left out (which is probably not possible) the state is endorsing one or some religious views over others by giving those views special status and special advertizing space that aren’t afforded to other views. And, the state is officially sanctioning belief over non-belief in the process.

    I’ll (again) ask for actual evidence that anyone has been treated differently in court as a direct result of a religiously-themed statue being placed in front of a courthouse.

    You have your answer in #36, and I’ve already linked to Roy Moore as just a single example of someone who quite blatantly put Xianity forward as preferential. But, even if no person actually treated me differently, the government itself would be (and is) treating me differently.

    The Lemon Test applies to legislation concerning religion, it does not apply to statues or other art.

    It applies to entanglements between government and religion.

    I was speaking of statues in general, and choosing a random statue from that set. I fail to see how that’s disingenuous.

    Because, in this country, the statues are all Xian iconography – the same religion that you happen to believe in. To claim they are “random statues” is quite disingenuous when in reality they are not random. They are iconography from your chosen religion and the chosen religion of the majority of the populace. Do you believe that the majority gets to usurp the rights of the minority? The Constitution is there to protect against that, which is why the First Amendment doesn’t allow for things like this.

  • Nes

    While I don’t know that this particular courthouse had any Bible passages or Christian imagery around it, I can’t help but think that such would only make things like that more likely.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Dan, it may help you to see this from a different perspective. Here’s the story of an evangelical Christian who was on the receiving end of a church-state violation, and who describes how it made him feel to be in the minority among a larger group that was imposing its religion on him. It’s a viewpoint you’d do well to consider.