Greta on ‘Ceremonial Deism’

Our own Greta Christina has an article at AlterNet about the concept of “ceremonial deism,” which is the rather absurd term of art used by the Supreme Court to justify a whole range of public displays of religious piety, from “in God we trust” on the money to “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.

Yet what often gets called “ceremonial deism” is all over our government. Now, when this “ceremonial deism” get challenged in court, it typically gets defended — and is often even upheld by judges — on the grounds that it isn’t really religious. In court, its defenders argue that all this God talk is obviously just tradition, without any actual religious meaning. (How could you silly people think that “God” means something religious?) But when you look at the ideas and motivations driving this “ceremonial deism,” it becomes clear that it’s anything but secular. Passionate religious belief is driving every one of these battles. It wouldn’t be defended so fiercely if real religious fervor weren’t behind it. And every one of these “ceremonial” incursions of religion into government gets used — on the ground, in tangible, real-world ways — to marginalize non-believers, and to treat them as second-class citizens.

She examines the history of four examples of this sort of thing, some of which you probably know and some of which you don’t. Well worth reading.

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  • Michael Heath

    Ceremonial deism is one degree less hypocritical than Christianists who assert their right to exercise their religious freedom, “in the public square”. In fact it’s hardly ever their individual rights being infringed upon which has resulted in their activism, but instead they’re covertly promoting government promote their beliefs and enforce their policy preferences.

    Ceremonial deism is less hypocritical because at least these proponents are overtly acknowledging their advocacy is to get the government to act on their behalf. When I think of the most notable ceremonial deist, I think of Justice Antonin Scalia though I’m not sure that’s earned.

  • I think she did an excellent job covering a lot of the points and the Catch-22 tropes that irritate me to no end.

    If we cross out IGWT on our money, we’re “extremists” who can’t be reasoned with, and thus our arguments can be ignored.

    If we don’t, we’re apathetic hypocrites who aren’t “real” atheists, and thus our arguments can be ignored.

  • baal

    I not only cross of the new motto; I write in THOR, YHWH, ALLAH, ZEUS, BAAL, YOU, ME etc into the place where god sits on the cash.

  • baal: ‘In Mammon we trust’, surely?

  • rork

    Remove “under god” from the pledge and see how many people stop wanting our kids to be coerced into saying they are free.

  • Sastra

    “In God We Trust” and “Under God” are routinely and automatically trotted out by people who try to violate the separation of church and state as evidence that such violations would have to be extreme before the Constitution kicks in. God on the money? Not extreme. God in the pledge? Not extreme. Prayer in school, ten commandments in the courtroom, nativity at city hall, invocations before every public civic event? Not extreme. The president and congress and the supreme court all coming out with statements that our country is based on belief in God and it is the duty of every good citizen to recognize their commitment to God and acknowledge Him in all they do? No, that wouldn’t be extreme either.

    Them’s just the facts.

    What then would be extreme enough to be considered a church/state violation? FORCING people to go to church at GUNPOINT. Using military troops. And killing or jailing all who resist. That, they just couldn’t go along with — for the most part. After all, it’s a free country.

    Everything else, is just fine. It’s just The People of the United States exercising their right to have their religion practiced in their own country. It’s what makes America not only strong — but unique. It’s just like being at home, in your own house.

  • cjcolucci

    There will be prayer in school as long as there is algebra. Just not government prayer. We leave religion to the free market. Isn’t that the way the “government prayer” advocates would approach anything else?

  • leonardschneider

    Reminds me of various great lines from George Carlin. Paraphrased…

    “There are no true atheists — I can prove it. Give an atheist a really good blowjob and see who he starts talking to: ‘Oh god, yes… Holy jesus that’s good… Oh christ, I’m gonna come…'”

    “Everybody gets all worked up about nativity scenes in public parks […] I don’t mind so long as I can sing my own carols; they have titles like, ‘Holy Shit, Can You Belive It’s Christmas Again?’ and ‘Jesus Christ, The Christmas Tree Is On Fire!'”

    I have my own year-round songs. When presented with the usual portrait of Christ — y’know, where he looks like the singer from the Spin Doctors — my own tune is “You Goddamn Idiots, Jesus Didn’t Have Blue Eyes!”

  • otrame

    Well worth reading.

    I have yet to see something Greta wrote that wasn’t well worth reading. That woman is a frigging treasure.