Last week, Newt Gingrich was interviewed on the Christian Broadcasting Network after announcing his forming of a committee to consider a presidential run in 2012. In it, he made the following comment:
In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion. (From an Interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, 9 March 2011)
For a man doing an interview with CBN in an attempt to clarify his indiscretions, Newt Gingrich seems to be attacking Judeo-Christian values just fine on his own. That aside, he is intent on being forgiven for his inappropriate actions by Evangelical Christians whose support he would need in a successful bid for the presidency in 2012. I would venture to say that someone who would break his own sacred vows and then expect immediate forgiveness not only for his actions but for his soul is exactly the kind of person we don’t need running the country right now. Can a man be trusted who claims to follow a particular faith, and upon his failure expects all to be forgiven without understanding? If he can’t do it in his marriage, I struggle to see how he’d be able to do it with any less sacred a bond. I’d much prefer someone who has a demonstrated history of living by the rules he has sworn to uphold.
Yesterday, I happened across the same quote posted by a friend on Facebook. As the particular quote struck a nerve with me, I posted a comment on the quote, which resulted in a discussion. The discussion was between myself and another commenter, not my friend who made the original post. Here’s how it played out, and I’d love to hear your comments.
I did my best to avoid being baited by particularly vitriolic comments (apparently so profound as to require three question marks at one point) or the invocation of outspoken preachers who can readily be dismissed as outliers. I intentionally side-stepped his use of terms like “nanny state” and “propaganda/entertainment industry”, which belie a brand of conservatism that is incapable of rational discussion or debate. I also attempted to have the discussion without the use of hyperbole and sarcasm, which I think I was more successful at than he. If you make it to the end, you’ll see that as he became increasingly unraveled, he even seemed to call me a bigot, which I found particularly humorous.
Fair warning, it’s lengthy. Enjoy!
Me: In the sense that our civilization should be described as Judeo-Christian, I think he’s the one with delusions of grandeur. Western society might be the result of a few centuries of Judeo-Christian influence, but for him to claim that the great majority of civilization is Judeo-Christian (or even desires to be), he’s completely off-base. A democracy cannot function as such when the government espouses a particular faith (i.e. becomes a theocracy). The democratic will of civilized people simply won’t tolerate it.
Him: Gallop 2008: US population 23% Catholic, 55% Non-Catholic Christian. That 78%. Add in another percent or two for Judaism and it looking like Judeo-Christian segment is knocking on 80% of US population. I guess Ineed a clarification of what constitutes a “vast majority”. Looks pretty solid to me.
And Gingrich point was EXACTLY that radicalized islam seeks a theocracy (which would be bad news for the 78%Christians, Jews, women, gays, moderate Muslims…)
Me: My point was actually that “civilization” implies the collective of people who interact through trade, business, diplomacy, etc., which in the modern world extends far beyond national borders. From that perspective, Judaism and Christianity are by no means a majority in the world. Modern Western society (Europe, the Americas, and Australia) is indeed the result of a centuries of Judeo-Christian influence, but with the possible exception of the United States, governments of nations which comprise the West are largely secular. Secularism does not mean the end of religion, it simply recognizes that people of different faiths do and can exist in the same society. It also recognizes that ruling on the basis of scripture is a recipe for disaster when those who don’t believe take a stand against their leaders. If the Judeo-Christian majority intends to control government through intolerance or trivialization of those with different faiths, I fear it will find itself on the losing end of history.
I suppose my real point is to say that faith groups which seek to control government and succeed in doing so become theocracies, not democracies. While Muslim extremists use terrorism to further their goals, Christian extremists seek to control governments as well, albeit by (usually) less violent means. With a growing population of secularists (to include non-religious people, atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc.) who seek democratic representation, theocracies can no longer survive in a civilized society. That said, Western society (in which the majority are undeniably of Judeo-Christian faiths) has come to understand this far better than most Islamic societies. Simply put, Western societies have evolved since the Middle Ages and, by virtue of their adherence to a strict faith which has stifled growth and modernization, Islamic societies have not.
Him: When he say’s “our” I believe he means the US, or perhaps the West. Either way your original statement is off point given this context. When seen as discussing the US or at most the West, your previous point supports Gingrich. Newt is right on.
Me: My point supports Gingrich in that I believe both Muslim extremists and secularists are trying to put an end to Judeo-Christian control of Western society. It differs in that I believe secularists are exactly right in wanting to do so. Religion has no place in government, and government has no place in religion.
Him: Don’t you mean “religious people” have no place…???
Or name which religious leader (Bishop, Pastor, Rabbi) that is attempting to establish a theocracy. I’m guessing you must mean Rev Jesse Jackson & son, Rev Al Sharpton?
Me: No, please reference “faith-based initiatives”. Anti-abortion and -stem cell research legislation. Creationism taught in schools. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Ten commandments posted in courthouses. Legislative outlaw of same-sex marriage. Congressional hearings on Muslim radicalism. Tax relief for multi-million dollar religious organizations while permitting their contributions to political campaigns. Incorporation of prayer in government ceremonies. “In God we trust” printed on currency.
Our nation was founded by secularists (some of whom were religious in their own right) on a separation of church and state. Two hundred years later, the religious right/”moral majority”/Judeo-Christianists seek to change this. What started as a democracy is moving towards a theocracy. The best thing about this country has been steadily degraded by people who believe their religious faith gives them a right to tell others how to live.
Members of the Judeo-Christian faiths always fail to see the inherent issues with this, because they are still in the majority. But when their majority is threatened, suddenly there’s a crisis. The hypocrisy is difficult to ignore.
Him: 1.) Faith based initiatives: Fine, don’t give money to church’s that serve the poor more effectively and cost efficiently than nanny govt. After all, inefficient use of the people’s money is what govt does best. We agree.
2.) Abortion & stem cell research: I’m sure you recognize that your opinion attempts to exclude 80% of country’s population from the discourse of ideas, simply because they are religious. Nice try. Please define bigotry. Shall we exclude people on public assistance from the debate on welfare, or gays from the debate on homosexual marriage? Slavery and civil rights were issues predominantly fought by religious folks – obviously invalid process, should we repeal and start over? Cut to it foundation, your argument is against morality. You value change because it is the foundational mores of this society you must eradicate for your ideas to dominate. To do this you must elminate those pesky religious people from the debate, by whatever means necessary. Impressive if you can pull it off (and with the aid of the media and propaganda/entertainment industry it may happen), but by no means will it be just.
3.) The percent of Christians that want creationism taught in schools is less than the percent of gays that want to use schools to indoctrinate children with their social agenda. Minor and irrelevant.
Me: There is undeniable good that has been done in the name of religion; you have no argument from me there. Also, I am in no way trying to say that 80% of Americans wish to impose their religious views on government. However, whether pursued by a small percentage of Americans or not, religious ideology has had a profound impact on American law and culture, and not always in a good way.
It is possible to do good for the sake of doing good, rather than in the name of religion–religion certainly doesn’t hold a monopoly on morality. Human morality is based on the natural human understanding of suffering (natural in the sense that humans exhibit this understanding equally regardless of religious affiliation or influence): that which reduces suffering is good and that which creates it is evil. Religion is not required and quite often contradicts these principles.
The government does not need to subsidize faith-based organizations for public welfare. If it cannot do so on its own (government inefficiency is a separate discussion), there are many organizations which provide these services without attempting to further a specific religious ideology (reference charities that withhold welfare services when local governments pass legislation contradictory to their religious doctrine, agencies who refuse to allow adoption by same-sex couples, and hospitals that refuse to perform some medical procedures on religious grounds). In fact, the government would likely have more funds with which to do so if they collected taxes from religious organizations, some of which are multi-billion dollar organizations that wield considerable power derived from tax-free income.
Slavery was equally supported by religious people in the south. The north won, and slavery was abolished, but at an enormous cost of both lives and resources. So, too, have advancements in civil rights been fought and hindered by religious organizations. In fact, they are the only organizations who take any issue with civil rights and equality for racial minorities or gays and lesbians.
Abortion and stem cell research make medical and economic sense, yet are still fought (in some cases violently) by religious organizations. The ability to obtain an abortion to terminate unwanted pregnancies (which ultimately produce unwanted children and burdens on social welfare programs) or to save the lives of women is not one that makes sense for the government to legislate away. (This is particularly true in states where abstinence-only sex education is taught or where birth-control is not provided on religious grounds, and where by no coincidence teenage pregnancy rates are also the highest.) Outlawing abortion infringes on the freedom of a woman to control what happens in her own body, yet religious organizations attempt to pass legislation to do exactly that.
Where stem cell research has not already been outlawed by religion-based legislation, huge medical advances have been made. It holds the potential to cure many diseases, including cancer, yet is opposed because some religious organizations value 3 day-old embryos over (or at least equally to) the lives of people who suffer from diseases that stem-cell research could cure.
The fact that Creationism (or its modernized version, “Intelligent Design”) is taught in schools is directly responsible for a significant percentage (40-70%, depending on the study) of Americans believing that the earth is the center of the universe and only 6000 years old. It denies hundreds of years of scientific research, exploration, and advancement in the name of first-century ideas. Students are being educated to know less about the world they live in than students in places around the world where Creationism is not taught by public education. The result is that American students are out-performed internationally in every affected discipline.
Two millennia ago, Arab culture thrived, and we have it to thank for much in terms of mathematics and technology. Where once Islam was a fertile culture for science, art and creativity, it has since slowed the progress of Islamic societies to almost a dead halt and these societies have been largely unchanged for centuries. We see the effects of this today–the places where Islam has been most strictly enforced are also the least civilized compared to the rest of the world.
I am by no means suggesting that religious belief should be outlawed, or that the right to practice personal religious faith should be diminished. I am, however, suggesting that as an influence on Western culture, despite arguably having served purpose in the past, religious organizations that enjoy the favor of government now stand in the way of progress. The impact of religious beliefs on Western culture has been profound and in many ways positive, but unless we wish to suffer the same fate as past cultures, we must not restrain ourselves by continuing to impose ancient scripture on the modern world.
Him: I challenge you to show me a scholarly study that establishes causation between the undeniably sorry state of US public education and public schools where creationsim is taught. Let’s make it easier – show me one public school that teaches creationism. Are you serious??? Thanks for the chuckle either way.
This is really precious. Each time I read it it gets better and better. You need to hang out with a different crowd if you experience shows 4, 5, 6, or 7 out of every 10 people you encounter believe the Earth is the center of the universe. Now, you will find plenty in Beantown that think Boston is the center of the universe, but I’m pretty sure it’s tongue in cheek.
who do you have to thank for the university system of education?
Me: Sorry, January of this year is the most recent scholarly study I can find on the subject of Creationism being taught in schools. Please reference “Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms” by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Penn State University (Oxford University Press, 2010). For a quick summary, check out this article in Wired Magazine (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/01/scopes-weeps/).
As for the sorry state of science as a result, I would say a 2007 Gallup poll (http://www.pollingreport.com/science.htm) summarizes it the best. When asked if they believed the following statement was true: “Creationism — that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years,” 39% said it was “definitely true”, 27% said it was “probably true”, 16% said it was “probably false”, and 15% said it was definitely false.
As for geocentrism, studies as recent as 2005 by Jon Miller of Northwestern University have found as many as one in five Americans believe the earth to be the center of the universe. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/30/science/30profile.html_r=1&ex=1184990400&en=2fb126c3132f89ae&ei=5070).
I’ve tried to maintain a professional and courteous tone, but since I can’t expect the same in return, I’m done here. Thanks for the chat.