Jan 12, 2009

A Conservative Christian Evicts Facts from His Argument

In Evicting God from the Public Square Ken Connor writes against atheist Michael Newdow's lawsuit to get the phrase of "so help me God" removed from the upcoming presidential inauguration. The details of the matter aside, Connor concludes his column:
Newdow and company believe that man is the measure, that man is the center of the universe, and that the rights we enjoy come from government, not from God. They are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, they are not entitled to their own facts. The fact is that American political history is inextricably bound up with religious tradition. All the denials in the world won't negate that fact.

The religionists' disparaging of atheists as arrogant for holding "man as the measure of all things" has been made irrelevant by Ayn Rand:
...Protagoras’ old dictum may be given a new meaning, the opposite of the one he intended: “Man is the measure of all things.” Man is the measure, epistemologically—not metaphysically. In regard to human knowledge, man has to be the measure, since he has to bring all things into the realm of the humanly knowable.

Attacking mens' arrogance, be it real or imagined, in that saying misses the point about the human mind's relationship to reality, a real relationship that prevents the mind from forming the mythical ideas of religion.

If anything, Ken Connor, like any religionist believing in the primacy of consciousness over reality, is trying to have his own facts.

Firstly, as for facts, God is definitely no fact; God and the supernatural are not within the realm of the humanly knowable.

Secondly, rights come from neither government nor God - rights are in human nature, and that is a fact. How is this assertion, that man's rights emanate from a supernatural cosmic consciousness, a "fact"?

Thirdly, that tradition, as conservatives believe, must be obeyed forever certainly is no fact; obedience to tradition is only second-handedness to ancestors and inherited, imaginary beliefs. Or, put another way, we can rephrase one of Connor's sentences and turn it against his position: "all the tradition in the world does not make it right." It is time to abandon these backwards religious beliefs in our politics, traditional or not. Ironically, for conservatives like Connor, religious tradition is the center of the universe and measure of all things, which, not so incidentally, reduces to: man as the center of the universe.

Connor's argument is intellectually empty, as can be demonstrated by a hypothetical counter-claim: what if there was no religious tradition in American political history, and a Christian sues so that the words, "so help me God," are included in the oath of office? Would conservative Christian Connor appeal to the sacred, infallible, authority of tradition then? How important would the facts of political tradition not being bound to religion be to him in that case?

Our Founding Fathers built a political system based on human nature and experience, in other words, based on observable, knowable, reality. Political science was a new field of study then - and that is what it was, a science. Rand may have restated Protagoras' old dictum, but the idea of her restatement - of bringing all things into the realm of the humanly knowable - was what characterized that period. The Founders (and other intellectuals of that era) studied the types of governments and laws Western man has lived under since antiquity and from that knowledge they established a government best suited to man's nature as a free and rational being. I am inclined to think this is ultimately why they established a government separate from religion: the "truth" of religious beliefs are not demonstrable nor provable when law and government are scientifically studied for their proper application in the real world (other than learning how the experience of theocracy, the divine right of kings and such are dangerous to liberty) so they are left out of the political realm. I do not know if our Founders explicitly viewed religion and government in that way, but it is certainly consistent with the intellectual atmosphere of their age and which they were products of.


  1. > "The fact is that American political history is inextricably bound up with religious tradition."

    He is right in the sense that religionists, of all sorts, and carrying supernaturalist baggage, have indeed been involved in US history from the beginning.

    So what? The issue is not historical, but philosophical--that is, what should be: a political system based only on ideas drawn logically from the facts of reality, that is, from nature. Imaginary beings and their subjectivist ethical dictates have no place in politics.

    P. S. -- I define "arrogance," which is indeed a vice, as unearned assertiveness. Of course, nothing in Ayn Rand's quoted comments on man as the measure is in any way arrogant. She earned her assertiveness through reason.

  2. Hi, It is very interesting that the religions of today so strenuously assert tradition when they themselves were founded on the rejection of tradition. For example-Mohammed could not have become the first Muslim if he did not reject the polytheistic faith and tradition of his surrounding Arabic culture. Likewise, Jews who sing "Tradition, Tradition" ala "Fiddler on the Roof" have not yet, to my knowledge, condemned Abraham for breaking his "Tradition" of Mesopotamian idol worship in order to become the first Hebrew.

  3. That's a good observation, Paul. It seems to me that once they establish their religion they act as if and get others to believe that this religion is all there ever was as far as a "legitimate" belief system/way of life. Any trace of predecessors are obliterated from people's minds. They assert tradition as long as they get people to think it is the only tradition. Then most people can't really concieve any alternative to the religion. Most Christians, for instance, don't know about Christmas' pagan origins - but if they don't know it, then it is not real. So we hear that Christ is being taken out of a commercialized Christmas, and people believe that when it's nonsense. It's okay - as long as it isn't well-known - for Christians to steal the winter solstice from the pagans and call it Christmas, but it is not okay for moderns to take Christ out of Christmas - now that it is their tradition! This just shows a larger point: everything about religion is so very man-made.