Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » May 2005 » Religion, Marriage, Science, Respect...

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05/15/2005: Religion, Marriage, Science, Respect...

The Chicago Tribune has this lead Op-Ed piece in this Sunday’s Perspective section. An excellent and well written article covering some of the same points I’ve made on the dangers of the “mission” of the Ultra –Conservative Religious Right Wing to take control of our governments and institute their narrow proscriptive views as the political and policy agenda for the nation as a whole.

John, Shelby Spong is a retired Epsicopal Bishop of Newark, N.J. and author. Give a read through this piece: Political Pulpit: The Bible as a weapon in the culture war.

This dovetails into my previous post today about "A New King of Science" (below) and my piece on Creational Infinity v Vanity.

As we have seen this past week, these folks DO want to take over the political, public and educational realms of government and they do indeed want to“re-write” the rules to their religious specifications as I posted as a query in the following piece "Religion, Marriage, Science, Respect" (again – eaten by the Vicious Attack Internets in the DBV archives) you can read by clicking on the “more” button.

Religion, Marriage, Science, Respect

Don Wycliff (Public Editor Chicago Tribune) wrote a column about the mutual respect and understanding which should go back and forth between religious and secular views. I sent him a response that it should also include cultural differences among people. There is a letter from the editor in today's Daily Herald about a reader complaining that she had to "hold hands and sing 'Kum-ba-yah' with a bunch of foreigners in celebrations (presumably at schools covering religious and ethnic holiday traditions.) Respect is a two-way street.

My only other comment is what I mentioned before about what seems out of place is the current efforts not to get "more respect" for religious points of view, but to get the offices of government and laws to be changed to embody particular religious values (and only of the 'Christian' based religions.)

I would fully defend and support someone's right to their religious point of view...up and until they use the government to impose that point of view on my faith and religious values. This is the distinguishing feature in my mind as to what I see going on...and how the "values voter" wishes to translate their vote into some form of policy or governmental action.

So, how do you have respect for someone's values, but argue against putting them into the secular form of government we have? Or, does respect include calling evolution a "theory" to be taught alongside the "creationist" theory in public schools under the curriculum of Science? This is the dilemma of the current issues with how to maintain our secular government by not endorsing one religion over another...or any religion under the doctrine of "separation of church and state" and yet have a two way street of respecting differing values, cultures and religion (or non-religions.)

I would like to comment about the Constitutional Marriage amendment issue..and forgetting for the moment that it's about "gay marriage" just look at it from a legal/religious view point on marriage in general.

What concerns me about this amendment is the religious character versus civil/legal character of marriage and intrusion of government into religion and vice-versa.

Civil marriages are essentially legal contracts and unions that confer certain rights, duties, and obligations. Religious marriages are (in at least the Catholic faith) sacraments bestowed by the Church (as are the sacraments of baptism, communion, etc.)

The religious ceremonies don't necessarily recognize the legal ones, and the legal ones require licenses and permits regardless of the religious conditions which were met to treat a marriage as "legal." That's why, if a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony with a Justice of the Peace, the Church does not recognize that marriage. If a divorce occurs, the parties are still free to marry within the Church (despite prohibitions on divorce) because there was no real sacrament of marriage given and no real divorce for their purposes.

What bothers me is an amendment to codify by civil law what is a Church sacrament. The business of government should not be involved in any way, shape or form to define (even if accurate) what is a Church's article faith and a sacrament. Conversely, religion should also not be the arbitrator of what is a civil union and civil law matter based on the tenets of any single religion or combination of religions.

Imagine a scenario where instead of the general forms of "Christianity" based religions currently the majority holding sway across the US, the vast majority of the electorate, the congress, the court judges and Supreme Court Justices, and the Presidency were predominately fundamentalist Mormons, or perhaps adherents of Islam where polygamy is permitted and desirable. Would the marriage amendment then be constructed to read "Marriage is between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman and a woman?" If this reflected the prevailing values, customs, morals and religious sentiments of the dominant majority of the citizens, why wouldn't this be the appropriate amendment to have codified in our laws. Under the current reasoning of the "Evangelical Christian Right" having the majority of votes to make this change, this would be considered permissible for some other majority religion to do so also.

To even consider crossing that boundary between Church and State prohibited by our Constitution invites this kind of logic and power for any religion to dominate our institutional governing body and to enact and amend these rules to conform with the prevailing beliefs that are held by a majority at that time…but most people would be bothered by the situation presented above. It's treading into dangerous territory to step on to that slippery slope based only on one's faith in not falling to the bottom.

I want to finish up the civil law/religion aspects of this religious swing to the far right.
So, please bear with me to get out this argument and points.

I've already mentioned the Marriage amendment issue as it relates to this civil law separation of church and state matter. But more generally, the other important reason this is the bright defining line and should not be crossed is multifold.

First, as a "founder's intent' issue, this was not put into the Constitution as some vague notion but specifically because as an historical matter those first émigrés to our country were escaping religious persecution. But not from raging Atheists or Buddhists or Hindustanis, but from other Christian religions. Plus, many of these drafters of our Constitutional freedoms were themselves of various religions: Puritans, Quakers, Protestants as well differing theological ilk like Libertarian and even Atheists. It was, from its very inception a clause meant to purposely prevent any one religion, or group from over taking our Constitution and government to idealize that groups particular religious values.

Then, as I mentioned before, as an "opening the door" issue. This swing to the right as not just expressive of conservatives demonstrating their "freedom of religion" and "right to free speech" and the exercise thereof. It is moving with the design and intent to rewrite our very Constitution using particular religious values, tenets and precepts to create a Constitution not for all the people and all religious beliefs and freedom of expression and within the law, but for their particular adherents…the rest of the citizenry be damned (which they seem to indicate they believe we are damned anyway.)

Again, as a civil law matter, this is horrendous as a precedent, because it invites any group to become the majority religious party and rewrite our government's rules to suit their platform. Other case scenarios: If it were a Quaker majority rule: we'd refuse to take the country to war, ever, or engage in only literal self-defense on a case by case basis. Or if it were the Amish to become the super majority, then would we outlaw technology, revert to an agrarian society and give up all those modern advances we live with. Or if it were Christian Scientists: would our healthcare refuse to adopt medical treatments in favor of prayer healing only. Perhaps the government wouldn't authorize any funds for these medical technological advances and spurn medicine altogether if Christian Scientists could have their way in our secular government.

Conversely, if civil law were the controlling principle for religions, we'd have our government treating the Catholic Church as any other business and it organization being "forced" by civil law to allow for women to become priests, plus for priests to marry…marriage is a fundamental right under our Constitution.

What we really need to watch is the upcoming Supreme Court case involving the ten Commandments. This opinion will really set the tone for how and to what degree the Court will act as our best (and only) backstop against these policies. Even if they allow for the Commandments to be displayed…but if they limit them to the place of an historical reference, along with other suitable historical documents and codes, plus outlining how prominent they can be in relation to these other documents. Plus it should be a unanimous decision to keep this line from church and state being crossed except as they decree and word carefully. Then they will set the notion to keep up with the Constitutional separation of church and state and that no one court replacement will shake this doctrine for the protection of all religious and non-religious citizens. This opinion could open the door or hold the line, but it will come down to how and in what majority they rule on this.

In discussing evolution v. creationism, one thing about science and scientific theory is that is "tested," able to be repeated in some quantitative way, and allows for new facts or information which may result in abandoning it altogether. The scientific community is littered with "debunked" theories.

So...were new facts to show up that debunked evolution, science would abandon it.

Can creationism be put to the same criteria? And as part of a religious theory isn't it incapable of being "abandoned" by its very nature as a Biblical revelation? If creationism can not ever be "proved" or so tested by the addition of new facts, or ever be "abandoned" no matter what fact show up...how can it fit the scientific model established for that set of learning principles. This is the challenge to creationism even a "theory" under the scientific rubric...and why the objection to it being included in the public school science teachings...not as a disrespect to religion, but by this inability to adhere to these criteria within the scientific realm of learning. And also why it "loses" with regards to being OK as taught from the pulpit but not Ok if it wants to be taught from the classroom as a "science."

Again, how does one respect this "value" important to certain religions, but reject as part of the scientific realm because it can not follow these basic rules for the discipline? Conversely, how is it respecting the discipline of science to demand that it accept a "theory" which can not be so tested or rigorously examined as other theories are required to be examined...and can does not include new facts or is incapable of being "debunked" as is any "theory."

Aside from being an issue of "respect" and that respect is a two-way-street, is the question of "playing by the rules." On the issue of "scientific inquiry" there are those rules that any theory must play by. Is it that the creationists want the respect and legitimacy of being considered a proper theory and up against the theory of evolution, but do not agree to do so by "playing by the rules?" (Those rules being what I articulated earlier...proof, testing, repeatablility, incorporating new facts, rejection.)

For instance, the Black Hole theory propounded by Steven Hawking. He's held to a particular theory for years that all matter was absorbed inescapably into a black hole. New information recently appeared showing some small quarks of matter do actually escape a black hole...so he completely revamped his theory. It is the nature and rules of scientific inquiry to do so...but my sense is that the creationists would not agree to similarly "play by the same rules" and yet complain that the refusal of the courts and scientist to credit their theory is "disrespect" when it is they who would refuse to play by the rules to give credence/validation to their theory.

The further inquiry is whether now there is this attempt to ignore the rules, or skirt the rules or even re-write the rules to favor the positions which can not compete in a "by the rules" playing field like scientific inquiry and creationism v. evolution.

Or other scientific questions like stem cell research v. "when does 'life' begin."

Can they re-write these rules for science? (As well the rules of our government?) Should they be allowed to do so (and again...open that door based on religious tenets and values?)

Karen on 05.15.05 @ 10:23 AM CST

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