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Radically Inept
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
  Atheism in court

I was checking out Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall, and I caught an ad for this is an excellent article:The New Republic Online: Under God and Over on his sidebar and felt compelled to post a couple of excerpts (from about half way into the article):
"...Some of the individuals to whom I am attributing a hostility to religion would resent the allegation deeply. They regard themselves as religion's finest friends. But what kind of friendship for religion is it that insists that the words 'under God' have no religious connotation? A political friendship, is the answer. And that is precisely the kind of friendship that the Bush administration exhibited in its awful defense of the theistic diction of the Pledge. The solicitor general stood before the Court to argue against the plain meaning of ordinary words. In the Pledge of Allegiance, the government insisted, the word 'God' does not refer to God. It refers to a reference to God. The government's argument, as it was stated in the brief filed by Theodore B. Olson, was made in two parts. The first part was about history, the second part was about society. 'The Pledge's reference to 'a Nation under God,'' the solicitor general maintained, 'is a statement about the Nation's historical origins, its enduring political philosophy centered on the sovereignty of the individual.' The allegedly religious words in the Pledge are actually just 'descriptive'--the term kept recurring in the discussion--of the mentality of the people who established the United States. As Olson told the Court, they are one of several 'civic and ceremonial acknowledgments of the indisputable historical fact that caused the framers of our Constitution and the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say that they had the right to revolt and start a new country.'..."
And from further in the article comes this:
Needless to say, Newdow's objection did not disappear, because it is one of the admirable features of atheism to take God seriously. Newdow's reply was unforgettable: "I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' which is exactly what I think. I deny the existence of God." The sound of those words in that room gave me what I can only call a constitutional thrill. This is freedom. And he continued: "For someone to tell me that 'under God' should mean some broad thing that even encompasses my religious beliefs sounds a little, you know, it seems like the government is imposing what it wants me to think in terms of religion, which it may not do. Government needs to stay out of this business altogether." So the common ground that Breyer depicted was not quite as common as he thought it was. In fact, Breyer was advocating the Lockean variety of toleration, according to which it would be based on a convergence of conviction, a consensus about the truth, among the overwhelming majority of the members of a society. The problem with such an arrangement is that the convergence is never complete and the consensus is never perfect. Locke himself instructed that "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God." The universal absolute is never quite universal. And there is another problem. It is that nobody worships a "very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." Such a level of generality, a "generic" God, is religiously senseless. Breyer's solution was another attempt to salvage religious expression by emptying it of religious content. But why should a neutralized God be preferred to a neutral government? The preference is attractive only if religion is regarded primarily from the standpoint of politics...
And, still further into the article, this:
Many modern believers, and modern commentators on religion, resent this. A recent historian of atheism, a Jesuit scholar, laments that in modern theology "religion was treated as if it were theism," as if it had no resources of its own to guarantee anything generally binding and true. But if religion is not theism, if its ground is not an intellectually supportable belief in the existence of God, then all the spiritual exaltation and all the political agitation in the world will avail it nothing against the skeptics and the doubters, and it really is just a beloved illusion. Others denounce the abstraction of the God of the philosophers, and the impersonality. Before such a deity, Heidegger demagogically complained, "man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance." But this is not philosophy's problem, or even religion's problem, if by religion you mean something other than an excuse to fall to your knees or to dance with your feet. If the impersonal God does not exist, I do not see how the personal God can exist.
In fact, I have been meaning to share my atheistic vision of existence for some time, but keep procrastinating. I think I will gin something up this evening for posting. But in the mean time, I suggest you go read this article. I hope not to continue my procrastination, though I may not publish this tonight because to present a well reasoned position, may take a little while. So, much for ginning something up. 
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