This article in the Smart Set mentions that for the past ten years, the H.L. Mencken House in Baltimore has been closed to tourists, due to lack of interest. It’s a shame, but I have had the fortunate experience of visiting the Mencken House myself.
Remember the famous exchange on You Bet Your Life, when Groucho Marx told the woman with 10 kids that "I love my cigar, too, but I take it out once in a while"? Turns out it never happened. Oh well. It's a good story and I'll continue telling it.
As part of their effort to incorporate more religion into government, religious conservatives have tried to sell the idea of a “generic American religiousness”: that government should endorse “religion in general,” but just keep out of sectarian differences. This notion has even infected First Amendment jurisprudence, where prominent conservative legal scholars argue that the Establishment Clause only prohibits the government from endorsing the tenets of a sect, but do allow the government to endorse “religion in general,” or even “Christianity in general.” This is known as the “nonpreferential” theory of the Establishment Clause. See, e.g., Patrick M. Garry, Religious Freedom Deserves More Than Neutrality: The Constitutional Argument for Nonpreferential Favoritism of Religion, 57 Fla. L. Rev. 1, 3 (2005) (“the Establishment Clause aims to keep the government from singling out certain religious sects for preferential treatment, but it does not prevent the government from showing favoritism to religion in general.”)
The problem is that there is no such thing as “religion in general.” Certainly there is no way of demarcating the things that separate “religion in general” from “non-religion” in a way that makes consistent sense to sectarians. Is belief in the trinity “religion in general” or is it just sectarian? What about belief in the divinity of Christ? It’s easy to say that the first thing is just sectarian because we’re used to seeing Protestant sects that don’t believe in the trinity. But what about the latter? If even atheists can be Quakers, surely someone who doesn’t believe in Christ’s divinity can still be a Christian…no? I don’t think so, but who am I to be making such distinctions about another person’s religious beliefs? And if we can’t draw that line, then the idea of government endorsing “generic religion” is an invitation to just the sort of religious controversies that the First Amendment was designed to keep out of government.
All of this comes to mind when you read a story like this. The religious right’s embrace of Mitt Romney is a set up for an inevitable clash with those who rightly see that there are some serious differences between Mormonism and the Christianity that most Americans embrace—differences that those people will definitely take seriously. Republican cheerleaders like Hugh Hewitt ignore these differences only at the expense of constructing this silly notion of “generic religiousness” that nobody who knows about these things—not believers (i.e., the Republican base), and certainly not non-believers—buy into. The only people who will are those who don’t take these issues seriously enough to know about them, and who therefore don’t see the inevitable conflict down the road.
Allapundit is certainly right that “a debate between Mormons and Christians about whose beliefs are more farcical is Christopher Hitchens’s wet dream. Dawkins may fly in just to be able to watch from ringside.” But unfortunately, that fight will take place right in front of American voters.
Brayton points outan astonishing case of religion being mixed in with an official government ceremony for no good reason and not even with much poetry to it: someone has come up with various “meanings” for the folds in the flag at military funerals. Now that the Air Force has changed it, no doubt, we will hear soon how the poor persecuted Christians just can't get respect in today’s secular progressive society. But the “ceremony” isn’t even “authentic”: it’s a recent engrafting of sanctimonious balderdash, just like the addition of In God We Trust to the currency. The “motto” was not on the currency in the days of the American founding and was not even added until the middle of the 19th century. Likewise “under God” which was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s. Yet people act as though eliminating these phrases is somehow undoing some long-standing American tradition.
never in my active duty career did I ever have any experience with or knowledge of this foolishness. This is the work of some sentimental misguided patriotism. It does not exist in any official liturgy or order of service regarding military funerals or memorial services. It certainly would never be a part of folding the flag at evening colors. In my opinion, it trivializes and cheapens the macrocosmic symbolism inherent in the flag as symbol. While I am a Christian and make no apology for being a Christian, I am ashamed of and embarrassed at what postures itself as Christianity in the public square today. The evangelical, fundamentalist brand of Christianity that has inserted itself into American politics is a metastasizing social cancer that seeks to erode the very foundation of American democracy.
This is how the “Christian nation” nonsense gets started: someone engrafts such references into a ceremony and nobody complains about it, and soon enough it’s an “old tradition” and eliminating it is “persecution.”
Professor Tom Bell has some more good sense for those who believe intellectual property is a natural right. "As a relative latecomer to the law, copyright has no just claim to property's good name. To protect property, we must protect 'property.' To protect 'property,' we must enjoin 'intellectual property.'"
A while back I mentioned the problem with how the law treats irrational decisions. (Thanks to Brayton for the link, by the way.) Here's an article that describes one of these serious conundrums. Parents who have religious objections to having blood drawn are suing the state of Nebraska for taking away their 6 week old baby and holding it in foster care pending a blood test:
It's the first time in Nebraska a child was taken from parents to draw the drops of blood from the baby's heel for the screening, said Marla Augustine, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nebraska is one of four states -- South Dakota, Michigan and Montana are the others -- that doesn't offer a religious exemption for parents who don't want the test performed.
Health officials say the newborn screening program is one of the state's most cost-effective public health programs. The newborn blood test -- usually performed within 48 hours of birth -- screens for dozens of rare diseases, some of which can cause severe mental retardation or death if left undetected.
Granting that the parents' objection is irrational, to what degree does the state have to respect it? On one hand, the parents do have the right to decide what medical procedures their children will undergo; on the other hand, the state has the legitimate power to protect the child against the parents' irrationality.
This is a particularly interesting case because it is distinguishable from the two big categories that the law has already carved out: blood transfusions and vaccinations. In the blood transfusion cases, the state can take over and order the blood transfusion to save the child's life; that's an emergency situation, which this obviously is not. And the arguments for forcible vaccination, although closer, are not quite applicable, either, because that is more arguably a public health measure: you're endangering the public with infectious disease if you aren't vaccinated. But a blood test is neither of these. It involves only the child's own health.
Are we prepared to say that a parent may refuse life-saving treatment for a child on the basis of irrational, superstitious beliefs? Or are we prepared to say that the state may take a child away from a parent in order to prevent the parent from teaching a child religious beliefs? Those are the twin extremes the law has sought to avoid here.
My reluctant decision is for the parents in this case. Obviously their decision is irrational, but the danger of allowing the state to control such decisions is far greater than the threat here. This is especially true for us skeptics, who are massively outnumbered by believers. Give the state the power to take children away from parents for the children's own good, and you have opened a door to the persecution of religious minorities, and particularly the most despised religious minority: atheists. In emergency cases like the blood transfusions, and in public health cases like vaccinations, there might be reasons that override the concern about the state's potential abuse of power, but not here.
(Hat tip: my mother, who got me all my vaccinations!)
“[I]n deliberations of war against the Turk, it hath been often, with great judgment, maintained, that Christian princes and states have always a sufficient ground of invasive war against the enemy; not for cause of religion, but upon a just fear; forasmuch as it is a fundamental law in the Turkish empire, that they may, without any other provocation, make war upon Christendom for the propagation of their law; so that there lieth upon the Christians a perpetual fear of a war, hanging over their heads, from them; and therefore they may at all times, as they think good, be upon the prevention.... [A]s long as men are men, the sons, as the poets allude, of Prometheus, and not of Epimetheus, and as long as reason is reason, a just fear will be a just cause of a preventative war; but especially if it be part of the case, that there be a nation that is manifestly detected to aspire to monarchy and new acquest; then other states, assuredly, cannot be justly accused for not staying for the first blow; or for not accepting Polyphemus’s courtesy, to be the last that shall be eaten up.”