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« Ownership society | Main | Silver lining »

May 27, 2010

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James

Reminds me of one of my long-standing rules of editing: When in doubt, leave it out.

Government officials would be wise to adopt that posture when it comes to the intrusion of fantasy and mythology (aka religion) in government operations.

Brandon Burgess

Amen James. It's funny, the other atheists and agnostics I have spoken with seem to think it is just hilarious that the religious types are arguing over something so ridiculous. I and other atheists would rather be discussing and debating the budget and the search for a new chief.

liv

I agree 100% but perhaps we need this, so someone can take it to court... and maybe we can finally get a discussion about how much religious influence is in the area.

justcorbly

I usually avoid commenting on Greensboro-specific posts -- we have enough problems of our own over here in Wake County -- but the points Ed raises aren't at all tied to one locality.

So, whether this happens in Greensboro, or on Capitol Hill, or anywhere else, what I don't understand is what is supposed to be so special about a formal prayer at the beginning of a public session? Is God more likely to respond? Will God not hear the prayers that individuals might make prior to the session's start? If the prayers are only intended to make the participants feel better, well, I've always thought that sort of thing was a pretty basic misunderstanding of religion.

(Recently, I learned that my family once seemed to have some skin in this church-state separation game. In 1778, an ancestor -- a Baptist preacher -- was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The House, possibly at the behest of Thomas Jefferson, refused to seat him because, it held, clergymen were ineligible for elective office. A new election was held, and it was some time before Virginia allowed clergymen to sit in its house.)

Brandon Burgess

Liv, it looks like that is the only solution. While I am not bothered by Knight's move, I have to concur with his enemies that he should not have made this move. I voted for the man but he appears clueless on issues that have nothing to do with city business.

Sue

I responded to Joe over here, but doesn't this set of sentences give you pause to a post called "Prayer Warriors?" (bold is mine)

I noted in the thread over at Ed's that at least several of those who objected to Mayor Knight's policy were Jewish. And there has certainly been a history of Jewish advocacy for secularism over the last century in the United States. And I think this is based, at least in part, upon a deep-seated fear of being hurt or marginalized by an overtly Christian culture. We must remember that the Jewish people have been hurt at least once or twice in their history, in other less hospitable places. [note from Sue: my US-born father (z''l) told me he was 14 in NYC before he learned that "Jew bastard" was two words.]

But Michael Medved explains why Jewish fear of publicly vibrant Christianity is misplaced. The Jewish people have tended to do very well in the United States; and have overall been accepted in a special way, in a nation that until very recently was culturally Christian.

I mean, really. Just really.

Spag

"it goes against my understanding of how our government should operate."

Obviously a limited understanding because the Supreme Court has already ruled that non-sectarian prayers are Constitutional.

So now that we've dispensed with that Cone subterfuge, maybe he will give us his real explanation

"the argument against government-sponsored prayer is not that it privileges the "dreaded fundamentalists"

Just don't ask Ed to tell you what the "argument" is and why. Also ignore those who actually make the argument that Ed claims isn't the argument. So while Ed claims Joe's "logic is tangled", he really doesn't offer any of his own.

Another attack on Guarino; another attempt to hijack the discussion away from Guarino's blog which has overtaken this one for substantive discussions of local issues. I mean who really writes a blog post that consists of a comment they left on someone else's blog except someone who is trying to move the conversation away from the original blog where the discussion is already taking place?

Sue, you are starting to sound a little paranoid and snippy there.

bubba

"Another attack on Guarino; another attempt to hijack the discussion away from Guarino's blog which has overtaken this one for substantive discussions of local issues. I mean who really writes a blog post that consists of a comment they left on someone else's blog except someone who is trying to move the conversation away from the original blog where the discussion is already taking place?"

It's rather apparent, isn't it?

So is the predictable pushback.

Sue

@spag "Sue, you are starting to sound a little paranoid and snippy there."

Did you just call me snippy? Thou shalt pay for that :)

But paranoid? C'mon, Sam, "once or twice?" If there's ever been historical denial, that's near the top of the list. I know I see the world through my own lens (as we all do), but jeez, "persecuted Christians in America" is hard to fathom standing against the 6,000 years of successive global persecution against Jews that was reduced to "once or twice."

It's not about me, really. It's about viewing and understanding history.

Andrew Brod

Sue, I didn't read Guarino's "once or twice" remark so literally. His tongue-in-cheek phrasing aside, my sense is that he has no disagreement with you about the extent of Jewish suffering over the centuries. After all, acknowledging that helps him make his point that because America has been exceptional as a home for the Jews (which is undeniably true), we should just quiet down and let the Christians have their public prayers.

What I see as more important is Guarino's summing-up concern "that the opposition to Knight's policy may be rooted in prejudice, and may be motivated by a desire to restrict religious liberty." This is quite dumb, on a number of levels. First of all, it's tedious for a Christian, a member of what is by far and away the majority sect in this country, to be complaining about prejudice. Dude, you won already.

Second, as has been noted here by many people (apparently to no avail), this conversation has absolutely nothing to do with anyone's freedom to worship as he or she wishes. The only issue is what a government official does in his official capacity. To associate that with "religious liberty" is simply incorrect.

Finally, as I've pointed out here recently, conservatives can't seem to grasp the conceptual point that criticizing something is not necessarily equivalent to restricting it. Does the mayor have a legal right to initiate non-sectarian public prayers at city council meetings? It appears that he does. Do others have a right to criticize him for it? Yes, they do. That's not restricting; that's talking.

Andrew Brod

As for Spag, of course he's right that non-sectarian prayers are Constitutional, but once again he's missed the point. Ed wasn't addressing how government works. The phrase he used was "should work." And although agreeing with Ed is somehow a mark of dishonor on Spag's home planet, I agree with that "should."

Michele Forrest

"And his logic gets a little tangled -- the argument against government-sponsored prayer is not that it privileges the 'dreaded fundamentalists' -- if anything, this kind of non-sectarian prayer is more likely to please some of the 'liberal' church-goers Joe derides than religious conservatives -- and, in fact, Michele says this kind of prayer is highly unsatisfying to her."

I'm surprised to see Joe, an evangelical Christian, advocating for politically correct prayer. PC anything = liberal to me. PC + God doesn't go together. Period.

cheripickr

I think I'm in love.

Spag

"Do others have a right to criticize him for it? Yes, they do. That's not restricting; that's talking."

That's fine, Brod. The problem for me is when they can't formulate an argument upon which the criticism is based. It's not a Constitutional issue, so what is it? This goes back to the argument we've been having for the past few days that nobody really answers- what is the dire consequence?

Then there is this:

"What I see as more important is Guarino's summing-up concern "that the opposition to Knight's policy may be rooted in prejudice, and may be motivated by a desire to restrict religious liberty." This is quite dumb, on a number of levels. First of all, it's tedious for a Christian, a member of what is by far and away the majority sect in this country, to be complaining about prejudice. Dude, you won already."

There is no logic in that paragraph. Christians can be the majority in the country and still be victims of prejudice. Prejudice isn't a numbers game and not all the Christians believe in the same things anyway. E.g., Catholics were the victims of prejudice. Christians can also be the targets of people who want to restrict religious liberty. Further, Joe doesn't limit his concerns to Christianity.

Finally, maybe Ed should start making his own arguments in his defense.

P.S., CP if you're referring to Michele, that's not a bad choice.

Spag

Sue, I didn't think we were in a competition between Jews and Christians to determine who has been shit on the most. I don't think that was what Joe was trying to do. If you want to turn that into some kind of borderline denial, I think that is off base. His point was that Jews are probably treated much better in the United States than anywhere else and have been for a long time which is why he thinks the fears of some about the role of Christianity in America is largely unfounded.

That was my take on it, but Joe can speak for himself.

Andrew Brod

"PC anything = liberal to me. PC + God doesn't go together. Period."

By transitivity, then, liberal + God don't go together either. So one can't be both liberal and righteous in God's eyes?

Probably Michele's answer will be no, because she clearly has a good soul, whereas answering yes would be hateful. The broader point is that it's wrong-headed to try to assign PC and God to the same sphere. PC is politics and God is religion (or spirituality or whatever term people prefer), and in this country the two are better off kept separate. (Yes, yes, I know Spag will chime in about Israel or Lesotho or some other equally irrelevant country.)

As I noted here recently, given current Constitutional interpretation, the issue of public prayer is about politics, not religion. I wouldn't characterize decades of Constitutional law as "PC." Both liberal and conservative justices contributed to that.

Roch101

"I don't understand is what is supposed to be so special about a formal prayer at the beginning of a public session? Is God more likely to respond?" --
Justcorbly

According to Joe:

"If a member of the clergy genuinely asks God to do certain things, there can be two outcomes. Either He will answer those prayers, or He won't. But again, if we truly harbor an authentic faith, then it seems we would not want to rob our city of any blessings or benefits that might accrue from God's intervention."

The logic of that speaks for itself -- but then, this isn't apparently motivated by reason.

Roch101

"While I am not bothered by Knight's move, I have to concur with his enemies that he should not have made this move." -- Brandon

You are limiting your understanding with that view, Brandon. People can, and do, disagree with this decision without being "enemies" of the mayor.

greensboro transplant

the prayer issue reminds me of today's "Christmas" celebrations in schools. kids celebrate santa and snow, but Jesus is off limits. this wasn't the case in the 60's when i attended sternberger for a couple of years. we sang Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, and traditional Jewish songs as well. one year we had a menorah in the classroom. i don't remember any protests or bitterness.

people say we're more diverse now and it's to be celebrated. but it feels more like society has been fractured. it feels like we lost something -perhaps something important.

Ed Cone

The Mayor is not my enemy.

He's an elected official in my hometown, with whom I disagree on this decision.

It's an important distinction, blurred far too often in national politics, that I hope we can preserve at the local level.

GT, I went to second grade at Sternberger in the late '60s, and I seem to remember Carol Isaacson singing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" in that pageant. I agree that we can scrub the common culture too much.

Mick

Prayers are always answered but sometimes the answer is "No".

I might add that, in my current and recent experience, the whole no God or Christams at schools or school plays, etc is somewhat of an urban legend. Perhaps the pendulum has swung back just a bit toward normalcy from militant PCism?

Spag

"and in this country the two are better off kept separate..." Why here and not elsewhere, Brod? Once we take the Constitutionality out of the equation, which we have done based on the current state of the law- the question is no longer uniquely American and must implicate some other universal values or concerns to raise such ire? What are those?

Also noted that Ed still hasn't presented an argument in support of his previous contention about how and why this conflicts with his "understanding" of our government.

Whom

Spag - "the question is no longer uniquely American and must implicate some other universal values or concerns to raise such ire? What are those?"

See Saudi Arabia, Pakistan etc...

Spag - "an argument in support of his previous contention about how and why this conflicts with his "understanding" of our government."

The understanding being rationality above myth.

Reason above faith.

Constitutional Law above what a bunch of guys came up with in the desert 4,000 years ago.

Michele Forrest

"So one can't be both liberal and righteous in God's eyes?"

Righteousness is the gift of God that comes when one is saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the sole determinant of righteousness.

To clarify, I was referring to theological, not political, liberalism. Theological liberalism (and political correctness, with which it is associated) denies Scriptural authority. I just found it odd that an evangelical Christian would argue for PC prayer. But I consider myself to be an evangelical fundamentalist, so admittedly, that puts me to the right of a lot of folks. I'm OK with that. ;)

I'd like to also note that Sam commented that I'm "not a bad choice" and in a related thread, I believe that Ed said he's fond of me, so it looks like there's some common ground there between Sam and Ed. That makes me happy. I'm a big fan of both of them. :)

cheripickr

What about me darn it? I'm the one with the crush!

Whom

"I like your Christ

I do not like your Christians
they are so unlike your Christ"

Mohandas Gandhi

Andrew Brod

I disagree that just because there's no Constitutional issue, we can divorce this from the reality and history of American culture. It's a distinctively American question. But we can discuss Lesotho if others want to.

As for schools, I share the general disappointment about how things have evolved there. Yes, I'd prefer the city council not to initiate public prayer. But in school it's nice for kids to be exposed kids to all sorts of different things, and that includes the occasional Christmas carol.

In short, Kyle's mom is indeed a bitch.

Sue

@spag "I don't think that was what Joe was trying to do."

Sam, I'm guilty of historical sarcasm unidentified in posts & comments (I identify it now) but if you really consider that Joe was being sarcastic, I'd enjoy hearing him say it because his consistent denigration of any religion that practices social justice defines his opinions. When the 'certain channel' news listeners buy into "Christians are being persecuted in the US," then you have to lower your standards as to what the definition of "fact" is. I found his comment in the line of denial of historical fact or simple lack of education (unsure which is worse if you're going to build a thesis on it).

As for Jews being treated well in the US, one *could* say that African Americans have been treated better in the US, if you just look at the past 25 or so years. We have to study and learn our history before we spout off sarcasm or facts. With Joe, it's a missing pattern.

I'm done talking about Joe's take on religion. Sam, you and I agree on some important things and not on others. Fine, it's a conversation and we're still friends.

Ed Cone

"Righteousness is the gift of God that comes when one is saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the sole determinant of righteousness."

Many Christians hold this belief. Other Christians, and all non-Christians, including the many Americans who do not adhere to any religion, have different beliefs.

Thus non-denominational prayer at public meetings, which fails to satisfy many people for different reasons.

Spag

"It's a distinctively American question." Really? How so if the Constitutionality is taken out of it? What makes it "distinctively American" as opposed to invoking a broader philosophical observation?

Does "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..." really mean to you that only Americans are thusly endowed and created equal? How else do you avoid applying the standard set for America elsewhere? Or perhaps there is something else "distinctively American" that you can point to that will justify application of a different standard to the United States than you would apply to peoples in other nations?

You are right about Kyle's mom, though.

Sue, we are still friends. I never doubted that.

Ed still hasn't provided an answer. I take it that his last comment means that his argument boils down to "it's just not really satisfying to anyone on a fulfilling level." I'd hate to think he made all of this noise for the past week over something so trivial as that.

Roch101

"That is the sole determinant of righteousness." -- Michelle

No, it is not. That's dogma.

Spag

So by implication, the other determinants of righteousness that Roch leaves unmentioned would also be dogmatic as they would also derive from a set of beliefs. So I guess I'm not sure what the point of that comment was.

"No you're not" said Little Nicola.

Goo goo goo joob.

Roch101

"So by implication, the other determinants of righteousness that Roch leaves unmentioned would also be dogmatic as they would also derive from a set of beliefs." -- Sam

Not at all. Proclaiming that a single determinate is the ONLY measure of righteousness is dogmatic. Recognizing another measure while not declaring it the ONLY measure is not dogmatic at all. Saying good works are a measure of righteousness is not dogmatic if I do not say they are the ONLY measure. You probably knew this already.

Andrew Brod

Sigh. This is the kind of comment that leaves us wondering about Spag's ability to handle complicated issues. Does he really not get it?

Cue Spag: "No, you're the one who doesn't get it!"

Sue

@spag ""It's a distinctively American question." Really? How so if the Constitutionality is taken out of it? What makes it "distinctively American" as opposed to invoking a broader philosophical observation?"

I really don't get your consistent need to move this argument beyond the US. This is about the US, US law, US Constitution, US foundations. We're a country founded on (among others) a principle of freedom to worship as one pleases without the government imposing *any* official-ness to a particular brand. That's pretty unique among nations, I suspect. So our discussions right revolve only around US law. Are you trying to drag theocracies and constitutional monarchies and all sorts of other national foundations into this discussion? It has nothing to do with them. I can't say it's unique to the US, but if not, then it's a pretty small party.

I see no need to tell other nations that should or should not have official religions. I live here.

@ed - do you know how many words are based on the sho-resh (root) of "tzadik, daled, kuf"? (For the English speakers, the root of righteousness is "Tzedek" - made of up the above 3 letters - and a ton of Hebrew words are derived from it, like "Tzedakah," (the righteous act of doing charity) and many more. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a single definition of righteousness in Judaism because it's a process. I suspect it's equally difficult to divine one for Christianity and I wouldn't even try.

Ed Cone

Many Christians believe that non-Christians can go to Heaven, a non-dogmatic approach to what may be a deeply-held religious conviction.

And there are dogmatic worldviews other than the one advanced by Michele, each (by definition) positing that it alone is correct.

Hence the difficulty of agreeing upon a suitable public prayer with any oomph to it.

Spag

Roch, you obviously don't understand the meaning of the word "dogma".

Brod is obviously covering up for his inability to address my previous questions to him without completely exposing flaws in his logic and a healthy dose of hypocrisy. That inability demonstrates who truly lacks the intelligence. Even the preemptive strike in his 4:07 comment makes it clear just how much he would like to deflect from this.

Which leads to Sue's comment because she addressed it somewhat without answering it (Brod does not want to answer it at all because he knows how it logically ends).

You cannot isolate the discussion to the United States when the objections are no longer rooted in the Constitution. The objections then NECESSARILY become philosophical ("What do you believe that causes this subject to generate your reaction to it?"). Are human rights, notions of equality, etc simply relative to where one lives or are these universal like OUR founding documents claim? If they aren't universal, then you don't really believe in our founding documents, do you? So why are you so worried about the threat to America? Are these things relative, and if so, why? Or are we to take that your philosophy isn't a philosophy at all, but merely selfish politics where you only recognize policies that maximize your own comfort?

Sorry that Brod can't grasp these questions, but I hope that answers Sue's query as to why I think these are important things to know.

Roch101

"Roch, you obviously don't understand the meaning of the word 'dogma'." -- Sam

Where do you find my comments in contradiction with its meaning?

cheripickr

I think Sam's carma just ran over Roch's dogma.

Spag

Roch, you can answer your own question by illustrating what you believe to be other measures of righteousness and why. You mentioned "good works" but you never said why/how that was any measure of righteousness. The answer will almost certainly lead back to a core belief of some religion and/or philosophy that is considered fundamental.

Roch101

I believe good works are one way of people being righteous. I leave open the possibilities that there are other means. Now please explain to me why you said I misunderstand the meaning of the word dogma.

Spag

You didn't initially. It was in your second comment when you wrote "Proclaiming that a single determinate is the ONLY measure of righteousness is dogmatic. Recognizing another measure while not declaring it the ONLY measure is not dogmatic at all."

The use of the word "ONLY" as the determining factor of whether something is dogmatic seems to be incorrect as it applies to this conversation. For example, if Michele said that there were two measures of righteousness and both were fundamental to her religious beliefs, that would be no less dogmatic. The other measures you speak of are almost certainly based on some other fundamental principle of a religion or ideology- whether you accept them for that purpose is another thing.

Roch101

You are correct. If Michelle had said accepting Jesus and not eating meat are the only measures of righteousness, that would have been dogmatic as well. That's not what she said. She said there was only one thing and one thing only -- dogma, as I said. I'm glad we agree.

Michele Forrest

Both "dogmatic" and "fundamentalist" are most often used in the pejorative sense, but I embrace those labels in the literal sense. I believe in absolute truth. I know that I know that I know. But as Ed pointed out, there are opposing dogmatic worldviews, so in a country with religious freedom, that makes it impossible to have consensus on acceptable public prayer.

Michele Forrest

P.S. Joe and I are both evangelical Christians, and we don't even have a consensus. It's complicated. But it's such a good opportunity to study Scripture and talk to God about it all. And as always, consensus on religion or politics is not a prerequisite for friendship with me, and disagreement doesn't stop love. :)

RecycleBill

I've had a crush on Michele since she was a teenager but that Separation of Church and Billy rule keeps getting in my way.

PS. CM, I've got new baby chickens and a nicer rooster.

Ed Cone

Michele -- you are right about the common usage of "dogmatic," although I think everyone here is using it in a literal sense.

You and Joe agree on some key issues of faith and practice, and you disagree on the issue of government prayer, on which you and I agree, although for different reasons, etc, ad infinitum.

Michele Forrest

Billy, that made me laugh. So did cheripickr's comments. ;) I want to come see the babies. I'll email you.

Ed, I like that we mix it up. ;)

Spag

"that Separation of Church and Billy rule keeps getting in my way."

Surely a wordsmith of your talent can turn that concept into a hit country song, Billy!

Sue

@spag (again) who wrote, "Which leads to Sue's comment because she addressed it somewhat without answering it (Brod does not want to answer it at all because he knows how it logically ends)."

What are you talking about? This isn't a global philosophical issue. The "Mayor-prayer" issue is an American Constitutional question and speaking for myself, I have no reason or right to criticize another country's practices. I may not like them (or I may), but that's what this is about. At least for most of us. Besides, you're trying to discuss Israel, so why not just put up a blog post to that effect and see if anyone's interested in talking about it?

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