Ceremonial Deism

5770-a-house-with-christmas-lights-at-night-pvThe Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that Nativity scenes in publicly-owned spaces are legal.  As long as they don’t mean anything.  Hillsdale Sophomore Nic Rowan writing in the Federalist sees this as an example of “ceremonial deism.”

After the jump, read his argument and my thoughts on the matter.
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The Satanic monument for the public square

This is the monument that the Satanists are trying to erect next to that of the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma state capitol.

It’s an idol of Baphomet.   Note the effort to be child friendly.  It really does allude to the Old Testament conflicts with Canaanite idolatry.   Details after the jump. [Read more…]

Santorum’s sermons

People are digging up Rick Santorum’s religious addresses from years back.  And though what he says is pretty conventional to most of us Christians, his sermons are being used to alarm the voting public.  This is about something he said in 2008 at Ave Maria University, a conservative Catholic college:

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America!” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has declared.

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania warned in 2008 how politics and government are falling to Satan.

“This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

“He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions.”

Santorum made the provocative comments to students at Ave Maria University in Florida.


Wouldn’t any of us agree with that?  I’ve heard even liberal theologians with liberal politics talk like this.  And yet, in a political context, from someone running for president, it sounds whacky, if not crazy and dangerous.  But it isn’t!

Santorum doesn’t seem to have moral transgressions in his closet, so the opposition researchers are focusing on his religious beliefs.  (He doesn’t believe in birth control!  He believes Satan is attacking America!)  But whose religious beliefs couldn’t be made similarly scary?  (He wants to eat Jesus and drink His blood!)

Euro-court OKs crucifixes in public schools

The European Court of Human Rights has overturned a lower court’s decision to outlaw crucifixes in Italy’s public schools.  Not only that, the court ruled that Christianity is, in fact, the religious foundation of European civilization, a fact that need not be hidden.

The Grand Chamber ruling. . .recognizes that “human rights must not be placed in opposition to the religious foundations of European civilisation”. rules

The decision is an affirmation of the respect owed to each country of the European Union for “the religious symbols of its cultural history and national identity” and for national decisions on how the symbols can and should be displayed, Fr Lombardi said.

A lack of respect, he said, would lead to a situation in which, “in the name of religious liberty, paradoxically one would limit or even deny this freedom, ending up excluding every expression of it from the public sphere”.

via Vatican welcomes European court decision on crucifixes  | CatholicHerald.co.uk.

Would that same reasoning apply in the United States of America?

Saving religion by emptying its content

Fellow 17th century literary scholar, former postmodernist theorist, law professor, cultural commentator, and unconventional defender of religion Stanley Fish has this to say on the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing that Cross in the Mojave desert, as well as similar rulings permitting religious images in the public square. “When Is a Cross a Cross?” he asks.

Also, when is a menorah a menorah, and when is a crèche a crèche, and when are the Ten Commandments directives given to the Jews by God on Mt. Sinai? These questions, which might seem peculiar in the real world, are perfectly ordinary in the wild and wacky world of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, where in one case (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984) the Supreme Court declared, with a straight judicial face, that a display featuring the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wise men conveyed a secular, not a religious message.

In the latest chapter of this odd project of saving religion by emptying it of its content, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a plurality in Salazar v. Buono, ordered a district court to reconsider a ruling that Congress had impermissibly promoted religion by devising a plan designed to prevent the removal of a cross standing in the Mojave National Preserve. The cross had originally been erected in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to commemorate American soldiers who had died in World War I. In 2002, Frank Buono, a retired Park Service employee, filed suit alleging a violation of the Establishment Clause and “sought an injunction requiring the government to remove the cross.”

In litigation unfolding in at least four stages, the District Court and the Appellate Court of the Ninth Circuit determined that “a reasonable observer would perceive a cross on federal land as governmental endorsement of religion.” In response, Congress took several actions, including designating the cross and the adjoining land a national memorial and transferring ownership of the land in question to the V.F.W. in exchange for land located elsewhere in the preserve. Turning again to the courts, Buono asked for an injunction against the transfer; the District Court granted it, concluding that “the transfer was an attempt by the Government to keep the cross atop Sunrise Rock and so was invalid.” The issue was Congress’s motive. The effect of what it had done was obvious: the cross now stood on private land, which meant, at least theoretically, that there was no longer an Establishment Clause violation because a private party, not the government, was speaking.

But the question remained: did the transfer “cure” the violation or did it, as Justice John Paul Stevens contended in dissent, extend and re-perform it? In a paroxysm of patriotism, Justice Anthony Kennedy has taken the Christianity out of the cross and turned it into an all-purpose means of marking secular achievements.

Now the fun and crazy stuff begins. Kennedy denies that the “emplacement” of the cross was accompanied by any intention “to promote a Christian message.” It was “intended simply to honor our Nation’s fallen soldiers.” (At oral argument Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU lawyer, observed, “There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”) Therefore, Kennedy reasoned, Congress had no “illicit” intention either; it merely sought a way to “accommodate” (a term of art in Establishment Clause jurisprudence) a “symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people.”

Notice what this paroxysm of patriotism had done: it has taken the Christianity out of the cross and turned it into an all-purpose means of marking secular achievements. (According to this reasoning the cross should mark the winning of championships in professional sports.)

It is one of the ironies of the sequence of cases dealing with religious symbols on public land that those who argue for their lawful presence must first deny them the significance that provokes the desire to put them there in the first place. It has become a formula: if you want to secure a role for religious symbols in the public sphere, you must de-religionize them, either by claiming for them a non-religious meaning as Kennedy does here, or, in the case of multiple symbols in a park or in front of a courthouse, by declaring that the fact of many of them means that no one of them is to be taken seriously; they don’t stand for anything sectarian; they stand for diversity.

So you save the symbols by leeching the life out of them. The operation is successful, but the patient is dead.