Daniel Dennett--comes down from Stupidville to deposit...
one of the dumbest op-eds I have ever seen. Here.
He begins with:
This week’s question could not be more important. Events around the world in ecent years amply demonstrate that the religious freedom we enjoy in the United States is one of the essential building blocks of our democracy. What we tend to lose sight of, however, is the price we must pay for this religious freedom: we must commit ourselves to the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state even when the principle works against the interests of our particular religion.
First of all, there is no separation of church and state in the First Amendment. [Dennett might actually read it to find that point out.]. The "separation of church and state" is found in Thomas Jefferson's personal letters. It may very well have been his own take on the Bill of Rights, but Jefferson didn't write the Bill of Rights, Madison did. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The 1st Amendment says that there is no established church as in Europe/no religious test for office and freedom of speech (including religious) in public.
The Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurzman (1971) began to bring Jefferson's language of separation of church and state into discourse--read First Amendment through Jefferson. The tests are:
1) the government action must have a secular purpose; 2) its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion; 3) there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.
#1 is extremely controversial. Who determines what is a secular purpose? And is secularism a religion? Or does it at least stop religious expression--e.g. voluntary (not mandated) school prayer in public school?
The vitriol on both sides since the 70s is a product of this failed reading--and the previous (pre 70s) de facto assumption of Christianity (usually Protestant) in public debate. Sometimes more deist, non-confessional, etc. I've promoted Noah Feldman as a way forward to get beyond this divide.
I'm fine with DD pointing out that atheist language and speech critical of religious belief is sanctioned in PC culture. It happens, it shouldn't.
He refers to separation of church and state again in the next sentence--hello? Then vaguely talks about Christian conservatives trying to create/declare America a Christian nation. Ok--what real support for there in our country is that a reality. The Republicans use Christian conservatives--other than stem cell what has Bush achieved for Christian conservatives? And Rep. are heading to Arnie Republicans, so by the next presidency it will be passed.
Dennett then talks about Turkey and Algeria as where religious political parties have won elections--nice comparison Daniel. What the hell? And concludes:
We therefore put the securing of American democracy–America's secular democracy, with separation of church and state–at the very top of our list of priorities.
Second of all, we do NOT LIVE in a secular democracy. We live in a constitutional, non-religiously established (call that secular), REPUBLIC. Dennett's whole problem is he is worried about democracy overturning democracy. What he means is democracy (mob rule by vote) overturning republic constitutional prerogatives. The First Amendment Dennett so rightly references was not democratic. It was voted on by states through indirect means.
A republic that uses some democratic means. Not all. Did you or I vote directly for the President? Unless you are an Electoral Voter, no. I haven't voted for a Supreme Court justice, given that I"m not an elected member of the Federal Legislature. Nor the head of the Federal Reserve. On and on.
Dennett's final paragraph--now that has for now reason brought in Turkey and Algeria, how about Iraq, that's appropriate.
We are currently asking the Shiites and Sunnis of Iraq to put their allegiance to their nation ahead of their allegiance to their religion. We must surely ask ourselves, and especially our political leaders, to make the same solemn commitment.
Again, WTF? Stem cell I'll give you--although as I said that will be changed within the next administration. What Protestants and Catholics are killing each in the streets of the US? There is no nation of Iraq--that's the whole point. There is and has been a well established United States of America for some 200+ years.
What Dennett doesn't realize among many many things would be 1) history (good American that he is).
The largest social organization in the United States from 1910-Great Depression was....any guesses---The Ku Klux Klan. Especially in the North, in states like Indiana. The group performed social outreach to its peoples, had armed militant wings, and its stated aim was defend its traditional white Protestant cultural heritage.
Remind anyone of Hezbollah?
The reason the group reached such a zenith of power then was because de facto America had been during the pre Civil War period, a Christian nation. Again the constitution did not establish any one denomination as say the Church of England. But in terms of numbers the country was. The reason those groups had such appeal then was because of Reconstruction, the Civil War, and in the North the influx of immigrants--mostly Catholic--which threatend that order.
It was a reaction to the early phase of globalization.
Don't think Hezbollah is the same rear-guard action?
The evangelical alliance had been underground for most of the War and pre-60s cultural revolution. The reason they are in the news so much and are such boogeymen for people like Dennett is that they are actually participating in public discourse. Which is supposedly what Dennett's triumphing of democracy is all about. What he means is triumphing of classical liberal rule of law and non-confessional republicanism through democracy.
If it were just a true democracy thing, he should be glad they are participating, particularly in a country where 50% of the eligible voting population does not vote in a presidential election, much less other elections.
Dennett sounds weirdly like a neo-con with his confusion between democracy and (classical) liberal rule of law. Rule of law is what was needed and what all the violence in the Middle East is about. It is just I guess, depending on the country, a good two decades away.
Dennett's writings on consciousness being nothing other than the collison of brain molecules is bad enough--his politics are even worse, if that's possible. I know he certainly killed some of my brain molecules by reading that piece.