Monday, January 4, 2016

Scalia Blabs Nonsense Again on Religious Neutrality

Headshot of Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's notoriety for making absurd remarks in public forums is well known. Recall  his daffy pronouncements on the existence of the Devil. from an October 6, 2012 remark:

"In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He's making pigs run off cliffs, he's possessing people and what not. And that doesn't happen much anymore. He used to be all over the New Testament...What happened to him? He got wilier!"

 Bill Maher's take on this idiocy on his Real Time show days later was exactly correct:

"I don't care why someone acts like a fool, only that when they do we keep them away from decision making. It would be one thing if Mr. Scalia sold pizza for a living. But this is a man we go to to interpret our laws. It's like smelling a gas leak and calling an exorcist.  Antonin Scalia helped put George Bush in the White House and he believes the Devil went down to Georgia. He gets to decide when life begins and he thinks evil is a person."

Maher went on to aptly point out the problem in believing in the Devil, is that you then see the world divided into two camps, one of 'good', the other of 'evil' and will then be inclined to see the "Evil One" on the side of 'them'- i.e. the others, who don't share your views .(More on this in a future post on the brain's tendency for social reduction).  It then is merely one step more to see compromising with your  opponents as compromising with evil. Then, Voila! You have the Tea Party.

In his latest demonstration that he is better fitted to be a pizza maker than Supreme Court Justice, he was speechifying at Catholic High School in the New Orleans' suburb of Metairie ('Justice Scalia Against Religious Neutrality', Denver Post, Jan. 3, p. 12A). He claimed there was "no place" in the country's constitutional traditions for the idea that the state (government) must be neutral between religion and its absence.

Making the rational person wonder if the constitution he's referring to is actually that of the Mullahs in Iran. Because the traditions I see show that there is no basis for a constitutional preference for any religion, or condemnation of its absence.

Also, Scalia's claim the country is a "Christian nation" is disproven by the simple expedient of examining the backgrounds of the Founders and what they wrote.

We can go first to the Treaty of Tripoli :
Where we find written, in Article 11:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries"

Did the authors just make that first line up to appease the "Mahometans"? I don't believe so. It was in fact an underlying tenet of their general Deist beliefs. Recall Deism isn't the same as Christianity.  For example, in the Deist view an innominate, impersonal Intelligence created the cosmos - but then detached from it - so there's no further involvement.

The Deist God, to give an analogy, is analogous to an intelligent child who makes a toy with a gear wheel, and the toy has the ability to move after being wound up and released. Thus, the child makes the toy, winds it up, releases it down the sidewalk, then walks away never to glance at it or its final outcome, destination. In this case, the child plays an analogous role to the ambiguous first cause of deism and the toy is analogous to the universe.

Strictly speaking, therefore, Deism treated in its orthodox and traditional manner is not Theism. Deism is, in fact, only one step removed from atheism. The atheist avers there is no one or nothing "minding the store" and so does the deist.  We know nearly all the Founders, the actual authors of the Constitution were hard core Deists, not Theists.

Thus, Scalia misled the Catholic students he addressed by trying to tell them the U.S. is a Christian nation. And as Deists, those Founders would never have claimed as Scalia has that "God has been very good to very good to us. That we won the Revolution was extraordinary and the Battle of Midway ..."   But the Deist god does not involve itself in human events, so he's overextending the role of his deity beyond what the authors intended.

Scalia would have done better to quote the words of one of the primary Deists and Constitution authors, Thomas Jefferson:

"I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:78
The above is particularly apropos as it dispenses with Scalia's nonsense that the Christian religion in the U.S. is superior or "ascendant" with respect to all others. Or enjoys any advantages over others, each of which Jefferson calls "sects".

Then we have one of the most important:

"Believing... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." --Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802. ME 16:281

This paved the way for the well known principle of the wall of separation between church and state. In effect, there can be NO state religion or preference for such, i.e. such as existed at the time in England with the King reigning not only as monarch but as head of the Anglican faith. Hence, it is bollocks for Scalia to talk to these students as if Christianity in general is a state religion for the U.S.

Other statements by Jefferson:

"Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle." --Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1813.

"I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Dowse, 1803. ME 10:378

"Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to God alone. I inquire after no man's, and trouble none with mine." --Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 1814. ME 14:198

Incidentally, Jefferson- on becoming disillusioned with so much in the KJV Bible - undertook to write his own version - divested of the humbug and what he took to be ahistorical additions. That version is available here:

The Catholic high school kids Scalia addressed would be better served ordering a copy of this book and reading it, than attending to Scalia's idiocy and ahistorical claptrap.

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