Archive for the ‘ideology’ Category

NSP Guide to an Alternative July 4 Celebration

July 2, 2010

As we prepare for and consider how we celebrate July 4, I think it’s worth thinking about how else we might celebrate, and what our celebrations say about us.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives several years back created A Guide to an Alternative July 4 Celebration with some interesting ideas for an Interdependence Day celebration.

Faced with July 4th celebrations that are focused on militarism, ultra-nationalism, and “bombs bursting in air,” many American families who do not share those values turn July 4th into another summer holiday focused on picnics, sports and fireworks while doing their best to avoid the dominant rhetoric and bombast…
…We also acknowledge that in the 21st century there is a pressing need to develop a new kind of consciousness–a recognition of the interdependence of everyone on the planet. A new revolution is necessary–one in which our actions reflects a realization that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and of the planet itself.

I think many of their ideas regarding what to celebrate, and how, are worth thinking about.

Caring for the Poor and the Needy to be Added to the LDS “Three-Fold Mission”

December 10, 2009

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the LDS Church will be making a change to the “Threefold Mission of the Church” to better reflect our responsibilities as Christians.

The LDS Church is adding “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” which is to preach the LDS gospel, purify members’ lives and provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died.

This mission first was coined by late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball in the 1980s and since then has been repeated as a mantra by the church’s more than 13 million members.

The new group of phrases will be described as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “purposes,” rather than missions, and will be spelled out in the next edition of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions , due out next year, church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed this week.

“Caring for the poor and needy,” Trotter said, “has always been a basic tenet of the [LDS] Church.”

Elevating it to one of the faith’s major purposes brings added emphasis.

“This is a dramatic move and very important message,” said Jan Shipps, an Indiana-based American religion historian who has spent decades studying the LDS Church. “It’s not that Mormons haven’t already been caring for the poor and needy with its humanitarian program. It’s just that this moves it to the top of their priorities, along with proselytizing and temple work (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “New LDS emphasis: Care for the needy,” Salt Lake Tribune, 12.10.2009).”

I think this is a fantastic move, and I hope it helps the membership of our faith reconsider the role of being charitable and compassionate in their lives. I hope people consider this an invitation to look beyond the traditional means by which we try to help our brothers and sisters in need, look beyond the tithing/donation forms, the formal charity drives (things like MS drives, March of Dimes, etc). and disaster relief. Our faith and its members has generally done a pretty good job at that sort of thing. But I would like to think of this upcoming change as an invitation to broaden our perspective on caring for the poor. Can we consider how our daily lives and decisions impact those less fortunate around us? Our consumption decisions, our decisions about our business decisions, our employment decisions, all can have an impact on the needy and downtrodden. Can we consider them? So often I hear rather disparaging comments within LDS circles about the desperately poor whom we see around on the streets, outside shopping centers, or in our library. Can we look with more compassion on those we see around us every day who are in desperate circumstances?

This month we celebrate the birth of Him who gave us a priceless and otherwise unobtainable gift, who gave it not in some exchange, but out of pure love for all of us who needed his help. What better way to celebrate than to give to those from whom we cannot expect anything in return?

Separation of Church and State III: Making a State Incognizant of Religion

September 10, 2009

In order to preserve the freedom of conscience I’ve discussed in my previous posts, we must more rigorously maintain a firm wall of separation between Church and State. I believe the logical first step would be to remove religious invocations from government language, property, and practice. For instance:

The Pledge of Allegiance. I’m skeptical that the Pledge of Allegiance serves any meaningful purpose. Given its statist nature and socialist origin, I am perpetually perplexed that so many conservatives make such a fetish of it. But if the Pledge is to continue to be a significant part of our civic tradition, the reference to God (which is not an original part of the Pledge, but a 1954 insertion as part of the Cold War ideological battle against the explicitly-atheist communist world) should be eliminated. The government has no role making any declaration about whom its citizens may or may not believe their nation is under.

Government Oaths. Government has no place declaring in whose name government oaths should be sworn. Whether oaths of office or in court, those swearing people in should not include “so help you/me God” in the recitation. Individuals swearing those oaths are certainly well within their rights of expression to add personal invocations to the higher power of their choice, should they so chose. But making that invocation part of the administration of the oath is an inappropriate institutionalization of religious belief on the part of the state.

Civic Prayer. Government sponsored events, from Presidential inaugurations and Congressional sessions down to city council meetings and public school activities, should not involve prayer as part of the event. Participants who believe in a higher power have every right—indeed, a duty— to implore that power for wisdom and guidance prior to such events, and in their hearts during the proceedings. But government itself should not be establishing a given standard for belief through prayer as part of government events.

The Ten Commandments. Ten Commandments monuments should likewise be removed from any public property. Private individuals or organizations should have the right to erect religious inscriptions such as the Ten Commandments on their own private property. But government should not be giving endorsement or favor to any particular religious beliefs, and so neither religious inscriptions nor religious codes have any place in courthouses, schools, or (despite the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing government to show religious preference) public parks.

Motto and Currency. Government shouldn’t be making decrees regarding what divinities we may or may not trust. Religious inscriptions have only been used on U.S. money for the last century and a half, and then only intermittently. The idea that we should invoke God on our money, a medium regarding which Christ showed little concern, seems a bit bizarre to me; I find it ironic at best, and profane at worst. The official government motto was only adopted about the same time as the inclusion of God in the Pledge, and for the same reasons; I see no reason that the original de facto motto “E Pluribus Unum,” wouldn’t serve better and more closely represent the attitude of the founders in establishing the nation.

Education. Government operated education should not be concerned with promoting any religious tradition, whether a given tradition is the majority or not. It should not involve prayers, or scripture study for religious education, or the promotion of religious doctrine under the guise of “intelligent design.”

A ban on religious invocation would not mean that there can be nothing related to religion in the government sphere. There is a distinction between religious invocation and religious cultural references. For example, in the Department of Justice building there is a statue representing Lady Justice, a Greco-Roman personification of justice. No one would suggest this is state support of Classical polytheism or a literal invocation to a goddess of justice. The sculpture is a cultural reference to a period of history which strongly resonates with our own. Such cultural references are perfectly within the scope of secular institutions: Moses and Solomon are included in a frieze in the South Courtroom of the Supreme Court, along with Hammurabi, Solon, Confucius, Augustus, Muhammad, Charlemagne, and others representing historical “lawgivers.” The library of the university I attended had inscribed above the foyer “With all thy getting, get understanding.” While this is a biblical passage, it is not an invocation of God, but rather a literary reference relevant to the purpose of a library. A number of cities in Massachusetts and in Utah have statues of historical religious leaders because those particular religious leaders played important roles in the history of those states. The Ten Commandments, on the other hand, have no practical relevance to U.S. history, government, or law (the Ten Commandments are hardly the foundation for U.S. law, as some Christian conservatives like to contend; the nation’s jurisprudence owes far more to the Anglo-Saxon folkmoots, Roman legal codification, and the law code of Hammurabi). Their only purpose on public property is to grant a special reverence to one particular religious tradition.

There will, of course, be those who misinterpret the absence of God from government platform as a repudiation of God. This critique is myopic. The absence of positive affirmations of God in our oaths or pledges or currency or buildings would hardly be a denial of the existence of God or a repudiation of religion. It would simply reflect the truth that it is up to us as free individuals to make our own determination about the nature of the divine and to promote those beliefs on their own merits rather than through government support. It would recognize that religion can be a powerful force for good for individuals and society only when religion is spread through personal conviction and not government prescription.

In some ways one might think these items to be somewhat superficial and trivial. Words inscribed on our money or casually recited in a pledge have very little real-world impact on our lives. I don’t think we can discount ways in which these official government appeals and endorsements exert pressure on society to conform—that is, after all, why certain entities have pressed for such appeals and endorsements in the first place. furthermore, the government acknowledgment and sanction of religion which these invocations represent gives government tacit license to further promote, prefer, and define religion in the public sphere. Many groups would like to further intermingle Church and State; the Constitution Party is perhaps most explicit in stating that it’s goal is to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations,” and erroneously claiming that “The U.S. Constitution established a Republic rooted in Biblical law,” but many other groups share the same sentiment and desire to infringe upon true freedom of conscience. By drawing a strong line at these seemingly minor transgressions on freedom of conscience, we make it easier to resist the more hazardous infraction: the legislative codification of religious belief and practice.

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Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both

July 4, 2009

Some time ago, I wrote a post which I intended to be the first in a series on the separation of Church and State, “Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle.” I had intended to shortly continue the series, but events required me to scale back my blogging time and postpone the sequel. Today seems a perfect day to resume the series.

Religious conservatives contemporary to Jefferson and Madison assaulted the newborn Constitution as Godless, and persistently accused the two politicians of being atheists throughout their careers. To these religious conservatives a “wall of separation” between the Church and State was nothing less than a scheme to undermine religion. They could hardly have been more wrong. While not conventionally religious, the letters and works of the two men reveal them to be profoundly spiritual people. Like modern religious conservatives who level similar charges against entities such as the ACLU, People for the American Way, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, those religious conservatives manifested a remarkable inability to grasp the difference between advocating liberty in religious matters and attempting to extinguish religion. And like their modern counterparts, they failed to understand that strict separation between state and religion is actually essential for keeping the flames of religion burning.

Within the text of Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, these thinkers were very insistent upon that point. They would have been rather skeptical of Mitt Romney’s claim that “Freedom requires religion.” They were well aware that for hundreds of years people have been imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered in the name of religion. Religion has been a force in shackling men at least as often as liberating them, particularly when associated with the state. Under those conditions, it seeks to use the force of government to cement its temporal power, stifling new ideas while neglecting the persuasion which is the root of any effectual religion. At the same time, government when united with religion seeks to appropriate the moral authority of its partner, manipulating the modes of religion to promote its own agenda, as we experienced with the Bush administration in their Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Hardly trying to purge God from the nation, these founding fathers (and their modern separationist counterparts) were trying to create an environment in which religion could flourish. A level playing field allows any moral sentiment the opportunity to make its case, to rise or fall on its own merits. They sought a society in which organizations would be forced to rely on exhortation rather than coercion to promote and defend their beliefs; in which dogma could be challenged and, if found lacking, cast aside. They hoped for a society in which new ideas and new systems of belief—such as the LDS faith—could be explored and, if they drew people through their fruit, take root and blossom. When government either tries to play a role in favoring religious beliefs and practices, or neglects its duty to protect the freedom of conscience which is the root of religious freedom, government hinders that process. Religion as a result becomes superficial and hollow, a matter of compulsion rather than faith. A purely secular, areligious government, one entirely indifferent to religion, best enables religion to achieve its full spiritual potency.

Of all people we in the LDS faith should understand the importance of freedom of conscience. We are taught that the Lord raised up this nation as a land of liberty in order to restore his Gospel where it might not be smothered by the oppression of contemporary religious orthodoxy. The Church suffered great hardship and persecution because the freedom of conscience which Jefferson and Madison favored was so imperfectly protected.

This principle is part of the Church canon, in the Eleventh Article of Faith

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almight God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

D&C 134:4-5 & 9-10 makes the Gospel’s position even more clear on the subject.

We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience

…We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship (emphasis added).

In seeking to instill in government a systematic predisposition towards religion, religious conservatives typically point to the such patriots as George Washington, who spoke emphatically of the importance of religion for the nation in such works as his farewell address. These conservatives balk at the idea of a secular state, protesting that such a state betrays Washington’s vision by favoring atheism. They are wrong. A firm separation of Church and State does not encourage or aid atheism over any other belief. It merely allows atheists the same freedom to follow the dictates of their conscience as anyone else. It grants atheism the same opportunity to make its case as any theology. And Atheists should unquestionably have that right. Freedom of conscience is a lie, the lie of toleration, if it is proffered only to theistic beliefs. Do we as Christians so lack confidence in the persuasive power of the doctrines of Christ as to require atheism repressed by the government, indirectly or otherwise?

Meaningful religion needs no government sanction or support to sustain itself. In Jefferson’s notes for the debate on Virginia’s disestablishment, he outlined such an argument.

Christianity flourished three-hundred years without establishments. Soon as established, decline from purity. Betrays want of confidence in doctrines of church to suspect that reason or intrinsic excellence insufficient without secular prop (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian Boyd editor, vol. 1 p.538-539).

Yes, Washington and other prominent founders expected the United States of America to be a religious nation. But that brings us to the second sense of the phrase “Religious (or Christian) Nation,” one in which the people of the nation upholds Christian virtue by free choice, as dictated by one’s conscience. Jefferson and Madison expected true religion to flourish in the U.S.—a religion which conventional Christians then and now would hardly endorse, but a religion nonetheless—by virtue of its power to touch the hearts of those who freely experiment upon its claims, and the persuasion of those who have experienced its goodness in their lives. They expected religion to be refined and improved through the process of free inquiry and exploration. A Christian (or religious) nation in the first sense of the word—in which government takes a hand in promoting religion, is directly antithetical to that desire. By increasingly seeking to intermingle the two, pursuing government favor for their own religious beliefs, religious conservatives are impeding the very goals they supposedly hope to accomplish. If they would follow Madison and Jefferson in strengthening the wall between the two, they could better ensure that this nation protected the religious and personal liberties we celebrate today.

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Nov 5: Post Election Day thoughts

November 5, 2008

The seemingly interminable Presidential campaign has at last been terminated. Barack Obama will be our next president. With the day upon us, my wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The relief only grew as drew on and the final results came in.

I was impressed by McCain’s concession speech. While it included many obligatory lines, I felt McCain made some very genuine, gracious statements. They recalled the man whom I admired in the 2000 campaign, for whom I voted in the primaries in 1999, and who has been absent far too often in the intervening years. I’m glad to have sighted him again. Hopefully he will reemerge in the new Senate.

I was rather confident that Obama would win this election, and I’m grateful that my confidence was not misplaced. I chose to vote for Nader as the best possible choice. But while I believe McCain would have been an improvement over the current administration (his choice for Vice President notwithstanding), Obama is the mainstream candidate under whom I have the most hope for a more progressive direction to our government.

Race is no reason to elect a President, but last night race certainly was a reason to celebrate a President. The ugly stains of bigotry were still dark and widespread in the fabric of our country not so long ago (it is within my lifetime that the LDS Church finally surrendered its own racist policies). Nor has racism been expunged from the republic. Yet this election is an enormous symbolic step for blacks and other minorities. We should relish that step and the jubilation of our minority sisters and brothers who feel empowered, inspired, and validated by this moment.

Obama’s acceptance speech was brilliant. I was moved by the humility, by the solemn tone, by the broader perspective of the task ahead. Of course, being a marvelous speaker does not make one a great president. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the number of Obamaniacs who seem smitten solely based on his oratorical skills. Obama obviously has intelligence and incredible poise, but only time will tell whether he has the virtue, wisdom, and the fortitude to be a truly great president. We will see whether he has the character to bring people together to change course, or whether “Change” was merely a cynical political slogan. We will learn if he can make the honest political compromises necessary in government without being compromised.

But no matter how Obama turns out, we should take inspiration from his beautiful address last night. The focus of the speech was not “Yes I will,” but “Yes we can.” No matter how magnificent a president he may turn out to be, he cannot solve all of our problems. His wisecracks at the recent charity dinner aside, Obama is not Superman. Conversely, no matter how inept or unprincipled he might reveal himself to be, we are neither powerless nor incapable of reforming our nation from the grassroots up. As Obama pointed out, this nation has made remarkable steps towards overcoming its flaws—not without stumbles and serious deviations from time to time; but improvement nonetheless. That progress, slow as it may be, has only occurred through the determined effort of people throughout society.

In this period in which we face many serious challenges, we can and must harness the energy catalyzed by the Obama campaign before it fizzles out. We can mobilize the youth who supported Obama in such numbers to continue to follow the liberal impulses which drew them in. We can recognize that, despite what Palin and those of her persuasion believe, community activism and organizing are noble and meaningful pursuits. We can put aside the self-interest which has played such a dominant part of the nation’s ideology to instead focus on sustaining the community; looking to care for the earth which supports us all, as well as for the needy, the downtrodden, and “the least of these.”

Yes we can.

Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle

October 31, 2008

Is the U.S. a Christian nation? On the campaign, John McCain asserted that it is. Barack Obama has insisted we are not. But what does the phrase mean?

There are two concepts to which the phrase “Christian nation” can be applied. The first concept is one in which the government itself directly upholds the cause of Christianity. Many Christian groups, most associated with conservatism, have endorsed that interpretation. For example, the Family Research Council has claimed that “Our founders expected that Christianity—and no other religion—would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples’ consciences and their right to worship.” Dozens of conservative books and websites proclaim that the concept of a wall of separation between Church and State is a myth. Many conservative Christian leaders and organizations, based on that premise, have actively promoted a greater integration of Church and State, seeking to use government power to advance their agendas. Even such supposedly libertarian conservatives as Ron Paul have argued against the separation and in favor of a Christian connection to our government.

Like the FRC, Paul and others who subscribe to that first concept of a Christian nation invoke the Founding Fathers. According to these religious conservatives, these Founding Fathers, fellow pious Christians, wanted this nation to be explicitly Christian in character, and would be shocked at the secularization of the government.

While there are some few nuggets of truth in their claims, one must pan out a whole lot of silt to find them. The colonies were indeed largely established as explicitly religious communities—most of them one particular denomination (Pennsylvania being the exception). Deviation from that denomination’s religion was legally restricted, as Jews, Catholics, Quakers, Baptists, and other minority faiths sadly discovered. Many in the U.S. are inaccurately taught in school that the original European immigrants came seeking religious freedom. In truth, these immigrants typically came to establish their own religious dominions. The pilgrims were so fanatical in their religious oppression, The crown in England sent a letter to Massachusetts demanding that local authorities stop executing his subjects for heresy.

The founding of the United States of America was altogether different. Before I explain, I should point out a historical misconception. In political debate, we frequently try to present the Founding Fathers as some harmonious body. But these generalizations are far from accurate. The founding generation was as factious and fractious a bunch as any. The debates were intense, their relationships frequently bitter. Those who present a particular political point of view as that of “The Founders” are incorrectly ascribing some unanimity to this diverse bunch.

Some of the founding generation were certainly conventional and deeply devout Christians who wanted the nation to be expressly and innately Christian. Like Mike Huckabee, those men wanted to mold the nation’s governing charter to “God’s standard.” Many of these men were outraged when—and here is a key point—the Constitution did not once address God. Virtually all prior government codes and charters in the Western tradition had very unequivocally prevailed upon and recognized God. Yet in the final bargain the Constitution conspicuously declined any such invocation. There is nothing within the founding document which supports the conservative claims.

Christian conservatives like to take selected words of the critical founders out of context to give the impression that they share with today’s Christians a similar faith. Given the way founders are described in LDS circles, one might even believe them some sort of pre-Restoration LDS quorum. But research on the wider scope of their lives reveals that none of the men most prominent in the founding of the U.S. can accurately be associated with conventional Christianity. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison all scoffed at the idea of the divinity of Christ and other core theological principles of Christianity. Each was highly skeptical of the organizations which had risen up around those beliefs. Institutionalized religion was frequently a target of Franklin’s wit. Jefferson believed that it was religion—the hierarchical structures and the orthodoxy they enforce—which had perverted the simple and beautiful doctrines of Jesus by building up the superstitions of his divinity. Even Adams, more tolerant of religion as a necessary evil than the other two, caustically erupted numerous times over one religion or another in his private correspondence. George Washington was much more circumspect on religion than the others. He served on the vestry of his local Episcopal congregation, as men of his status in Virginia were expected to do. He frequently made reference to a higher power in his discourse, both civic and private—the private references often in the form of thundering expletives. But he rarely chose Christian phrases for God in public, preferring instead masonic or deist epithets. While he often attended services, it is well attested that he never took communion. Rarely did he make mention of Christ, let alone discuss Jesus as his Savior, despite the persistent urging of the Christian leaders of his era. Some call the faith of these men Theistic Rationalism. Whatever we may believe about their postmortal religious beliefs and affiliations (Journal of Discourses, vol. 19, p. 229), during their earthly probation their beliefs can hardly be considered akin to the religious right—whether conventional Christian or conservative LDS.

The extent to which these men believed government should be interwoven with religion varied. Washington and Adams were agreeable to a general collaboration between Church and State. Washington felt religious institutions useful partners to government in establishing order in society, though he was indifferent to the doctrine of those institutions. Adams, despite his personal theological heterodoxy, believed Christian organizations and their doctrines should be supported by the government for their role in restraining the less savory aspects of our humanity (the cantankerous Adams derided most religion, but he was even more dubious about the prospects for humanity without it). Under these Presidents, the ones who made “so help me God” an unofficial addition to the Presidential oath of office, federally sponsored days of fasting and prayer were not uncommon, and the wall between Church and State was fairly permeable. Even so, Adams signed an official treaty which noted that “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion… (Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, 1796, article 11).”

Things were decidedly different with the next two presidents, Jefferson and Madison. Unlike their predecessors, these two outraged the religious establishment by refusing to call for national days of fasting and prayer during their administrations, seeing such declarations as unconstitutional (see “Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Rev. Samuel Millar,” 01.23.1808). Jefferson was indeed very insistent that there be the “wall of separation” between Church and State. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, for which Jefferson had been the foremost architect, was to him such a crowning achievement that it was one of the three accomplishments he selected to list in his epitaph. As he put it

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17,1782).

Even more adamant about the necessity to separate Church and State, Madison’s original proposal for what became the First Amendment was stunning in its scope before being watered down in congressional compromise.

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner or on any pretext infringed (Amendments Offered in Congress by James Madison June 8, 1789)

Madison was not content to prevent government collusion with religion on a national level. States-rights proponents who list Jefferson and Madison as unqualified advocates of states supremacy over the federal government might be surprised to read the fifth amendment Madison submitted in his draft of amendments.

No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases (ibid, emphasis added)

(Those same “states rights” absolutists should also note that Madison’s original “Virginia Plan” which he presented to the Constitutional Convention maintained that the federal government needed a “negative” power—essentially a federal veto—over state legislatures; see “Letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson,” 24.10.1787).

During his administration, Madison opposed the common practice of government chaplains, whether for the military, state-funded universities, or Congress. If individuals or groups wished spiritual guidance, he determined that they should seek it out on their own and if necessary, with their own funds. He fought the government practice of incorporating church properties. When Christian groups petitioned to have the U.S. postal service closed on Sundays in observance of the Sabbath, Madison actively opposed their efforts. He resisted any government involvement with private charities connected with religion.

Madison’s stated belief is most stark in defense of religious freedom and a separation of Church and State.

We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society [ie, government] and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance (Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments; emphasis added).

Exempt from its cognizance. Often when describing issues touching upon the relationship between Church and State, the phrase “religious tolerance” is used. But Madison’s vision is not one of a Christian-based government practicing kindly tolerance of other faiths. He well knew “tolerance” was arbitrary and “a source itself of discord and animosity, (“Letter from Madison to Edward Everett,” 03.19.1823).” Madison proposed a government completely blind to religion, one which does not even recognize the existence of religion.

These two men most closely associated with our founding documents, these icons of the early American Republicanism which conservatives invoke, strongly favored a disassociate between Church and State. In claiming that there is no historical foundation for this separation, conservatives show a profound ignorance and lack of understanding about the founding of our nation, the men who were instrumental in that founding, and the document which governs the nation.

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Schlafly’s Lie about Democrats and Abortion

September 4, 2008

A few days ago, Tom Ashbrook interviewed Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum and a primary leader in grassroots conservatism. One particular exchange caught my attention.

CALLER CAROLINE: …I would like to ask her: If Sarah Palin were a Democratic candidate with a tiny special needs child at home and a 17-year-old daughter that’s expecting a baby that’s unwed, how the Republican Party of family values would view the fact that the mother went to work just a few days after the special needs baby was born. So that’s what’s happening with the Republican Party, and I would like her to comment…

TOM ASHBROOK: …We’ll put it to her. Are you a Republican, Democrat, independent, what?

CAROLINE: Former Republican, due to this, exactly what we’re describing.

ASHBROOK: Phyllis Schafly, what do you say…?

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: If Sarah Palin were a Democrat, she would have aborted the baby. That’s the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats (“The Soul of the GOP,” On Point with Tom Ashbrook )

Never mind the fact that, as was pointed out later in the interview, 90% of Down Syndrome pregnancies are aborted (does Schlafly presume that the overwhelming majority of Down Syndrome pregnancies are conceived among Democrats?). She stood by her statement, outrageous as it was.

As I’ve addressed at length before, many—perhaps most—liberals (people like Schlafly typically conflate liberals and Democrats) do not encourage or approve of abortion. We may believe that there needs to be some recognition of and respect for what is typically an agonizing choice for the mother, a recognition that postnatal life deserves just as much sanctity as prenatal, and that we can do more to support life by providing support for those who chose life than by heavy-handed government control. Unfortunately, people like Schlafly are determined not to see the difference between that broader perspective and actually advocating abortion.

A good friend of mine, one who is ardently liberal, recently wrote a very intimate and emotional essay in which she expressed her abhorrence of abortion.

For years now I’ve been saying, “We need to keep abortion legal to save lives,” and I still believe that. But at the same time, I hate abortion. Abortion is violent and invasive. I can imagine that just as birth and health exams can be extremely traumatizing for women who have been raped or sexually abused, abortion is no different. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a surgical abortion with a history of sexual abuse or after being raped, but given the high percentage of these incidences, it seems likely that a great many women who choose to abort are in this category. That makes abortion a seriously disgusting proposition…

…Pro-choice advocates do women a disservice when they refuse to recognize the authentic human experience of abortion, in which a woman might not leave the clinic feeling empowered and independent, but instead feeling abused and disgusted – even while feeling also that they absolutely made the right choice…

I hope that abortion will stay legal, but even more importantly, I hope to see the reasons for unwanted pregnancy attacked with precision and strength. This means, above all, preventing unwanted pregnancy from occurring. This speaks to issues of comprehensive sex education, the availability of contraception to people across the economic spectrum, and further development of contraceptive methods.

This also speaks to poverty and our culture of rape and easy exploitation of women and children. Our habit of blaming the victims followed by ostracism and judgment doesn’t help, either. Our lack of support for women for whom abortion is not the uterine equivalent of dental work speaks volumes about perpetuated stereotypes and dichotomies in our culture. (“Abortion Redux,” Conscious Intention )

Like my friend, I vehemently challenge the Pro-Choice advocates who trivialize the procedure—though I rarely hear such arguments. Maybe they were more prominent a few decades ago, earlier in the abortion conflict, but those sentiments seem rare now. Virtually everyone I hear from on the Left recognizes the gravity of the issue.

I join Schlafly in my admiration for Palin’s willingness to take on the challenge of raising the Down Syndrome child God gave her—just as I equally admire the Democrat running for the Utah House of Representatives in Davis County who is raising a Down Syndrome child.

Schlafly is right to criticize those who promote abortion or discuss it lightly. But she is wrong to lump all Democrats (or all liberals) in that same boat. It is an outright lie to assert that a Democrat would have aborted the baby.

I’ve heard conservatives complain that it is wrong when some liberal voices assert that conservatives don’t care about the poor and disadvantaged. And these conservatives are correct; while far too many conservative commentators use the Moral Conservative Criticism against Social Justice, or disregard the problems which poverty represents, there are a good many who do care deeply about the poor. We may have disagreements with them about the manner in which to alleviate poverty, but we cannot discount their sincere concern for the issue. I hope these same conservatives will understand our grievance with Schlafly’s statements.

Feminist Mormon Housewifes: Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too)

June 26, 2008

With the recent legal brouhaha over homosexual marrige in California and the LDS Church’s response, the homosexual marriage issue is again a hot topic in religious circle and around the blogosphere. One of the big arguments of those advocating for homosexual marriage bans is that we must protect “traditional marriage.” Of course, I’m always curious what form of traditional marriage they want to protect; after all, marriage has had many different forms around the world, and has experienced quite a bit of evolution over the past couple hundred years.

“Not Ophelia,” contributor to Feminist Mormon Housewives, has written a profound post, “Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too),” addressing just that point.

What we call marriage in this country is a very recent invention. Throughout the millennia marriage has been, not about two people who love each other and want to share a life together, but rather about power, property and paternity. About male control of women’s work, women’s lives and women’s fertility. The importance of virginity, the stigma of bastardy, the ‘head of the household’ status, coverture, and in some cultures arranged marriages, bride price, dowries, honor killings, and the right of husbands but not wives to divorce at will — all of this was (or shamefully still is) part of the effects of traditional marriage.

I’m glad she was willing to barbecue that sacred cow. Whether or not we believe homosexual marriage is sinful, it is certainly worth considering just what traditional marriage means as a theory and in our lives.

ALiberalMormon’s Del.icio.us Links

May 14, 2008

Anyone who has poked around the links in the right-hand column of this blog will have noticed that I’ve done a very poor job of keeping them updated. It’s a pain to try to decide what blogs and other links are most important and worth putting up in that precious space. I’ve decided I prefer to try to keep my links on a separate site. So if you are interested in looking at the blogs I read, the organizations I support, the candidates I like, and other sites I find meaningful and important in the context of my social/political/economic ideology, check out the ALiberalMormon del.icio.us page. I’m trying to include most major links I’ve used on the blog. It isn’t completely comprehensive, but it’s a lot better than what I had before.

A Few Thoughts on the Resignation of Eliot Spitzer

March 27, 2008

I hadn’t intended to make any comments on the self-destruction of Eliot Spitzer. I’ve tended to avoid discussing the sexual behavior of politicians, for a variety of reasons: the most prominent being that the personal vices of individuals doesn’t really relate to ideological issues. Heaven knows we’ve seen people in every camp fall prey to temptation. But I’ve had many people ask me about my opinion, in person or over email, so I thought I might as well share some belated thoughts.

We live in a carnal world. We human beings are frail creatures, easily given to sin. Sexual sin is very prevalent in our world, much more so than I was lead to believe growing up in a supposedly upstanding religious community. Even “good” people often succumb to the lures of the flesh. I have been very saddened to learn this. I see the heartache this causes in families, the lives it can wreak. I pray humanity can learn to vanquish this part of our world. But as of this moment, it is an immense trap for many of us.

I believe in forgiveness and compassion. No scarlet letters, please. History has shown that people who might succumb to temptation can be effective and even socially transformative leaders. Personal sins should be considered just that: personal. Adultery is between sinner, spouse, and God. We should leave it there, and not make it a political issue.

Spitzer’s case, however, isn’t merely about extramarital sex. It is about participating in prostitution, sexual trafficing. And as I understand it, we’re talking about a felony offense for the means by which he attempted to cover his tracks. Nothing proven yet, but Spitzer’s immediate but vague confession certainly seems to justify the charges. The citizens of New York should not tolerate such activity from the chief executive officer of their state. While I question the motives of the NY Republican drive to impeach, it was indeed absolutely imperative that Spitzer be removed from office. I’m glad pressure mounted for his resignation.

Same goes for Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, by the way. The apparent affair might be forgiven. The manner in which he has apparently abused his power to obstruct justice and protect his hide is a betrayal of the public and should not be tolerated.

I was disappointed to learn that Spitzer has been harboring such crimes. From what I had followed of his career, he had seemed a strong advocate for the public. He had worked hard to hold Wall Street to decent ethical standards and to be more accountable for the harm its excesses caused. But no amount of good deeds can excuse crimes such as those in which he apparently indulged. If we allow politicians this sort of license because of their party affiliation, we cede any claim to moral legitimacy.