Saturday, July 02, 2005

Elevator music of the Gods

With the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor from the Supreme Court, the Culture War will flash hotter once again as competing views of what constitutes the true meaning of Constitutional provisions such as the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause to the 1st Amendment, among others, will take center stage in the national conversation. Partisan lines will be drawn, and straw-man ad-hominems will be fired across the no-mans-land that divides us. Supporters of the status quo, those who favor a strong separation of Church and State, will be portrayed as atheists and relativists who are hostile to religion. Those who favor the repeal of certain rulings from the last 50 years that have restricted school prayer, the display of religious symbols on government property, and the explicit recognition of Christian or theistic themes by government officials will be portrayed as rabid theocrats bend on the establishment of a Taliban style totalitarian state.

As an atheist who supports a firm, though not absolute, separation of Church and State, but who is not hostile to religion but believes that the existing separation is a boon to religious freedom and religion overall, it was refreshing for me to read this article by William J. Stuntz that makes the case for separation from an explicitly religious point of view.

The Supreme Court has spoken, and then some: ten separate opinions in a pair of Ten Commandments cases, which seems nicely symmetrical. What all those opinions add up to, predictably, is a muddle. The Ten Commandments can stay on the Texas State Capitol grounds -- but not in Kentucky's courthouses. Moses hangs in the balance. So does baby Jesus: Come December, you can bet on a raft of manger scenes on courthouse lawns across the South and Midwest, in all the places Michael Moore likes to call "Jesusland" -- and a raft of lawsuits seeking to take them down.

I'm rooting for the lawsuits.

That's a little odd, since I'm part of the target audience, the constituency that is supposed to like these things. I live in Massachusetts (which Michael Moore likes to call "Canada"), but my natural sympathies belong to Jesusland. I'm a Christian. I believe the Bible is a true account of who God is and who we are. I believe the Ten Commandments lie at the core of wisdom. I believe the Incarnation, the event all those manger scenes celebrate is incomparably the best and most important event in human history. If it matters, I even voted for George W. Bush, twice. So if anyone should want the Ten Commandments in state capitols and "in God we trust" on the coins and manger scenes on courthouse lawns, I should.

But I don't want any of those things. I'd much rather give them back.

Here's a thought experiment. Test the decision to put that monument on the Texas capitol grounds against another Biblical principle: the Golden Rule, the idea C.S. Lewis liked to call "do as you would be done by." Take the people who want symbols of their faith on government property, and put them in a society where passionate atheism is the majority view. Suppose all those passionate atheists want to put up monuments in every courthouse and state capitol saying that there is no God, that all good law consists of human wisdom and nothing more. Would my fellow believers like that state of affairs? I don't think so. I know I wouldn't like it. It would make me feel, just a little, like a stranger in my own home, someone who doesn't belong. It would be a tiny reminder that other people with beliefs hostile to mine own this country, and that I'm here at their sufferance. I wouldn't like that at all.

If that's right, then turning around and doing the same thing to people who don't believe what I do when my crowd is in the majority is wrong. Not wrong by the measure of the First Amendment or some legal theory or secular philosophy, but wrong by the measure of "do as you would be done by."

That might be tolerable if the monuments and manger scenes satisfied some religious duty. If anything, though, duty cuts the other way. There is a passage in the book of Revelations that bears on this point. The risen Jesus is speaking of, and to, the church in Laodicea. He tells them: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm -- neither hot nor cold -- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Symbolic acknowledgments like the Texas monument and the Kentucky plaques, like religious mottoes on money or public manger scenes (usually accompanied by Santa and his reindeer), are quintessentially lukewarm. They do not so much honor God as try to buy him off, cheap. This was precisely the problem with most mandatory school prayers in the days when such things were allowed. The prayers were so vapid as to insult believers, yet still managed to offend non-believers. Just like baby Jesus with a stable full of reindeer.

Seeing the Ten Commandments in public spaces is a little like hearing the Miranda warnings on "Law and Order," which doesn't make anyone think about the real meaning of Miranda (whatever that is) because it doesn't make anyone think at all. It's the social equivalent of elevator music. Religious people shouldn't want their faith to be elevator music.

Stuntz is dead on the mark. America is a religiously diverse nation, and no expression of faith can reflect the sentiments of all without being watered down to the equivalent of spiritual baby food.

Opponents of separation will argue that America is not that diverse, that the overwhelming majority are Christian and that the nation was founded on this common religious faith and can only survive if this faith is continually tied to the philosophical underpinnings of our governing institutions. They are saying, in effect, that if you ignore the religious component of our constitutional government, it will all come crashing down.

I guess that to this way of thinking, the elevator music analogy works in their favor. Elevator music does serve a purpose. Though most people see little of merit in this bland injection of musical pablum, it is designed to act on a subliminal level to ease the anxiety of people who are not comfortable being enclosed in a steel box suspended from cables with total strangers. Likewise, it is believed by some, the display of the Ten Commandments in public places will act on the common psyche, reminding us all of the watchful eye of God. Young, disaffected high school boys will be dissuaded from shooting their classmates if only they see the Commandments every day that they come to school, so the argument goes.

This argument certainly won't be settled by the upcoming Supreme Court battles. Hopefully we can learn to see past the straw-men and have an honest conversation over this issue.


Blogger Oroborous said...

Suppose all those passionate atheists want to put up monuments in every courthouse and state capitol saying that there is no God, that all good law consists of human wisdom and nothing more.

This rather misses the point.

Some religious people want religious symbols placed near centers of State authority, apparently with the belief that the juxtapostion will create a kind of passive endorsement of religion by the State, in much the same way that queer activists hope that State-sanctioned gay marriage will lead to widespread social acceptance of homoactivity.

However, placing statues and plaques espousing atheism and proclaiming the lack of a higher being or power than humanity, in courthouses and statehouses, would be redundant, self-defeating, pitiful and pathetic.

Redundant because courthouses and statehouses already are places of non-religious power and authority.
That's the point of putting religious displays there.
Otherwise, religioners would just put them up in front of churches.
Placing stridently atheist monuments there would just be gilding the lily.

Self-defeating because such an effort would reveal both uncertainty about whether there actually is a God, and a fervor of emotion that in and of itself mimics religion, that thing which is supposed to be reviled.

Pitiful and pathetic because what kind of society needs to put up self-aggrandizing plaques, baldly insisting that nothing could be better than themselves ?
Shades of Ozymandias.

Hopefully we can learn to see past the straw-men and have an honest conversation over this issue.

No, we won't.

It's just not human nature.
For one thing, only a minority a citizens care about this stuff, and so become educated about the issues.

In an attempt to sway the fairly ignorant undecideds, each side thinks up something negative and spectacular to pin on the other side, hoping that it'll catch some undecideds' attention, and win their support.

That's also why scantily clad nubile women appear in television beer commercials.

July 03, 2005 7:16 AM  
Blogger David said...


I think that the situation we're in now has been highly path dependent. For a couple of hundred years, Americans have been building courthouses. Architects have been taking the position that courthouses are civil temples and designing them accordingly. They tend to be massive, tall, elaborate. The religious trappings (the ten commandments, the frieze of Moses, some quote from the Bible over the door) were adopted in this way: not to promote religion, but to borrow religion's majesty and apply it to the law. I don't think that religious people cared, particularly, and I'm sure that some felt that the ties with the secular power debased religion as much as they elevated the courts.

If those symbols had never been put on the courthouses, it wouldn't have been any big deal. On the other hand, getting rid of religious symbols because of hostility (perceived, at least, and often actual) to religion pisses off the religious.

Speaking for myself, though, I'm perfectly content with courthouses that ignore religion, because the people in them, being Americans, won't.

What I can't stand, though, is the completely erroneous argument that the First Amendment compels the removal of religious symbols. If we took the constitution or democracy seriously, this would be seen as a judicial coup d'etat.

July 03, 2005 11:42 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


I would disagree that a symbolic endorsement of atheism on a state building would be redundant. The fact that a state edifice represents the exercise of secular power is only because of our Constitution which only grants the government secular powers. That is not the same as atheism. Religious people can and do operate the levers of secular state power.

Your argument fits in nicely with those religious people who see the absence of prayer in public schools as a de-facto endorsement of atheism. Neutrality to religion by the state does not equate to atheism.

July 04, 2005 7:06 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


I agree with you, which is why I am not an absolute separationist. I have never seen the display of the Commandments in courthouses or other public buildings as a threat to my religious freedom. I think that many of the rulings in the last 25 years have done the opposite of what secularists would imagine. No freedoms have been won, but resentment toward secularists has been instilled in the religious majority.

I would draw the line at school prayer mandated and led by school officials. It is one thing to passively give a nod to religion through symbolic displays, it is another to actively promote religion to individuals.

July 04, 2005 7:16 AM  
Blogger David said...

Teacher led prayer in the public schools is probably not a good idea. But I think it's time I started beating the dead horse of "good = constitutional/bad = unconstutitional" over at BrothersJudd.

July 04, 2005 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Flint said...

Neutrality becomes a slippery notion in an environment where all those not in favor are defined as opposed. In theory, the State should be neutral, taking no sides in any religious battles. To do this, the State pretty much must remain silent about religion. No prayers, no Ten Commandment friezes, no religious symbols, no religious ceremonies celebrating ANY religion in public institutions (legislatures, courthouses, schools), no religious statues, etc. The generic rule shouldn't be that hard: any Official State Recognition of ANY religion should be applied to ALL religions followed within that State. The logistical difficulty of erecting thousands of monuments on the courthouse lawn should underscore the issue. It's not a matter of endorsing all religions equally, but of being indifferent, and endorsing none.

It is no coincidence that those Supreme Court justices most devout in their Christian urgency tend to find reasons why protestations of *their* faith (but oddly, no other faith) are "neutral" toward religion (but protestations of other faiths are not), or are "historical" rather than religious (but the history of religions they don't follow are not, etc.) But what would we expect from a Court all of whose members are of the same religion? A court essentially closed to members of other religions? When these issues arise, the tension isn't between adherents of different religions, but rather between members who have different abilitites to see through the same religious filters to the realities of the fact situations in the case.

Ten Commandments cases, abortion cases, gay marriage cases, school prayer (or "intelligent design" in science class) cases, are religious and not civil cases in the eyes of the more devout Justices. At some point, it becomes fatuous to pretend otherwise: these State (and Court) decisions are struggles between those who are trying to follow the Golden Rule, and those who are trying to apply the tenets of their faith, the only faith for whom government offices are available (with rare exceptions).

The "historical" argument is both devious and subtle. Subtle, because much of American history does hinge on or at least emphasize the Christian religion, and it's often difficult to bear in mind that what matters is what people DID, not what they believed about irrelevant things. Devious because many Americans have been other than Christian, and their views are "historically" erased and ignored, and religious beliefs have been cherry-picked where possible, so as to paint a religious gloss onto a more secular history.

The goal of establishing a religiously neutral government of a people 85% of whom are members of one general religion may be noble, but in practice nearly impossible. Especially when several major sects of that religion preach the necessity of aggressive proselytizing, political action, door-to-door missionary work, and the virtues of pushiness bordering on fanaticism (and often over the border). And so we see that this overwhelming majority, whose beliefs are plastered on our courthouses, our money, our civic pledges, our legislative opening ceremonies, our Blue Laws, and so on ad nauseum *continue* to plead persecution in the rare cases where neutrality is observed instead. NOT favoritism toward any OTHER religion, simply failure to push their own agenda.

And so while they complain of persecution, major programs of scientific research relocate overseas where open minds are welcome, and we struggle with increasing lack of success to keep creationism out of high school science classes, and the rate at which children are redirected out of public schools and toward sectarian indoctrination accelerates.

Apparently, God his decided it's time for the Chinese to adopt world intellectual leadership, and for America to emulate the Islamic world, and wallow in righteous backwardness. A minority of us are unhappy with this trend, but maybe we just don't pray hard enough?

July 04, 2005 4:55 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Glad to see you are standing firm in your resolve to move away from religion in your posts, Duck. :-)

There is a lot of New England Yankee good sense in the article and I suspect many religious people, including among the dreaded fundamentalists, are a lot more aware of the religion/freedom trade-offs and the need to agree on lines between the public and private than their opponents charge. But this new religious assertiveness that has knotted all the secular knickers is occurring in a social context that simply isn't being acknowledged by the law or by libertarian/liberal forces. There is no serious prospect that Jews will be compelled to convert or atheists denied security clearances or that Church attendance will be compulsory, which were presumably the real original, constitutional fears. All this fear-mongering about "theocracy" is a diversion and a less than honest one. Nobody is fighting to impose the doctrine of transubstantiation on dissenters. What people want is to live in a decent, civil, reverent(in a very general, civil sense) society that values and supports the family and shares at least some common, baseline notions of public morality. Unfortunately, the secular activists are so wrapped up in continental-style abstract theories of individual freedom and all-to-facile musings about the golden rule that they have deprived those concepts of any meaning in public debate. They never seem to ask themselves why they fight so hard against basic decency as seen from within a successful family or vibrant community. A popular or populist revolt (with a lot of nasty hyperbole) was inevitable, and in that sense they have brought much of it on themselves.

An illustration. Two years ago we were driving through East Tennessee on a trip to the Panhandle. Right beside the interstate in what seemed to be a rural residential area was the biggest, loudest "Triple XXX" porn outlet I've ever seen. It was the size of a small Walmart and covered in neon signs and billboards inviting one and all to join the fun. Blaring rock music, it was garish in the extreme and to describe it as "prominently displayed" would be the understatement of the century. If I were a father in that neighbourhood, I would be extremely upset.

(Though in retrospect, that probably wasn't the best time for me to remark to my wife that one of the highlights of any American vacation is outlet shopping)

Anyway, on the property right beside, strategically placed to overshadow it, was the biggest, thickest wide-beamed cross I've ever seen. I remember thinking: "Wow, do we have a debate going here. This is as good as Brothersjudd."

Now, presumably this was all private land and didn't raise direct constitutional issues. But it was impossible for me not to reflect that establishment liberal/secular elites had become so ideologically corrupted and so far removed from the lives of ordinary folk that many if not most of them would drop everything to fight to keep anyone from shutting down the porn shop, but would see the cross in menacing, ominous terms. And they would have completely convinced themselves that they were striking a blow for liberty while the cross represented darkness and superstition.

The causes secularists line up behind with such gusto today are either astoundingly banal (chicken sandwiches in airports on Sunday, mottos on dollar bills or in courthouses)or what they know full well the majority opposes and even considers depraved. They are drearily and predictably pro-death and pro-sexual license, always relying on the same tired bromides. Yet still they soldier on in their absolutism, trying to tie the most unlikely causes to civil rights and heaping scorn on the ignorance of those who disagee with them.

When I am discussing first term abortion with someone, I know I am in the realm of the subtle and difficult on many counts, and that compromises must be made and defended. But when I meet someone defending third term abortion, I feel dirty and angry and have a hard time holding it in. Kill a living child and call it reproductive freedom? And yet I know I am arguing with otherwise decent people. My only conclusion is that they are locked into an ideological mindset that takes no prisoners, and I'm darn well going to fear and fight them hard.

All of which to conclude that those secularists who genuinely fear religious legal or social intrusion in public life could start asking themselves why they abandoned basic decency and civility in public life and started backing such unpopular, if not sick, causes. And how are they going to get it back? And why does their fear and contempt for religion grow the further it recedes from public life and the less they know about it? Duck's stoicism is a good start(Roger Scruton is very good on this). A less Freud/Skinner-driven theory of human sexuality would also help. But at least they should try and realize that it is many of them who have become the close-minded, absolutist, "monarchical-thinking" ones and that it is the religious, by and large, who are wrestling with subtleties and compromises.

July 05, 2005 5:14 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


Thanks for posting your thoughts. I have both agreements and disagreements with your case. You are right in regards to the
historical argument. The religionists will paint a picture of a tranquil unity on religion that held until the recent past
when an activist court, starting in 1962, stripped away the majority's right to have this religious consensus embodied in it
s schools and governments. They gloss over the bitter struggles between the establishment Protestants and immigrant Catholics in the 19th century, the laws passed by Protestant legislatures to deny any funding of religious schools, not to promote government neutrality in regards to religion, but to prevent the competing Catholic faith from setting up schools to preserve its own religious heritage.

I would disagree on the level of neutrality that must be enforced by courts, and the level of danger that a wall of separation that is not absolute poses to those who are in a religious minority. I think that "crusades" against the phrase
"In God we Trust" on currency are nonsensical in the extreme. The secularization of government has been overwhelmingly successful, going after such trivial expressions of religiosity can only be seen as "rubbing their noses in it". A recent case brought by the ACLU against a public school teacher in South Dakota shows how the battle for neutrality has spilled over
into a war against any religious expression. The teacher displayed no hint of her religious views during school hours. But after hours she participated in a religious public service organization. One of her students saw her out in public in this

religious role. The suit charged that a young student would not be able to differentiate between the teacher's religious role and her secular authority as a school teacher. In essence, in order to maintain absolute neutrality in her role as a
public official, she would have to hide any expression of her religious faith from public view, both on and off the job.
This is not only ridiculous, it is an infringement on religious liberty that should send shudders up the spine of any American, religious or secular.

Likewise with school vouchers. Strict separationists see this as an attempt by religious fundamentalists to get government

funding for religious education. I see it as an ideal way to defuse one of the most contentious battle grounds of the culture war, public education. It would protect the liberty of parents to educate their children according to their own
value system without interference from the state. It puts the authority for teaching morality and values where it belongs,
with parents. As long as the vouchers are equally available to all children regardless of the religious views of their
parents, and is conditioned on providing the means for acheiving a core set of secular educational goals, then neutrality is
maintained. If the child receives religious instruction above and beyond the secular requirements, it is of no business of

the state.

I find your contention that America is losing its intellectual leadership to other nations as a result of the activism of

religious conservatives very hard to swallow. Do you have any references to back this claim up? The intellectual climate is
far freer in America than in any other nation that I can name. The climate is more threatened by left wing PC thought codes than by anything being ginned up by the religious right. I'm all for calling the RR on their attempts to pass off religious
dogma for science, as with the Creationism/ID movement, but lets not allow hysteria to make this particular hill (bigger than
a molehill) into a mountain. There will be enough hyperbole thrown about in the upcoming culture war battle for the Supreme
Court as it is.

July 05, 2005 8:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


I didn't say I'd give it up entirely, that would be impossible. Besides, I get the best responses from religious themes, so I guess that is my natural audience.

I hate to burst your bubble, but I doubt that the "secular elites" have a clue whether the town you drove through in Kentucky even exists. Or if more than 5% of them have ever been to Kentucky. I'm just setting up another deflection of one of your attacks on the SE. Looks like I'm always playing goalie to your slapshots.

It is easy to chalk up this porn emporium to the machinations of the Secular Elite, because, as we all know, Kentucky belongs to the Bible Belt, and they are against such things down there. Now most of my experience with the South, and with Southerners comes from my experience in the Marine Corps, which has a large percentage of Southerners relative to the overall population. I've found that you can't pigeonhole them into a clean behavioral category based on religion. I've met men who will give you an account of their strong religious convictions in one breath, and regale you with bawdy tales of their sexual
expliots at this or that duty station in the next. It can be a Jekyll/Hyde experience. I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in
Jacksonville, NC for supply school training for 3 months, and learned to put away any of my northerner preconceptions about
the south. Churches coexisted next to strip clubs, and many dumpy little hovels advertized the availability of "Movie Mates"
(you can guess at what that means, but don't think too hard). Not that I was shocked at the existence of prostitution in a
military town, but how brazen and open it was.

So the existence of that porn palace in a down home place like Kentucky doesn't shock me. The locals don't need elaborate lefty PC theories of moral relativism to justify this kind of behavior - they don't think that hard about it. Southerners have their own demons to struggle with, just like the rest of us.

July 05, 2005 8:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Deflected a slapshot? Duck, I think you just picked up the puck and hurled it into the rafters.

I didn't say the secualr/liberal elites put it there or that they are all pornmeisters. I said they had worked themselves into a mentality where the pornshop represented liberty and the cross a threat to it. Your comments on Southern sociology, which I obviously know little about, are way beyond me.

July 05, 2005 8:56 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Sorry again, Peter. Your rhetorical complexity has baffled me again. You know what a knee-jerk defender of secularism I am, I raise my goalie stick at any mention of that dread invocation, the "Secular Elite".

Speaking of hockey, are Canadians suffering the DTs after a year without it?

July 05, 2005 10:06 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

We were for a while. Had them real bad, but then we just started drinking more instead and that made it a lot better.

July 05, 2005 12:29 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Neutrality to religion by the state does not equate to atheism.

You are correct, but by erecting monuments to atheism, you're absurdly turning an absence of belief in religion into a religion, the belief of absence - the Null sect.

You were using The Life of Brian to illustrate depraved religiosity over at BrosJudd... What would Monty Python have to say about a group that proclaims that they have no religious beliefs, but want to erect statues dedicated to the idea of nothingness ?

By the way, I so enjoy being lumped in with those who want to force kids to pray, or pretend to pray, in school.

[Christianity], the only faith for whom government offices are available

Only true when speaking of the office of POTUS.
Somewhat true of the U.S. Senate, and completely untrue of the House of Rep's, and state and local offices, including Governorships.

As you note, the vast majority of Americans are at least nominally Christians, so of course most elected politicians are also.

You'd have a much better argument if you focused on gender or racial bias in elected offices.

God [has] decided it's time for the Chinese to adopt world intellectual leadership, and for America to emulate the Islamic world, and wallow in righteous backwardness.

An especially ineffective god.

America designed, built, and is operating the F-117 and the F-22, both of which are not only far advanced beyond anything any other nation has fielded, but no other nation is even planning to attempt to match them.
The F-22, in particular, might as well be an X-Wing fighter, in comparison to anything it might face.

An American company is the only private organization in the world to develop spaceflight, REUSABLE spacecraft, at that.
The U.S. mapped the human genome. The U.S. developed pebble-bed nuclear reactors. An American company was the first in the world to offer OEM night-vision devices on production automobiles. There are two satellite-based digital music provider companies in the world, and they're both American. I could go on for another hundred examples.

Meanwhile, China has given us...
Cheap underwear.
Valuable, but hardly cutting-edge.

Right beside the interstate in what seemed to be a rural residential area was the biggest, loudest "Triple XXX" porn outlet I've ever seen.

Almost certainly an unintended consequence of zoning laws.
By attempting to rid their communities of "filth", urban areas simply push such facilities out to areas which desire the tax revenues more than they dislike the means by which the revenues are produced. The garishness is likewise a product of location - the shop needs to draw as much attention as possible, given the remote location.

I guarantee that the shop isn't primarily supported by the patronage of locals and travellers.
It will be getting a lot of business from the nearest urban area, whose porn-deprived dwellers will make occasional pilgrimages.

IMO, a silly setup, but perhaps a compromise that all can live with.

July 06, 2005 3:05 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You are correct, but by erecting monuments to atheism, you're absurdly turning an absence of belief in religion into a religion, the belief of absence - the Null sect.

Yes it would be ridiculous, and the author was using such a display as a way to get religous people to imagine what it would be like to be in a minority faith and have the majority plaster the tenets of their faith (or lack thereof) on public buildings which are there to serve all people.

Though atheism is the null set as far as theologies go, it doesn't stop some from developing symbols to represent it. There is the atom with its revolving electrons which, if you were buried in a veterans cemetery, you could have affixed to your tombstone. It is a negative proposition, but it is a philosophical proposition nonetheless.

By the way, I so enjoy being lumped in with those who want to force kids to pray, or pretend to pray, in school.

Don't take it personally Michael, just making a point. It sounded to me like you were equating secular power as represented by the state with atheism. Sorry I misread that.

You were using The Life of Brian to illustrate depraved religiosity over at BrosJudd... What would Monty Python have to say about a group that proclaims that they have no religious beliefs, but want to erect statues dedicated to the idea of nothingness ?

Actually I was using Life of Brian as an example of secular people who can laugh at death, in response to Orrin's characteristically ridiculous assertion that we cannot. But you're right, they would have great fun with such an arrogant display of self-important. I'm reminded of the Society for the Putting of Things on top of Other Things.

July 06, 2005 6:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Your point about zoning is a very good one, and I suspect you are right. But does that not raise an interesting secondary issue? Here in (rigorously anti-clerical, formerly Catholic) Quebec, the raunchiest type of nude dancing bars, extras available on request, are all in the countryside. Trouble is, they are supposedly all owned by bikers or their subsidiaries, which could explain why those stalwart rural types are so reluctant to protest.

"And it's one...two...three...who are we fighting for?"

July 06, 2005 3:50 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

So you are Quebecois? I thought you hailed from Toronto.

Methinks the stalwart rural yeoman is not as stalwart as you may think. The biker explanation is an interesting angle. It probably gives the locals a good excuse for not protesting these places more vigorously. I think that two centuries of Catholic rule has instilled in the Quebecker the attitude that private vices are paid for with public piety.

July 07, 2005 6:57 AM  
Anonymous Flint said...


We mostly agree, and you are finding things in what I said that I didn't say! I said nothing about the case against the South Dakota teacher, and I fully agree with you: this teacher must be free to follow her faith outside the classroom. I said nothing about school vouchers, and I favor them. I support home schooling as well.

Where we disagree, at least as I understand your remarks, is in what constitutes "neutral" on the part of the state. The issue here can be complicated: some faiths are quiet, while others are exasperatingly pushy. In any political system with public feedback, pushiness (the squeaking wheel) gets accommodated. Sometimes, when there is a genuine injustice, this accommodation is both good and necessary. Other times, when demanding more is a tenet of the doctrine, accommodation falls into the pattern of classic appeasement -- trying to "satisfy" a fire by feeding it more wood, in the hopes that it will be happy and go away.

And so saying "well, this concession is really quite small, and it's silly to draw a line in the sand over *that* tiny demand, and refusing *this* demand is 'nonsensical in the extreme'" allows you to be (pardon the expression) nibbled to death by ducks. No single step is large enough to raise a fuss about, but ALL of the steps are in the same directiion, and the opposition never sleeps, but keeps stepping all the time.

And so stem cell research is now spearheaded in South Korea. The most innovative space probes are developed in Europe and launched in Russian rockets. The most effective birth control comes from France (and is fanatically opposed in the US, which is now busy passing laws permitting pharmacists to refuse to fill legitimate prescriptions without fear of reprisal by employer or state). Funding for scientific research is being slashed across the board. Yes, these are little things. Steps not big enough to worry about individually, but all in the same direction.

Perhaps you're right, and these are not trends, merely Brownian motion to be corrected with the next Presidential election. But with blue-collar jobs long exported, and high-tech jobs (from digital technology to biology) rapidly draining away, while science degree programs experience drastic drops in enrollment (mostly because they WERE being filled by Indians and Asians, who can now find higher quality education elsewhere!), there is genuine reason to be concerned with US policies and directions. I'm not saying all these things are direct results of the descent into religious ignorance, but it's one factor of many, and a significant one.

Maybe I'm impatient, and in four years or so the sun will rise again, funding for knowledge will be restored, the hundred billion dollars spent for vague and unreachable purposes will be redirected (or better yet, not extracted from us), and the damage being done will start the long slow process of repair where repair is possible. I certainly hope so.

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