Rebirth of Reason

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Post 0

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 8:23amSanction this postReply
Ask Americans across a wide swath of the political spectrum, and you will find little support for establishing an American State Theocracy. There are obvious reasons for this:

1] The explicit prohibition expressed by the 1st Amendment.
2] The good job of education that is provided to most Americans on at least this basis of our freedom.

Among the left, little explicit support for establishing an American Theocracy, and even, abject fear/suspicion that the conservative religious right intends to do exactly that someday.

Among the right, even the conservative religious right, no actual evidence that there is any intention or desire to establish any such thing; at most, a campaign of religious tolerance, a reaction against outright hostility aimed at the religion of others.

Certainly no widespread campaign among independents in the middle for establishing anything like a radical American State Theocracy.

Beyond the prohibitions of the 1st Amendment, why is that? Why so little apparent support for an America Theocracy? I suggest, that is because we have been well educated as to the dangers to our freedom that establishing and supporting a OneSizeFitsAll theocracy would bring about.

We would be overrun with TrueBeliever zealots who would eat America's foundation of freedom, much to the detriment of all(including the TrueBeliever zealots.) After generations of this, we would be blind to any worldview except that which could pass through the mandrill of our theocratic state, which would use the guns and power and institutions of the state to enforce its TrueBeliever truth onto one and all, wiping out all individual freedom and liberty, and tolerating no other religion.

It's a total no brainer in what was once the most free nation on earth, America. It seems absurd to even mention it in our political context.

And so, the only real question in any of this is, is the following:

Is Social Scientology a religion? Is there such a thing as "Social Religion", as outlined in Scott Nearings book from 1906? Has that religion been significantly permitted to insert itself into the machinery of our state, and has it established a de facto Theocracy in America, by selling the message "S"ociety is God, the state is its proper church, and it is our nation's obligation to elevate this religion above all others?

If it is not-- if it is really a 'science' as its apostles decree, and not a religion, then there is nothing to worry about, and it is not at least a theocratic threat to American freedom. It is just science; social science. And, never mind the disturbing rigid parallels to Scott Dearing's "Social Religion."

But if it smells like a TrueBeliever religion, and acts like a TrueBeliever religion, and walks and talks like a TrueBeliever religion, then it is in fact a TrueBeliever religion, even if it declares itself a 'secular' TrueBeliever religion, or 'civil' religion.

That so many in America appear to eschew theocracies and yet do not recognize Social Scientology as a religion is a tribute to one thing: how thoroughly and deeply the institutions of our state have been used to 'socialize' the population after generations/over a hundred years of this campaign.

Post 1

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 11:16amSanction this postReply
At their roots, different forms of tyranny are anger-based and/or fear-based control mechanisms that are also extermely useful ways to steal (stealing lots of stuff is usually fear and/or anger based behavior as well).

A Theocracy here in the US would have to build very slowly. There would have to be some stressor, like a major depression that went on and on for generations, and those who were just a little religious becoming much more religious, and those who were very religious becoming even more so. The structures of society becoming more and more under the control of those who are religious.

Religion is such an amorphous and flexible thing when we talk about it in general terms that some version could adapt to fit the circumstances, prevailing social attitudes and general psychology to provide 'hope' and comfort.

In other words, I can see an American Theocracy forming, but only over a long period of time, and it seems, to me, to be the least likely political threat when compared to non-theocratic tyrannys of the left or the right.

What makes Joe's book important is that religion isn't likely to fare very well, but the need for morality remains and if it isn't being supplied by religion, it will be supplied by an amalgam of social 'sciences.' I think much of what is taught about environmentalism has the flavor of a religion and is infecting many areas - business, marketing, biology, finance, etc., etc. Probably what keeps religion as strong a force as it is today is the absence of any other body of explicit moral and ethical princples.

Many of the social sciences have legitimate objects of study but have been corrupted, even co-opted by Marxist ends, and without a rational view of human nature at their base, they would have been floundering to a large degree even if the those with collectivist leanings didn't start nesting in them.

Post 2

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 12:43pmSanction this postReply

RE: A Theocracy here in the US would have to build very slowly. There would have to be some stressor,...

I think it has, and I think the stressor is outined in detail in works like this one, published in 1906:


I can't slide an Angstrom between what is described in this book and the tone and tenor of modern political debate in the context of contenders for public office.

The Progressive movement is, at its very core a religious movement not a 'scientific' movement. To the extent that our government has been over-run with Progressive policies and the machinery of state used to inculcate Progressive thought in the nation, our state is moving towards a theocracy based on this religious movement.


Post 3

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 2:00pmSanction this postReply
Heinlein postulated a theocracy in his future history...

Post 4

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 2:42pmSanction this postReply

I agree that the Progressives are pushing a pseudo-scientific justification for their policies, and that it is all presented with the emotional fervor of religious oratory at an old time revivalist tent meeting casting out the sins of standing against the holy virtues of collectivism.

But the Theocracy is still not visible on the horizon. The extremely religious Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are only politicizing a few select points - mostly gay marriage and abortion. and those aren't the reason or purpose of their ambitions. They have a fairly full agenda that is mostly economic and constitution. I can't bring myself to see agitation for the vote of evangelicals as the birth of Theocracy. Real Theocracy would require replacing the constitution, and a wide based approach to using the bible as the means for making policy decisions, and ensuring that all laws made Christianity the heart of the republic. There are clearly people that would love that band wagon, but I agree with your post above that says it isn't going to happen in the America we see today.

I see old school religion as on the way out because it is out of date in our 'scientific' culture. We are seeing a last spark of interest because of hard times, stress, and the older generation feeling comfortable with old things that feel safe and comforting and feeling angry over new changes. The progressives of the late 1800s and early 1900s were happy to preach from the secular podium of academia and the religious pulpit of the church. And today we have Obama's newest minister advocating progressive values, social justice in religious terms. The fires we see burning in the religious camps are their attempt to mount a last stand fight against the rising tide of secularism.

Both are variants of morality, both are taking advantage of the absence of a widely taught morality that is studied rationally, like required subject matter for all humans, and both take the same collectivist, altruistic base.

Post 5

Saturday, September 17, 2011 - 8:44amSanction this postReply

re: I see old school religion as on the way out because it is out of date in our 'scientific' culture.

Old school, new school; I think that was part of the new school subterfuge, as carried out by folks like Durkheim.

The new school 'scientific religions' took upon themselves the task of classifying 'religion' as old school religion.

Religion is what their competing old school religions were engaged in, while what they were engaged in was 'science.'

IMO, and maybe, only IMO, this transformed the 1st Amendment in the US from a prohibition against a theocratic state religion into a prohibition against only old school religion. It was rendered totally transparent to new school scientific religion, as in, Social Scientology. It became a kind of filter, a check valve, that stopped old school religion but let new school religion pass, and from where it could turn around and replace old school religion safely from the machinery of state. Like an anti-biotic that selectively let just one strain of infection prosper in our body politic and take over the machinery of state.

When I say 'replace', I mean, in the sense of the lament voiced in Scott Nearing's 1906 book referenced above; not so much an attack, but a leapfrogging of. Old school religion was not taking on the mission of Jesus with sufficient energy or success, and so, it was time to get a little more smartly muscular about that mission. The America that Scott Nearing describes in 1906 is a wealthy nation, prosperous, and with the means in carry out Jesus' mission here on earth, and the Social Religion folks were tired of half measures. Poverty, want, need, and ignorance were to be no more, and a technicality like the 1st Amendment was not going to stand in the way of the TrueBelievers, their mission was so just, so right, so morally empowered and righteous.

That was over a hundred years ago.

The left in this country is aggressively 'socialized' ... but so is the right. The nation, as a whole, is so 'socialized' that it is generation beyond recognizing it as anything but a given.

How freedom could fail to widely prosper in such an environment is not much of a mystery. It has been and will continue to be slowly devoured by this infection, especially since the nation is generations beyond widely recognizing it as an infection.

Seriously; such analysis is 'anti-social;' aka, a de facto crime against the state.

I don't regard myself as anti-social, just anti-"S"ocial. There is a distinct difference.

Society, from the latin socius: ally, companion, known friend. In a free state, we all freely choose our socius, we all form our societies. We never in any significant way construct "S"ociety, and when we try, havoc ensues.

That is the other key function of the 1st Amendment: free speech. Free speech works in two symmetric directions. It is the means by which we freely express ourselves. It is also the means by which we voluntarily identify ourselves to others. For what purpose? For the purpose of choosing our socius, for identifying friend from fool-- no matter how each of us individually identifies either. When we freely speak, we also freely identify ourselves to those who receive our words, the purpose of which is to freely pass judgement. There is an amorphous/fringe political movement wafting about to alter the meaning of the 1st Amendment into the right to have whatever we say accepted and embraced by others, free from discriminatory judgment; few principles would eat freedom faster than that.

Our founders were truly political geniuses; it has seldom gotten any better than what they constructed as a basis for a free nation.

Scott Nearing is a really interesting historical figure. He regarded himself as a 'dissident individual.' From his Google page:

The tension between the dissident individual and the group was an unenviable one, Nearing believed. In the conflict between the solitary individual and the community, Nearing saw only three possible outcomes:

"(1) The individual may win out and impose himself and his ideas upon the group. The normal consequence of such an outcome is a personal dictatorship or the imposition upon the community of an oligarchy in which the dissident individual or individuals play a prominent role. (2) The division of the community into factions, one of which upholds the dissident individual, with a stalemate leading to feuding, rebellion, civil war. (3) The group wins out, imposes its will and eliminates the non-conformist. Such conflict sequences have occurred repeatedly in contemporary and in earlier history."


Post 6

Saturday, September 17, 2011 - 1:49pmSanction this postReply

You wrote, "The new school 'scientific religions' took upon themselves the task of classifying 'religion' as old school religion .... this transformed the 1st Amendment in the US from a prohibition against a theocratic state religion into a prohibition against only old school religion. It was rendered totally transparent to new school scientific religion..."

Well, that's interesting and the heart of it is the classification of certain instantiations of social sciences as 'new religion', but I think that 'old schoool religion' was always what the classification of 'religion' referred to.

Historically, I think the founders were clear about meaning state religion in the simpler, more direct form of saying we will have nothing like the Church of England. That we won't have any political power going to a Bishop or the like.

I've always thought that it should have been broader. Or that there be another sentence in addition, so as to separate not just church and state, but religion and state (remember, it only says church - not religion), and maybe broader still with another clause that gives separation of philosophy and state. Freedom of speech and press and assembly derive from the broader freedom of thought. But I can't think of how to phrase that such as to be able to make objective law from it.

Technically, I think your statement regarding the 1st amendment goes a bit too far. What could the founders have written as a constitutional prohibition against the religiousity inherent in the progressives 'new religion' - can you think of any wording that would do that?

The Progressives come along 100 years later and begin the creation of their 'new religion' by dressing up forms of collectivism in pseudo-scientific clothing but with strong value justifications. They want to become THE moral authority and old school religion was there to be attacked. There were no other competitors of significance to step in pick up the moral supporters lost to old religion. They had the possibility of becoming the sole organized religion. Communism was pretty blunt about this tactic.

And there was a logic to the progressives' approach. Christianity was altruism dressed up in mystical terms based upon faith, while the Progressives would offer altruism dressed up in pseudo-science based upon popular rationalizations (and as a bonus, they could get rid of some pesky elements of Christianity: free will, moral absolutism and personal responsibility. In addition, a current pseudo-science can always be morphed or replaced in the future if need be - it is harder to change scripture.)

It is the absence of an independent morality that is the key problem. When the predominant morality it is tightly interwoven with the myths, scripture, and rituals of this or that religion it is hard to judge and evolve any part of it, or to replace it with a better model. The progressives, in effect, are attempting to create a new morality. But their problem is that they are attempting to steal a ride on altruism to achieve control and rationalizing pseudo-science as dressing. That is their vulnerability - that they are hiding their agenda. The don't really give a damn about the poor, or about the environment, and they have to tell lies to avoid being caught out, and they have to play word games to make it all knit together - like redefining freedom as freedom from want - that sort of nonsense.

What is needed is an independendent morality that has neither scripture nor any secular dressing. It should be put together as a whole, as complete structure but an open system available to be learned, to be taught, to study, to deepen, to offer changes to. A rational system that can satisfy man's need for a moral hierarchy and a code of ethics and a view of what man's character should contain and what view of what human flourishing looks like under that code.

When people have that, there is very little allure or power left in the hands of the religious folk or the progressives. Their pallid offerings, without their morality, would be quickly picked over by reason and find no buyers. They only get buyers now because of the scarcity of moral codes in the intellectual marketplace and the fact that the people don't explicitly grasp that morality is a thing they need and should be comparison shopping for.

Post 7

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 8:40amSanction this postReply

I've always thought that it should have been broader. Or that there be another sentence in addition, so as to separate not just church and state, but religion and state (remember, it only says church - not religion), and maybe broader still with another clause that gives separation of philosophy and state. Freedom of speech and press and assembly derive from the broader freedom of thought. But I can't think of how to phrase that such as to be able to make objective law from it.

I think, by the above, the "it" you are referring to is the colloquial expression of the principle "separation of church and state." But in fact, the wording of the 1st Amendment does refer explicitly to religion.

It also refers to it in very specific way:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I have long recognized this as a conundrum. Congress is clearly prohibited from "making a law respecting an establishment of religion" (and never has, even in the IRS Code.)

How can that reasonably be interpreted? Did they mean -- as the very first line of the very first amendment -- to prohibit Congress from passing a law that said something like "that church building(an establishment of religion)on 3rd and Maple Streets has some mighty fine architecture, and the nation honors that fine establishment(a law 'respecting' an establishment of religion.)?"

Of course not. They clearly meant 'respecting' as in 'concerning or about or on the topic of' and 'establishment' as in the act of defining or creating.

So...is Congress, under any circumstance, permitted to create a List of Permitted Religions in America. "This is the official state list of Permitted Religions in America." Can it divide the world of religion into "Permitted instances of Religion" and "Prohibited Instances of Religion" in any context, for any purpose whatsoever?

Can we or a select mob of our closest friends ever appeal to Congress, for any reason whatsoever, and ask for a ruling on whether something is or is not an allowed religion in America? Can Congress pass a law respecting an establishment of religion?

Instead of making that appeal, can Congress pass a law defining the hurdles that any religion must pass in order to be a permitted religion in America?

Is Congress permitted to define the word 'religion' in any restrictive manner whatsoever, or is it explicitly prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion?

The US Code is on line. In 200+ years of legislation, is it possible to find a single line that says "The term religion shall mean..."

...and so, the conundrum: when any of us appeal to the government for the extremely curious purpose (since it is explicitly prohibited)of prohibiting the free exercise of undefinable religion anywhere in America, including on the public commons, then ... how does Congress define what is and what isn't 'religion' for that purpose?

I have pointed out this conundrum many times to folks, and the best argument I have received is "Congress can define religion for this purpose because it is prohibited from defining religion for any purpose and in order to do that, it must do what it cannot do."

The conundrum goes away in the context of our state when the 1st Amendment is read in full; from where does the power come to prohibit the free exercise of religion anywhere in America? And so, when some of us petition the state for 'protection' from religion by claiming something is a religion, Congress only response can be "religion? What is that?"

If the power to 'define religion' has been passed to the USSC, then ... when and where have they effectively ever done so?

Thespianism: religion enough? Gods of the Theatre?

Environmental Gaienism: religion enough?

Can we petition the government to seek protection from Gods that we don't even believe are real, like ... the Gods of Football? The Gods of Theatre? The Sacred space of the stage?

When the still seminal father of modern Sociology rolls his eyes into the back of his head and speaks in tongues as follows to finally define "S"ociety, is there any True Believer Magic Unseen Spirit in the Sky about?

"Society is not at all the illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which has too often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life, since it is the consciousness of consciousness. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at every moment of time it embraces all known reality; that is why it alone can furnish the minds with the moulds which are applicable to the totality of things and which make it possible to think of them."

(The above often referenced quote is not some fringe footnote in Durkheim's Religious Formes: it is found prominently in his summary of the work.)

Is a religion based on an invisible paranormal "collective consciousness" that is "outside of and above [all] individual and local contingencies" completely impervious to the 1st Amendment?

The VA Bill of Rights is the closest to piece of state legislation to define 'religion', as 'the duty that we owe to our Creator.

"XVI That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."

In total, not much help there: the politics of the time is apparent, with that jarringly inconsistent explicit nod to Christian forbearance. However, a duty to practice "Christian forbearance" is hardly an act of agression or demand against anybody, just the opposite. Forbearance is "a refraining from the enforcement of something" -- the opposite of a Theocracy.

But, 'the duty which we owe to our Creator' is an interesting turn of phrase, and I've chosen, in my personal journey to define a usable meta-definition for the by law undefinable word 'religion' to be, and conscious consideration of the questions "Why am I here, and what am I supposed to be doing now as a result of that?"

The VA Bill of Rights is not federal constitutional law, but federal constitutional law provides no guidance whatever(deliberately, IMO) in the definition of 'religion.' That is because, IMO, the 1st Amendment in total embraces no context in which such a definition by Congress is necessary. ("Religion? What is that?")

And so, for me, the only purpose of looking at the VA BoR ia as a hint of our Founders state of mind on the concept of religion: forbearance and religious tolerance(not list making and prohibition and religious intolerance.)

For me, the 'the duty which we owe to our Creator' -- whatever we regard our Creator to be, even, simply the Universe, as it is -- maps readily to an examination of the questions "Why am I here and what should I be doing now as a result of that?"

Consider for a moment the freedom defending power of a political context that defended _that_ right -- the right to freely ponder and seek answers to those questions, as individuals. Contrast it with a political context that asserted, aggressively, via the machinery of state, "This is why we are all here, and this what we should all be doing now as a result of that."

One defines individual freedom, the other defines Totalitarianism.

The mapping to a national religion based on some mystical unseen 'collective consciousness' is obvious and direct.

Such a religion has no basis running loose in the machinery of our free state and its constitutions of liberty and individual rights.


Post 8

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 12:12pmSanction this postReply

My apologies. I read my post and wonder if I had hit my head or something. Of course the first amendment refers to "religion" and not to "church." What was I thinking?!?!

I've been bothered by that unique language in the first amendment. "Congress shall pass no law ...." - that restriction, strictly interpreted, is a limitation only on the federal government and opens the door for states to claim that they are not prohibited from establishing a religion, restricting speech, etc.

In 1833 the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights applied only to federal law, not the states. "Chief Justice John Marshall held that the first ten "amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them." Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243, 250." [Wikipedia]

But later, in 1925, the Supreme court found a way to apply the first amendment to the states. (The constitution really should have been worded to do so on its own is what I think.) With Gitlow v. New York - the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was interpreted to apply the First Amendment to each state, including any local government. The court said that they assumed the 'fundamental rights' mentioned by the due process clause must include the first amendment and therefore mapped them to the states and to local government. [Wikipedia]

I suspect that what happened when the Bill of Rights was being hammered out was that each side fought for language that allowed them to see the meaning they most agreed with. That one side, fearful of ceding power to a federal government wanted the Bill of Rights to restrict the federal government but to not apply to states, and those who wanted either a strong central government, or who wanted to ensure certain human rights were protected against states as well as federal government fought each other over that language. And they compromised on the language we see, and because of that compromise, the exact intentions can't be made any clearer because the language actually carries more than one intention in some areas.

The other language, the language we have been discussing is where it says "...make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

I've always understood "establishment of religion" to mean a state sponsored religion like the Church of England. It would mean, "There shall be no partnership of any kind or to any degree with an existing religion." In the historical context to establish a religion meant "establish a religion as the offical religion of the state."

When the founders "...prohibited the free exercise thereof..." that completed the job in their minds when it came to protecting peoples right to engage in religion privately without the state interfering. The state wouldn't recognize one religion over another and it wouldn't involve interfere in people's private religious practices.

If we are looking at what the founders meant, they would not have been talking about environmentalism, even had they been able to forsee it. Despite the epistemological and psychological similarities you and I see in how green things are evangelicized, I don't think they would have put in the religion category.

I don't think that there is a way to use, or remake the First Amendment to combat the religion-like practice of socialistic or social-science-moralizing or green-as-a-religion. And that all of those are better approached at the money level - Government has no constitutional authority to spend in those areas or to interfer in the private business transactions in those areas (or others).

You wrote, "Is Congress permitted to define the word 'religion' in any restrictive manner whatsoever..." and, "In 200+ years of legislation, is it possible to find a single line that says 'The term religion shall mean...'..."

Well, in the time of the founders things were simpler. There would have been no question as to what was a religion and what wasn't. Now, it is not so simple. But the proper approach is to return to the idea of government not being able to do ANYTHING.... except for what it has been explicitly granted authority to do.

I don't think that there is a conundrum with government defining religion, since the "definition" is not the same as the "establishing" of a religion - and that is what government can make no laws about - not if you understand "establishing" as the official sanction of a specified religion as status as the government sponsored and recognized religion over all others.

I certainly agree with your final conclusions, but I can't map them back to the First Amendment in the fashion you seem to be doing. I think that we severe our connection to what the founding fathers meant if, for the purpose of constitutional analysis, we treat religion as broadly as you do.

Post 9

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 2:07pmSanction this postReply

I think that we severe our connection to what the founding fathers meant if, for the purpose of constitutional analysis, we treat religion as broadly as you do.

But think about that sentence above: that is exactly what was intended; for religion to be broadly treated/tolerated.

The very concept of 'religion' in America was one based on 'religious tolerance.'

IE, broad religious tolerance.

IE, refraining from narrowly defining religion. "These shall be considered religion, these shall not."

And in fact, in 200 yrs of statute, not a single line can be found that says 'the term religion shall mean...'

The word 'religion' appears many times in the US Code...and is nowhere defined.

I would _hope_ that anyone associated with Congress would at least pause if they ever found themselves actually placing such words into statute. If it was easy to do, then...they'd long have just done it. Not even in the IRS Code. Not with a ten foot pole.

That they have not is explicit acknowledgement that it is recognized that they can do no such thing.

What greater power is there in this context given the dual purpose of the 1st Amendment(to outlaw official state 'the' religion, as well as outlaw prohibiting the free practice of religion), than the power to narrowly 'define religion?'

The act of narrowly 'defining religion' itself determines what is and is not protected activity by the first amendment.

Can the 1st Amendment really be interpreted as permitting Congress to say "these are permitted definitions of religion in America" and "these are not?"

I seriously doubt it, and so, the conundrum: when any one of us appeal to government for 'protection from religion' (?) under the 1st Amendment, how does the government determine whether the activity is or is not 'religion?'

It must appeal to some restrictive definition of religion.

The nonsense implied by this jarring requirement is boundless. For example:

Are the Theater Gods 'real' Gods? Are the Gods of Football 'real' Gods? Is that a consideration? Here is where it gets silly fast: how the Hell do we distinguish between 'real' supernatural Gods, and 'unreal' supernatural Gods?

Does the government have a God-o-Meter?

Is it necessary simply to believe that Gods are real for them to be 'real' Gods and thus, the basis for a 'real' religion? But athiests certainly do not believe that Gods are real...and yet seek 'protection' from such religions.

I don't think the Gods of Theater are real. And yet, there is clearly precedent for seeking 'protection' from Gods/religions that I am not a member of and that I do not even believe are based on 'real' Gods...

...and so the conundrum. On what basis does the government -- in the context of an appeal for 'protection' under the 1st amendment from public institutions embrace of 'religion' -- decide which are allowed religions, and which are unallowed religions, for the curious act of prohibiting the free exercise of religion anywhere in America?

Is there an exception in the 1st Amendment to the prohibition clause -- 'except on the public square?' I don't see it. What I see is a requirement for Congress to respond to any question concerning 'religion' with a 'religion? what is that?'

The conundrum comes about from only one source: the curious act of prohibiting the free exercise of religion anywhere in America.

The conundrum comes about because we have mistaken the concept of 'tolerance' of religion for 'embrace' of a state religion. It is only in curious appeals to the state to prohibit the free exercise of religion anywhere in America that the need for Congress to 'define what is and isn't religion' comes about.

Otherwise, we end up with exactly what the 1st Amendment was supposed to outlaw: religion narrowly defined by the majority/state.

The broad definition of religion in America is exactly a core constitutional foundation of our constitution.

And, I point this out as someone who regards himself as a non-aligned -- with any formal 'R'eligion-- agnostic.

Post 10

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 2:36pmSanction this postReply

Where am I going with all this? It is ultimately about freedom, and not just 'of religion.'

That is exactly why it appears as the 1st Amendment.

By tolerating a narrow definition of religion, the 1st Amendment becomes a selective check valve/filter that permits activities outside of that narrow definition to freely pierce the 1st Amendment and be redirected outward only at select competing 'R'eligions-- exactly what we would expect in any Theocracy.

As well, and much more more importantly, by tolerating a narrow definition/interpretation of religion(small 'r' religion) and not the broadest possible reasonable interpretation(that encompasses all instances of 'R'eligion, existing or otherwise), the nation loses sight of what freedom is, what freedom means, and thus, is unable to adequately defend freedom. A nation that cannot adequately define 'freedom' cannot adequately defend freedom, and is open to losing all of its freedom.

And that is the real issue.

Specific instances of 'R'eligion might involve Gods, churches, crosses, prophets, traditions, etc, but they do not define 'r'eligion.

Which is what caused me, long ago, to seek out a usable(for me)meta-definition of the word 'religion.'

For me, that meta-definition is:

"Any conscious consideration of the questions "Why am I here, and what am I supposed to be doing now as a result of that?"

As I've rambled about many times, IMO, the 'I' form of those questions are crucial to our individual freedom. When we permit the state to lurch those questions to the 'We' form, answered for all, freedom is eroded. I am not talking about our support for laws based on respect of mutual freedom, like prohibitions against murder, rape, theft, etc; those are clear violations of some principle also key to our mutual freedom as peers, and are not subject to our individual willy-nilly fealty to them as part of our answering those other fundamental questions of 'religion.' I am talking about our choices with what shall be our chosen purpose for our life in this existence; why am I here, and what am I supposed to be doing now as a result of that? What better way to defend 'freedom?'

And when I plug my meta-definition of 'r'eligion into the 1st Amendment, I see the founders focus on that as the 1st Amendment as brilliant, in context, because such a definition guarantees individual freedom.

My meta-definition has nothing to do with God, church, crosses, or Baby Jesus. All of that is associated with specific instances of a 'R'eligion.

My meta definition does not preclude folks from voluntarily joining together and seeking 'We' versions of those questions -- as long as, in context -- (an individual BoR) their conclusions are not to seek the power of the state and beat their freely shared free association answers to those questions over the heads of others in a forced association paradigm inconsistent with individual liberty.

My meta-definition does not provide political benefit to one group over any other that is not consistent with our context of freedom. (Communists are free to be communists freely living in their communes and willingly sharing their common answers to their 'why are we?' and 'we should' posed questions.)

If someone can provide a better, and more usable alternative meta-definition of the word 'religion' that isn't rife with restrictive political overtones or influence(such as, the modern interpretation foisted on us by Durkheim in his slight of hand, where he deliberately defined religion in a restrictive fashion as 'what the other [competing with his] religions do'), then I'd be glad to replace mine, and see how it fits into a better interpretation of the 1st Amendment, in the context of a BoR in a constitution of liberty.


(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 9/22, 2:39pm)

Post 11

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 3:35pmSanction this postReply

I said, "I think that we severe our connection to what the founding fathers meant if, for the purpose of constitutional analysis, we treat religion as broadly as you do."

Your definition, which I still haven't been able to fully grasp, is so broad and so entangled in psychology and epistemology that we couldn't use it for analyzing if something is constitution or not - that was the point of the comment I made, the part about constitutional analysis.

You are using the words "religious" and "religion" but without a definition that would work in the contexts where you use them.

Your allusions to what might be religion included: Thespianism, Gods of the Theatre, Environmental Gaienism, Gods of Football, "S"ociety, "collective consciousness," 'the duty which we owe to our Creator.'

Surely you don't see the founders as comfortably saying, "Yes, that's what we had in mind when we used the word 'religion'."

You went on to say, "The mapping to a national religion based on some mystical unseen 'collective consciousness' is obvious and direct."

If I am understanding this correctly, it presumes a national religion to start with that some form of sociological/political/cultural 'imperative' that is held collectively is mapped onto. But again, there isn't a reasonably concise defintition of religion to start with.

If religion is defined so broadly as to mean "Everything anyone believes in" then it has become useless.

I understand your point that the power to define religion too narrowly or in a biased fashion is a power to abuse the concept of religious tolerance. It is a good point. But to define it to broadly is simple to deprive it of any meaning.

You say that there is no statute that defines religion and that may well be true (although under the Selective Service they probably had something there for conscientious objectors and the IRS frequently has to make determinations of what is a recognized religious organizations for tax purposes), but I'm expect that the Supreme Court has grappled with this issue and has made rulings which we hope were neither too broad nor too narrow.

And that is my point. If it is a negative right that is to be explicitly mentioned, as it is, then religion has to be interpreted as the founding fathers would have to beable to make constitutional rulings.

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Post 12

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 3:39pmSanction this postReply
Here is a list created from an online source. It provides links to brief synopis of Supreme Court rulings on religious issues.


The Jehovah's Witnesses Cases

Conscientious Objection to War

Religion and the Right to Work

Religious Tests for Public Service or Benefits

Free Exercise and Free Speech

Free Exercise and Public Education

Free Exercise and Public Property

Free Exercise and Taxation

Solicitation by Religious Groups

Free Exercise and Eminent Domain

Outlawing of Religious Sacrifice


Standing to Sue

Tax Exemption to Religious Institutions
  • Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York (1970)
  • Texas Monthly Inc. v. Bullock (1989)

    Sunday Work

    Religious Institution Functioning as a Government Agency

    Unequal Government Treatment of Religious Groups

    Legislative Chaplains

    Government-Sponsored Nativity Scenes

    Government Aid to Public Education

    Governmental Aid to Church-Related Schools

    Prayer in Public Schools

    Teaching of Creationism in Public Schools

  • Post 13

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 5:59amSanction this postReply

    Yes, there is great interest in religion in America, and yet government largely entertains that interest without defining the word 'religion.'

    If you go here, you find the on line searchable US Code.


    Type in the word 'religion'

    The word 'religion' appears many times in the US code, but at best, they skirt around a definition. And although you might think that the IRS 'must' define religion, they in fact do not, because they cannot.

    Yet...the US COde is filled with definitions for commonly understood words such as 'person' and 'employer' with the form "the term person shall mean..." in a Definitions section, explaining the use of that word in the context of the law at hand.

    So there are belabored definitions such as :

    Sec. 2000e. Definitions

    For the purposes of this subchapter--
    (a) The term ``person'' includes one or more individuals, governments, governmental agencies, political subdivisions, labor unions, partnerships, associations, corporations, legal representatives, mutual companies, joint-stock companies, trusts, unincorporated organizations, trustees, trustees in cases under title 11, or receivers.
    (b) The term ``employer'' means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person, but such term does not include (1) the United States, a corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States, an Indian tribe, or any department or agency of the District of Columbia subject by statute to procedures of the competitive service (as defined in section 2102 of title 5), or (2) a bona fide private membership club (other than a labor organization)

    ... and so on.

    So, search for the literal "term religion" ... and you get exactly two hits.

    One is as follows:

    (c) Definitions

    For purposes of this section--
    (1) the term ``Indian'' means a member of an Indian tribe;
    (2) the term ``Indian tribe'' means any tribe, band, nation, pueblo, or other organized group or community of Indians, including any Alaska Native village (as defined in, or established pursuant to, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1601 etseq.)), which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians;
    (3) the term ``Indian religion'' means any religion--
    (A) which is practiced by Indians, and
    (B) the origin and interpretation of which is from within a traditional Indian culture or community;

    (4) the term ``State'' means any State of the United States, and any political subdivision thereof.

    ... without defining 'religion'...

    ...and the second hit is the following, which is of no help at all in defining a narrow definition of 'religion:'

    (j) The term ``religion'' includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.

    That is the raw material that the USSC interprets-- the Law of the Land. That is the topic of consideration for every USSC case in existence. It is the body of legislative work generated under the license of the constitution.

    And...it includes no narrow definition of the term 'religion.' Not one. "all aspects of religious observance and practioce, as well as belief" can hardly be defined as a 'narrow' definition of the term 'religion', or even, a non-circular definition.

    Defining 'religion' as 'religious' is akin to defining the word society as "an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another" and then defining the word "social" as "of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society "

    Self-referential mystery upon mystery, world without end, indeed.

    But the bottom line is, especially if you read the intent expressed in the US Code, a bias towards broad tolerance of expressed religion in this nation, as opposed to a narrow definition. It is exactly the foundation of our freedom.

    An example from the US Code:

    From the U.S. Code Online via GPO Access
    [Laws in effect as of January 3, 2007]
    [CITE: 22USC6401]

    [Page 1426-1427]



    Sec. 6401. Findings; policy

    (a) Findings

    Congress makes the following findings:
    (1) The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation's founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion. From its birth to this day, the United States has prized this legacy of religious freedom and honored this heritage by standing for religious freedom and offering refuge to those suffering religious persecution.


    (b) Policy

    It shall be the policy of the United States, as follows:
    (1) To condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion.
    (2) To seek to channel United States security and development assistance to governments other than those found to be engaged in gross violations of the right to freedom of religion, as set forth in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 [22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.], in the International Financial Institutions Act of 1977, and in other formulations of United States human rights policy.
    (3) To be vigorous and flexible, reflecting both the unwavering commitment of the United States to religious freedom and the desire of the United States for the most effective and principled response, in light of the range of violations of religious freedom by a variety of persecuting regimes, and the status of the relations of the United States with different nations.
    (4) To work with foreign governments that affirm and protect religious freedom, in order to develop multilateral documents and initiatives to combat violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom abroad.
    (5) Standing for liberty and standing with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus, including diplomatic, political, commercial, charitable, educational, and cultural channels, to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples.


    Post 14

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 6:17amSanction this postReply

    Renders the term 'religion' meaningless is not nearly the point-- renders the term 'religion' meaningless in the context of actions by the US government is-- for any purpose.

    When our premises demand of us to reach absurd conclusions, it is our premises that are wrong.

    There is no exception that says "Congress may narrowly restrict the definition of religion for the purpose of" ... anything; there is no exception.

    Not even an implied exception: "Well, they must, because they can't, and so they must, because they can't..."

    That is an absurdity, a conundrum that springs up around a singularity. The singularity in this case is the contradiction of the state acting to prohibit the free exercise of religion anywhere in America. There is also no exception in the prohibition clause, and the failure of the tribe to recognize that is the nexus that leads to the contradiction and conundrum: how can the government define religion when it has no context in which it is empowered to define religion...for any purpose whatsoever.

    The inability of government to narrowly define religion is only a conundrum when it is placed into the position of having to define the word religion: what is the context, empowered under the constitution, that requires the government to narrowly or otherwise define the word 'religion' when it is explicitly prohibited from making a law respecting an establishment of religion?

    ... as well as prohibiting the free exercise thereof anywhere in America? (Are there exceptions in the prohibition clause? No, there obviously are not, and neither is there license to imagine them just because we think there must be.)

    'Tolerance' of religion anywhere in America is not the same as 'establishment of a state religion.' When those two concepts are conflated, and appeals are made to the government to exert intolerance towards religion anywhere in America, the conundrum is created; it is created by a prohibited act.

    Are this nation's principles based on religious tolerance, or religious intolerance? I think that foundation is clear.


    Post 15

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 6:35amSanction this postReply

    In your very first link, Cantwell vs. CT

    In stating why the statute was struck down as unconstitutional:

    The statute gives the secretary of public welfare the power to determine which groups are religious and therefore, who must obtain a permit before soliciting contributions. "Such a censorship of religion as the means of determining its right to survive is a denial of liberty protected by the First Amendment and included in the liberty which is within the protection of the Fourteenth." Even if an error by the secretary can be corrected by the courts, the process still serves as an unconstitutional prior restraint. "[T]o condition the solicitation of aid for the perpetuation of religious views or systems upon a license, the grant of which rests in the exercise of a determination by state authority as to what is a religious cause, is to lay a forbidden burden upon the exercise of liberty protected by the Constitution." The Cantwells should not be convicted of posing a threat to public order because they were merely sharing their ideas. When several Catholics became upset at the message one of the sons immediately left the scene in order to avoid a physical confrontation.


    This decision made it impermissible for states to place special requirements on people engaged in spreading a religious message. Also, sharing one's message in an unfriendly environment does not necessarily pose a threat to public order.

    Couldn't be any clearer: the constitution prohibits the state from defining what is a religious cause... for any purpose.


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    Post 16

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 11:05amSanction this postReply
    This is an interesting subject and I agree with this sentiment:

    In other words, I can see an American Theocracy forming, but only over a long period of time, and it seems, to me, to be the least likely political threat when compared to non-theocratic tyrannys of the left or the right.

    Yet up until recently, many internet Objectivists were constantly stressing the dangers of imminent theocracy in America. Dr. Peikoff, who I am generally a fan of, even argued this himself in his 2004 DIM lecture calling President Bush a "M2 Theocrat" (M2 means a class 2 Misintigrator - a term which Peikoff explains in his lectures). I don't see this at all. Today's Christians want a more socially Conservative America. At most they want America of the 1940s. But I don't see any reality of a Christian theocracy. I see far greater dangers coming from the Left; a movement which, to me, is now totally totalitarian from top to bottom.

    Post 17

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 2:01pmSanction this postReply
    I agree with you, Doug.

    And welcome to RoR!


    Post 18

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 2:36pmSanction this postReply

    You wrote, "Couldn't be any clearer: the constitution prohibits the state from defining what is a religious cause... for any purpose."

    I don't agree. Defining what is meant by religion, or working on an assumption of what the founders thought it meant is an absolute requirement of being able to judge if anything is being done in violation of that part of the 1st amendment.

    They have no choice. If, say California decided to tax the local Catholic churches and the churches fought back claiming this was the state making a law restricting the free practice of religion, and California replies that it is only a religion in some aspects but that in others it is a business. The Supreme court would have to decide on if it was a religion or not in the contested areas and for that they would need a definition or would be making one that would be future case law.

    Also, I don't agree that a statutory definition is a violation of the 1st amendment. A definition does not establish (create a state religion) nor does it restrict the free practice of a religion. Someone can always argue that the definition created is too narrow, and therefore has the effect of tossing out organizations or activities that should properly be included. But that is an argument about the best possible definition. The assumption, and requirment, is to have the best definition we can (for the purpose of rendering objective law and ruling), and correct it when needed.

    There are only a few alternatives:
    • Have no definition... and that doesn't work.
    • Remove the part of the first amendment that deals with religion and just consider those activities as being covered by the 10th amendment. But that wouldn't stop the state from establishing an official state religion.
    • Create a definition based upon the meaning intended by the founding fathers.

    Post 19

    Friday, September 23, 2011 - 2:49pmSanction this postReply

    You wrote, "...what is the context, empowered under the constitution, that requires the government to narrowly or otherwise define the word 'religion' when it is explicitly prohibited from making a law respecting an establishment of religion?"

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but "establishment of religion" does not mean creating a religion, or defining a religion. It means "establishing a particular religion as the official religion of the state to the exclusion of all others."

    Some of the social conservatives - the religious right - are fond of saying that ours is a "Christian nation". What some of them would like to say, is that the United States government should recognize Christianity as the the official national religion.

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