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Submitted: Feb 7, 2012
By Stephen Foster

Exactly what is it about the word “secular” that particular elements of the American religious-political class find so objectionable; so much so that it is routinely considered and used as a pejorative? The following is from dictionary.com.


1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred): secular music.
3. (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
4. (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows  (opposed to regular).
5. occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.
Neither the name nor the concept of God is mentioned in The Constitution of the United States. What’s more the American Constitution expressly forbids there to be a religious test for holding public office and further forbids Congress from enacting “any law respecting an establishment of religion” or any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.
So, why would any major party candidates for the presidency of the United States, or any other office, make it a point to criticize the fact that the U.S. is not regarded as religious, spiritual or sacred, and is not connected with religion, and does not belong to a religious order or bound by monastic vows?
What exactly does it indicate, or what is actually implied in the criticism of secularism; which curiously is defined, by defenitions.com, as follows:

[sek-yuh-luh-riz-uh m]
1. secular  spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.
2. the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.
I would suggest that a denial of the fact that American civil jurisprudence—of which an American President is the chief executor—should be secular is founded in the rhetorical use of the first of these definitions of secularism to the exclusion of the second; and that the implementation of the second definition of (of secularism) is endangered by the “successful” rhetorical use of the first (of these secularism definitions).
In other words, the U.S. is and should be an officially/operationally secular nation in accordance with the second definition of secularism above, but the rhetoric of contemporary religious-political leaders is predominantly in keeping with the first definition—without regard to, or to the exclusion of, the second. Evidently the founders intended the U.S. to be operationally secular (in accordance with the second definition) as witnessed by the omission of any reference to God, or even the concept of God, in The Constitution.
If you happen to be somewhat unclear as to what I mean about the religio-political class rhetorically lamenting the civil rejection of religion in order to reverse or undo the practice of conducting public affairs without a religious element; you should know that a well-known politician, who for now shall remain nameless, recently asserted that the United States is not a secular nation.
Now, look at those two definitions of secularism again. Is he right or wrong?



Edwin A. Schwisow
2012-02-08 5:26 PM

Some years back when I was still a high-schooler (home-schooled, yea verily!) I had a chance to get to know a couple of Israeli officers who were on assignment in Bolivia from an Israeli kibbutz. It was the first time I had heard the term "kibbutz", and as the elements of the kibbutz were explained to me, I thought, "My, Ellen White would sure not agree with that kind of idea, of taking kids away from their parents to be raised by the military,"  but the two officers and their wives were most emphatic that the idea worked well.

 But when they told me that by far most Israelis do NOT believe that the Bible is the word of God, but simply a history book with God interpolated into the narrative, I was staggered! That few Americans today understand that Israel is one of the most secular cultures on Earth is amazing. Many evangelicals see Israel as God's chosen people and their territory as God's Holy Land. That this land is governed by a population that by and large questions the very existence of God, let alone the religious reliability of Scripture, comes as a bit of a shock. Israel protects the rights of its religious minority, but itself is one of the most secular governments on the planet.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-08 5:40 PM

Israel is a bit of a paradox - a mostly secular population that gives to a small minority of conservative religious leaders the right to make many decisions on their behalf.  They are of course caught in the other paradox that a secular country justifies its right to exist by claiming to be a homeland for a religious group.  Does that right then cease if Israel ceases to be a religious country (by definition if not in fact)?

Kevin Riley
2012-02-08 5:58 PM

Most SDAs do in fact support secularisation - the removal of religious authority from government and socety.  What they do not support is secularism - the removal of religion from government and society.  The US has attempted to be a secular nation - in its institutions - while remaining a religious nation in its population.  Turkey has tried the same experiment.  France, the only other country to enshrine the separation of church and state in its constitution, not only tries to be secular in its institutions, but also to secularise its population in all but the most private of settings.  It is interesting that it has had no more success than many other European nations that actually enshrine the place of religion in their institutions (like Scandinavia). 

It is interesting that Charles Taylor - one of the leading scholars when it comes to secularisation - sees the Protestant churches as being highly secularised in their day-to-day life.  The same process can be observed in our own church.  Perhaps the greatest danger does not come from politicians 'out there'.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-08 7:52 PM

Here is the problem with your argument, Stephen: It asks us to blind ourselves to the reality that those who founded our nation and drafted its defining documents - yes, even the deist Jefferson - believed it self-evident that we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. That inescapable reality focuses the fact that the presuppositions underlying our foundational documents are anything but secular. Our founders, by and large, believed that a religious and virtuous citizenry was a necessary condition for a Constitutional self-governing republic to succeed. It therefore seems to follow that bringing faith-based principles of right and wrong to bear on citizens' views of public policy was not only permitted, but assumed and encouraged by our founders.

Secularism is the most dangerous kind of religion. It denies being a religion, while wrapping itself in the trappings of whatever religious precepts happen to advance its agendas. It is, pure and simple, paganism. This secularist mindset frees politicians (who shall go nameless) to assert to one audience in one breath that we are not a Christian or religious nation, and then turn around days later to say (absurdly and inaccurately) that if you counted only the Muslims in the U.S., the U.S. would be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. It enables politicians to say at the National Prayer Breakfast that Jesus would be in favor of his (the politician's) wealth redistribution policies.

When it comes to policies regulating human activity, with public consequences, in a nation of citizens who overwhelmingly profess a desire that their communal and individual lives be guided by faith and religious beliefs, does it not seem preposterous to postulate an ideal - much less a norm - in which faith and religion play a subsidiary to nonexistent role in the debate?

Stephen Foster
2012-02-10 3:10 AM

Something (perhaps past “personal” history) tells me the real “problem with [my] argument” may be that I actually broached the subject.
Our nation is no more governed by the Declaration of Independence than is a company bound to honor a contract in which it enters as a result of its having previously issued a mission statement.
The governing document of the United States of America is the Constitution of the United States. The President takes an oath to preserve, protect, and defend it, alone.
What various founders believed or thought or wished or hoped is perhaps interesting; but frankly, what the Constitution says and means and implies is what is most relevant.
This being the case, “the inescapable reality” of consequence is the fact that God is not once mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; and that cannot be considered accidental.
In reality, it isn’t secularism at all that “frees,” or motivates politicians to pander to Muslims and alternately Christians; or to claim that Christianity informs their policy making. That would, by definition and practice, literally be whatever the opposite of secularism is.
Here’s another way to look at it, “When it comes to policies regulating human activity, with public consequences, in a nation of citizens” who are governed by a Constitution that doesn’t mention God, or faith, or religious institutions—much less dogma—and by individuals who are sworn to uphold and defend this same Constitution, it does not seem at all “preposterous to postulate an ideal” that “public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.” In fact, it would seem to follow.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-10 11:14 AM

I think it's fine for you to broach this subject Stephen. It is very timely, albeit well-worn. Your argument that negative duties flow from Constitutional silence does not strike me as very well thought out. From past columns and comments you have written, I know that you are neither an originalist nor a textualist. So why do you apply a faux textualism to this issue? Are you seriously suggesting that if something is not mentioned in a document setting forth rights and duties that it is inferentially prohibited? Let's see - you are fine with the idea that a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Dansbury Baptist Church is incorporated into the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, etc., should have no bearing on Constitutional jurisprudence??? Please, Stephen - you are embarrassing yourself. Do you know of any Supreme Court justices, liberal or conservative who have endorsed your selective view that historical perspectives or founding documents, such as the Federalist papers or the Declaration of Independence, should play no role in discerning the meaning and intent of Constitutional language??? 

As you well know, the Constitution prescribes and limits the role and functions of governmental branches. The gaping hole in your argument is the erroneous assertion, commonly shared by the Left, that the purpose of the Constitution is to govern the citizens. Just where do you find that language in the Constitution? Nothing could be farther from the truth. To the contrary, the purpose of the Constitution is to protect private rights and leave the citizens free to govern themselves, choosing their own representatives, and enacting the laws they choose according to the dictates of their consciences, whether or not those consciences are governed by faith.

Suppose the Constitution was amended to read, "Congress shall make no law establishing a diet for Americans." Would you therefore conclude that Congress is prohibited from offering food stamps, that cafeterias in government buildings are precluded from offering any food to workers, or that school lunch programs are unconstitutional? Let's take it a step further. Suppose the Constitution says nothing at all about medical care (of course I know that's preposterous). Would you therefore concluded that the government is inferentially proscribed from getting involved in the delivery of medical services?

I would strongly recommend that you stay confined within traditional First Amendment arguments rather than wander off a Constitutional cliff that no courts or Constitutional scholars have ever approached.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-10 1:33 PM

Embarrassing, smembarrassing…whatever, my friend. We’ve never met, but I can tell that you are sufficiently intelligent to address the point under discussion without rendering judgment as to whether my dignity is, or isn’t, being compromised.
Self-governance has more to do with national sovereignty and representative government than with individualism. If you doubt that the Constitution is a governing document, you may want to take a minute to read the Preamble. (“…establish justice, ensure domestic Tranquility…defense…general Welfare”)
You make a good point however at least with regard to other documents informing us as to what certain founders believed. However these “other” documents only inform the debate or perhaps strengthen the case of one side or the other as to what the intent of the drafters was.
The questions hereby being raised are does the First Amendment language and the fact that neither God, faith, or religious dogma is referenced in the Constitution suggest that “public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element;” and does the First Amendment language and the fact that neither God, faith, nor religious dogma are referenced in the Constitution suggest that the American civil government should have no official interest in “things that are regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred;” but only things that we would consider to be “temporal”? (The quotations in this paragraph are from the definitions of “secularism” and “secular,” respectively.)
You already know what my answer is to these questions is. I am with Horace and Joe (below) on this one.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-10 4:19 PM

"Our nation is no more governed by the Declaration of Independence than is a company bound to honor a contract in which it enters as a result of its having previously issued a mission statement."

Of course, a company isn't governed by a contract, either. But the problem in your analysis is deeper. A company has a constitution and bylaws, just as a government does. But the constitution and bylaws only determine what it does; the mission statement is the purpose for which the company exists, and which the governing documents are designed to implement.

The Constitution--and before it, the Articles of Confederation-- declares how we go about the business of being this country, the United States. But the Declaration of Independence is who and what we declared ourselves to be. The Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation as a governing document, but both documents were designed to implement the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. . . that to secure these, governments are instituted . . . ."

The Constitution assumes these inalienable rights, and goes about limiting government power in order to secure the rights the Declaration mentions. The Constitution and its authors saw government as the most likely to infringe upon these God-given rights.

In accordance with this, the Bill of Rights is in fact a series of specific limitations of government power. In other words, the right already exists; the Constitution ensures that government will not infringe upon it.

1st amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . .
2nd amendment:  . . . right to bear arms . . .shall not be infringed.
3rd amendment: limits government comandeering of private property.
4th amendment: government cannot search or sieze w/o warrant
5th amendment: limitations on gvt police power
6th amendment: limitations on how citizens may be tried
7th amendment: trial by jury in civil cases
8th amendment: limits bail, fines, and punishment government may prescribe
9th amendment: rights listed not exhaustive
10th amendment: any rights not mentioned default to the people and the states, not the government.

Now, the Declaration isn't a Christian document; nowhere does it mention Christ or the Bible. But it does mention a creator, and nature's God, who endows men with inalienable rights. Eliminate the Declaration, and the Constitution lacks a rationale, and your rights become privleges granted to you by the government in power. Government becomes the master, then, rather than the servant of a people made sovereign by nature, and nature's God.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-11 12:48 AM

Would this have been better understood: we are no more governed by the Declaration of Independence than any company is obligated to honor a contract in which it enters as a result of it having previously written an inspirational mission statement?
In other words any contract (legal document) stands on its own, irrespective of any mission statement of any company that has signed a contract. The contract is what is actually binding. The mission statement is a company’s rationale for its own existence; but essentially serves no practical legal purpose.
In my view, the various American civil office holders and military personnel are sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States—without specific mention of the Declaration of Independence—for this reason.
Whereas we may be motivated and inspired by the Declaration of Independence (mission statement); we live by, and in many cases die for, the Constitution of the United States (the national binding contract.)
The “endowed by their Creator” phrase is occasionally a key for en vogue revisionism—specifically, an attempt to invest the Declaration of Independence with quasi-legal status as it relates to contemporary society for the purpose of rhetorically rationalizing the introduction of religious elements into civil government and jurisprudence—in my opinion.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-11 10:36 AM

The point, Stephen, is that we cannot understand the Constitution without reference to the Declaration. As I pointed out, both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution are simply efforts to implement the principles embodied in the Declaration.

And at the risk of incurring wrath, I'm going to point out that "original meaning" is the only correct way to interpret the Constitution.

What so many Christians miss is the simple fact that "exegesis" is practiced both on scripture and on legal documents. And at the base must be what was understood by those who produced the document or law in the first place. To simply ignore that is to cast aside all mooring and turn the document into mush.

We see that today: many people think anything they perceive as 'good' must also be 'constitutional,' and anything they don't like as 'unconstitutional.'

And since 'church and state' is such a hot issue, two things need to be pointed out. The 'wall of separation' is from a letter by Jefferson, not in the Constitution. And the Constitution does not forbid individual states from having establishments of religion. In fact, several states did have established churches. This continued into the 1800's.

Do I think states should have established churches? Of course not. But if they tried to do so, the correct battle ground would be the legislature, not the courts. Unless, of course, the state constitution also had a provision similar to the 1st Amendment.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-11 11:05 AM

Excellent point, Ed. If the founders intended that the laws of the country should not reflect faith based values, wouldn't it have been pretty easy to find language must stronger and more constrictive than the "non-establishment" clause? Using Stephen's argument that intent can be inferred from silence, is it not quite reasonable to conclude that the Constitution permits faith-based values to be the foundation for law, as long as that process does not "establish" a particular religion? 

Horace Butler
2012-02-08 8:22 PM

If it wasn't for our understanding of eschatology, I would find it somwhat amusing that so many politicians (and their evangelical supporters) imagine that the founding fathers were trying to create a "Christian Nation."  They seem to forget that Christianity flourished under the rule of the pagan Caesar's, in spite of their sometimes intolerant attitude toward Christians.

On the other side of the coin, I don't believe that the intent of the Constitution is to eliminate all references to God from every entity connected with government.  Common sense would go a long way to settling this issue.

2012-02-09 12:53 AM

  The Great American experiment of religious liberty had not worked well in the colonies were there was state intituted religion.  In prohibiting an "establishment of religion" our founding fathers  sought to protect  freedom of religion not foster secularism.    Under secularism, government is a religion free zone in the absolute.  We are neither a christian nation, with the rule of theocracy, nor a secular state where no recognition of  God is implied.

Our founders would not have referred so freely to rights being endowed by our Creator, or Divine Providence if they intended to creat a secular state.  Rather they sought to have a pluralistic state (E. Pluribus Unum) whereby each citizen had the right to worship as his own conscience determined.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-11 10:38 AM

Well said.

William Noel
2012-02-09 9:24 AM


Your misunderstandings of the US Constitution, American history and the concept of secularism are showing in bright neon. 

You stated that the President is the chief executor of American jurisprudence.  WRONG!  There are three branches of government: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.  While the president nominates federal judges, that is the extent of his influence because he is chief of the Executive Branch, not the judicial.  Any attempt on his part to influence a judge to rule in a particular way could get him moved from the White House to the Big House. 

Your proposition that the judiciary should be secular is also a misconception.  Yes, judges should rule on issues fairly based on the facts, law and the constitution and without prejudice toward any party.  But to say the judiciary should be secular is to adopt the liberal-socialist concept that God should not just be totally absent from government, but forcibly removed from any influence on it.  One of the key foundational concepts of liberal-socialism is that there is no god, so there is no divine law that people should follow.  The immediate result of this is that people lose their moral compass.  Thus jurispridence becomes like the captain of a ship dropping anchor when he knows his anchor chain is broken.  Yes, that was his anchor, but his vessel is going to get blown by the winds in whatever direction they are pushing.  Unfortunately we are seeing the secondary result of secularism where the lack of a moral foundation among members of the judiciary allows them to interpret issues and issue rulings in ways that are directly contrary to God's law.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-10 2:49 AM

I hate to be the one to break this to you, well…not really, but an executor, by definition, is one who executes or carries out something. Jurisprudence is, by definition (per dictionary.com) 1. the science or philosophy of law.  2. a body or system of laws.  3. a department of law: medical jurisprudence. 4. Civil laws. decisions of courts, especially of reviewing tribunals.
The President of the United States, as head of the Executive Branch, is the chief executor of the American civil system of laws (constitutional American jurisprudence); including the enforcement of the decisions of federal courts. That’s why it’s called the Executive Branch.
Granted, we may come from different cultural planets; but let’s try not to disagree with each other for this reason alone. There is more to say about your post, but this will do for now.

William Noel
2012-02-10 9:01 AM


Dispute definitions if you wish.  We're facing a far greater problem: the rapid erosion of both civil and religious freedom while Adventist church leaders are blind to the danger and even defending what they should be shouting against.

The Constitution doesn't address every issue related to law and both the courts and politicians over recent decades have taken advantage of this to push incremental expansions in their interpretation of both the constitution and laws to distances well outside the boundaries any of the Founding Fathers ever imagined.  This has both seriously eroded basic freedoms and made it far easier to trample more.  The stated objective of these actions is simple: destroying the Judaeo-Christian principles, laws and morals upon which our country was established.  The ruling this week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stating that prohibiting homosexuals from marrying is unconstitutional is a current example among many.  (The judges on that court are on-record describing themselves as the most liberal-minded and "activist" judges in America.) 

The new HHES rule requiring religious groups to pay for birth control for their employees who want it is another.  I think the Obama administration may have picked a far bigger fight on that one than they expected.  This situation presents us with a delicious irony where we Adventists, who see actions by the Catholic Church as threats to our religious freedoms, now find ourselves strange bedfellows where both are defending against attacks on our religious freedoms. 

While the courts are structured to restrain lawmakers from such overreach, the speed with which that happens is far too slow for that restraint to happen in a timely manner and great damage is done before it is reversed, if it is not upheld by a judge who is ruling based on the same philosophy.  We are seeing the prophecy fulfilled that America will abandon the principles on which it was founded and follow the Beast of Rome.  The great tragedy in all this is how many leaders in the Adventist Church have been blinded by the deceptions of Satan in this effort, embraced the stated social objectives of the politically powerful and as a result become unable to see where it is all heading.  Instead of crying-out in opposition while it was easy, they have instead helped smooth the path for Satan's final works. 


Joe Erwin
2012-02-10 10:37 AM

The US Constitution commits this nation to separation of church and state specifically to prohibit the establishment of any religion as dominant over all others. Even so, there were at the time the country began, and have been ever since, voices raised to seek advantage for their religious perspective.

At every point where such attempts are made, those sworn to uphold the constitution are obligated to turn back those attempts. In a pluralistic society, such as ours is, whose God or god or viewpoint should be selected without impeding the rights and liberty of others? Freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of choice, are all fundamental human rights in America. Among other things, that means that the default position must be secular.

When secular becomes "secular-ism," as if it is the worship of "anti-God," I think I see why that should be a concern--but all too often, as is evident in some posts above, "secular-ism" exists only in the imagination of those who seek to establish their own belief as the default option.

William Noel
2012-02-11 7:45 AM


A little point of history for illustration.  When the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the Constitution) were being debated, the Presbyterian Church was the official church of the state of Massachussets and a person had to be a member if they were to hold public office, vote, etc.  The First Amendment was written to insure that personal liberties would not be infringed by the church or the legislature of a state with a particular majority in spiritual allegiance. 

Instead of restricting what allegiance an individual may exercise in their practice of religion, what we are dealing with today is the exact opposite where laws, regulations and the courts are being used to increasingly constrain and restrict any and all liberties claimed as part of a person's religious beliefs. 

Joe Erwin
2012-02-11 1:22 PM

Actually, the official state religion of Massachusetts was Congregational, not Presbyterian (the Puritans mostly morphed into the Congregational church). One of my direct ancestors, who was a Puritan cleric, was a freethinker and opposed involvement of the church in government and vice versa. His name was Roger Williams, and as a dissenter in Massachusetts he was expelled and moved away, established the American Baptist movement, and established religious freedom in Rhode Island. Another of my direct ancestors was William Stone, the first protestant governor of Maryland. He proclaimed religious liberty in Maryland around 1650, and the Puritans removed him in armed rebellion for being too liberal. I'm pretty familiar with the search for religious freedom by those who settled America. Some of my ancestors who were among the first settlers of what is now New York, escaped from the Inquisitors in Spanish Netherlands, made their way to Amsterdam and sailed to America. Here they were among the founders of the Dutch Reformed Church in America. And on, and on, and on.... And my family history is full of others who suffered persecution of various kinds from those who were intolerant, most of who wished to establish their own brand of religion to dominate all others. I had relatives who were executed as witches at Salem.

I now live in a state, that like several others, forbids those who are unwilling to declare belief in one God and in the authenticity of the Old and New Testaments, from holding public office. That has, however, been declared "unenforceable." So, according to the law, someone who is not absolutely positive about God--enough to declare belief--or is unwilling to lie about it, may not serve in public office. Who here thinks that is right? Or that the declaration that the statute is unenforceable is some left-wing liberal conspiracy?

I regret that some here find me so abrasive. For those who grew up in the SDA church, please understand that I did too. Even so, I did not regard every traditional practice as based on direct orders from God. A few people here seem to have no problem with disrespecting our current President with false assertions that he is a "socialist," but are quick to cry foul if mention is made of  "reactionary" or "right-wing" perspectives. It is sad that the polarization has become so extreme in this country that people cannot even consider working together for the common good. Of course, that would be "communism."

Joe Erwin
2012-02-10 10:53 AM

Stephen is absolutely correct in pointing to the 2nd definition as the one our Constitution decrees.

Now, much of my own perspective on religious freedom in America comes from understanding that I was taught and that I learned during my rearing as an adventist. It is interesting to see that the position of some of the most stridently traditional SDAs here hold an almost opposite view--a view consistent with current reactionary conservative political dogma. Those partisan perspectives are powerful, aren't they?

Maybe we should have a blog at some point to discuss which make of car is best. There will surely be those who argue for Chevy over Ford, American vs. foreign, etc.  Such a discussion will not lack polarization (part of the fun?) and is likely to be just as productive as most of the discussions here....  ; )

Stephen Foster
2012-02-10 2:01 PM

There is hope for you yet my man…and everyone knows that Honda automotive products are superior, in terms of value!
Seriously though, the way that things have been playing out in American religion and politics for the past 30 plus years in accordance with historical Adventist eschatology, and the demonstrable efficacy of the SDA health message have gone a long way toward convincing me—previously the king of cynicism—of the legitimacy of historic Seventh-day Adventism.
To your point, “It is interesting to see that the position of some of the most stridently traditional SDAs here hold an almost opposite view--a view consistent with current reactionary conservative political dogma. Those partisan perspectives are powerful, aren't they?” Wow!

2012-02-11 1:38 AM

...consistent with current reactionary conservative political dogma...    What about current radical liberal political dogma?  In the zealotry of  equality, what  will happen when anti discrimination policy demand that churches provide  spousal benefits to same sex  marriage partners as it already provides for opposite sex spouses?  That will make the current debate over providing contraceptive benefits seem mild in comparison. Adventists are looking at the religious right so much they don't see the threat coming from the anti-religous secular left.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-11 2:08 AM

I'm curious to know who "the most stridently traditional SDAs here" are.  Wow indeed! Maybe Stephen could help us. I recognize most of the names of the commenters on this blog, and don't see anyone who fits that category - though I'd say Stephen comes the closest (Wow!). Care to name others?

BTW Joe, what's with this penchant for veering off topic to smear those you disagree with by negative association ("reactionary conservative political dogmatists"). Why turn what has been a fairly civil discussion about the meaning of the Constitution into a personal attack?

Having grown up in a very traditional Adventist home, I would be most interested to learn of any Adventist source material championing the notion that the U.S. Constitution, by its silence on the subject, commands that faith and religion should not inform citizens' political advocacy. Certainly Adventists who fought slavery, advocated for prohibition laws, and supported anti-smoking laws, based upon their religious convictions, would be surprised to learn that they were undermining the Constitution by bringing faith convictions to public policy debates.

I cannot argue with your personal experiences, Joe. But they do not square with my upbringing in the Church during a time when faith based moral values, deeply embedded in law and culture since our founding, were not yet under attack from a secularist judiciary, cheered on by Leftist intellectuals and journalists. There was no reactionary religious right when I was growing up because there was no militantly anti-Christian Left trying to force its secularizing agendas down the throats of Christians.  

I haven't done the research, but I strongly suspect that one could readily find traditional Adventist sources in which America is referred to as a Christian nation. Anyone care to look that up?

Joe Erwin
2012-02-11 1:39 PM

It seems to me that adventists and others who supported anti-smoking laws and alcohol prohibition, largely did so because they considered those activities unhealthy and destructive--not because they were advancing religious dogma. Likewise, let's remember that many people who defended slavery were religious, whether adventist or not, and some even claimed a scriptural basis for slavery. If one could find a source that claims that America is a Christian Nation, would that make it so? Surely not....

Why are comments like "militantly anti-Christian Left" or "Leftist intellectuals and journalists" not as abrasive as the comments you object to? Repeatedly you seem to project your own inclinations to others. I'm not sure why you feel it is necessary, but clearly you do.

Let me just say that I do not comment here to be mean or obnoxious, and I feel that my only honorable choice is to not continue to engage in conversations of this kind. "No reactionary religious right" when you were growing up? You did live in a very restricted world even then.... So, I can only say, live in peace, and I hope you come to terms with whatever is irritating you so much. I will try not to be a source of abrasion.

2012-02-11 7:26 PM

On the subject of whether this is a christian nation or not, perhaps this will help clear up some things.
An office seekers was asked once whether he was a christian candidate.  He replied that he was not a christian candidate but a candidate who was a christian.  That may seem like doubletalk or a puzzlement as to what is the difference.    In the same vein this nation is not a christian nation, but it is a nations predominately of  christians.   

A christian candidate or nation holds the law of God as the supreme law of the land and seeks to make and enforce laws that would best describe that form of government as a theocracy.  On the other hand a candidate who is a christian and a nation founded by christians, is a protector of everyone's right of conscinece and seeks to uphold that truth whether they are a christian or not.  

The drafters of the Constitution understood the dangers of  religous dogma having  dominant sway over the affairs of state, so they in effect created a wall separating  church and state.   That wall was to be a protector of individual freedom, which undergirded our founding  Judeo-christian   belief in religius liberty.

Today we have two extremes pulling in opposite directions.  One wants to tear down that wall and creat in essence a  christian nation, and the other wants to make government insitution a absolute religious free zone. Both extremes do hostility   to the principle of liberty and freedom.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-12 10:47 AM

Tom, thanks for that summary. I agree that the extremes are where the problems are, and that is one of the things that makes me so uncomfortable with our current climate of political polarizations, with people of each side claiming that the other side is even more extreme than they are.

By way of context, I should mention that I spent some time every year for about 20 years doing some zoological field work in Indonesia. Indonesia is often called an "Islamic nation," but that is deeply and seriously inaccurate. The founders of Indonesia were very careful to insist on a commitment to religious freedom and a secular government. The Pancasila, the five fundamental principles, do specify that "belief in God" is essential, but, to avoid favoring one religion over others, the urge to specify the name of God has been fiercely resisted. Although 85-90% of Indonesians specify Islam as their religious preference, there are some provinces where the majority of people are Christian (e.g., Sulawesi Utara) or Hindu (Bali). People do Indonesia a great disservice when they characterize it as an Islamic state or republic.

It seems to me that describing or identifying the US as a "Christian nation" rather than a nation that is committed to religious freedom, puts us in a very bad position internationally--especially when we get into conflicts with nations that DO have a national religion or exist to advance a specific religion.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-12 11:32 AM

I guess I was thinking of Christian-oriented extreme groups like the John Birch Society, following
up on Joe McCarthy's claims that we were in  a final struggle between "atheistic communism and
Christianity." These were certainly extremist politically motivated groups that sought to strengthen
the role of Christianity in government. Popular groups like "Youth for Christ" were relatively
moderate, in many places, though not so much some places. (I'm talking about the 1950s and 1960s)
I found the messages preached by Billy Graham and others pretty positive at the time (I recall
meeting the Rev. Graham at a Youth for Christ rally in Santa Barbara in the summer of 1958).
But there were also some fairly bizarre emerging figures (e.g., Oral Roberts and others) who
became politically influential. A lot of the white evangelical groups in the 50s and 60s were on
what I consider to have been the wrong side of the civil rights movement--and many saw (and
still see) the civil rights movement as a communist/socialist left-wing plot.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-12 5:59 PM

Values, which are most often derived from and informed by faith, can—and to a large extent should—inform public policy at a basic level; however values are one thing and dogma is quite another.
It is often difficult to objectively differentiate or distinguish between religious values and religious dogma; much less to determine who gets to make the call. This is problematic.

Likewise the values and ideals articulated in the Declaration of Independence may well have informed or even inspired the Constitution; but both documents are devoid of dogma, with the plausible exception that the Declaration acknowledges and presupposes ("natural rights,"without identifying them with that specific nomenclature, and) a Creator.
The 14th amendment prohibits a state from making a law that infringes upon the liberties available to all citizens. The prohibition that the First Amendment imposes upon Congress affords Americans religious liberty. This would make any law establishing a state religion unconstitutional; except, possibly, to those who want to do that which is in violation of two bedrock constitutional principles—for obvious reasons.

Adventists, of course, have historically anticipated these very principles—of religious liberty and equal protection—to, eventually, be violated and ignored. It is more than interesting to witness Adventists attempting to make a constitutional case—or identify a postulate—for such abrogation.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-12 7:51 PM

Stephen, I think the wheels kind of jumped the tracks here. First you correctly point out that one man's values are another man's dogma. It is difficult to distinguish between them, you say, and even more difficult to decide who gets to make the call. But apparently it's not difficult for you. So you proceed to dogmatically make the call without even defining your terms. Do you see a problem here?

Furthermore, why do you need to believe that I, or others who disagree with your argument, are against religious liberty or equal protection? Why do complex issues, about which SDAs of good will and integrity should be able to differ, have to reduced to either/or? Those of us who disagree with you are not opposed to religious liberty, nor do we devalue the 1st Amendment. We simply disagree with your novel argument regarding Constitutional interpretation. You argue that, despite the absence of explicit language in the Constitution defining America as a secular nation, it nevertheless should be inferred, from the omission of any reference to God, that the Constitution intends for America to be a secular nation. Do you have any Constitutional scholar, or other thinker that you can cite as authority for this notion? If not, might you infer from the silence of others that your theory is a bit of an intellectual cowlick? Surely, if this idea has merit, a similar apple must have fallen on the head of another sometime in the past 200 years, no?

If you support the President mandating employers to  guarantee that their insured employees will have access through their insurance coverage to contraceptives and abortifacts, notwithstanding the religious convictions ofthe  employers, would it be fair for me to argue that you are thereby supporting "abrogation" of religious freedom? Of course not! You just prioritize values differently than I. Can't we all have good faith differences about these things without being "in" or "out"? Did someone designate you to tell us what the official Adventist position is or sould be on these issues? 

We are all sort of reading rabbit entrails as we prioritize liberties and rights in a pluralistic society, and try to decide when one good needs to be sacrificed or sublimated to another.  And we can all make plausible arguments for the propostiion that the politicians we find odious are a  danger to religious liberty. But what is neither plausible nor fair is to argue that those who disagree with you want to establish a religious state or abrogate religious liberty and the non-establishment clause of the Constitution. 

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-12 6:31 PM

"It is more than interesting to witness Adventists attempting to make a constitutional case—or identify a postulate—for such abrogation."

Of what are you speaking? I am not aware of any such attempt.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-12 11:21 PM

Nate and Ed,
If you will recall it actually was you Ed who attempted to make the case, which was not disputed by you Nathan, that it would indeed not be unconstitutional for a state to pass a law establishing a state religion. That is an unmistakable example an Adventist making a constitutional case for, or seeking to establish a postulate for, the abrogation of the constitutional principles of religious liberty and equal protection; Ed’s disclaimer notwithstanding.
Although Ed said that he would not favor the passage of such a law, the fact that he would think that “the Constitution does not forbid individual states from having establishments of religion” is telling.
I don’t question that Ed would not favor the passage of such a law, but he minimally is indicating empathy for the abrogation of the constitutional principles of church and state separation and equal protection; and you Nathan, an attorney, immediately followed his remarks with the “Excellent point” approbation.
There is a trend along these lines.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-13 12:11 AM

" . . . it would indeed not be unconstitutional for a state to pass a law establishing a state religion. That is an unmistakable example an Adventist making a constitutional case for, or seeking to establish a postulate for, the abrogation of the constitutional principles of religious liberty and equal protection; Ed’s disclaimer notwithstanding."

"a constitutional case for . . . the abrogation of constitutional principles"

I can't figure out if that's circular, just begging the question, or just . . . confused. First, you apparently decided what constitutional principles are, then you state that I was making a consitutional case which violates those principles.

That individual states did indeed have established religions for years after the Constitution became the law of the land is not speculation, not a guess, we know that they did, and that they were not considered to violate the US. Constituion--and most of the framers of the Constitution were still alive, and did not see these state-established churches as a violation. In addition, the 1st amendment says "Congress shall make no law . . ." but says nothing about state legislatures. Laws are what they say, not what we wish they said.

The founders, who regarded the judiciary as 'the weakest branch,' would be horrified to see the degree to which the minutiae of our lives are dictated by the courts, especially the Supreme Court.  The legislature is the place where the vast majority of these issues should be decided. If people suddenly discovered that it would be possible for the state to establish a religion, do you imagine that there would be a rush to do such a thing? It would be political suicide for any legislator to suggest such a thing.

And no, it does not follow that what Congress cannot do, neither can state legislatures. In fact, the contrary was true. The Constitution forbade Congress from levying taxes on individuals. It took an amendment to change that. Yet states levied taxes on individuals all that time.

You, Stephen, are the one who has argued that Constitutional 'principles' can only be derived from the Constitution itself, that the Declaration and (I assume) the Federalist Papers are not relevant. IF that's true, Jefferson's letter with the "wall of separation" status is even further out.

So your notion of religious liberty not permitting any state to establish a religion cannot be derived from the Constitution itself. It says not such thing, and we know the framers agreed with that. As we have discussed, the Constitution is not a document of principles, but of policies; of laws. Now, if you wish to change your stand, and insist that there are principles underlying, but not explicitly stated in the Constitution, then we might discuss where those principles can be found.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-13 1:47 AM

You are now attempting to distract attention, Stephen, from the pickle you have gotten yourself into. I was not agreeing with Ed's point that states are free to establish their own religion. I was silent about that particular point. So following the Stephen Foster principle of document interpretation, must you not logically conclude that I actually disagreed with it -  even if I did not take issue with it (LOL)? The point is that the Constitution as written permitted such a scenario, and many, if not most, of the original colonies had state religions. This undermines your argument that the Constitution prescribes a "secular" government rather than simply a government that does not favor one religion over another. I am well aware of the judicial fiats applying the First Amendment freedoms and constraints to the States. 

Now Stephen, assuming you must surely be satisfied that I do not think the Constitution permits states to establish their own religions, perhaps you can respond to the question of where you find "The Wall of Separation" written in the U.S. Constitution, and how you square your support of that doctrine with your professed opposition to using extra-Constitutional sources to guide our understandings of the Constitution's meaning and intent. While you're at it, perhaps you could make a principled argument for why the Constituion's silence about a whole host of other matters doesn't lead to the conclusion that all matters not affirmatively mentioned in the Constitution are taboo in the public square.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-12 9:26 PM

"one man's values are another man's dogma"

Actually, C.S. Lewis dispatched that fallacy almost 70 years ago in The Abolittion of Man.

"This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) 'ideologies', all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. . . .The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in."

Stephen Foster
2012-02-12 11:14 PM

I am not at all clear with what this line of reasoning has to do with the second definition of secularism that I have identified in the blog.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-13 12:34 PM


No, I was actually saying that you were attempting to somehow make a constitutional case for the abrogation of constitutional principles. If you prefer, for the sake of clarity, I can delete the first “constitutional.”
Religious freedom and equal protection under law are constitutional principles as I understand it; however, here we can agree to disagree.
Something that you apparently missed is that I had previously pointed out that the 14th amendment (of the Constitution) is where the Constitution prohibits the states from enacting laws that would abridge or infringe upon a constitutionally protected liberty of “citizens of the United States.” This would render a state law establishing a state religion unconstitutional because the First Amendment—which prohibits Congress from making laws that establish religion or prohibiting (abridging or infringing upon) the free exercise (practice or observance or non-observance) of religion—provides “citizens of the United States” immunity, if you will, from religious laws and/or laws that essentially establish religion.
(Again, the fact that I am having this discussion with a Seventh-day Adventist minister and attorney is more than noteworthy.)
Of course, the state religions and blue laws of various states were largely, though not entirely, remnants/vestiges of colonial (pre-Constitution) days. (There had even been religious tests for holding offices in some colonies as well.) That they existed previously or existed for decades after ratification of the Bill of Rights is as relevant as the fact that slavery existed previously or for decades after (the Declaration and) the Constitution’s ratification.
The Declaration of Independence, with all its lofty ideals and sentiments regarding the rights and equality of “all men” did not, by law, prohibit slavery. The Constitution is all that matters for all practical/legal purposes. Other documents can and should inform us as to what certain of the framers (those who authored or signed those documents) meant about that which they wrote or that which may pertain to the Constitution.
Accordingly the “wall of separation” phraseology is found in a post-ratification letter written by a particular founder. That phraseology is not in the Constitution. The principle found in the words of the First Amendment prohibiting laws that respect (or pertain to, or acknowledge) the establishment of religion or prohibiting (abridging or infringing upon) the free exercise (practice, or observance, or non-observance) of religion is what Jefferson believed to be constitutionally enshrined. The fact that the Constitution also forbids any religious test for holding public office, and the absence of dogma or religious language, or mention of God in the Constitution is further evidence to some (including me) of the intent—and wisdom—of the founders on this particular issue; not to mention their intentionality regarding same.
Everyone is different, and may only be able to do what seems natural for them to do to a large extent; but I think that some of the problem you ran into with Joe is that you have a tendency to characterize the discussion—and the participants—in ways that reflect a judgment rendering about something other than the issue being discussed. With me, you feel a need to say that I am either embarrassing myself or in a pickle or some such thing, as if this somehow strengthens the particular case you are attempting to make. (I know this syndrome/tactic because I’ve used it myself when I have verbally debated with some of my more argumentative friends.)
As to religion in the public square as relates to the blog and the Constitution, let me say that it is evident that invoking/introducing religious elements into civil affairs/policy is clearly appropriate in instances which exempt religion from public policy that may be in violation of the free exercise, or practice (or even non-practice), of religion. The salient question is whether these are the only circumstances under which it’s appropriate to introduce religious elements into public policy. I believe that it is. You apparently disagree.
This brings me to an earlier issue you raised as to whether Adventists have previously considered America to be a Christian nation (as if that would be dispositive). Well…I didn’t exactly find “Christian nation,” but this is what I have found, “When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.”

I happen to believe this is true.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-13 1:47 PM

Stephen, you cannot have it both ways.

Either there are principles underlying the Constitution, or there are not. Laws are what they say, nothing more, nothing less.

And I'm sorry, but as a matter of law, you're mistaken. The Constitution prohibits congress from establishing a religion. It says nothing about the states. And the fact that the Constitution is a document of enumerated powers means that if it is not a power explicitly given to the federal government, it reverts to the people and the states.

The fourteenth amendment is not one that I missed. It, too, does not say what you think it does. It says a state may not enforce a law which abridges the privileges or immunities of a citizen of the United States. Just because a state establishes a religion I do not share does not necessarily abridge my privileges or immunities. And I am aware that subsequent court decisions have made this practically impossible. But court decisions not anchored in the original meaning of the text can easily be replaced by another decision unanchored. That makes the courts political institutions rather than judicial ones. It makes judges participants in the game, rather than referees. It's beyond dangerous.

You keep saying this debate "is telling." Yes, it is.  I think the Constitution is a great document, but it is not the protection people think that it is.  This is especially true as it is increasingly interpreted in ways which are not consistent with the original meaning of the text. Eisegesis is a bad habit, wherever it takes place.

The question is not whether I think establishing a religion is a good idea, the question is what the Constitution says. You might want to ponder the connection between the way we read the Constitution, and the way we read the Bible. In both cases, there is a tendency to interpret the text in terms of what we think today, rather than what the authors were thinking when they wrote it. In both cases, it leaves the interpreter completely unmoored, driven by every wind of popular perception.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-13 3:24 PM

I happen to be a Hamiltonian with regard to how enumerated and implied powers are related to the objects of the Constitution; but even if I wasn’t, your application of the Tenth Amendment to this case could not be more backwards.
You are arguing that since the Constitution prohibits congress from establishing a religion, that a state can do so. For those who are proponents of “states’ rights” and a small federal government, the Tenth Amendment indicates that what the Constitution does not “delegate” or empower (via enumeration) the federal government to do, is then “reserved to the states” or the “people.” It says, specifically, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” You are arguing, in effect, that “the powers prohibited to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States…”
There is more than a semantic difference, my friend, between something that is “not delegated” and something that is “prohibited.” Something not delegated by enumeration, can be (and has been) delegated by the necessary and proper laws the Constitution (Article 1 Section 8) permits Congress to enact in carrying out the objects the Constitution (listed in the Preamble) of a sovereign national government. Something expressly prohibited to the U.S. can only become lawful by Constitutional amendment.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-13 7:48 PM

"You are arguing that since the Constitution prohibits congress from establishing a religion, that a state can do so."

No, I am not. I am simply quoting what the 1st Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law . . ."
It does not address whether the states can do this or not. It is not the prohibition that grants this power to the state, it is the silence that leaves the power where it already was. An important omission, since states had established religions at the time. If the framers meant to prohibit the states from doing so, they would have stated that. If they believed this prohibited it to the states, it would have invalidated the state establishments. But neither happened.

This can be contrasted with the various interstate tariffs and fees, which were one of the reasons the Articles of Confederation failed, and which were invalidated by the Constitution.

And then, there's the 10th Amendment : "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Your exposition of "not delegated" vs. "prohibited" is interesting, but not relevant here.
Establishing a religion was prohibited to the federal legislature "Congress shall make no law" but not  any other jurisdiction. Again, this is obvious because none of this ended established churches in the states.

"Something expressly prohibited to the U.S. can only become lawful by Constitutional amendment.

And again, taxing individuals was expressly prohibited to the federal government, it took an amendment (the 16th) to change that, yet states levied such taxes.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-14 5:00 AM

Please enlighten me on where in the Constitution did it ever prohibit the federal government to tax individuals. Article 1 Section 9 says that “No capitation, other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” This was clarified by the 16th Amendment (ratified in 1913). Article 1 Section 8 of course had provided that all revenue raising bills would be initiated in Congress; and income taxes were levied as early as 1861. According to Wikipedia, “The United States Supreme Court in its ruling Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co. stated that the [16th] amendment conferred no new power of taxation but simply prevented the courts from taking the power of income taxation possessed by Congress from the beginning out of the category of indirect taxation to which it inherently belongs.”
Further, with all respect, how can you possibly deny that you are arguing that because the Congress is prohibited from enacting a law establishing religion that therefore the states have the right to do so?

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 8:56 AM

"how can you possibly deny that you are arguing that because the Congress is prohibited from enacting a law establishing religion that therefore the states have the right to do so?"

It's easy, because that is not what I have said. I will state it once again.

Under the first amendment, Congress is prohibited from making a law concerning an establishment of religion. The first amendment is silent concerning state legislatures. It is the silence that permitted state establishments, not the prohibition to Congress.

The language of the 2nd amendment shows how simple it would be to extend that prohibition to the states: " . . .the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." (emphasis mine)

It does not say Congress shall make no law, it does not say the states, it simply states an absolute.

Really, if you cannot see the difference between silence and explicit prohibition, there's no point in continuing. Most of your misunderstandings of my positions arise from just such mistakes.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-14 7:05 PM

At the time, stating that establishing a religion would be unconstitutional would have been an effective way of ending the US before it began.  Perhaps we could at least give the founding fathers credit for knowing what was achievable and what was not.  I suspect many did want to see sparation of church and state become the reality everywhere, but history shows how long that took.  It became more likely when the US constitution was ratified, but it was not inevitable any more than universal franchise was.  It sometimes takes a long time for ideals to become reality. 

One reason some countries - like the UK and Australia - have been resistant to anything like a bill of rights is that tradition and consensus is often a better guarantee of rights than a formal statement that can be interpreted by the judiciary.  To make explicit is ofen to limit in a way no one likes.  The High Court/Supreme Court/etc is always only a small number of judges, but they do have great power in being able to say "this means that".  Not having a formal bill of rights takes away their right to do that and leaves the right to define our rights with the people.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-13 4:25 PM

A book that should be required reading for everyone in a debate like this is Vincent Crapanzano's "Serving the Word".  He explicitly links the interpretation of the US Constitution with the interpretation of the Bible.  As one of the huge number of people outside the US who find the US facination with 'what the authors meant' - or even with the constitution - somewhat perplexing, it was a very enlightening book.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-13 1:52 PM

Stephen wrote “When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.”

I happen to believe this is true.

So do I. But some are so focused on worries about the right wing (some of which I think are justified) they cannot see when just such things are imposed by the left wing.

the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.

Have you been paying attention to the birth control flap? The infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters is already a reality.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-13 2:44 PM

Well Ed, you really planted an I.E.D. there. It is interesting to reflect upon how a "secular" president can say on the one hand - at the National Prayer Breakfast - that caring for the sick and tending to the needs of the poor are the essence of Jesus' teaching, and then proclaim, via one of his czars - Kathleen Sebelius - that religious organizations which do precisely what the President contends is the essence of good religion, are not really engaged in religious activity at all, and therefore cannot claim Constitutional protection for their religious beliefs, unless they restrict caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and tending to the needs of the poor to people of their own faith - sort of like Jesus did.

Here, on full display, is the pretzel logic by which the sphere of freedom and privacy is constricted, and freedom of conscience is choked to death by the superior moral claims of of a secular state which pays lip service to religion - in its proper sphere and scope - which of course the secular state, as the supreme authority, gets to define. We see here that in a secular state, words, including those used in the Constitution, mean precisely what the secular authorities intend them to mean, and that meaning is only operative at the time and in the context in which the words are used.

I can't say that I feel much sympathy for the Catholic Bishops however. They led the cheering squad for Obama care, never dreaming that the benign sounding mandate for "preventive care" in the Affordable Health Care Act would be used to draft them as combatants advancing the secular agenda of preventing and terminating such dread diseases as pregnancy. Had the Bishops reminded themselves of the fable of The Scorpion and the Frog, they might not have been so reassured by our "secular" president's professed regard for protecting the free exercise of religious conscience when they signed on to Obamacare. 

Stephen Foster
2012-02-13 2:39 PM

Of course, we both think (if not “know”) that the other is dead wrong on the law.
I will just simply attach what the 14th Amendment says, and note that (thus far) any state establishment of religion certainly seems unimaginable; and that is clearly an indication that one would widely believed to be unconstitutional. I live in Alabama, and I can tell you that a law establishing Christianity as the state religion would not be politically unpopular.
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Are you saying that the Bill of Rights, including (of course) the First Amendment, don’t provide the citizens of the United States “privileges or immunities”? What “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” would this be referencing? Why wouldn’t the immunity from a law establishing religion be among those from which a citizen of the U.S is protected?

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-13 7:54 PM

"one would widely believed to be unconstitutional."

Seriously? An Adventist wants to rely on what is "widely believed."

"Why wouldn’t the immunity from a law establishing religion be among those from which a citizen of the U.S is protected?"

It is. We are protected from Congress making such a law.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-14 3:50 AM

You have hereby/just made my point, Ed!
Because of the First Amendment, wherein Congress is prohibited from making a law establishing religion, we are protected—immune—from such a law; and the states are prohibited, by the 14th Amendment language, from enacting or enforcing a law from which we, as citizens of the U.S., are immune.
Such a law, therefore, is widely believed to be unconstitutional. I would have said “…universally believed to be unconstitutional;” but there are a few individuals who want the states to have such latitude, and therefore will believe what they want to believe.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 8:45 AM

Somehow you keep confusing Congress with the state legislatures.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-14 11:41 AM

I think there is a failure to communicate here. Stephen is correct. During the 1940's, in a series of decisions interpreting the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that this Amendment, guaranteeing due process and equal protection of the laws to all citizens, would be significantly nullified if the states were free to deprive citizens of the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights, originally written to constrain only the Federal Government. Therefore, just as Congress had theretofore been precluded from abridging the freedoms secured by the Bill of Rights, the states should also be precluded, by virtue of the 14th Amendment, from interfering with those freedoms. So, much as it pains me (LOL), I have to say that Stephen is right. In order to eliminate the "confusion" you point out and give full meaning to the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court has said that Congress and state legislatures are the same, for purposes of the Bill of "Rights.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 1:12 PM

Yes, I'm aware of the 'incorporation' doctrine. But I don't think Stephen is, since his appeal is to what is 'widely believed.' Even 'universally believed,' besides being an impossible statement, has no bearing on what the document says. Had he spoken of court decisions, or cited actual language, I would have yielded. I'm not into 'universal beliefs,' often erroneous, or emanations of penumbras, usually illusory.

Many people have a very hazy idea of what the Constitution means and says. I'm also aware of Scalia's recent statement that the 14th amendment says nothing about women's rights. And history once again vindicates that position. That's why the 19th amendment was necessary. So while I grant that court decisions have done what you say, icnluding women's rights, I think Scalia is right.

The fourteenth amendment is now cited in favor of gay marriage. Whether or not one supports gay marriage, the idea that those who passed the fourteenth amendment understood it to mean that two men or two women could marry is absurd.

IT is by just such eisegesis that the courts precipitate deep divisions and erode their own authority. And it cannot be too much stressed: one can think an interpretation of the Constitution is mistaken while still desiring the outcome that decision would achieve.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-14 5:38 PM

Thanks Nathan, for helping to clarify this.
Ed, you demonstrate a great sense of humor! I introduce the 14th Amendment (without which there is no Incorporation Doctrine) into the discussion; yet the fact that the Incorporation Doctrine is widely believed to apply to this question, directly—but not unanimously or universally believed to do so— means that, uh…what, I’m not familiar with it?

Better to simply admit you were mistaken.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 6:29 PM

The incorporation doctrine is not something which is 'widely believed,' nor is it mentioned in the 14th amendment. The incorporation doctrine is derived from a series of judicial opinions--actual documents, not widely held beliefs. That it is widely believed is irrelevant; that the court declared it so, is. One makes it public opinion; the other effectively makes it law.

Had you mentioned the incorporation doctrine, I would have agreed that this has been applied to the Bill of Rights. But your language and reasoning are so imprecise I could not take that for granted. For example, inability to distinguish between prohibition and silence.

And it's a very different thing to say the text of the Constitution itself incorporates or prohibits something, than to say that judges have ruled in a particular way. Such fuzzy thinking brought us  Dred Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Griswold v Connecticut, and a host of other such decisions.

I cite Griswold especially because of the important distinction between agreeing with the outcome sought in a case, and the reasoning used to get there. Justice Stewart called the law being challenged "an uncommonly silly law," but that did not make it unconstitutional.

But we have a huge number of people today who think if a law is 'silly,' or 'bad,' it is automatically unconstitutional. And that is just not so. So precision of language and reasoning is important, especially in regards to the Constitution.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-15 2:34 AM

With all due respect, Ed, this has become rather silly; for no good reason. I described, in detail, the effects of the Incorporation Doctrine, as it would relate to a state establishment of religion; and said that the reason why such a law would be unimaginable is because one would widely be viewed to unconstitutional because of what was cited in the 14th Amendment, which has effectively come to represent the Incorporation Doctrine. This much is indisputable.
You eventually said that had I mentioned the Incorporation Doctrine by name you would have yielded; although it is precisely what I outlined as the reason why a state cannot make a law establishing religion.
I did write: “Are you saying that the Bill of Rights, including (of course) the First Amendment, don’t provide the citizens of the United States “privileges or immunities”? What “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” would this be referencing? Why wouldn’t the immunity from a law establishing religion be among those from which a citizen of the U.S is protected?”
“Because of the First Amendment, wherein Congress is prohibited from making a law establishing religion, we are protected—immune—from such a law; and the states are prohibited, by the 14th Amendment language, from enacting or enforcing a law from which we, as citizens of the U.S., are immune.
The Incorporation Doctrine is not mentioned in the 14th Amendment by that term. Its effects and meaning is from the 14th Amendment; just as the so-called Elastic Clause in not mentioned in Article 1 Section 8, or identified by the word “elastic.”
(In Nathan’s explanation of how this worked, he didn’t mention the Incorporation Doctrine either. This “widely believed” business is likewise, another canard. It being “widely believed” unconstitutional is deduced from the fact that not even where an establishment would be politically popular, in deeply red Alabama, Oklahoma—or Utah—states that are as culturally conservative and—in the case of Alabama and Oklahoma—are as quintessentially “Bible Belt” as there are, is there talk/consideration of establishing religion.)
It’s not that the 14th Amendment/Incorporation Doctrine is so popular or necessarily technically understood; but as it relates to a state establishing a state religion, it is widely enough believed to apply in such instance so as to make “establishments” currently unimaginable.
It’s not that the courts have made law of thin air or whole cloth. In this case, the courts have ruled that the text of the Constitution (14th Amendment) prohibits what it says it does.  

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-15 11:14 AM

"It’s not that the courts have made law of thin air or whole cloth"

As for the 14th amndment, I mainly agree.

Our discussion began with the 1st amendment, and my point still stands. There is nothing in the 1st amendment that prohibits state-established religion.

Your whole 'widely believed' argument is so much fluff. It is widely believed that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided, but it remains the law of the land. And people keep trying to change it, not because they have doubts about it being law, that's the whole point. They're trying to change it because they think it's wrong.

I have little doubt that a day will come when people will decide that we need a national religion, and they will change the law that forbids it. Niether wide belief nor the Constitution will protect us, because the Constitution is no better than the people who interpret it.

I live in Iowa, where, the media will tell you, Evangelicals reign supreme in the Republican party. Having been active in the legislative arena, I can tell you that there is as much religious fervor here as anywhere in the country. But nobody wants a state established religion. And if they did, they couldn't agree on which one. Supposing they could agree on what religion they wanted to establish, someone would file a bill to that effect. Crazier laws are proposed every year.

As to decisions out of  'thin air or whole cloth,' they happen all the time. Some appeal to the 14th amendment in support gay marriage.  If not out of 'thin air or whole cloth,' such a position is the next thing to it. Whether you support gay marriage or not, there is exactly zero likelihood that such a thing was envisioned by or would be endorsed by those who framed the 14th amendment. And in Griswold, and a whole host of decisions since then, the decision was made out of 'emanations' and 'penumbras.'

Precision in language is important. As Orwell said, "The slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

Joe Erwin
2012-02-13 5:27 PM

Sadly, what we have here is another discussion of an issue that is needlessly politically polarized.

The point was to ensure that all women who want to use contraception have access to it--in part,
because prevention of unwanted pregnancies would result in enormous cost savings for public
health programs.

The information I have seen reported indicates that substantially more than half of Catholic
women of reproductive age use some means of contraception, even though they are under
orders from their church not to do so.

"Liberal" and "progressive" citizens overwhelmingly favor a "single payer" universal health care
system--which would have dramatically cut the cost of healthcare by removing all or most
insurance carriers, with their enormous costs. They were not and are not pleased with the
health care system as planned. In the school district in which I live, the cost savings would
have been hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, just regarding the health care for teachers
and other education employees. If any of this was about costs and taxes, both parties would
have supported that approach.

But what it is really about is desperately trying, at every possible opportunity, to make sure
our current President (note that I use "President," rather than "'secular' president") does not
succeed in accomplishing anything. It is not about "religious liberty" at all. It is about defeating
President Obama, and the desprate efforts to find some issue that will cause people to think
less of him. It is all about partisan political power.

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-13 7:03 PM

I'm not sure, Joe, that it is needlessly political. Isn't it important, when evaluating any idea to look at how it is being played out in reality? I use the term "secular" president not out of disrespect, but because I think Stephen sees Obama as that way, at least in his political instincts. I put quotes around the word "secular" because I do not mean to imply that, at a personal level, Obama is hostile or indifferent to religion.

Surely you are not suggesting that the Catholic Bishops and columnists like E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post have created this issue in order to defeat Obama? And surely you do not think that the contraception mandate has no religious liberty implications?

I am not seeking to debate or question universal medical care as a national policy. I am merely pointing out evidence which should serve as a warning that religious liberty and freedom of conscience would be no safer in Foster's secular utopia than in a theocracy which he believes is desired by the religious right. How can the administration say that the work of Catholics and other non-church owned faith-motivated service providers is in fact the work of Christ and the heart of true Christianity; and then turn around and say that religious healthcare providers are not engaged in religious activity when they provide those services unless they only provide them to members of the faith? Isn't this a fair question? 

You commit the fallacy of impugning the motives behind my question in order to avoid the issue ("It's not about religious liberty; it's about defeating Obama."). But the truth is that the question has been put on the front pages by liberal Catholics who have for decades been strong supporters of the Left and championed Obamacare. If Stephen or you want to argue that the mandate is inconsistent with how a secularized government would be expected to act vis a vis religion, I'm all ears. But I raised the issue because I think it is precisely what happens when political panjandrums predicate policy on the conviction or assumption that we are a secular nation.  

For a very interesting analysis of the history of what Professor Paul Rahe calls "American Catholicism's Pact with the Devil" go to ricochet.com, where you will find stimulating pro and con exchanges between Rahe and K.C. Mulville. Yes, Joe, this issue is politically polarized and polarizing. But it seems highly germane to the issue Stephen is raising. And if we can't talk about it here, on a blog idealizing a secular state with secular laws and regulations, then where?   

Stephen Foster
2012-02-14 4:48 PM

Let the record show that this particular blog was about the concepts of secular government and/or secularism in civil affairs, and not about partisan politics or political labels.
I purposely did not mention any politicians by name, or identify any by party affiliation, or by any particular political ideology.
I purposely referenced no issues or controversies.
I readily acknowledged that the President’s recent speech at the National Prayer Breakfast reflected something representative of the opposite of secularism.
It was not necessary to politicize the topic in order to discuss it. However, if I had mentioned a politician by name, or identified a political party or political ideology, or mentioned a current issue or controversy, I would—if history would tell us anything—have been accused of pushing a socialist agenda which is at enmity with God; or something quite similar.
On the other hand, those who politicize the topic by mentioning political leaders by name, and/or identifying (opposing) political parties and ideologies, or by broaching particular current issues or controversies, are merely discussing the topic.
You see how it works now, Joe?

It’s a similar, if not identical, syndrome or pattern as to when the President takes an idea originated in an American political conservative think tank (the so-called health insurance mandate), endorses it and subsequently shepherds its passage legislatively into law; it then becomes a Bolshevik-like plot of an enemy of God—ironically dependent on an unelected activist judiciary to overturn...you get the idea.
This is but one example of how political partisanship can obscure the larger picture.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-14 10:45 AM

Nate, you have made some good points that I appreciate, and I do not mean to "impugn your motives." I do think many people who are fanning the flames of this issue have the orientation I suggested. Dionne and the Bishops might not be seeking to defeat Obama (though some people who are farthest left are disappointed that President Obama has been too centrist to advance their agenda). But, after all, there is also, at least for the Bishops, what could be called a "Catholic agenda," and that agenda would be more likely advanced by Mr. Santorum (maybe less so by Mr. Gingerich) than by President Obama.

I have to say that I am impressed by your phrase "...political panjandrums predicate policy...." I'm confident that I am not alone in being impressed by your literary prowess.

I saw recently where someone expressed concern that the religious affilitation of her employer might impinge on her access to reproductive health care. In this case, no one was ever being forced to choose contraception over reproduction--the issue was access for those wishing to choose contraception and who would pay for that. Requiring providers to provide access is probably a pretty good solution, all around, mainly because the payouts from insurance should be considerably LESS if those covered have fewer pregnancies and fewer children. If anything, the cost of insurance premiums for plans including access to contraception should be lower than those not doing so.

Despite various ways of characterizing the President's religious inclinations, he is a professed Christian, who seems to be quite committed to secular government, while bending over backwards to avoid being intolerant of religion (even allowing more governmental support of activities of faith-based groups than I am entirely comfortable with). 

Nathan Schilt
2012-02-14 11:24 AM

I'm curious, Stephen - and this sort of ties into a thread on your "Help Me" blog - are there secular morals? Do you expect a secular state to develop a statutory and regulatory framework based on that secular morality? I assume your answer is yes. So, tell me, what happens when the values of the secular state come into conflict with religious values? How can the leviathan which defines itself as secular be other than hostile and repressive toward that which deems the moral values of secularism to be evil? Will not a militaristic secular state with martial values see itself as having a moral duty to repress any religious elements which attempt to turn the citizenry toward pacificism?

If the secular state believes that legislatively protected traditional family values and sexual mores create attachments which are inimical to the inculcation of collectivist morality, will it not rightly attempt to hack away at what it perceives to be the religious root causes of traditionalist "pathologies"?

Our founders understood these concerns very well. That is why they set up a government which would protect a free marketplace for religion - including secularism - without attempting to establish any religion as dominant, rather than a government which would, by virtue of its secular self-perception,  attempt to attenuate the power of competing religions and stamp out the stigma of any competing religious sentiments from the body politic.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-15 9:11 AM

This is an interesting question or line of reasoning for me to address since I am personally convinced that the values of treating people as you would want to be treated, and of having a responsibility to take care of one’s family, and to be concerned with the needs of others are all derived from religion.
That said, these values are universally accepted and universally adopted in civil society; so people who do not claim a religious persuasion are able to credibly espouse, and indeed practice, these values just as readily.
Frankly, I have no idea what you could possibly mean by “the inculcation of collectivist morality.” I understand what inculcation means; I have no idea what constitutes a collectivist morality and how any actual morality would conceivably differ from any other morality.
Finally, if you generalize/conceptualize (at all) that secularists have a tendency to be more militaristic than are the religious, then we probably need to start all over again.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-15 10:34 AM

I find interesting the concept that all the values mentioned have derived from religion. I find the concept appealing that "people who do not claim a religious persuasion are able to credibly espouse, and indeed practice, these values just as readily." I imagine the latter statement is valid regardless of the origins of those values.

The thing is, universal, or near universal, acceptance of values by  societies does not necessarily translate into full acceptance by individuals within those societies, or successful practice in living up to ideals. So, there is a wide range of actual moral behavior among those professing religion and those not doing so. The overlap area is so enormous that characterizing religious or nonreligious as superior to the other becomes almost meaningless. Regardless of the actual distribution of morality, we can all easily think of examples of what seems to us to be immorality by people regardless of the ideal values they espouse. This a long way of saying that I agree with you, Stephen, regarding your second statement (as well as, your 3rd and 4th).

That all values originate with religion? Not so much. But it is an interesting assertion that is worth discussing. Do others agree with this idea?

Joe Erwin
2012-02-14 11:45 AM

Not to put words in Stephen's mouth/keyboard, but....

Surely there are values and morals that transcend the religious-secular dichotomy.

When I suggest that a good guide to ethical behavior is "due consideration" of others,
and treating others as one wishes to be treated, that does not require an espousal of
either a religious or a secular foundation.

Suggestions that people who are not religious are any less moral than those who are
religious is unfounded, inconsiderate, and unnecessary.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 1:35 PM

"When I suggest that a good guide to ethical behavior is "due consideration" of others,
and treating others as one wishes to be treated, that does not require an espousal of
either a religious or a secular foundation.

Suggestions that people who are not religious are any less moral than those who are
religious is unfounded, inconsiderate, and unnecessary."

I'm wondering where that moral outlook originated :)

Kevin Riley
2012-02-14 7:19 PM

I have read one or two sociobiologists who would argue that the only real imperative is to survive by gaining any advantage possible over another.  They would not recognise 'due consieration of others' as a 'natural' basis on which to act.  I believe that to a degree consensus can be reached on how best to behave in an ethical manner, but there will always be those who won't join that consensus.  Secular people are just as divided as religious people are over what should form the basis of ethical living.  I have met so many anthroplogists who will defend to the nth degree any society's right to establish its own ethical standards, except when we deal with the issue of sexuality.  Then there seem to be absolute rights and wrongs that are not open to discussion.  We all have our blind spots and limitations.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-15 8:28 AM

Most sociobiologists recognize "reciprocal altruism" (essentially, mutual helpfulness) as having "adaptive value." Some people who self identify as sociobiologists or evolutionary psychologists are quite speculative (not that there is anything wrong with that, as long as one does not take the speculation too seriously). One does not have to look very far to see that ALL of nature is not "red in tooth and claw." Processes in the real world can exist, whether or not sociobiologists can figure out ways of explaining them on the basis of natural selection. They need to understand that not everything in the world has resulted some some very simplistic kind of natural selection, and that just being able to explain something does not mean that the explanation is correct.  Being considerate, could of course, convey advantages too, whether one wishes to see that or not. I know many anthropologists, and many are very fine and pleasant people. But one can find a very wide range of opinions among them--which makes sense for people who study many human cultures, as well as nonhuman primates. And yet, they are just people, and they are not immune from developing dogmatic views. There is a pretty broad range of opinion regarding sexuality and sexual mores, and not every opinion held is objectively based.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-15 7:18 PM

As an anthropologist (although not a sociobiologist - I will refrain from mentioning the background I have studied most from to avoid offending people here unnecessarily), I am glad you find many anthropologists to be 'fine and pleasant people'.   My current focus is on anthropology of Christianity, so that at least should not lead to me being 'exiled'.  Much of my undegraduate work was on sex, gender and sexuality, so I am aware of how broad (and, at times, dogmatic) the views are in that area.  Like a lot of people, I tend to focus on what is happening now, and how and why it works for people today, rather than trying to find an explanation in the mists of pre-history.  It conveniently avoids any need to deal with evolutionary theory.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-14 11:47 AM

Sorry, that should be:  "...are unfounded...."

Joe Erwin
2012-02-14 3:00 PM


An enormous amount of thought has been put into the question of where morals, ethics, and values originate. Discussion of such falls under areas of philosophy called "ethics" or "moral philosophy." There is also a lot of interest in psychology and economics regarding the formation of values and choice behavior.  We probably do not need to recreate all those arguments here. I don't spend a lot of time on philosophy, because I feel that many problems cannot be solved just by thinking about them--especially if underlying assumptions are inaccurate. But your question may have been rhetorical.... Perhaps you feel that all morality originates with God, which seems to be a position that has been suggested here previously.

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-14 5:16 PM

You made a statement which included a value judgment. I'm wondering where that moral outlook originated :)

Joe Erwin
2012-02-14 5:27 PM

I'm trying to understand, Ed. The use of a smiley face suggests that your question is offered in good humor and might be rhetorical. Or maybe it is very personal, as in "how did you, Joe, reach the conclusion that religious people are no more moral than people who are not?" Was that the "value judgement" you meant? I'll be glad to try to address the question when I understand it. Thanks.

David Read
2012-02-14 10:03 PM

Stephen, secularism as a political philosophy is held, and to a large extent practiced, in places like France and Mexico, where it developed as a reaction to the aggressive meddling in state affairs by the Roman Catholic Church and its hierarchy.  Since the United States began as a republic in which there was separation of church and state (and Catholics were a small minority), RCC elites and government elites never formed a close bond, and we've not experienced the type of government those countries experienced.  Hence, we never developed a political philosophy in reaction against it, as places like France and Mexico did. 

Thus, the political philosophy of secularism is without historical context and impetus in the U.S.  I think it is also shunned here, and deemed to be unAmerican, because it implies a level of public, political hostility to religion that is inappropriate to our history, character and temperament as a people.  We are a people that has always highly valued religion and personal piety.  We think religion is a good thing, as long as it stays in its proper sphere, and does not seek to be established by the state and supported by public funds.  We also value government in its proper sphere, which is not to try to enforce a philosophy of secularism on the people.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-17 10:21 PM

I haven’t meant to ignore your comments; and thank you for them. I won't quarrel with your history of secularism relating to France, Mexico, and the RCC.
However your historical assessment of how “secularism is without historical context and impetus in the U.S...[And] shunned here, and deemed to be un-American, because it implies…political hostility to religion that is inappropriate to our history, character and temperament as a people… [who have] always valued religion and personal piety” is, shall we stay, quite another story.
This brings us back to the blog and the question posed in it. The second definition of secularism cited in the blog is by no means “without historical context and impetus in the U.S.,” and is indeed keeping with the fact that the Constitution forbids Congress from making a law establishing religion, does not mention God, contains no religious dogma, makes no references to faith, and forbids a religious test for holding office. If this isn’t historical context, I don’t know what would be.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-15 4:16 PM

A statement that without religion there can be no morals is clearly muddled thinking.  The tenets of the Golden Rule are found in dozens of ancient cultures, many of which claimed no religion, only the concept of living harmoniously with others had already been tried and proved.

There's an apt saying:  "Bad people do bad things, for good people to do bad things it takes religion."  History has proved this to be very true.  How many wars have originated with religious beliefs, and are still continuing today?  Is an agnostic neighbor less loving and kind than one who espouses religion?  It is in our relationships with others that our true values are demonstrated, not by our religious affiliation. 

Trying to determine "what the founders meant" in writing the Constitution is seeking for the Holy Grail; they lived in a different time and 200 years later while the principles remain, the SCOTUS' job is to interpret it in today's world.  For any of those judges to believe they can, with absolute surety, know exactly what those framers meant and intended is sheer arrogance. 

With relation to the current controversy over contraception being offered to employees of Catholic INSTITUTIONS, not churches, it is similar to all such entities (hospitals, universities, etc.) have always been subjected to federal and state laws (OSHA, non-discrimination, etc.).  For the bishops to claim that these entities should be exempted from OFFERING  contraceptions should be a no-brainer:  the church is no more endorsing their use than endorsing any prescription drugs that a physician may order.  Do the bishops plan on approving all such drugs?  ED drugs?  As someone has mentioned:  why not eliminate smokers and obese people from coverage, also?  The well-publicized fact that 98% of all Catholic women practice birth control should demonstrate that this is simply a moot point, but one which the bishops and Republican nominees are actively touting.  The overwhelming financial support recently given to Planned Parenthood is another indication that the not only are Catholics, but the public is not in support of this fight--it's the bishops--the same ones who hid sexual molestation in their enclaves for decades. 

Roe vs. Wade was made on the issue of privacy:  if the most private realm of humans must be policed and punished by the government, this is flouting all the principles on which the U.S. was founded.

William Noel
2012-02-15 4:56 PM


It is curious how few people who claim it is not possible to understand what the Founding Fathers meant can name even one of them other than Washington, Jefferson or Franklin, or who have read anything written by any of them.  That claim of inability to understand and discern their intent is an excuse avoiding having to admit they don't know what they're talking about.  I have ready extensively from the writings of the founders and the Federalist Papers.  The meanings of the authors are very clear to any who will take the time to read them and the writing far more precisely descriptive than the vast majority of today's writers.  Many of their discussions are timeless or easily applied to current situations because the principles are explained so well.

By the way, if you read the Supreme Court transcripts from Roe v Wade (as I have) you will find that privacy was a minor issue and that it was more about the ability of the state to penalize a physician for providing medical services requested by a patient. 

Horace Butler
2012-02-15 5:11 PM

Oh, come on Elaine.  Who's afflicted with the muddled thinking here?  If we evolved, like so many here believe, then there is no basis for morality.  It's survival of the fittest, and whatever society decides is "moral" will be the rule of the day.  Cannibalistic societies had no problem eating each other.  Who's to say that is wrong?  According to post-modern thinking, if it was right for them then it was OK.  We condemn Hitler and the Nazis, but on what basis?  Because, according to the Judeo-Christian ethic, upon which most western countries operate, they were completely evil.  But if evolution is true, then it's majority rule.  And someday the majority might decide that it takes too many resources to sustain anyone over the age of, say, 75, who are no longer deemed to be an asset to society.
One cannot make an argument that morality was inevitable in an evolutionary model.  Natural selection would not produce morality; it would only produce individuals that were more fit than others.  All Hitler was doing was following natural selection to its logical conclusion to build a superior race.  That’s good evolutionary thinking. 
If it weren’t for the morality found in Scripture, mankind would have wiped itself out long ago.

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-15 6:07 PM

As Joe has already pointed out below, Mr. Butler has now outdone himself with the strange statement that without the morality found in Scritpture, "mankind would have wiped itself out long ago."   I take it that Mr. Butler has made it a point of not reading large parts of the Old Testament.  I'm also sure that the inhabitants of North and South America before the arrival of Europeans (and even after their arrival in light of what happened to Native Americans at the hands of Europeans) would be very surprised to learn that they should have wiped themselves out long before the Europeans arrived.  Perhaps Mr. Butler upon reflection might wish to modify his statement.  

Horace Butler
2012-02-15 8:35 PM

No, I won't modify my statement because all legitimate morality stems from the original perfect morality found in the Garden of Eden (the one that many here don't believe existed).  If not for the latent effects of that orginal high standards, I question whether or not mankind would still exist.

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-16 1:17 AM

Facinating.  "Original perfect morality"?  I think I will pass on commenting on the mythical Garden of Eden moral code. (That's what I like about the AT web site, freedom of speech--even for fundamentalists) 

Kevin Riley
2012-02-15 7:24 PM

Not to in any way defend cannibalism, but all proven examples that we know of occurred within moral and religious systems, and the rules were usually clearly spelt out.  You could only eat certain people, and only if killed, cooked and eaten in accordance with strict rituals.  All such societies had big problems with eating other members of their society. 

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-15 5:53 PM

In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis says that sometimes people get in such a groove of behavior, there's no person left, just the behavior. The example he uses is a grumbler; it can happen that there's nothing left but the grumble.

It's a tragedy when that happens.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-15 5:58 PM

The view that scripture is the sole source of morality is an unbelievable distortion, and claims that evolution could not produce moral and ethical behavior are just plain wrong--what might be aptly called "knowledge by assertion." 

First of all, moral systems based on "reciprocal altruism" (mutual helping or tolerance) are entirely plausible within evolution by natural selection. There is some sense in which fundamental decency can be adaptive and contribute to survival--it is quite clear that brute strength is not the only, nor even the strongest, factor in fitness. Being able to run fast, climb well, fly, see, hear, anticipate, strategize, etc., all have some selective advantages over brute strength and big teeth. Formation of groups, protection of young, developing affectional bonds, defense of kin against predators--all these are positive values that involve or resemble moral behavior.

Please, friends, don't be too quick to accept the distorted concepts about evolution by those who clearly do not understand it--or those who base their arguments on ideas about evolution that were discarded long ago. The policies of Hitler's Nazi Germany were based on deeply distorted ideas about "fitness." 

How can any thoughtful person imagine that without scripture "mankind would have wiped itself out?"

Please, someone, explain to me how anyone could be that gullible.

Horace Butler
2012-02-15 8:38 PM

It's no more gullible to believe that than to believe that we evolved from inorganic material, or to believe that God used evolution and pronounced His creation "very good," when it included death as a means of advancement; death before sin (contrary to Paul's clear statement that sin entered the world because of Adam).

Stephen Foster
2012-02-15 8:09 PM

It is ironic how some who think it wise to use the words of the Constitution as a guide to what the framers intended, as I do (long story), do not readily accept that the First Amendment actually prohibits Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion…” Instead they read the intent of the framers from something that they did not say; which is to say that they read this to mean Congress cannot make any law “respecting the establishment of a particular religion…” Something they did not say.
Actually it is more than ironic; it is hypocritical, in the sense that in this instance, the actual words don’t matter.
However, even had the framers written it as some wish (i.e., “a particular religion”), the fact is that Christianity is a religion. It is indeed a major religion. How can America be considered a Christian nation when the Constitution unquestionably forbids any law establishing America as a Christian nation?
If it is only a culturally Christian nation—whatever that may mean—who decides to what extent; and what are the appropriate or inappropriate Constitutional implications of this? 

Ed Dickerson
2012-02-16 12:56 AM

"If it is only a culturally Christian nation—whatever that may mean—who decides to what extent; and what are the appropriate or inappropriate Constitutional implications of this? "

Well, why don't you just tell everyone, Stephen. Since people who disagree with you are hypocrites, and the words  of the Constitution don't matter, then all of this is a pathetic waste of time.

Wasting my time was my fault. It won't happen again.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-16 1:43 AM

You may want to re-read my post. I said that those who misread/misinterpret the First Amendment to say (or mean) “a particular religion” as opposed to “religion,” are the ones to whom the words do not matter, in this specific instance.
Careful reading is indispensible on this site.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-16 2:07 AM

Allow me to apologize for not writing clearly enough as well (also indispensible).

Perhaps I should have written, “Actually it is more than ironic; it is hypocritical, in the sense that in this instance, the actual words don’t matter for people who would normally claim that the words are the key to determining the framers’ intent.

William Noel
2012-02-16 8:38 AM

Only someone who has not read the discussions regarding the roles of faith and religion in society in the Federalist Papers could make such a statement as you have.  Those who claim it is not possible to understand the intent or meaning of the founding fathers are really saying that having such knowledge is inconvenient because it would refute their present concepts or objectives. 

Stephen Foster
2012-02-16 9:03 AM

What I am saying is that the words of the Constitution are, in the case of the First Amendment, inconvenient for those who wish it to have said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a particular religion.” Because that is simply not what it says; and what it does say just happens to “refute their present concepts or objectives.”

Joe Erwin
2012-02-15 9:48 PM

Stephen, it seems to me that you have it right.

Horace, I wish to apologize to you. It is not my intention to be intolerant of those with whom I disagree or to ridicule them or their beliefs. I know I am merely a guest here, and that the church is no longer my home. Sometimes I find it difficult to appreciate how profoundly faith can alter what people can find believable. I should not expect you to have a deep understanding or appreciation of evolutionary biology. That would be incompatible with the beliefs you express.

Other friends here, I'm afraid that I am less tolerant of the religion in which I was reared than of other religious traditions. I'm a little uneasy about that. I've been around a pretty long time--more than 70 years. In that time I have had the good fortune of meeting many people from many traditions. In various parts of the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe, I have met ordinary people in urban and rural areas, and have sometimes stayed with them in their homes. I have been treated very generously in nearly all cases and places. People who could easily have beaten or robbed me did not do so. No person traveling with me was ever harmed. The people I met were of many different faiths. Some were agnostic or atheistic. In my experience, one could not have predicted anything about morality from the religious traditions of any of these people. Many had never read scriptures, and some had never encountered anyone who knew scripture. In some cases, I was told that I was the first westerner they had ever met. Yet, I was treated kindly and with consideration.

The experiences of others surely have not been identical to mine. I'm not trying to convert any of you nor do I wish to threaten your faith, but please, please do not teach your children that the world is full of evil savages--unless you have been out in the world and that is what you have found. 

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-15 11:09 PM

 "all legitimate morality stems from the original perfect morality found in the Garden of Eden."

How can that be certain?  Where is there written evidence in the OT that a legitimate morality ensued?  Where was it demonstrated? A distinct assumption without a single shred of evidence; merely a sincere wish that it were so.

Horace Butler
2012-02-16 6:25 AM

The response of a typical skeptic.  Elaine, if that's who or what you really are, I don't even know if you exist. You may be a computer program, designed to respond negatively to core SDA doctrinal statements and beliefs.  Or you could be a 25 year old male blogger in Switzerland, attempting to discredit the SDA Church.  But I take it on faith that you are who you say you are.  But I believe I have even more reason to believe that when the Bible says that there was a Garden of Eden, and the first humans lived there without sin before their fall, I can take it at face value and not relegate it to the arena of myth and superstition like you and so many others do.  Rail against us believers all you want.  It only confirms our faith.  Peter said it well in II Peter 3:3, 4.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-17 12:45 PM

Ad hominem attacks are the last refuge of incompetent reasoning.  If a rational respons ecannot be given, then attack the messenger, not the message.  This is the first and most important teaching given to high school debaters:  if the messenger is attacked, you are out of the team.

Horace Butler
2012-02-17 6:32 PM

Where was the ad hominem attack?  I was merely pointing out the obvious:  you are a skeptic.  You discount the Biblical record as unreliable.  I simply pointed out that I could take the same position regarding the validity of your existence, as you present yourself here on this forum.  But, I accept, on faith, the fact that you are who you say you are.  I simply disagree with most of what you say.  That's hardly an attack.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-16 11:12 AM

Patience is not my strong suit. I waited awhile to point out that Elaine is a dear and familiar friend who is quite real and deserving of respect and consideration. She was reared in an SDA home and has honestly sought truth, which has led her to be skeptical of some of what she was taught within the SDA tradition. Her many comments on AToday are well thought out and evidence based. Many people treasure her presence on AToday, whether they agree with her much or little, and I, for one, want to say that her perspectives are very much appreciated. There are not many people here who have had the longevity and experience that Elaine has had. While we all deserve respect, no one here deserves more respect than Elaine.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-16 12:52 PM

Thanks, Joe.

Anyone whose faith is too fragile to withstand skepticism has no faith at all.  But, to forget that faith is never a concrete reality but it is abstract:  no two individuals have exactly the same faith in the same idea, just as everyone has a different description and picture of God. 

I can respect those who have implicit faith in the Bible.  The problem is when they wish to foist that same belief on others, even to the point of denigrating those who cannot accept their criteria.  The Bible will stand without either you or I defending or rejecting it.  Each person must decide for herself if it is literally true in every single verse, or if it has meaning and principles that are timeless and the stories are merely illustrations for the reader, much like Aesop's fables carry moral truths.

Millions of Christians attempt to live by the ethics that Christ gave us as recorded in the Gospels.  He was long on principles and his parables should not always be considered literally true (Lazarus and Abraham?), but were told to convince the hearers of his messages.  Christ has a much larger group of followers that can never be limited to any one earthly organization, despite the claims that only one, the "remnant" will be those who are saved.

We should never forget that each individual who reads the Bible does his own interpretation  as he reads--just as those who read any book have their own concepts.  To even imagine that all should read and see as you do is most juvenile and not befitting a mature Christian.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-16 1:27 PM

Of course any self-respecting SDA anywhere would be rightly appalled by Elaine’s gross mischaracterization and caricature of Adventists being members of a denomination who believe they will be the only ones who will be saved. Respect is most often a reciprocal proposition.
Besides, what might any of this possibly have to do with secular-ism as defined?

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-16 1:44 PM

I would appreciate it if Mr. Foster would point to a statement of Elaine which stated her belief that the Adventist denomination takes the position that they will be the only ones who will be saved.  I doubt that such a statement by Elaine to that effect exists. She may have said that she is aware of individual Adventists who believe that.  I have also read and heard Adventists make that point..  So Mr. Foster might wish to reconsider his statement about Elaine if he can not produce a quotation by her supporting his statement. 

Stephen Foster
2012-02-16 2:37 PM

When I saw your name on the home page, Dr. Taylor, I was gratified that you had something to say about secular-ism; only to again be somewhat disappointed.
As the O’Jays say, "you’ve got to give the people what they want." To wit: “Christ has a much larger group of followers that can never be limited to any one earthly organization, despite the claims that only one, the "remnant" will be those who are saved.” –Elaine Nelson
Now, if you think she was not referring to SDA’s here, you are mistaken.

Edwin A. Schwisow
2012-02-16 2:50 PM

There was a time when it was considered religiously incorrect to acknowledge the existence of subgroups within Adventism, and I don't think I recognized these subgroups (I grew up Adventist, traveling internationally in the process) until I was eight or nine years old, visiting some churches in Southern California (Dr. Arthur Bietz, circa 1965, et al) and recognizing that there were actually wonderful Adventist matrons who sported necklaces and earings (they were wonderful, because they gave thousands of dollars to help our family's mission project in South America), and upstanding, practicing Adventist physicians who wore (like Dr. Bietz) expensively tailored suits (up in Washington, at the time, even physicians with the cash wore off-the-rack attire to church). Furthermore, in Southern California where we lived for a spell, the people seemed to talk a bit of a different language than I had experienced in the Northwest Adventist hinterland, and I noted in particular a much more "liberal" attitude toward salvation, a much less closed tolerance for the possibility of salvation among non-Adventists.

With time, a cadre of "Historic Adventists" has emerged, and a new dimension known as "evangelical Adventists" has also come forward, perhaps echoing the zeitgeist of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. Each of these subgroups of Adventism looks at salvation a bit differently, and as has been noted, there is no universal "Adventist position" anymore on this matter.

As of today, only the very, very "Historic" side of Adventism would argue that at the end of time, only those on Adventist church books (and children of parents on Adventist books) can be translated live to meet the Lord in the air. When I was very young, one of the first lessons I grasped was that being an Adventist was pretty much a pre-requisite for endtime salvation. It wasn't explicitely stated, but evangelistically-driven sermons tended to leave little doubt that this was the conservative view of that time, back in the early 1950s. What was true of the mainline Adventist church 60 or so years ago is now true mainly of our "Historics."

I find none of these groups more "secularized" or "less devout" than the others. I think this differentiation is a natural result of the doubling of size of the church in North America, the passage of time, and the increasing ease with which we can communicate and assimilate alternative views in North America. In South America and other Third World nations, conditions in Adventism remain much as they were in the 1950s. What we would call "Historic" here is still "Traditional" there.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-16 4:38 PM

It seems that there has been confusion over the difference between inference and implication.

Dictionary def:

Inference:  the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow.

Implication:  the act of implying; a logical relation between two propositions that fails to hold only if the first is true and the second is false.

The statement I made about the remnant was neither implying nor inferring.  You have inferred (it is always subjective) that it was referring to the SDA church.  Never did I make that statement and for someone to assume much more effectively describes their thinking.  Let writers speak for themselves rather than rewording it.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-17 6:07 AM

We both will have to let the previous respective words that we wrote (“remnant”/SDAs) stand.

Might you have any opinion on the question raised in the blog, Elaine?

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-17 12:46 PM

Stephen, you inferred that I was speaking of Adventists, as I never said that.  You misquoted my remarks by your assumptions.

I am objecting because I find it insulting that my remarks are misconstrued.  Is that odd?
As for commenting on questions on this blog, there have been more than one.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-17 1:35 PM

I did not quote you as saying that Adventists believe that they represent the organization which considers its members the “remnant” who will be the only people saved. I certainly inferred from your sentence (“Christ has a much larger group of followers that can never be limited to any one earthly organization, despite the claims that only one, the ‘remnant’ will be those who are saved.”) and from the context in which it appears, that you were referring to the one earthly organization that we constantly talk about on this Adventist Today site which claims to be the “remnant” who will be saved; commonly referred to as the SDA Church.
In the immediately previous post, I said that the respective words that we both have written will have to stand. You wrote “remnant” and I indicated (and wrote) that you were referring to SDAs. I did not either quote you, or misquote you. As you say, I infer that you were referring to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Elaine Nelson
2012-02-17 5:36 PM


It is a common practice to infer from a speaker his exact meaning.  This does a disservice to the speaker.  Thanks for recognizing the difference.  (My English training!)

Stephen Foster
2012-02-17 10:12 PM

Our statements will stand as they are.


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