More on the Pre-Netroots Nation Pie Fight
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 03:07:04 PM EST
The other day, I reported about the pies launched in response to the description of one of the first sessions to be announced for Netroots Nation.

What had precipitated the aerial display was my posting the panel description. I happen to be on the panel, and like the other panelists, are there to surface objections to a New Progressive Vision of Church and State to be presented by law professor Bruce Ledewitz, of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  Science blogger PZ Myers, for one, called the proposal "bizarre," said it "reeks of the the Jim Wallis/Amy Sullivan camp of liberal theocrats, although neither is actually on the panel," and headlined his post, "Netroots Nation Dives into Inanity."

Professor Ledewitz has responded at his blog, Hallowed Secularism.

I will quote from his response presently, but first, for those who are just joining the us, here is the session description that launched a thousand pies:

A New Progressive Vision for Church and State
    date and time TBA

    The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed--one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief. But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like "under God" in universal terms. For example, the word "God" can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

(Critiquing the proposal will be ACLU attorney Vic Walczak (who litigated Kitzmiller vs. Dover, the landmark "intelligent design" case); Rev. Kyoki Roberts, a prominent Zen Buddhist, Rev. Chuck Freeman, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Austin, Texas, and radio broadcaster; and me.)

Ledewitz responded to the controversy, which has spread widely in the blogosphere, by adding new elements:

None of this comes as any surprise to me. I just hope people will remember two things. First, the words "under God" are in the Pledge of Allegiance. I did not put them there. No court will take them out. No national politician will support taking the words out. If you think gun control is a losing issue, or legalization of marijuana, or gay marriage, try drumming up support for taking on God.

I am proposing a reinterpretation of religious language in which "God" stands as a symbol for a quite naturalistic understanding of reality and the Ten Commandments stands as the promise of universal human rights. The issue for me is relativism and nihilism, which I oppose, but which many secularists also oppose. To put this another way, why isn't the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional? Answer, because grounding human rights in a Creator is a political assertion about rights, not a theological assertion about a Creator-God.

Second, for all the controversy, secularists have to be able to live actual lives. This means thinking about the very same things that religious believers think about. I tried to capture that in my book, Hallowed Secularism. Reverence is a human term, not a religious one.

While I certainly have my own thoughts about all this, I want to let Ledewitz' speak for himself here. But I do think that this entire episode, regardless of the merits of Ledewitz's ideas, or the responses to them, before, during and after our panel, will say a great deal about the state of progressive discourse on this essential subject.  

The US Pledge of Allegiance was, of course, written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, and thus has nothing directly to do with the intent of the founders of American government. And, the "under God" bit wasn't added until 1954, after a Knights of Columbus campaign. The "Bellamy Salute" is an interesting aspect to this story, one which I suspect might make Mr. Ledewitz a tad uncomfortable.

If Ledewitz is arguing the slide towards civic Christianity cannot be opposed or argued he might want to study the "Indian River incident."

Meanwhile, we could redefine "God" as a rock, a chair, a fruit bowl, or an abstract concept but that would not change popular conceptions about "God."

For now, I'll leave the Ten Commandments issue alone.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 03:39:07 PM EST

The statement thickens the plot.

The first paragraph is questionable on the facts.  A federal appeals court may yet rule "Under God" in the Pledge unconstitutional, please see here.  I wasn't aware that gay marriage was necessarily a losing issue.  Prop 8 barely passed in California, and several states have choosen to recognize gay marriages, though many more have banned it.

The second paragraph is equally puzzling.  The Declaration of Indepenence isn't unconstitutional because, well, it isn't a law or regulation, but a historical document.  The Ten Commandments sure seems like a sectarian religious document to me.  Grounding the idea of human rights in a divine Creator sure sounds like a theological idea to me.

I gather that Mr. Ledewitz is a religious naturalist, a respectable opinion, I think (for a review of a recent book on the subject, see here).  But his views on church state separation, at least on the surface, seem pretty weird.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Thu Jun 25, 2009 at 01:01:34 PM EST

it is a pre-constitutional document.  The Declaration of Independence was expressive not only of the collective will of the representatives of the colonists, but also to the state (England) from which the colonists were declaring independence.  England was a Christian state with a State Church (as most States had been up to that time).  Language about rights endowed by a creator helped build a case in that context.

The constitution came later, as an expression of how America would be a new kind of State, including separating Church from State.

by Rusty Pipes on Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 05:44:15 PM EST

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