What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 9, 2012

Ruth Ann Stumbles, I Think

Today, Ruth Ann Dailey references one of my favorite philosphers:
Even Bertrand Russell -- an early exemplar of "antagonistic atheism" -- acknowledged in "A History of Western Philosophy" that the Enlightenment was essentially the culmination of Martin Luther's schism with the Roman Catholic Church -- the Reformation.
The column, titled:
America a Christian nation? Think again
Takes a very fair and practical look at the idea that America is a "Christian Nation."

Her answer, by the way, is "Yes and no."  I'd agree with her answer but not with how she forms the question.

But let's look at the stumble.
Let me say on the outset that I am a big fan of hers.  I disagree with her politics, of course, but that doesn't mean I can't be a fan.  When she writes about music, she's awesome.  However today?  Looks like she uses the wikipedia for research.  Take a look at the above now take a look at what I found this morning (4/9/12 at about 7:40am) at the article "Age of Enlightenment":
According to Bertrand Russell, however, the enlightenment was a phase in a progressive development, which began in antiquity, and that reason and challenges to the established order were constant ideals throughout that time. Russell argues that the enlightenment was ultimately born out of the Protestant reaction against the Catholic counter-reformation, when the philosophical views of the past two centuries crystallized into a coherent world view. He argues that many of the philosophical views, such as affinity for democracy against monarchy, originated among Protestants in the early 16th century to justify their desire to break away from the pope and the Catholic Church. Though many of these philosophical ideals were picked up by Catholics, Russell argues, by the 18th century the Enlightenment was the principal manifestation of the schism that began with Martin Luther.[5] [emphasis added]
The footnote ("[5]") points to Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, pages 492-4.   Here's a screen capture (sorry for the size, if you click on it, you can see it full sized).  The main problem with Wikipedia

It's not that she's incorrect, but the problem with using Wikipedia as a reference is this:  It's only as reliable as the last person who chose to edit it.

And so those few pages in the Russell aren't exactly about The Enlightenment but about the rise of science and "Modern Philosophy" after the Counter-Reformation.  If you stretch the definition of "enlightenment" to cover " the rise of science and "Modern Philosophy" after the Counter-Reformation" then I guess Ruth Ann's correct but as I couldn't actually find the word "enlightenment" on those pages, I'd have to call it abit of a stretch.  One that Ruth Ann could have avoided had she gone directly (as we all should) to Russell. 

As to the question "Is this a Christian Nation?" I'd have to say that it depends on how you defines "Christian Nation."  If one defines a nation as "Christian" because most of its citizens are Christian, then of course it is.

But if you look at the founding documents of that nation's government and find no reference to any religious authority (ie "This is a Christian Nation, it's laws are based on Christian principles." etc) then of course it's not.


SamStone said...

Agreed that is a rather strange column. When she says "And both sides need to get over it", she is, in effect, saying the Year of the Bible Resolution might of been wrong, but it is no big deal and the lawsuit against is pointless.

As you say, she can't quite figure out how to deal with the fact that the Constitution has "no reference to any religious authority". There is no religious test to hold office, except in her limited world view we can't have a (Stalin-like) atheist running the government because you what happens then.

The bottom line, as you point out, is that she muddles private belief with public policy, which is exactly what the founders went out of their way to disentangle.

EdHeath said...

That is an interesting column by Ruth Ann (or more politely, Ms Dailey). It is (in my opinion) far more open minded than her usual efforts.

I mean, she cuts modern atheists little or no slack, although the context she is doing that in involves how much of actual history atheists acknowledge (telling atheists they should acknowledge the role of early colonial Christian leaders in helping to shape the concept of separation of church and state). I think if, instead of asking any random atheist whether the United States is a Christian nation you asked whether he/she thinks the United States is culturally largely a Christian nation, every one of them would agree.

Still she also takes "some Christians" to task for their views of how religious some of the founding fathers were (rather refreshing of her).

But I think Ruth Ann's blinders remain on when she starts making value judgements about religions. She holds up the French Revolution as a moral failure of deism, and the officially atheist USSR and PRC as "murderous and tyrannical on a scale hitherto unimagined". But how do we look at Nazi Germany? Or Rwanda, Darfur, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo? Or how should we look at the United States, that actually incorporated slavery in the constitution (three fifths compromise?) and thirty years after "Mother" England freed its slaves, we had a civil war over whether to keep our blacks enslaved. There after, we swept the problem under the rug, largely ignoring the institutional racism of segregation for almost another hundred years, and even today there are issues. And there are plenty of other examples of non-Christian behavior by the US; native Americans, interment camps, our interventions and wars in small countries to name a few.

I'm not saying the United States is worse than other nations; most other nations set the bar pretty low. But I think we do need to consider that our rhetoric appears pretty hypocritical. I think I can guarantee other nations have thought about that.

And by the way, Obama is no better than Bush (or Clinton, or earlier Bush, or Reagan, etc) was in this regard, maybe in some respects worse.

Ol' Froth said...

I blogged on this column too, and it seems to me that Ruth Ann is trying to make a "both sides do it" argument, while ignoring that the people who use the term "Christian Nation" explicity believe that the founding fathers intended this to be an officially Christian, run by Christians (preferably male Christians) and that the "wall of seperation" is a myth. All we're asking by filing these suits is for the government to follow the law, and not give tacit support to one belief over another. Is that so much to ask?

John Gentile said...

Our nation is not a Christian nation at any level. Slavery was condoned by our founders during the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1789.

Conservative Mountaineer said...

@John Gentile...

So, you're saying nothing has changed for over 200 years? Are you saying no-one or nothing can change over time? What naive planet do you come from or live on? Oh, I forgot.. only Conservatives and Republicans cannot change and are hamstrung by some silly thing he/she did 20-30 years ago.. liberals and Democrats become 'enlightened'.

I'd say, for the most part, the good 'ole US of A is a Christian nation.. unless the Mooslims and their ilk take over like they've done in, say, France and UK.

EdHeath said...

CM, I would agree with your statement "for the most part, the good 'ole US of A is a Christian nation". But I think you miss the point when you talk about how much things have changed over 200 years. First of all, the founders thought of themselves as people establishing a free nation - you know, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ..." (etc) Yet they willingly blinded themselves to slavery. Are we not allowed now to ask what our blind spots are now?

For example, conservatives like yourself say that the only racism that still exists is reverse racism against whites. Which is why I guess the unemployment rate for blacks overall is so muck lower than for white people ... oh wait ... (and no, that is not the same thing as slavery, but I think it is clear to anyone willing to be honest that racism against blacks still exists).

I dare say that one of our current blind spots has to do with our relationship with Islam. England and France are obviously having issues with their Muslim populations, but to suggest that "Mooslims and their ilk" have taken over those countries ... well, if you don't want people to stereotype conservatives and Republicans, stop carrying water for a towering intellect like Rick Santorum.

John Gentile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Gentile said...

@Conservative Mountaineer

There is a difference between a Christian nation and a nation populated with Christians. We are not a Christian nation and we never were a Christian nation. We always have been a nation populated with Christians.

A Christian nation is a theocracy. We are a Democratic Republic whose people treasure and defend their freedom to practice their own religion (as our Founders did.)