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War_Eagle and Sharkfin: Was American Government Intended to be Secular?

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  • War_Eagle and Sharkfin: Was American Government Intended to be Secular?

    Hello War_Eagle, hello to everyone reading this. The following will hopefully be a productive discussion on what comprises the fundamental values of the United States government.

    This opening post will be split into a few sections: definition, facts, arguments, and then relevance.

    Definition of the topic
    I had some difficulty specifically laying out the topic. The formulation that I chose is a combination which I hope will provide equitable ground and productive discussion: "the government of the United States was intended to be secular." In other words, the Framers of the Constitution did not intend for the Federal government to enforce law based only in religion.

    Facts of the subject-matter
    1. Massachusetts Bay/City on a Hill
    To say that the American narrative begins with the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be to eliminate an entire era of foundational events which create the America we know today. The Pilgrims, Puritans, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Jamestown, etc. were all religious groups forced across the Atlantic by religious persecution. I think Jonathan Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity" adequately describes these beginning phases of America. Winthrop argues that the new Massachusetts Bay Colony should be a City on a Hill -- a model of what a Christian society was supposed to be. Because this was supposed to be a model city, Winthrop established a government which, based upon the moral imperatives established only by the Bible, ruthlessly purged the city of dissent. In this model, the church was the government: only orthodox members of the church could vote (let alone become part of the government) and the church imposed fines and (sometimes) capital punishment on those who deviated from the moral code: adultery, fornification, and sleeping during church services. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, there is essentially no distinction between the church and government: civil punishment is assigned and carried out by the church.

    My argument is that the Founders wanted to establish a republic in contrast with (and in no way complementary to) the example created by the “City on a Hill” ideology: the Constitution establishes a limited Federal government with virtually no similarity to Massachusetts Bay.

    2. The First Amendment
    The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....” I’ve heard that an early draft of the Constitution reads something like “Congress shall not prefer one denomination over another”: the fact that Congress chose to protect religions outside of Christianity is important.

    My argument is that the First Amendment is neutral on religion.

    Arguments
    1. Limitation of government and departure from Winthrop's vision
    A. The Constitution establishes a limited federal government
    I think this is fairly clear: the Constitution (particularly with the addition of the 10th amendment) assigns all powers beyond those granted to the states or to the people. It establishes limitations on what the government can do. If War_Eagle is a strict constructionist, like myself, I think we can agree on this point.

    B. The Constitution does not allow for extensive moral regulation
    Prohibition was established by amendment because Congress could not derive power to do so from the existing document. If anyone has the ability to establish religiously based-regulations, it would be the states. The founders clearly had no intention for the federal government to create moral laws founded only in religion (federal bans on homosexuality, etc.). A brief survey of the founders writings will verify this point: they constantly discuss how best to limit the power of the Federal government -- not how the Federal government could prevent a moral decline. Contrast this with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where the governing authorities were very powerful and essentially unlimited in their ability to implement religious law.

    Furthermore, it's not as if there was no recognizance that creating a limited federal government would not allow strict moral regulation: the Massachusetts Bay Colony history was not lost on the delegates to the constitutional convention.

    C. Therefore, the primary principle considered by the Founders was not religion.
    Secular reasoning was the principal contributor to the creation of the Constitution (and the Articles of Confederation, for that matter). If one phrase in the Declaration “rights endowed by our Creator,” is the most prominent reference to God, it should bring one to question how extensively the American government is founded upon Christian principles. This upholds the statement, "the American government was intended to be, first and foremost, secular.”

    2. First Amendment
    This argument is more of an afterthought, but I think it’s still relevant. Most conservatives argue that America was founded upon Christian principles because they want to enforce religious law (bans against homosexuality, etc.) where the case against the behavior, from a secular standpoint, isn’t clear.

    A. First Amendment establishes neutrality
    Do let me know if you disagree here.

    B. Neutrality means no enforcement of law based on religion
    SCOTUS hasn’t historically had much of a review over the First Amendment (it only really became an issue in the 1940s), but I think their analysis is still useful. “No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance” (Page 330 U. S. 15-16). (The rest of the page is rather interesting as well.) Based on the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment, the state/federal governments were never intended to enforce religious law/behavior.

    Therefore, the American government is, was, and should remain a secular institution.

    A cool reference for anyone interested in this topic:
    http://law.justia.com/constitution/u...-overview.html

    Relevance
    I’m always rather hesitant to enter into debates such as these. Because, even if the US is founded upon Christian principles, whether or not we should continue to use religious principles in creating government policy is still ambiguous.

    Clarification
    I’m not saying the Founders intended the US to be completely irreligious. They didn’t. In any case, they wanted people to develop more in their faith and spiritual growth. But they wanted that growth to be separate from the government: fearing the potential that religious involvement in the government could cause (divine right of kings, etc.), they intended the governing authority to be predominantly secular.

    A final note
    Hopefully this post will create a certain amount of healthy discussion between the two of us. If, however, I misinterpreted your position and you would agree with my arguments, do let me know and we can explore other areas where we might disagree. Additionally, I feel like my arguments above, in my attempt to make them more academic and thorough, lacked cohesiveness. If anything's not clear, let me know.

    Thanks! Looking forward to the ensuing discussion!

  • #2
    Even after I've said several times that the Founders were not theocrats and that our Republic was never meant to be a theocracy, that's still the debate you've chosen?

    It was my understanding, that we would be debating the guiding philosophy behind our Republic, not whether or not we are a theocracy.

    But this is what you've come up with? Demanding that I argue for an untenable position I never held in the first place?
    Last edited by War_Eagle; 05-08-13, 12:05 AM.
    The federal government is the only place in the world where ineptitude and corruption is met with demands for more ineptitude and corruption. - Buck Sexton

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by War_Eagle View Post
      Even after I've said several times that the Founders were not theocrats and that our Republic was never meant to be a theocracy, that's still the debate you've chosen?

      It was my understanding, that we would be debating the guiding philosophy behind our Republic, not whether or not we are a theocracy.
      If a philosophy guides a government, then it will be expressed in laws and policies. If a religious philosophy guides a government, then it will be expressed in the form of religious law.

      Additionally, there's a continuum between a theocracy and complete secularization, where "enforcing religious law" falls somewhere in between. My argument is that we're closer to secularization than to "enforcing religious law" -- which is my best approximation of your position.

      But this is what you've come up with? Demanding that I argue for an untenable position I never held in the first place?
      Certainly not. As I mentioned in the final note, please accept my apologies in advance for any strawmen I accidentally create: frankly, I'm going off of only what I've gleaned from your post history. I couldn't find a complete outline of your beliefs.

      Would you mind outlining what you mean by Christianity being the "guiding philosophy behind our Republic"?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Sharkfin
        Certainly not. As I mentioned in the final note, please accept my apologies in advance for any strawmen I accidentally create: frankly, I'm going off of only what I've gleaned from your post history. I couldn't find a complete outline of your beliefs.
        Now you're just being dishonest. You've never gleaned a belief that we are a theocracy from my posts because, not only have I never said nor suggested such a thing, I've said precisely the opposite, that we are NOT a theocracy, several times.

        Instead, you've lied about my position in order to try to corner me into arguing an untenable position I never held nor even suggested.

        We agreed that we would be discussing the philosophy behind our Republic, not whether or not we are a theocracy.

        For you to move the goalposts and try to sneak this in, after that is just an act of cowardice on your part. I should have expected no less from an Obamunist like yourself.

        If you want to have the debate we agreed to, let me know.
        Last edited by War_Eagle; 05-08-13, 09:12 AM.
        The federal government is the only place in the world where ineptitude and corruption is met with demands for more ineptitude and corruption. - Buck Sexton

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by War_Eagle View Post
          Now you're just being dishonest. You've never gleaned a belief that we are a theocracy from my posts because, not only have I never said nor suggested such a thing, I've said precisely the opposite, that we are NOT a theocracy, several times.

          Instead, you've lied about my position in order to try to corner me into arguing an untenable position I never held nor even suggested.

          We agreed that we would be discussing the philosophy behind our Republic, not whether or not we are a theocracy.

          For you to move the goalposts and try to sneak this in, after that is just an act of cowardice on your part. I should have expected no less from an Obamunist like yourself.

          If you want to have the debate we agreed to, let me know.
          My apologies: clearly I don't understand your position. Throw out what I've written above, then. Thoroughly lay out your argument and I'll argue your statements.
          Last edited by Sharkfin; 05-08-13, 09:20 AM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Sharkfin View Post
            My apologies: clearly I don't understand your position. Throw out what I've written above, then. Thoroughly lay out your argument and I'll argue your statements.
            I accepted your challenge because I believed you were honest or, at lease, sincere. Now that you have shown yourself not to be, I don't believe I have any obligation to continue.

            The Bible instructs us not to argue with fools according to their own folly and so I will not.
            The federal government is the only place in the world where ineptitude and corruption is met with demands for more ineptitude and corruption. - Buck Sexton

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by War_Eagle View Post
              I accepted your challenge because I believed you were honest or, at lease, sincere. Now that you have shown yourself not to be, I don't believe I have any obligation to continue.

              The Bible instructs us not to argue with fools according to their own folly and so I will not.
              Usually when someone misunderstands a position, it's a failure of the person holding the position to communicate properly. In any case, I have seen no effort to communicate any sort of position on your behalf, so I too am fine ending the debate here.

              Comment

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