The Raving Theist

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Unbright

May 18, 2006 | 34 Comments

Separation of church and state cannot be rationally defended except on one ground: that religious beliefs are fundamentally false and worthless drivel, no more useful than astrology or alchemy. The notion that religion is the ultimate and most beneficial truth, but for some reason must be nonetheless be walled off from politics, defies common sense. Nobody advocates separation of science and state, math and state, physics and state — or even separation of the state from softer sciences such as economics and sociology.

So it’s hilarious to watch purported believers, usually religious liberals or moderates, trying to justify separation on other grounds. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, promoting her book The Mighty and the Almighty, took a crack at it the other night on The Colbert Report. Here she addresses the problem of religious elected officials keeping their faith out of public policy:

Albright: I think that we have to keep the separation of church and state, but we cannot separate people from their faith.

Colbert: Right, how do you separate people from their job . . . if the faith is in them, and they’re in their job, the transitive property of religion says their faith has got to be in their job also, right?

Her statement was complete double-talk, and Colbert nails her hard. Unfortunately, the audience reaction suggested to me that they were as clueless as Albright. They laughed at his question as if it were nonsensical (perhaps in part because of his usual mock-serious delivery), but what’s nonsensical is claiming you simultaneously “bring your faith to your job” without letting it influence you in the least.

Albright follows up with the favorite cliche of politicians who want to invoke God while seeming oh-so-humble:

Albright: Well, it just depends on how they interpret it and if they think, actually, that God is telling them what to do, then I think you got a problem. I think we have to be on God’s side, rather then, you know, God is on our side.

Colbert: But isn’t that just the definition of “is”? I mean, if we’re on God’s side, then God is on our side, right?

Albright: Well, no, ’cause then, if we only think that God is on our side . . .

Colbert: Right, which He is . . .

Albright: Well, I mean, you know . . .

Colbert: God’s not on our side?

Albright: God is defin . . .

Colbert: Say it right now! Say “God’s not on our side.” I’d love to hear it.

Albright: No no no . . . we are on God’s side. I like Abraham Lincoln who said that, you know. He’s an originalist.

Once again, the audience laughed off Colbert’s analysis — but no, Madam Secretary, you can’t claim that you just want go over to God’s side and serve Him in the way he tells you, and then criticize people who say they’re serving God in the way He tells them. Yes, I know there’s a problem with people who only “think” God his on their side — but it’s not one any different than the problem with people who “think” they’re on God’s side. Albright reveals the source of her muddleheadedness:

Colbert: Now, do you have personal religiosity that you brought to your work?

Albright: I have a rather confused background, um, I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and found out I was Jewish.

Albright actually touts this history as a qualification to write the book, implying that her multi-faith exposure has given her some greater insight into religion. But she never explains what she believes now or how she reconciled the contradictions within and between those denominations. And it’s clear that all she’s really talking about family affiliations rather than belief — she’s “Jewish” because she discovered she had some Jewish relatives when she was an adult.

Eventually, Colbert gets to the root of the faith that cannot be taken out of her:

Colbert: Did you bring your own religiosity to your work when you were Secretary of State?

Albright: I bring my . . .

Colbert: Did you ever hear voices?

Albright: No, I did not hear voices. I believe in God, but I also think we have to make our own way and so while I definitely believe, I don’t expect that God is worrying that much about what I did every day.

Oh, I see. But what could it possibly mean, then, to “be on the side” of a God who doesn’t care in the least about anything you might do? I would think that the mere effort to cuddle up to His side would violate His will — He wants you to do whatever you feel like, without worrying about His feelings. As it turns out, though, the only thing God hates is confidence:

Albright:The problem is, however, is that he [President Bush] is so certain that everything he believes is right, and the problem with that when it’s translated into policy means, that if Plan A fails, you don’t have Plan B.

The solution? Multiple plans made in complete ignorance:

Albright: Well, we also know that when on this earth, we don’t know everything. Uh, there are some people who may think so, but as the apostle Paul say, “I see through a glass darkly,” which means you don’t see it all . . .

Comments

34 Responses to “Unbright”

  1. Thorngod
    May 18th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Albright appeared also on Real Time 5/12. Maher’s questions to her were far less penetrating, of course. It is always somewhat uncomfortable for me watching a politician being questioned about religion. It’s like watching someone walking a tightrope without a pole or a net. But separation can only be maintained by allowing the “other grounds” arguments. Believers are not going to concede the valid one.

  2. Southside Rabbitslayer
    May 18th, 2006 @ 5:18 pm

    I can’t wait for the day that all politicians must place there hand on the Bible and swear there elegance to the absence of god. Anyone who hears voices in there head that tell then what decisions to make for our future should not be in such a position. Only people that have there own voices are suitable for office.We have a bunch of fortune tellers running the country/world. The atheists must unite before these god fearing freaks destroy our planet.

  3. Lily
    May 18th, 2006 @ 7:16 pm

    You’ve gone off the rails on this one, RA. Your initial premise is faulty. However, since I think you are being deliberately provocative, I forgive you and I will pray that you know Who will also.

    You wrote: Separation of church and state cannot be rationally defended except on one ground: that religious beliefs are fundamentally false and worthless drivel, no more useful than astrology or alchemy.

    This is utter nonsense and you know it! It is not religious beliefs that have to be separated from the state; it is the state’s wielding the authority of the church which has to be prevented. Individual believers, even the dreaded “fundy nutters” ™ are not a monolith, you know. So they have to compromise and make deals with all sorts of people, other believers of various stripes, agnostics, atheists, and whom ever else I left out.

    You also wrote, again mistakenly, The notion that religion is the ultimate and most beneficial truth, but for some reason must be nonetheless be walled off from politics, defies common sense. Nobody advocates separation of science and state, math and state, physics and state — or even separation of the state from softer sciences such as economics and sociology.

    Apart from the fact that you are mixing apples and oranges here, religion qua religion is not the ultimate and most beneficial truth. Religious beliefs, to the extent that they correctly reflect God’s laws are beneficial. When they don’t, they are a real problem. Moreover, every religion has beliefs, practices and traditions that are not binding on all their adherents, much less all people. Thus the attempt to write intelligent design into law was plain stupid.

    Having said all that, it is a never ending source of wonder to me that people like Ms Maddie can’t make a better answer than what you have quoted here.

    Now don’t you feel better?

  4. Oz
    May 18th, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

    Perhaps the real problem is that “separation” isn’t Constitutionally sound. The 1A prohibits government endorsement of religion, not any religious interaction. I mean, what, are you now banned from voting if your religion leads you to believe something should be a law? Or must we reflexively enact laws exactly opposite to what the theist wants?

    Some people get their morality from reason. Some think theirs comes from God. Often their conclusions overlap a lot – so why bother with the means as long as nobody’s being forced to choose one rather than the other?

  5. Mister Swill
    May 18th, 2006 @ 8:34 pm

    “Separation of church and state cannot be rationally defended except on one ground: that religious beliefs are fundamentally false and worthless drivel, no more useful than astrology or alchemy.”

    Isn’t that more of a burden of proof than necessary? Isn’t the fact that values based on faith are by definition unprovable/unfalsifiable enough of a reason that they should not be the basis of legal statutes?

  6. Mookie
    May 18th, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

    I like what Swill said.

    Bush should hire an astrologer:
    http://www.parascope.com/articles/0497/reagan01.htm

  7. Pascal's Wager
    May 18th, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

    I agree with what Oz said regarding “separation” not being constitutionally sound. The phrase actually originated January 1, 1802 in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. The establishment clause under amendment 1 is somewhat derived from this letter, but actually the Constitution states in amendment 1, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So many times people are so quick to state the first part, but conveniently forget to finish the sentence.

  8. Pascal's Wager
    May 18th, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

    I agree with what Oz said regarding “separation” not being constitutionally sound. The phrase actually originated January 1, 1802 in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. The establishment clause under amendment 1 is somewhat derived from this letter, but actually the Constitution states in amendment 1, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So many times people are so quick to state the first part, but conveniently forget to finish the sentence.

  9. Pascal's Wager
    May 18th, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

    I agree with what Oz said regarding “separation” not being constitutionally sound. The phrase actually originated January 1, 1802 in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. The establishment clause under amendment 1 is somewhat derived from this letter, but actually the Constitution states in amendment 1, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So many times people are so quick to state the first part, but conveniently forget to finish the sentence.

  10. Mookie
    May 19th, 2006 @ 3:45 am

    She uses some of the same lines (and also discusses her book) with Bill Maher:
    http://www.mininova.org/get/308675

  11. a different tim
    May 19th, 2006 @ 7:42 am

    I hate to say it, but Lily’s first paragraph is right. The separation was put in place for historical reasons, to give the dissenting christians who were your founding fathers a guarantee that they would not in the future suffer the religious discrimination that an established church brings. We are lucky that the legislators felt unable to guarantee this withough also guaranteeing freedom from religious institutions in political life. Historical decisions are contingent, and historical institutions succeed or fail for reasons which have little to do with logic.

    Having said that, and before Lily relaxes, the second paragraph makes no sense at all. “Religious beliefs, to the extent that they correctly reflect God’s laws are beneficial”..this obviously presupposes that there is a God, he has a law, and (presumably) that we can determine what this law is. If this is the case, RA’s original premise stands – there is no reason (from a theist point of view) not to write this law into a constitution.

  12. Lily
    May 19th, 2006 @ 8:55 am

    The 2nd paragraph makes perfect sense, if you concede the premise. I know perfectly well that you all don’t but so what? I am as entitled to make my case based on my beliefs, as you are on yours.

    As Oz correctly points out, the areas that one can legislate (against murder, theft, etc) are areas in which pretty much all of mankind is, and always has been, in agreement, no matter how they arrived at those conclusions. I would argue that those are God’s laws. You all think, so far as I can tell, that humans can come up with them on their own. Whatever. We still agree that they are wrong.

    Actually, different tim, why not go out on a limb? Mine was another brilliant and witty post, as usual.

  13. Dada Saves
    May 19th, 2006 @ 10:32 am

    Phew! I was almost going to agree with Lily — Thank GOD she continued typing and spared me that humiliation.

    “… the areas that one can legislate (against murder, theft, etc) are areas in which pretty much all of mankind is, and always has been, in agreement, no matter how they arrived at those conclusions. I would argue that those are God’s laws. You all think, so far as I can tell, that humans can come up with them on their own. Whatever. We still agree that they are wrong.”

    Easy to shoot this part down. We may ‘agree’ that murder is wrong, but hardly anyone agrees on what ‘murder’ actually is.

    Sorry, Lil: Neither brilliant not witty (witty?). But look on the bright side: your posts are consistently vapid.

  14. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    May 19th, 2006 @ 10:46 am

    At the very least preventing the 10 commandments from being plastered all over our government buildings can be argued (especially since almost half of them have to do with accepting and glorifying god).

    Several law systems existed before Moses came along. And I get a kick out of the Roy Moore types out there attributing way more credit to the 10 commandments than is due.

  15. Thorngod
    May 19th, 2006 @ 11:05 am

    It should be fairly obvious that all laws evolve from social necessity or expediency. The more necessary are originally attributed by the king or head priest to a god in order to compel compliance. Subsistance societies cannot afford civil police
    forces. Superstitious fear is the next best enforcer….
    And in regard to the founders’ attitudes regarding separation, I submit the following: “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
    -James Madison, 1803.

  16. Lily
    May 19th, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

    Ah Dada: humorless and charmless, as always.

    So. No one agrees on what murder is. That will come as a real surprise to the courts, judges and attorneys charged with prosecuting such crimes. Or such non crimes, since an act no one can agree on can scarcely become the subject of legislation, can it?

  17. Mookie
    May 19th, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    Maybe basing laws on real, tangible, concerns and human needs is better than basing it on the supernatural. Just a thought.

  18. Helian
    May 19th, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

    “Separation of church and state cannot be rationally defended except on one ground: that religious beliefs are fundamentally false and worthless drivel, no more useful than astrology or alchemy.”

    Wrong! Read the history of the British civil war between Parliament and Charles I. The “Puritans” were great defenders of freedom of thought and religious liberty. Their motivation was the desire to practice their religion freely, unmolested by an established church. The early Baptists upheld separation of church and state for similar reasons. Our nation was a product of the Enlightenment, but the Founding Fathers who enshrined the principle of separation of church and state would certainly not have agreed that religious beliefs are worthless drivel. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Tom Paine, et. al., may have been deists, but they did believe in God. The same goes for Voltaire. I suspect men like this insisted on separation of church and state because they were aware of the long history of constant, and completely unnecessary, conflict, warfare and inhumanity that had been the result of establishment of religion. Separation of church and state is entirely defensible as a purely practical matter, whether you’re religious or not. Atheists do themselves no favors by failing to realize this.

  19. diogenes
    May 19th, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

    The second paragraph was written because there is another way for getting an established religion: to prohibit the practice of those religions which are not in power. So it was not that intolerance was bad, but that there was not a practical way to put in power “my intolerance” and it was wise to prevent other from putting theirs. You, Americans, are very pragmatic and that’s not bad!

    To say 1A was aimed to prevent “the state’s wielding the authority of the church” maybe is right, but the reason behind the argument of Lily is not, in the sense that Americans at that time disliked this. In fact colonial America was a collection of little theocracies. An by the way I’m not sure Jefferson didn’t think that is was good for USA to be governed by deist people since he loathed religions. And maybe he was right, since this is better than be governed by Protestants, Catholics or Muslims. Surely Lily thinks different, but not in the case of Muslims.

    In relation to:

    “Nobody advocates separation of science and state, math and state, physics and state ”

    Maybe is healthy to advocate for it. Remember Hitler’s “German Physics”, Lysenko’s Genetics in times of Stalin, and present USA policy in stem cells. Not to mention that endorsement of Intelligent Design promotes a bizarre biology and public money for research in areas sensible to religion present some “frictions”.

    And for the president carrying his religious belief into office, you cannot avoid that. Be prepared for a chain of Christian presidents in all this century. Forget an Atheist in office, Lily will fight to death to prevent this, and the relationships between lilies and bad weeds are 8:1. Better safe than sorry, rehearse your Hail Mary and Creed, and pray to god that future presidents and Congresses not be meddlesome in matters of religions and science.

    No, Lilly post are not vapid a least for me. Weren’t it by their posts, this blog would be more boring. We need more Lilies to maintain fit our brain; RA’s bullshit on abortion is not enough. I’m delighted when she clashes with Viole, stabbing each other in the back with a hypocrite smile (Dearest Lily!…Dearest Viole!). Besides, I sympathize wit her because she fights alone even when her cause is hopeless in this den inhabited by us, carnivorous Tyrannosaurus atheists, with our no-prisoners-taken policy. Well, I also recognize that sometimes she behaves like a petulant viper, but nobody is perfect except me.

  20. Lily
    May 19th, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

    Diogenes! What a wonderful post! Where have you been? I don’t think we have “spoken” before.

    Now, I must protest the “petulant viper”. It is a wonderful metaphor but I don’t think it gets to the heart of delightful me. I always model the people around me. With the sweet, I am sweet, with the bellicose, I am bellicose, etc. It is the pedagogue in me. Unfortunately, the painfully literal nature of most of the posters here prevents them from seeing that.

    This is interesting: Be prepared for a chain of Christian presidents in all this century. Forget an Atheist in office, Lily will fight to death to prevent this…

    We have had a chain of Christian presidents in this country since our founding, albeit mostly weak adherents. As far as an atheist in office is concerned, I have never yet voted for anyone on the basis of religion. In most of the elections I have taken part in, religion never came up. That has been changing in the last 15 years or so.

    Still, until I came to this forum, I assumed that atheists were fundamentally sane, normal people. What I have learned here is that people who have not had a classic liberal arts education, are, no matter how smart they are and no matter how many degrees they have, fundamentally wanting in historical perspective and cultural understanding. Such people have no business in office, since they will never understand what makes people “tick”.

  21. Gathercole
    May 19th, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

    Great post, RA.

    Lily, you said, “With the sweet, I am sweet, with the bellicose, I am bellicose.” This is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

  22. Lily
    May 19th, 2006 @ 7:36 pm

    Oh, yeah? Sez which Bible? Mine says stuff like: To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

    1 Corinthians 9:22 (New International Version)
    New International Version (NIV)

    So, you can see there is a pedagogical purpose in my “speaking your language”, as it were.

    My wonderfulness astounds even me at times.

  23. Oz
    May 20th, 2006 @ 10:09 am

    Hey Lily, last I checked, Paul wasn’t Jesus.

  24. Lily
    May 20th, 2006 @ 12:13 pm

    So? And do you think Paul’s would be the major apostolic voice in the NT, if he were not on the same wavelength? You might just as well charge Jesus with assault for driving out the money changers. Of course, you probably will call him violent …

    It all betrays a fundamental lack of knowledge or understanding of the New Testament, human nature, etc. And that is what I was referring too above when I wrote that most of you betray a lamentable want of historic or cultural understanding.

  25. Oz
    May 20th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    Lily, I’m only going to say this once. If I say “That’s against what Joe taught” and you say “Well, Timmy said such-and-such,” you haven’t proved anything.

  26. Lily
    May 20th, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

    And I am saying this for the 2,487th time and I will keep on saying it, until you all get it– you don’t know what you are talking about when you tell us what Jesus taught or didn’t teach; what the Bible says or doesn’t say and how it should be interpreted.

    I know that someone will come back with the tired and tiresome “oh yeah? Many of us were raised in the church, until we got our heads straight, blah, blah, blah.

    Well, that claim is useless because, as we see with “fundie nutters” ™, there are lots of denominations which don’t really know theology but read the Bible at a fairly superficial level and do their best to follow its precepts. Even those of you who may have gone to more theologically rigorous churches don’t seem to have been listening. I have never heard from any of you the faintest glimmering of understanding of Christianity.

    Try practicing at least the minimal intellectual integrity I practice when I don’t argue about science, computers, or medicine etc.– I stick to what I know; what I have formal training in and/or depth of experience.

    I am no democrat when it comes to opinions. They are either based in sound knowledge or they are so much noise. And the noise emanating from this site is deafening.

    /pit viper

  27. diogenes
    May 20th, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

    OZ

    I’m afraid Lily is right. She wrote this:

    “You might just as well charge Jesus with assault for driving out the money changers. Of course, you probably will call him violent …”

    And technically, this can be called assault; the merchants and dove-sellers were lawfully authorized to their trade (1)

    Oz, you should know that in religious matters, Christ, as Lily, was not prone to compromise: to the point of using violence if John (2:15) deserves credibility. So, make the adequate differences when considering “the other cheek policy”

    WARNING: I had a shot of pit viper antivenom.

    (1) There were good religious reasons for the moneychangers to work on Temple grounds. People traveled from all over the continent to take part in the festivals, and local cash, then as now, is not good everywhere.

    There is a popular theory that the moneychangers were not only exchanging foreign currency for local, but that they were also making sure everyone had coins that did not contain portraits of pagan gods on them, so that nobody would be breaking the first commandment within the Temple precincts. However, the Tyrian shekel, used for Temple commerce, did have an image of the god Melkart. Later the Talmud would judge that the payment of temple dues was important enough to make the use of this coin acceptable, even in the Temple. Perhaps there were some Zealot-affiliated Jews (might Jesus have been among them?) who considered this compromise unacceptable.

    http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1738251

  28. Oz
    May 21st, 2006 @ 9:13 am

    Dio, Lil did not answer my point at all. It was merely a technical one; she didn’t quote the right person to answer Gathercole’s argument.

  29. Lily
    May 21st, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

    Ok, fair enough. If you can’t see the connection, you can’t. Let me put it plainly to you; no, it is not against the teachings of Jesus.

  30. jahrta
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 11:30 am

    I’m glad you’re back, Lily (I knew you’d never stay away, I just never thought you’d be back so soon).

    This place was getting boring without you.

  31. Lily
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

    Why thank you, Jahrta. But it is only the forums that I decided I to stay away from. Occasionally, RA does put up something fun to respond to.

  32. jahrta
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

    Did you happen to catch the Albright interview on the Colbert Report? If so, what did you think of it? There’s always something lost in the translation when all you see is cold print, void of inflection.

    I think Albright held her own, for the most part. There’s only so much that most public political figureheads will say when the topic of religion/god is brought up. I can see how it can be a very difficult situation, trying to be all things to all people.

  33. Lily
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    No, I didn’t see it. But just reading her responses here makes me squirm. Unless she did significantly better during the interview, I am deeply unimpressed. While I know that you are right that politicians have to try to avoid upsetting any part of their base, the questions put to Albright, as represented here, are pretty basic. That she couldn’t answer them speaks volumes to me about the depth of her understanding of her faith (if any). They weren’t hard questions to answer.

  34. jahrta
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

    Yeah I lost a bit of respect for her during the course of the interview, but the fact that she even showed up in that venue showed some guts. It’s one thing for a political figure to make an appearance on a show on CNN, but I think that this type of interview left her far more exposed. Colbert is known for ripping people to shreds with their own words, and he didn’t pull any punches on her either, apparently.

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