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American Secularism

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madison

For your evening reading, check out this Sam Haselby discussion of the United States as a secularist nation, including understanding its Protestant intellectual origins, the heresy of men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in pressing for it as the state non-religion for the new nation, and why their goal mostly failed but did not entirely fail.

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  • Pseudonym

    “In theological terms, secularism is an Anglo-Protestant heresy that arose on the periphery of the 18th-century British Empire.” Dagchester was right!

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      • Matt

        …uh, okay dude. / Butt Head voice.

      • Pseudonym

        If only abortion had been allowed back then…

  • Linnaeus

    There are a lot of good essays on Aeon.

  • AMK

    Their goal mostly failed

    I dunno, I think that getting the first amendment and the no religious test for office provision into the constitution of a country where essentially everyone was a white protestant, huge majorities were churchgoers who believed in the literal Bible, and slaveholding elites needed god to justify their economic system was an enormous success.

    • LeeEsq

      This. The leaders of the Revolution and writers of the Constitution tended to be much less religious than the average American. The decision to separate religion and state entirely was probably the most radical decision in the Constitution because many ordinary Americans always saw the United States as a Protestant country from the time the English landed. Many states had state churches until the 1820s or 1830s. After race, religion provided the fodder of the biggest culture war fights in American history until the mid-20th century.

      The people who wrote the Constitution basically understood the establishment clause and free exercise clause as most Democratic voters do today. Its just that many Americans disagreed with this.

      • Belloc

        @LEEESQ

        The leaders of the American Revolution were not only Protestants, but Freemason Deists and even Jews.

        The denial of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Social Kingship is the root of many evils in America today. The Founders dedicated the USA in the Name of SATAN Himself by denying the Social Kingship of Christ Jesus and proclaiming the false principles of 1776 and then embracing the Satanic principles of 1789.

        Will of the People=Barabbas
        Will of God=Christ Jesus

        • Ahenobarbus

          That’s not true.

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            • Ahenobarbus

              response deleted

              • postmodulator

                I’m excited to see you guys settle this question.

          • IS

            That’s impossible!

        • Pseudonym

          The denial of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Social Kingship

          Is Jesus still using foursquare?

          • I believe that has been moved into the Swarm app.

            • the Swarm app.

              I believe that, for this application, its name is Legion.

        • DAS

          Even Jews? (Takei) Oh My! (/Takei)

          Meanwhile, wasn’t Barabas also the will of God, according to Christianity? After all if the people chose Jesus instead of Barabas, then Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross, there would be no atonement through the blood of Jesus and no miracle of the resurrection. If anything, Judas should be a major hero to Christians. (/Jewsplaining Christianity)

          • Recovered Catholic agnostic agreeing with Jewsplaining Christianity.

        • cpinva

          not this dipshit again. geez dude, you’re a loser. do the honorable thing, and put a bullet through your head, the world will be a better place for your sacrifice.

        • Barrabbas 2016: The People’s Choice

      • DAS

        The leaders of the Revolution and writers of the Constitution tended to be much less religious than the average American

        Is that true? AFAIK, Americans in Appalachia and beyond weren’t really religious until the second Great Awakening. While certainly nearer to the coast, religious fervor was enhanced by the first Great Awakening, were Americans all that religious once the fervor of the first Great Awakening settled down?

        • The Dark God of Time

          But, but, George Washington prayed. I saw the illustrations!

    • Karen24

      And where the overwhelming majority of schools and all higher education belonged to churches. (For all his very large number of faults, I will always have a kind thought for Thomas Jefferson because of his influence on the University of Virginia.)

      • LeeEsq

        The American public school system is an outgrowth of 19th century Protestants thinking education important for building a better society. Its just that local government eventually took over the schools. Its why American public schools could be Protestant schools in all but name until the mid-20th century in places now seen as not very religious like Long Island.

        • Peterr

          The American public school system is older than the 19th century — indeed, older than the constitution — as it traces back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, which declared that one out of every 36 sections in each township shall be set aside for public education.

        • The Dark God of Time

          Horace Mann was for public schools, period:

          Horace Mann (May 4, 1796 – August 2, 1859) was an American politician and educational reformer. A Whig devoted to promoting speedy modernization, he served in the Massachusetts State legislature (1827–37). In 1848, after serving as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education since its creation, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Historian Ellwood P. Cubberley asserts:

          No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.[1]

          (Ed)

          Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially in his Whig Party, for building public schools. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers.[2] Mann has been credited by educational historians as the “Father of the Common School Movement”.[3]

          The practical result of Mann’s work was a revolution in the approach used in the common school system of Massachusetts, which in turn influenced the direction of other states. In carrying out his work, Mann met with bitter opposition by some Boston schoolmasters who strongly disapproved of his innovative pedagogical ideas,[13] and by various religious sectarians, who contended against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction from the schools. Mann is often called “the father of American public education”

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Mann

          Not quite what you wanted us to believe, was it?

          Are you capable of getting anything about Americans and religion correct?

          • Horace Mann also founded the Worcester Insane Asylum.

            • N__B

              AKA WPI.

          • cpinva

            “Are you capable of getting anything about Americans and religion correct?”

            no. trick question, right?

            • The Dark God of Time

              Political language ….. is designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable, and to give an apearence of solitidy to pure wind.

              George Orwell

      • Kings College, now Columbia, wasn’t a religious foundation, it was founded by royal charter. I think it was the only one.

        • wjts

          I believe William and Mary also had a royal charter. Penn wasn’t a religious foundation, if I remember correctly.

          • redwoods301

            +1

          • You’re right. William and Mary had a formal relationship to the Church of England, though, that Columbia didn’t have.

          • Matt

            You’re right about Penn. It has a somewhat convoluted history, in that it likes to be claimed to be founded by Ben Franklin and also to have a date of founding older than the school Franklin founded (the story is, Franklin’s school merged with another older one, and so Penn likes to claim both.) But, in any case, it had neither a Royal Charter nor a religious foundation. Also, an early school to allow women, and some pioneers for African Americans (William Fontaine in Philosophy, Saddie Alexander – first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in economics and first to earn a law degree)

    • CP

      Agreed. There are lots of ways in which I think the founding fathers don’t get enough shit, but their handling of religion isn’t one of them. 200 years after the fact, I’m still good with their outlook.

      • Philip

        I don’t think there’s much they could have done to make it better, but I think it’s fair to say that there are big holes in America’s secularism.

        • Brad Nailer

          Like, for example, “no religious test” being conveniently ignored and forgotten by large swathes of the population, including many leading Republicans.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    “Because of secularism’s Protestant origins, its history must include the thought of Martin Luther. He argued that man needed no institution, no hierarchy of learned clerics, to broach God. ”

    The Reformation really is responsible for a lot of modern secular culture, but this quote is a bit off. Luther believed (and his spiritual descendants) in his own magisterium, that of Wittenberg, as opposed to Rome (wasn’t that a quip by Erasmus?). Believing in a pure Christian individualism is antithetical to confessional Lutheranism. Its like asking what Luther had in common with unitarians, anabaptists and other radical Protestants.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      Its like, I could’ve been a 16th century Protestant who thought that 2 Maccabees was canon, but Luther could’ve had me burned at the stake for that.

      • Luther was vituperative at times but he didn’t burn heretics. Calvin’s Geneva burned Servetus, Zwingli had Manz drowned. The Protestant reformers had much less control of the states that housed them, and few reforming princes cared for anti-heresy campaigns.

        • Lurker

          The worst thing that Luther did in religious persecution was done to his main competitor and fellow professor, Andreas Karlstadt. They disagreed on some theological and on many practical issues. Karlstadt wanted to have a more radical reformation. In particular, he started a municipal ecclesiastical reformation with the city council of Wittenberg, removing all images from a parish church.

          Luther, and his royal patron, were not ready for this kind of radicalism. Karlstad was sent to the countryside to actually care for the parish the income of which was his professor’s pay. A few years later, when Karlstad kept arguing for more radical reformation, he was expelled from Saxony, on Luther’s advice. However, that was as much a state security issue as a theological quarrel. At the time of Karlstadt’s expulsion, people following similar ideas were actively rebelling around Germany.

    • CP

      This might just be latent Catholic prejudice on my part, but there’s a popular view of the Protestant Reformation as leading directly to modern secular/Enlightenment mindsets that I’ve always found a bit strange. Luther thought the Catholic church had gone wrong by adding to and deviating from the original revelation of God, and that Christians should go back to the source i.e. the Bible and do away with all the “innovations” that had been added to it in the past thousand years or so. Please don’t take this to mean that he was wrong to be pissed at the RCC or that Catholicism is any warmer and fuzzier towards modern values, but…. that mentality kind of seems more Muhammad Wahhab than Kemal Ataturk, if you know what I mean.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        I think the Reformation did in fact lead to a more secular Europe. You just wouldn’t have known it at the time, and probably not for a few centuries after Luther. I think it *is* simplistic to say stuff like “every man could read the bible for himself, hence presto secularism!”. Though some of the more unorthodox sects and thinkers of the Radical Reformation display more modern tendencies (Servetus, etc.).

        • Amanda in the South Bay

          I mean, based on my experiences dabbling in the traddie world (worshipping at an indult parish celebrating the 1962 missal, and sorta immersing myself in that shit as an impressionable 22 year old), one lament amongst Catholic traditionalists (and some more nose bleed worthy Anglo Catholics) was indeed that the Reformation ultimately led to the decline of church going religion and the rise of secularism.

          • Origami Isopod

            Huh, I’ve learned a new word today.

            • Lurker

              We have a similar phenomenon in Finland. Some revival movements want to use the old 1701 missal, and the church allows this, if the bishop grants permission. I live in a Lutheran indult parish, which celebrates mass using the “old books” a few times a year.

              Funnily, though, those revivalists who are conservative in their liturgical usage, are actually pretty liberal otherwise, for example in their acceptance of female priests.

        • CP

          I could see the argument that the Reformation eventually led to a more secular Europe by smashing what had been the uncontested seat of religious authority for over a thousand years, and therefore, gradually popularizing the idea that there might be more than one right way to think about or relate to God. If you introduce another worldview into the religious sphere, it doesn’t even necessarily matter what that worldview is, it can help lead to secularism whether or not it means to.

          • Origami Isopod

            Agreed. Destabilization of the existing order created a vacuum into which other ideas about the relationship between religion and law could enter.

      • Lurker

        Your comparison of Luther to Wahhabi is pretty apt. Luther was primarily a medieval mystic, though armed with the exegetical tools of humanism. His rebellion against the Pope was mainly a rebellion against scholasticism, primarily against tomism.

        Luther was very much a follower of church fathers, and embraced the most illogical doctrines of the traditional Christianity without slightest quiver. For example, he defended the Eucharistic bread and wine being Christ’s true body and blood by noting that a similar miracle took place when Christ was born out of Virgin Mary with Mary remaining an actual, untouched Virgin before, during and after the Birth. Such irrationality was completely foreign to the legally-trained, rational minds of Calvin and Zwingli.

        If anything, Luther was actually being more mystical and irrational than the Roman Catholic Church.

    • wjts

      I think that history also needs to include the Catholic thought of the Renaissance humanists.

      And this is just bizarre:

      Prior to 18th-century Anglo-America – specifically revolutionary-era Virginia – no other modern society had sought to separate law, politics, social life and civic institutions from the divine. Such separation is antithetical to Catholicism, in which the truth and the path to salvation are found within the Church and its Magisterium.

      I guess he’s using “modern” to paper over the five or six centuries of struggle between the Papacy and Catholic secular rulers (most notably some of the Holy Roman Emperors) over the exercise of political authority.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        Well, even then the medieval Holy Roman Empire (and every other European state) wasn’t remotely secular or had freedom of religion. Papal quarreling had nothing to do with that. Take Henry VIII’s reign-in a sense he was the ultimate example of a Renaissance monarch sticking it to the Pope, and yet no one would say that his reign was full of free thinking heretics doing their own thing. Those kinds of people were sorta executed.

        • wjts

          No, of course not. I’m quibbling with the idea that in pre-Reformation Catholic Europe no one would or could countenance a political, legal, or social power outside of the Church because that happened all the goddamn time.

          • Did people who wrote books think power could legitimately come from outside the church, though?

            I don’t know whether secularism is Protestant or not, I’ve talked to people who think it’s various things, and I’d think looking at when people started thinking it was is more interesting than reading arguments saying it is.

            eta So obviously various kings had the church recognize their power after the fact. And others (talking about Charlemagne’s time, say) didn’t.

            • Amanda in the South Bay

              I think it grew out of the Reformation, but its too simplistic to say “its Protestant” since there’s a million different sects.

              • Okay but others are claiming (Catholic) humanism as part of secularism. That doesn’t sound like the same thing.

                • Amanda in the South Bay

                  Its part of it, but IANAH, so it seems like Counter Reformation Catholicism ended up having more of an influence on the Catholic Church over the past half millennium than did Erasmus, etc. Though Erasmus, etc did have an influence on many early reformers.

                • wjts

                  I wouldn’t claim Catholic Renaissance humanism as a part of secularism for the most part, but it certainly had an influence on the subsequent development of secularism. How much of that influence was via Renaissance humanism’s influence on the Reformation, which Amanda notes, rather than via its own power, I don’t know enough to say. Regardless, I’m certainly not arguing that the Reformation wasn’t central to the origins of secularism.

            • wjts

              Did people who wrote books think power could legitimately come from outside the church, though?

              I’m not sure what you mean by “people who wrote books”, but things like the Investiture Controversy and the struggles between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines show that there wasn’t a universal Catholic consensus as to whether or not the temporal authority was subordinate to the ecclesiastical authority or vice versa. To be fair, though, this was a debate over absolute power rather than establishing a temporal authority completely separate from the ecclesiastical one, so it’s not accurate to argue that the Ghibellines or Emperor Henry IV were secularists in any sort of way that we’d recognize today.

              • Pseudonym

                Didn’t they eventually settle that over some pork sushi?

                • AMK

                  Yeah. The ones who survived the trichinosis won the debate.

                • Pseudonym

                  Hence the Concordat of Worms.

                • Origami Isopod

                  +1521

                  Though “Diet of Worms” would have been funnier.

              • Lurker

                In the technical sense, the traditional viewpoint of the Church had been that the secular sword is wielded by those chosen by God for it, with minimal church intervention. This is because the Church grew up in the Roman empire where it never was the foremost public authority. Indeed, the legitimacy of governmental power was seen as a secular question. Essentially, the Church lived under any government that happened to exist.

                Only in high Middle Ages had the power of the Church grown to such extent that it could presume to actually be the source of secular legitimacy.

            • AMK

              Whether secularism is protestant or not

              Well “secularism” or a thought process very much like it (certainly the empirical “deism” of the founders) has existed outside Judeo-Christianity. Aristotle was pagan Greek, Marcus Aurelius was pagan Roman, Averroes was Muslim….I’m sure China and India produced “secular” philosophies as well, I just don’t know much about them. The difference is that Jefferson and Madison and company had a golden opportunity to shape a new political order that none of the Old World geniuses really ever had.

            • DAS

              Jews wrote a lot of books, an thought power could (only) legitimately come from outside the church (and from outside of the secular rulers of the day as well). It kinda got us into trouble.

              • This isn’t quite true and is irrelevant. And what I meant to include/exclude by saying”people who write books” seems pretty clear.

                • Origami Isopod

                  I agree with DAS. The role of non-Christian intellectuals in Europe of that era shouldn’t be erased. Also, no, I don’t think “people who wrote books” was clear at all.

                • I don’t know what you mean by “that era,” and I don’t think the lack of ability for Jews to participate in civic life (in the era that was being discussed) should be erased.

                  It isn’t helpful to pretend medieval Judaism was discussing the legitimacy of civil law in the sense university thinkers were, either.

        • Also Poland. Among other things, an electoral monarchy, and the share of the Polish population could vote for king was larger than the share of the British population that could vote for Parliament, a difference not overcome until the UK’s great reform of 1832. Once the Reformation got rolling, Poland was known as “a paradise for heretics.” Uniates, Unitarians, Orthodox, numerous different flavors of Protestants, Muslim Tatar nobility; among non-nobles many Jews, and an odd offshoot of Judaism called Karaism.

          Polish literature of the time produced a great many theoretical tracts on the proper set-up of the state and on good governance. (Given this tradition, it is probably not a coincidence that Poland was the first major European state to have a written constitution, in 1791.) Here’s a small bit from Czeslaw Milosz’s history of Polish literature:

          De Republica Emendanda [On the Reform of the State, by Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, 1551] is a sort of codification of those democratic ideas which found their radical expression in the social teachings of the Arians. It is a thorough investigation of the essence of the Christian State, its ideal structure, and the rights and duties of its citizens. The main theses can be summarized as follows:
          a) “Kings are established for the people and not the people for the kings.”
          b) Laws should be the same for all estates. (Frycz did not question, of course, the division of society into gentry, burghers, and peasants.) Laws should be ratified by a representation of all citizens, and not by the gentry alone. All estates should be equal before the law, since all are useful to the State, each in its own way. The State should treat the burgher and the peasant as free citizens. The privileged position of the gentry is a usurpation.
          c) A good judiciary system implies three parties: the judge, the plaintiff, and the accused; therefore, a nobleman cannot be a judge of his peasant. … (pp. 40–41)

          • Lurker

            Polish constitution of 1791 is a minor historical detail. Poland was no longer a major state when it was adopted and had had no independent control of its internal affairs for decades. Indeed, the whole country was abolished only two years later. While a brave attempt to reform the country, the constitution was fruitless.

            And your claim of Polish priority to written constitutions is decades late. Sweden had had a written constitution since 1720. The parliamentarian regeringsform of 1720 was also a quite stable attempt at a parliamentary monarchy. It lasted until 1772, for more than a generation, and even after the royal coup d’état, Sweden continued to have a written, though much more monarchist constitution.

    • Lurker

      As a Lutheran, I completely agree. The Augsburg confession and Luther’s cathecisms are adamant that the church is necessary for the salvation of any individual. While God’s grace affects a person individually, the Holy Spirit does this work via the visible church.

      Indeed, Luther makes the proud claim that any priest preaches the literal word if God when preaching. It does not mean that they are unerrant but that the actual divine word of God is embedded in their human speech in the same way as Christ’s divine and human natures are embedded in each other.

    • cpinva

      ““Because of secularism’s Protestant origins, its history must include the thought of Martin Luther. He argued that man needed no institution, no hierarchy of learned clerics, to broach God.”

      and he then immediately contradicted himself, by starting a church that, like the catholic church, expected your ass to be sitting in a pew in church on Sunday morning, and woe unto he who wasn’t there!

      basically, Luther realized what a great grift having your own religion could be, and ran with it. same with Calvin.

      • Colin Day

        So none of this only going to church when it’s convenient. Is this where Church Lady got the idea?

      • Lurker

        I beg to disagree. Luther’s thought on the necessity of an organized church is extremely well in line with his predecessors. While he renounced the need for bishops, his ecclesiology is otherwise quite orthodox when compared to earlier Christian writers. The main points of contention between Luther and the Roman Catholic Church were the existence of and necessity for the “Treasure of the Church” and the authority of the pope and councils to give binding decisions in questions of faith.

        Second, I must note that the stress on the need for a parish is quite correct. You can’t maintain a healthy, sober faith alone. You need others to support you. It is not just about money.

        Third, Luther did not “start a church”. Instead, he reformed the church that already existed in Saxony. Had he been entirely successful, he’d have reformed the entire RCC. Similarly, my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the church founded by Saint Henry, our first bishop, and the current archbishop of Turku, Kari Mäkinen, is his direct successor. The fact it was reformed in 1530’s did not establish a new particular church.

        • Amanda in the South Bay

          You’ve retained external trappings like an episcopal hierarchy (though I’m unsure of the status of apostolic succession in the Finish Church until recently -the Poorvo agreement and all that). The Catholic response would be like that of Leo XIII with the Church of England-the faith of the Finnish Church changed so drastically at the Reformation that there was no longer a substantial continuity with the medieval church, regardless of having bishops of sorts. The Catholic view of bishops and a sacrificial priesthood is not the same as that of the Lutheran Confessions.

          • Lurker

            I agree completely that we disagree. :-) The current catholic bishopric of Helsinki claims continuity from the pre-reformation diocese, though that continuity is purely spiritual, Catholicism having been suppressed violently for centuries in Finland.

            The Evagelical Lutheran Church of Finland is part of Porvoo agreement. It has apostolic succession both from the original succession of Swedish bishops in the early 16th century, and via the Anglican Church, with which we have a perfect communion of pulpit and altar. (Some Finnish Lutheran parishes actually conduct English-language services using Common Worship.) The apostolic succession broke in 1850’s though, when all three Finnish bishops died within a short span of time, and political situation made it impossible to get a foreign bishop to lay hands on the new ones, but the succession was restored from Sweden in 1930’s.

            And when it gets to the understanding of the sacrificial priesthood, we do disagree. The Lutheran priest is not re-sacrificing Christ on the altar, but simply celebrating the sacrament, and it is mostly thought that a priest does not have an indelible spiritual mark. (I don’t know, though, I am just a lay acolyte participating in the service by ministering the wine to the faithful.)

            • The Dark God of Time

              As my Lutheran girlfriend said about communion, “We don’t know what is happening.”

            • Amanda in the South Bay

              Actually I agree with you very much, but when it comes to theology I often play devils advocate.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    there’s something going on in this thread that makes me think it’s a test run for new Mike Myers and Dana Carvey characters

    • Thirtyish

      K, I’m increasingly convinced, is putting us on (the line about “‘jews'[sic] and their funny hats” tipped it over the edge for me). Opinions differ as to Dagney’s level of sincerity.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        management appears to be giving them two thumbs down

      • postmodulator

        I thought “religulous” was the tell for K (see comment above). I tend to think Dagney is sincere just because I know there are maniac Catholics like that out there.

        EDIT: said comment has been baleeted.

        • Schadenboner

          Coming late to this thread is like trying to figure out the presocratics. I can only get a sonar image of the original text by reading your reactions to it.

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    • wjts

      Curse that wily King George III for unilaterally enacting the Stamp Act! If only there had been a Parliament to keep him in check!

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  • Joe_JP

    Wary of accounts that focus so much on Madison (“James Madison, the primary author of the US Constitution” … not quite) and Jefferson. For instance, if Madison had his druthers, this would have been part of the BOR:

    No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.

    It was not. The 1A put a limit on “Congress,” leaving states open to establish religion; also, states would retain power over a range of things generally. This power would entail a range of things where religion could affect policy. Finally, the policy in Virginia did not match that of each state either.

    Madison and Jefferson also had stricter views than the norm as seen on such fairly minor things like Jefferson’s opposition to Thanksgiving proclamations. The average person often didn’t think the 1A, e.g., required a totally “secular” government even beyond those who read “religious freedom” to basically mean “Christianity” (see, e.g., Joseph Story).

    But, as others note, we did pretty well. An early example now forgotten, e.g., was Sunday mail delivery.

    • cpinva

      “The 1A put a limit on “Congress,” leaving states open to establish religion;”

      um, no, it didn’t. the supremacy clause saw to that. if anyone truly believed that, there would have immediately been 13 different state religions, there weren’t.

      • Colin Day

        Massachusetts had a state church until well into the 1800s.

        • Lurker

          Yes. The US secularism was mainly due to the fact that different states had different established churches, which were violently opposed. No one wanted to have a federally established church because it would probably not have been their own.

      • Matt McIrvin

        There were several.

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  • Pseudonym

    Dammit, moderators, I was looking forward to this thread!

    • Philip

      Troll fights can be entertaining, but K just clogs threads.

      • Pseudonym

        But how will K ever eventually figure out the reply button if he’s prevented from commenting?

        • wjts

          Some things are simply beyond the ken of man, and many, many, many more things are beyond the ken of k.

    • wjts

      Just mentally add “King of England raise taxes and take my guns!” and “Sodomite heretics and JEWS side with LUCIFER (‘light-bringer’=’Enlightenment’) deny the kingship of Christ thus necessitating the return of a CATHOLIC MONARCHY.” after every comment and you’ve recreated k’s and Dagney’s contributions.

      • Keaaukane

        That is a frighteningly good imitation.

      • Catholic Monarch sounds like a pretty good gig. Are they hiring?

        • rea

          Not since they fired James II.

          • cpinva

            he wasn’t particularly interesting anyway.

        • Julia Grey

          Watching what they’re doing with the character of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Outlander series on STARZ, every one of these supposedly earnest calls for a Catholic Monarch makes me giggle.

          Not to mention the behavior of the holy Catholic Monarch Louis! Who was that Mistress of his who appeared with the pierced nipples? Hee hee.

      • Linnaeus

        It’s funny – a couple of months ago, I received a short book in my mail that turned out to be some crank’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation and anti-Catholic tract. Establishing a Catholic monarchy is exactly what the author claimed the Catholic Church was plotting. I’m wondering if our troll is this guy’s Mary Rosh.

  • Ethel2Tilly

    To me, one of the most important Constitution provisions that define us as a secular nation and constituting a true break from the British system is Article 3 Section 2 limiting the judicial power to all cases in “law and equity”. The whole idea of designating religious issues having any official association with “law” or federal courts was deliberately left behind. The historical norm at the time would have included Ecclesiastical Courts or somethjng similar. This is my “goto” argument whenever I engage with the “Christian Nation” crowd.

    • sharculese

      Does that work? I feel like that’s a little more complex than people whose understanding of the Constitution was developed based on Glenn Beck rants are willing to accept.

  • Ethel2Tilly

    Usually it does. It’s a subtle argument because it’s based on what’s not there, rather than depending on convoluted arguments for explaining what’s there. And because it’s out of left field, it presupposes knowledge of historical British Court Systems which then has an intimidation factor working for it. Arguing abortion law, I’ve found pro-lifers think that early Maryland Ecclesiastic anti-abortion cases (founded as a Catholic colony, MD did have an Ecclesiastic Court early on) “prove” that historically America has always been anti-abortion, not realizing that those type of cases were excluded from jurisdiction by the Constitution. Basically I’ve rarely come across any of these types who have more than superficial knowledge spoon-fed to them. They start from the Bible and tend to work from there. The Bible doesnt have a whole lot to say about civil jurisprudence so that approach. Is a handicap. For all the they spend daily weekly and monthly studying anclient 2000+ year old civilization, they tend to be woefully ignorant of the history and workings of the country in which they actually livwhen spend so much energy trying to bend everything into biblical terms that they dont do too well when you actually get into the weeds discussing actual law and jurisprudence.

    • Breadbaker

      And the colonists who did not have ecclesiastical courts had to come up with civil systems for marriage, child custody and the like for which there was no civil law tradition. Religious pluralism did not fit with the way many such things were handled in England.

    • sharculese

      I just have a problem believing that it makes any kind of breakthrough. Maybe it shuts them up, but how many of them go home and rethink their worldview based on it?

      • Ethel2Tilly

        I’m not trying to convert them, but it’s pretty easy to debunk the idea that the Founders intended that government and religion should be intrinsically mixed with each other. In England, there was a specific part of the judicial court system that concerned itself with religion, religious matters and religious law. Our Constitution specifically referenced the English Common Law as an integral part of the US legal system. They had opportunity to copy as much of the British illegal system as they saw fit – after all, that’s what we were used to at the wasn’t it? Yet when push came to shove, they specifically (and at the time, I think, conspicuously) left out the parts of it where religious matters where explicitly recognized as an area of government interest and action.
        Those who practice the system of thinking that give greater or equal weight to irrational as opposed to rational thought tend to play “whack-a-mole” by emphasizing and de-emephasizing facts and ideas as they see fit. Im never going to change that – I’m not even going to try. They can believe what they see fit. However, in our system, where it counts, the Rule off Reason is the accepted standard. Regardless of private belief, the “Christian Nation” types will believe what they want, regardless of the facts. But if something came of it, it would have to be done extra-legally, because the Court system recognizes the Rule of Reason as paramount. Mr Beck can argue until hehe’s blue in the face trying to create spin and meaning, but at some point the factual record does matter and the fact is – spin it all you want, this IS what the Founders did. If one is personally ignorant of the significance of the action because one is unaware of what changed as a result of the action, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that it is insignificant. I can’t force people to study history or actually understand how a government goes about doing its work, but imagine if the Founders wanted a government based upon and intertwined with religious belief – how would they insure that that was observed? The tool used to resolve disputes of this nature was the Ecclesiastic Court. Religious issues addressed and adjudicated backed by the power and force of the government. But if they specifically excluded that Court why shouldn’t that be a clear signal of intent as much as if they had kept it? If you aren’t aware that something is missing, then you have no idea of or means of evaluating it’s significance. I am simply making those who are claiming special knowledge of “intent” aware that their explanation isn’t complete because it fails to account for what is missing and what in fact would be expected to be there if their explanation of “intent” was correct. A lot of history can be quite esoteric to those who are unfamiliar and base their opinions upon incomplete knowledge or understanding of an issue. To credibly argue “intent”, I would expect that the argument needs to be complete in all facets of the issue at hand and satisfactorily addresses all matters where intent would be expressed via action. Whether or not todays religionist considers Ecclesiastic Courts to be of importance or not to the discussion ignores that they were an integral part of the Court System at the time when it was generally unquestioned and natural for the Government to recognize an official religion or impose religion upon the people. Whether or not one recognizes or appreciates the importance of these Courts in fulfilling that role, it was widely understood at the time. To argue some sort of general theory or explanation of “intent” without addressing it’s exclusion to me is a very weak argument.

        • Matt McIrvin

          It’s true, though, that the Constitution was OK with state government and religion being mixed with each other (though Jefferson wasn’t, and some state constitutions weren’t); the wall of separation was really only incorporated to the states in the 1940s, justified via the 14th Amendment.

          • cpinva

            no, not true at all. why does everyone making this argument completely ignore the SUPREMACY CLAUSE? if it’s the law at the federal level, it’s the law at the state level, regardless of what their state constitution may say to the contrary.

            • Hogan

              And yet some states did have established churches until the 1830s, and no one said boo.

            • Matt McIrvin

              Doesn’t the Supremacy Clause deal with cases where state law is specifically in contradiction with a federal law? The First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from making certain types of law; it doesn’t say “there shall be no law respecting an establishment of religion”, which would be in contradiction with the state laws.

              I’m pretty sure that in practice it was the Fourteenth that was considered relevant to incorporation, since freedom of religion was considered a sufficiently basic freedom that a state couldn’t override it. Several states had established churches for decades, as stated below.

          • Ethel2Tilly

            True – yet the state-recognized religions all lost their status by the 1830s. It would be an interesting project to go back through the various legislative histories of the repeals and review the arguments and see how they hold in the modern context.
            My understanding of official state supported religion in early America is that the primary benefit conferred was pretty much limited to financial support as opposed to any sort of compulsory doctrine. The early colonies had histories of banishment and other limitations of some rights for the non-believers and dissidents, but we never had a tradition of, say, state-sanctioned burning of heretics. Most of the colonies were founded during or just after the terrible European religious wars of the 17th century (including the English Civil War), and I think lessons of the violence associated with doctrinal disputes had a greater presence in the minds of the colonists than, I think, would be the case of present day Americans. While benefits to religious institutions associated with various government-funded programs tend to be the main focus of tension in Church/State separation disputes, the idea of a government-backed religion in matters of doctrine or profession if faith is virtually a non-issue. The inclusion of religious belief or membership as a protected class in Civil Rights legislation is widely accepted. I think issues such as displays of religious faith on public property are viewed more as cultural, rather than purely religious issues – we can dispute whether a crèche is appropriately displayed on government property, but only scare-mongers clinging to their privilege by attempting to perpetuate the fallacy that we aren’t a secular country, ever bring up the idea that creches or other religious symbols may actually be banned in churches by the government. Does anybody seriously actually believe that could happen because we are a “secular” country? What we are experiencing now is more a reaction to and a rollback of a long-period of religious overreach in society where organized religions and their followers attempted to imprint the idea of religion being inseparable from the very fabric of the government – but with no actual Constitutional authority granting the legitimacy, we actually see it dying away as popular support for organized religion declines as a whole. But religious overreach of the past isn’t determinative in identifying or classifying us a rather than a secular nation. Again I would view that, again, as being a cultural description and identity, rather than having any governmental force or merit. Part of the problem is the hazy place that religious people have in their minds of what exactly belongs in each sphere. A branch of my family is devoutly and staunchly Catholic. When an aunt passed away, there was a huge dispute over which was her actual “legal” name – the name on her birth certificate or the name that she was baptized and called by the nuns. Oddly, the fact that they kept referring to the dispute as being over which constituted her “legal” name offered them no guidance on the issue whatsoever – they were genuinely confused.
            What is a nation? Is it defined by and identified as the government which molds and shapes the geographic space it administers through laws and institutions? Or is a nation defined by its people as a whole through the cultural expression of their collective identity via custom and non-governmental institutions? I think in terms of the way most see it, including the “Christian nation” advocates, is that the identity belongs with the government because the government possesses the sanction of physical force. So it becomes a matter of whether the government is pliable and must adopt an identity or character as decided and defined by the cultural sphere, often largely influenced by religion and accepted by the religious as the true source of identity and legitimacy – hence the movement to declare us a “Christian Nation” so as to preserve their idea of religious superiority, or whether the government assumes it’s identity through its functions and institutions created by sanction of Founding documents such as the Constitution? Isnt part of the whole purpose of a Constitution in a Constitutional democracy to not just to identify and define those rights paramount toward effecting the establishment and nature of the society envisioned as embodying the essential ideals of the people living therein, but also protecting and guaranteeing those rights against the democratic whims of changin cultural forces. Compare the current reassessment of the peoper place or reach of religion in our society, as our culture changes over time, to the bedrock guarantee of, say, the continued necessity of the establishment of a Republican form of government in each State, or the promise of the right of habeas corpus for all, against possible future changes in cultural attitudes regarding these issues.
            The actions of the Founders in creating the Constitution deliberately kept the “secular” sphere (does anybody else have a problem with the small linguistic victory the religionists have won in that the normal description of non-religious aspects of society are now regularly and generally defined in terms of relation to religion, as opposed to being worthy enough in and of themselves without reference to religion, former commonly referred to a “civil” or “civic” – I hate the almost mandatory current usage of “secular” as an identifier. One of many many examples of the effects of long-standing religious overreach) as different from and separate from the religious sphere by deliberately excluding the religious sphere from consideration or identification as one of the areas of society subject to government involvement, regulation, identification, or endorsement. The very fact of the exclusion of the Ecclesiastic Court from the federal judicial system firmly illustrates this intent.
            As an informal cultural designation, various segments of society may enjoy some value from a label such as “Christian nation” or “religious nation” – but as both a de facto and de jure description of the nation as formed and shaped by the laws and institutions as envisioned and established by the Founders, it is quite clear that our identity is that of a “secular nation”. Any attempts by religionists to assert that our nation through its laws and institutions has a fundamental obligation to follow identify with and follow something different from and superior to, but not mentioned in its Founding document – the Constitution – is basically doing nothing more than seeking to perpetuate the historical overreach of religion in our society. The spheres were deliberately kept separate, dispite the continued existence of non-doctirnal issues such as funding and expression not withstanding (no, the 30 years war was not brought about by these types of ancillary non-doctirnal disputes) – they are the battleground where the overreach issue is being contested. But it’s pretty rediculous to stretch the existence of some governmental funding of religious institutional participation in some societal environments or limited participation, along with other segments of society in public exhibition of values deemed of cultural import – as being not only determinative of the “religious nation” label, but also attempting to leverage these into a command of some sort that the basic activities of government are thereby obligated to be subservient to religious dictates. In form and function the spheres are deliberately separate. Thise religionists who, for their own reasons, refuse to recognize that separation and insist that the civil sphere (Ha!) take its orders from the religious sphere are not entitled, via convoluted reasoning and the long history of religious overreach, to pretend that what is clearly in, and also *not* in, as the case may be, the Constitution, the Founding document of our nation, may be completely ignored as Ian inconvenience, when considering the matter of defing what the fundamental nature and identity of the country is or should be.

            I apologize to all for my indulgence this morning – especially since I am a far from regular commentator on here. However, as a sometime student of the law and the history of jurisprudence (a subject basic to our history as a people, yet sadly almost completely dismissed or ignored by those whose beliefs insist that all matters begin and end with their particular religious beliefs and the power they wish to accrue by the extension of those beliefs over the rest of us – so they have no use or interest in the actual history and development of the principles of rules and institutions that actually define our society) I abhor the naked attempt to substitute their ignorance in place of reasoned principle and deliberately separate our people from our shared past and birthright – even if most of our people are at best vague as to the actual and historic nature of our system of government and the laws that shape our society. I’ve never heard nor seen anyone, in the popular media, at least, attempt to address current legal/social issues that originated or are characterized by the tension between religious belief and our Constitutional promise of Equal Protection for all by pointing out that the events of 1775-1789 actually did constitute Revolution – that we, as a people, sought to make a complete break from the past and established a completely different order than what came before, guided in our self-determination by basic principles as set out in Founding documents such as the Constitution. One of the defining characteristics of the system which we deliberately set out to replace, viewed as the natural state of affairs the general and completely accepted involvement of government in the sphere of religion, and, conversely, a legitimized role of religious institution in the affairs of the government. In England the two were inseparable – the King was the head of the church. The rights enjoyed by the citizenry could be abridged based solely on religious belief and identification. Official and working elements of the government concerned themselves solely with enforcing church doctrine and power – hence institutions such as the Ecclesiastic Court functioned side-by-side and with the same legitimacy as the Courts of Law. In deliberation as to fundamentally what kind of nation we wanted to be as a people, we recognized that religious belief and identity has a role to play in the private sphere, but is incompatible as a basis for guiding principles in a democratic society. How do you reconcile “Out of many, One” with an overwhelming artificial separation of the population, and the benefits that accrue simply by being a member of and participant in society into the deserving and the undeserving – the “saved” and the “damned”. “Us” and “Them”. While religion’s place in the private sphere is respected and protected, it’s role and place in the public sphere, especially when compared to what existed before and which we revolted against, was deliberately excluded and it’s influence deliberately diminished. There are very good reasons why “God” and religion in general were excluded from the Constitution – afterall, it’s Genesis specifically came about as the result of a “Revolution” (think about it – we should be happy the Madison et la exercised the self-discipline and humility not to tamper with the calendar and weights and measures and all else as the French did. A Revolution, as opposed to, say, a Civil War, by definition puts everything on the table – everything). By design, on purpose everything in the English governmental system that joined Church and State on an institutional basis – including things such as head of state being also head of church, such as judicial institutions primarily devoted to church matters such as Ecclesiastic Courts, etc., all of these things were deliberately discarded from a role or place in the new government that we created from scratch because they were not necessarily seen as being compatible or necessary in the creation and nurturing of our democratic republic. Fine for the private sphere, unnecessary and counter-productive in the public sphere. Because of the oversized role of organized religion and it’s institutions on society and formation of cultural norms throughout history, the ideal envisioned by the Founders didn’t quite work out exactly as envisioned and people managed, for whatever reason, to enmesh religion and our government in countless ways over the years – religious groups and values still hold a very privileged position in our society, our laws, and our government. This isn’t anything new – this is established fact. But – it helps to remember that this influential pedestal occupied by religion owes it’s place to individuals who had reason to devote themselves to maintaining that special place and influence – it was not placed there by the Founders in the system of government that they created – there is no special place or influence in or over our government guaranteed by the system and institutions established by the Constitution. In a time if change. In order to determine or understand “intent”, it is absolutely necessary to consider what came before and what got changed in order to understand why the change occurred. The Founders didn’t preside over a virgin birth where they through in ideas for no reason except that they sounded good. Some elements of the English system were kept, others discarded – but all were considered. It’s useless to attempt to understand what was created and why and find meaning without comparing to what came before. The religionists ignore this and attempt to explain everything solely in terms of “devine plan”, which exists in the imagination, completely divorced from the world and conditions and factors that actually lead to its creation. The power of the Constitution therefore lies not only in what it says, but also in what it doesn’t. To the average Joe the Plumber, the words about the new Court System recognizing jurisdiction over all matters of “law and equity” may come across as meaningless legal mumbi-jumbo or esoteric words of art, but in real life they have an important place in our world today because they represent a portion of the actual embodiment in action of the fruits of what those who suffered and fought and died to bring about substantial and lasting change by fighting a “Revolution”. To brush it all off as some “devine plan” gives grotesque insult to those people and all of us since then. To dismiss the importance or the resulting influence of how that effected the course of the growth of our nation simply because one would rather base ones worldview on indepth study of the time of King David is grossly ignorant, and it is deeply offensive to the rest of us to expect us to defer to their incomplete religious agenda-serving convoluted interpretation as the “real truth” and forego any other possible understanding.
            The inclusion of jurisdiction limited to “law and equity” (worldly matters) and excluding “Ecclesiastic” (church matters) is a dead giveaway and easy to understand example of exactly how the Founders established what they did – what they considered important and what they didn’t. But unless one considers and understands what came before, the meaning is lost and those with agendas and loud voices and the money to create a platform dominate the discussion and slowly dictate the terms if the debate. No one argues or year. the other side – or if they do, the argument is drowned out. Or, as with Trump-mania this past year, the media decides that it’s just too hard tryjng to explain the world and the charlatans trying to deceive to a lowest common denominator audience that it serves at a 3d great level. Almost by default the religionists get to push their agenda and instructions us about the “truths” of our “secular” society (remember the “saved” and the “damned”? Guess who we are?) and it almost as if they go completely unanswered because nobody knows how to effectively explain it or just doesnt care.
            Anyway, as evidenced, thus us something I’ve thought a but about and care a lot about. Again, I apologize for the self-indulgence and the use of bandwidth. I hope someone here with a legal mind sees the merits if this approach, this argument, and runs with it.

            I really haven’t heard anyone else make the argument and maybe it’s about time somebody with smarts and credentials and access to a visible platform finally did.

  • Matt McIrvin

    Did anything go wrong? Was the United States supposed to be nonreligious/rationalist just because it had a government that declined to meddle in religion? I would have thought the opposite.

    I think worrying signs of failure of the initiative did happen around the mid-20th century when more and more God-stuff started worming itself into civil ceremonial practice as an imagined bulwark against the Commies. And of course it’s also disturbing when people consider the curtailment of other people’s rights as a part of their own freedom of religion. But I should think that a government that really wanted to stamp out religion would not be explicitly concerned with freedom of religious exercise.

    • Steve LaBonne

      This. A secular society is not an antireligious society but simply one in which public and political institutions are independent of any religious body or creed. That’s entirely compatible with enthusiastic- and pluralistic- private exercise of religion. I think the attitude of people like Jefferson and Madison was something like that of UUs today- unfriendly to enforcement of creeds but certainly not hostile to religion as such. Jefferson’s Bible looks a lot like the outlook of modern UU Christians.

      • Hogan

        In fact he learned a lot from Joseph Priestley, one of the founders of Unitarianism in England.

        • Steve LaBonne

          And we used to claim him as a famous Unitarian, but I think we’ve gotten a little better about historical accuracy in such matters.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      I think it went wrong well before then-probably with the Great Awakening(s) and various other religious revivals of the 19th century, that showed that the American population didn’t share the same deistical outlook as the founders.

    • witlesschum

      Yeah, this was my thought, too. Jefferson and Madison basically have the society they want on this today after the Warren Court, with pretty good formal rules keeping religion from dominating the public square, but no real restraints on private religious practice and, thus, people are free to believe or not as they like.

      There’s no case to be made the original constitution was written to create something like contemporary French ideas on religion. That would David Barton-level ridiculous.

      • The Dark God of Time

        And it was American Baptists who believed in believed in separation of church and state so they could worship as they pleased, unlike their howling monkey heirs who want everyone to believe in their version of Jeebus or else.

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          American Baptists *still* believe in separation of church and state.

          It’s the *Southern* Baptists who don’t. And since their denomination was founded solely for the purpose of justifying slavery, fuck them.

          • The Dark God of Time

            Those were the heirs I wa referring to.

  • jonp72

    I wonder how much David Barton, the in-house pseudohistorian of the evangelical movement, has done to hide evidence of secularism among some of the early Founding Fathers. It’s a process that looks very similar to what Naomi Oreskes described in the book “Merchants of Doubt” with respect to the evidence on anthropogenic climate change.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    For their part, acutely religious Americans have understood that public education is the enemy: that it is – and must be – secularising. For the sciences and humanities offer worlds, and explanations, that the scriptures do not, and an education in the latter in particular seems to be a fairly reliable inoculation against authoritarian tendencies of religion. Indeed, historically, the purpose of public education in modern nation-states is to make people citizens, not to make them better Christians or Jews or Muslims.

    Talk about burying the lede. There are two, if not three strains in the current anti public school movement. One being the religious opposition to secular schools. Another being the
    being the angst among the bourgeoisie over paying taxes to support public schools while sending their children to private schools (resulting in suppport for vouchers, if not the origin.)
    The third possibly being the libertarian disdain for anything that
    does not generate profit.

    • Matt McIrvin

      And the unwillingness of people without young children (retirees, particularly) to pay taxes to support public schools without having any kids in school at all. Especially if they don’t really want young families with children to move into their town in the first place.

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