thread: 2007-02-13 : Exorcism

On 2007-02-25, MikeRM wrote:

Sydney said:
Mike: The whole "Congress shall make no law..." thing was an attempt to make sure that the government just kept out of the whole mess. Sadly, it didn't work.

It didn't? Could you elaborate? Because I'm honestly not seeing the problem you appear to be, and I'd rather understand your opinion than just shrug and move on.

Yes, in the US we do have horrible wrangling debates about whether City Hall can put up a creche on the lawn or not, or whether judges can have the 10 Commandments on their courtroom wall, or whether Air Force Academy faculty can proselytize the cadets. But I'm not aware of any systemic failure of the U.S. Constitution to protect the right of individuals to practice the religion of their choice.

My point is that "Congress shall make no law" was originally intended to say, the state has no part in anything to do with religion, pro or anti. It doesn't promote, it doesn't forbid. It stays right out of the whole issue entirely. This is not what the US state, in its various manifestations (usually not, in fact, Congress, but the judiciary), is doing. The spirit of the text is not "prayer is not permitted in state schools" but "if students in state schools want to organize themselves a prayer group, we have nothing to say about that." Your other examples, by the way, to me, from this distance, look like breaches too. I'm not on one side or the other (or even necessarily saying that it was a good thing to shoot for in the first instance).

The thing is, civil religion is all over the place in the US, so the reality doesn't match the original ideal. But there's also a very strong, indeed fanatical, lobby which appears - again, from this distance - to be misusing the original ideal in a different way, to say "any public expression of religion should be illegal". Part of the sad dividedness of the USA as a whole.

What I meant by "it didn't work" was pretty much that the original ideal - a state which took no part and no position, leaving a citizenry alone to get on with whatever religious activity they wanted - is not what has actually occurred. A lot of this has to do with the fact that you can't really separate politics, which is a form of collective endeavour, from things which are important to the collective which is endeavouring, i.e. the population as a whole. Even trying to separate religion from public life is, historically speaking, a very strange thing to do, and only the Enlightenment would even have attempted it.

Where does this leave a modernist society with powerful secularizing tendencies, but a strong religious heritage and an increasing presence of religious pluralism?

I don't know. I wish I did, or that someone did, anyway.


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